Diana Crum in conversation with Lindsey Drury

Choreographer/performer/teacher Diana Crum talks with dance maker/performance artist Lindsey Drury about creating new contexts for making and presenting work, “site specific” dance, non-sustainable economy, Diana’s if I tell myself I have enough time, then I can be with you, presented in September 2012 in Prospect Park, and creating performances that listen.

Interview Date: Nov 7, 2012


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Photo of Lauren Bakst, Tara Willis, Meghan Milam, and Erin Cairns Cella by Ian Douglas


Diana: I guess I wanted to talk about context because it’s such a huge challenge for me on so many different levels right now but particularly as an artist. How do I make work? Where do I make work? It feels like it’s a larger issue in the field too in terms of structures we have set up for presenting and funding. I see artists struggle with that, feeling like we keep trying to push into and create a new context for our work, but we keep falling into…

Lindsey: A habitual context?

Diana: Yeah, totally. I feel like you totally get that.


Lindsey: Yeah, a lot! It feels to me like the habitual context is a problematic context at the moment because it’s all falling into these grooves, the grooves are getting narrower as we continue down, getting tighter and tighter because there’s less and less available within the new habitual context, so the question for us becomes how do we broaden our context in which we’re working so we continue working and also so that our work maintains its relevancy. And we all talk about this over and over and over not just in terms of who and where and how with what resources do I produce my work but also what is the economy of dance. These issues of survival keep coming up over and over again.

Diana: The idealist in me wants to say that there’s something artistic and aesthetic about it too. The work an create the context, the choreography itself can create a new context, but I think that I haven’t seen that proposal actually realized because of these grooves that you’re talking about. If I propose something aesthetically or creatively with the work then it still falls within the theater.

Lindsey: We’ve found other ways to shift the idea of placing our work into groups; when we left theater and went to sites we started calling it “site specific work,” it became another groove and we codified that behavior in a way that allows it to fall back into being a mirror.

Diana: Yeah! It also supposes that the theatre is not a site.

Lindsey: Exactly. For me, the question that has been the question since coming to New York and the reason that I’m fascinated with this context is not resources… For me New York is about density, chaos, huge diversity -  diversity of thought, experience, the placement of art within really economically complicated contexts, not to mention the onslaught of information. I’m super fascinated…

Diana: I feel like that requires a certain interaction with the public that is complicated in the way you’re describing, and it’s that interaction that is, I think, where a lot of times an artist has to meet certain expectations or has to meet a history or tradition.

Photo of Lauren Bakst, Tara Willis, Meghan Milam, and Erin Cairns Cella by Ian Douglas

Lindsey: We tend to use mediation in such moments, (which is institutional critique or whatever), and in doing so, we define a relationship to the work, and to the community that comes out if it. But we build relationships with people, not just space. We don’t know a lot about that; if I show work at Judson, I’m not able as an artist to really perceive that huge amount of work that goes in with Judson to building community that’s been going there for years, the way that it’s almost a historic community; people have been going for years and years. A lot of that context is silent or implicit, so an artist when they present their work has a lot of blankness around that context.

My questioning of my own blindness has caused me to kind of move away from those contexts, not out of critique of them but critique of myself, wanting to understand how as an artist I can start to play more of a role in building context. I am back down to bedrock, just being like, ”Okay who’s my downstairs neighbor? I know them, but will they show up to my dance? Does it matter?”

Diana: Yeah, I feel like doing If I tell myself I have enough time, then I can be with you, in Prospect Park was very much about me realizing that when I enter a theatre, there are so many things that I don’t know about, don’t know how to engage with. So being in that park was a way to level the playing field. It’s just so overwhelming that there’s so much context, so many people… I don’t know what the hell is going on in a park so there is a certain amount of freedom for me to work in that park.

But then there’s something about institutional critique and the history of the community you’re building that can bring a consistency to the work. So one of the hard things for me is what if I only make dances outside and did it guerilla-style in parks from now on? That would be dissatisfying because there wouldn’t be a consistent audience, no one to validate it by seeing it. It’s such a huge thing that I’m a little overwhelmed.

Lindsey: Part of me wants to say that at this moment in time most of us in the dance world are dealing with a mixture of pragmatism and idealism and part of our question about context is where does our pragmatism and our idealism meet? Are they divergent? Because I will — if someone invites me to do something in a theatre I’m like “Yes! Yes ma’am!” “Salute!” And I show the hell up. [Laughter]

Diana: I’m starting to be the opposite, like “No. No I don’t want to do that.”

Lindsey: And then there’s another part of me that’s much happier making, rehearsing and throwing work up totally on my own terms, even though it costs me money and it’s not sustainable at this time, and I don’t know what kind of economic structure can ever support that kind of work because I have to deal with everything… I do believe in production of the work, that every single facet developed to help it arrive into the world is a part of the piece, so it is the fullest experience for me… but I do both and I artistically would like to understand more deeply what the hell I’m doing.

Photo of Diana Crum by Tessa Chandler

Diana: It makes me wonder, “What is the job of the artist in this, in creating the context?”

Lindsey: We’re all doing it but it’s an undercurrent that often rides underneath the work that we don’t explicitly touch, and that’s the moment when the context is pragmatism still, rather than dealt with in more… I hate to say theoretical terms, but… I do want to talk about your piece in the park, because that piece for me brought up the issue of, if you put a work in the public sphere then a part of the social experiment of the work becomes “who is going to show up to this not-space-for-art that has no stamp of art upon it?” It’s an explosion of the frame.

Diana: I was surprised that the people who came were mostly people who I know through Movement Research or through dance. It was people that I would imagine being in this conversation with us, you know? Which I think is really different from other works where there hasn’t been a dance crowd there, where it has been friends or family or random passersby.

Lindsey: In New York we all know that random passersby are better here then anywhere else at not gawking.

Diana: Yeah!

Lindsey: The only thing that I’ve really seen New Yorkers gawk at is catastrophes… Like an explosion in Grand Central or a car accident I saw last week between two cabs, there was an audience…

Diana: And we had those picnickers in the park, who were totally unfazed by it, like “No problem!”

Lindsey: In a public space you’re dealing with a population with a supreme ability to edit out information if it could possibly be superfluous information.

Diana: It’s like we all have such filters on; I do that when I’m in the public too. How do you feel like you create context in your work?

Lindsey: Every time I deal with context the question that comes up for me again and again is the question of manipulation, because I’m trying to build a context of people first and foremost, and I do not want people to be pawns in the creating of my works. But people are the medium of dance and the medium of creating audience for dance, so in a choreographic position there is a certain level of manipulation going on, attempting to manipulate a social situation to allow a work of art to surface in the world.

Diana: That’s what choreography is: taking material that exists and just framing it somehow.

Lindsey: My huge question of context right now is a simpler question even: the question of New York context is the issue of, we’re involved in a huge system of the way that New York is changing but we’re also involved in multiple ghettos at once, none of which we can fully admit to ourselves or fully deal with… We’re between worlds, between these institutions and our neighborhoods, our working lives… We’re standing on the border of many lives, each of us in New York. For me, I keep wondering how we start to act in an integrated way, in a way that empowers our particular placement, this very precarious placement of us as people.

I feel like all these emerging artists have these great American dreams of rising to the top, and meanwhile who are we not paying attention to? Which of our many ghettos and our many identities deserve our attention? How can we act as a means to integration? Because we do traverse many worlds as people, all the way down to when we talk about economy and we talk about non-sustainable economy, and the one population that I think of as the great comparative population, though a worse situation than us, is immigrant laborers. They have no infrastructure that makes sense. They have no access to healthcare. They have a total sense of instability, they really don’t feel like they have access to a normal life of stability, with a sense of direction, and we have the same sense of floundering – ours is a little more self-chosen, a little more supported, and a little more babied and white-bred, but it’s comparable.

Other people who are struggling like immigrant workers, who look – the way that the devaluation of our labor relates to devaluation of other peoples’ labor, – we also can’t address our context in isolation in the end – that’s what I’m trying to say with all this blah blah blah… We cannot address our context in isolation as an arts community that doesn’t see outward.

Diana: How do we interact with the world now? Remember when meta- was just a joke all over TV and all over pop music like 2 years ago?

Lindsey: Absolutely! One of my pieces got called “meta-“ in the American College Dance Festival


Diana: How do you not be meta- right now? If you’re not being meta- you’re not taking into account any of the intellectual thought that’s come out in the last 20 years, and I do not think you have to be college educated to be exposed to that thought, I think it’s about how we see ourselves and exchange and communicate right now, culturally, in this country, in this city.

Lindsey: There’s another context: historical context.

Diana: Ahhh! That sucks!

Lindsey: Suddenly vomit trickles out of my left ear… I refuse to let it out my mouth any more.

[Hysterical laughter]

Lindsey: We must deal with it, we must build our histories, we must frame them, but in so doing we also destroy them. We also turn them into our personal fantasies, our institutional fantasies, and in so doing we also reframe the human beings who’ve been a part of building these works, and we turn people into textbooks and we start thinking about the future of our work in terms of its historical possibilities…

Diana: Thinking that way can be so empowering on one hand because it provides us with that consistency that I was talking about before, that in some ways if your work is seen in historical context then you’re part of a history so you matter. It’s not as ephemeral.

Lindsey: Consistency is the job of the institution, right’? That’s what they’re there for.

Diana: But it’s also so oppressive sometimes, or incredibly restraining.

Lindsey: If they were gone, we’d all laugh – we’d be drowning without anything to bitch about!

Diana: I get defensive when people get mad at the banks or the stock market; I’m like, “You realize all the funding in dance is directly from that market!”

Lindsey: It’s all dirty money, it’s all dirty people… Money matters too, man. It matters, matters, matters. It matters to have it and it matters to challenge it, all at once. It gets so confusing.

Diana: That’s why I think the pragmatism and idealism have to go together, because the money does matter. When I saw the work that you did recently at 100 Grand with the people just jumping for as long as they could [Economy of Friendship, Sept 28, 2012], that was amazing to me because I knew they weren’t performers. That was a big part of it, you know?

Lindsey: In that piece I was specifically asking a number questions about context; “If I send out a craigslist ad, what is the willingness of craigslist to return to me? What does it do? Is this a resource for me?”

Diana: But as an audience member, I wouldn’t have even known that had not one of the people in it said that while she was jumping onstage.

Lindsey: Somehow she really wanted everyone to know.

Diana: She kind of yelled it out a couple minutes into the piece, and it changed it, and it was totally enjoyable for me and I loved knowing that.

Lindsey: For me, I didn’t even…

Diana: I’d thought at the time, “I bet Lindsey didn’t tell her to do that.”

Lindsey: The score had nothing to do with saving my piece in the eyes of the audience. I think she was like “I’m going to save Lindsey, and tell everybody the way that she constructed this work.” Sometimes when I put a piece up it’s just for the pure social experiment, without really caring about whether the audience feels it’s worth it or not. Moments like that where some random person is like “I need you to do a piece.”

Diana: It became a social experiment watching this woman do that, wondering about her relationship to you and what she needed from the piece and how that may conflict with what you needed from the piece.

Lindsey: That’s the wonderful thing about improvisation in relationship to context; it provides an opportunity for the people who compose the context to talk back to this artist. I love what I hate in improvisation as a maker of dance structures or performance structures, the way that it talks back to me and I’m like, “Ughh! I can’t stand that because I didn’t want her to say a thing!” but then I had to deal with it, with the piece conversationally.

Diana: But even when it’s set, that still happens. Like that happened a lot with Erin [Cairns Cella], which whom I worked for the first time in If I tell myself …,  the piece in the park. I really did not know what to expect from her, I thought it was set and then she would do it so differently from what I’d intended and at first I’d be like “Oh, no!” but if I just didn’t say anything, it was actually really beautiful. I loved what she did. It’s actually really amazing to watch that unexpected performance.

Lindsey: My one institutional critique is that I guess uninvestigated, pre-fabricated context is uninteresting to me. I go into a theatre really stoked, you know? But if I just see dance on stage that just accepts all aspects of that context at face value –

Diana: Like there’s a beginning, middle, end?

Lindsey: “I am in dance and I am on stage and you sit in the dark and you watch me.” I know that we have challenged this a long time ago, Ranciére came back with “Emancipated Spectator” and he was like, “Participatory work is its own demon.” I’m stuck in that demon, because I cannot handle pre-fab performance context. I just can’t do it.

Photo of Meghan Milam, Laura Bartczak by Ian Douglas

Diana: But it’s interesting; a lot of choreographers and institutions now are presenting things in process or presenting practices with the very real intention of not presenting dance in the way you’re talking about, and yet at that event where there’s the open showing, open rehearsal, “come watch me practice,” it always turns into that, for me. It always becomes a dance with a beginning and an end and we sit there, we watch it…

Lindsey: But this issue of institutional consistency, – you said before that sometimes it’s restrictive and sometimes it helps us. It’s a navigational system. Consistency lays the land out. RoseAnne Spradlin’s work [beginning of something…] got switched; she was in The Chocolate Factory and then she was at NYLA. I loved that piece with all my soul, so I feel great talking about it, analyzing it with a huge sense of adoration. It was fascinating, because in transferring to NYLA, I think it worked better, but it was also, – there was a whole – behind that shimmering curtain, all those chairs, you know, up there? The retrofitting of the theatre space was kind of hilarious, but the retrofitting was so imperfect and so, “I’m just gonna put a shimmering curtain… and here we are in this special little world of NYLA.”

Diana: I felt like it was [special] moreso than at Chocolate Factory!

Lindsey: It worked better! And it was so hysterical, because all she did was put up a damn curtain! It just fascinated me that inside of the institutional context of NYLA, which is very much about consistency…

Diana: You mean [consistent in that] they are offering artists support at different times in their career or as an audience member going and seeing a conversation happening there?

Lindsey: The kind of consistency I’m thinking of is very unfair, but that deeply unfair consistency is precisely the one that NYLA hopes to uphold, which is that the work is consistently good and at the cutting edge. And that is impossible to judge and completely unfair and in part because of their institutional position they define what those are and then they get to fulfill their own definitions. They’ve stopped the jury.

Diana: Yeah, I totally think there are other institutions that are trying to do that but I don’t perceive them that way at all.

Lindsey: DNA is a great example.

Lindsey: I think it’s great to explode and redefine your own frame, because you have to reduce, but then Keith Hennessey goes up there into NYLA [with Turbulence (a dance about the economy), October 2012] and because of institutional consistency and his long history as an artist he is considered institutionally consistent. The man goes up there and… What the hell was that? I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, but what the hell was that? It was not a performance. It was not an improvisation. It was – everything was exploded.

Diana: Did he talk to the audience? Was he talking to people, asking what people’s debt was?

Lindsey: I know it was different every night, and I went to the dress rehearsal, so I saw them dealing with some issues that were coming up, but I also know that there was a huge explosion of context happening in that space. An explosion of many frameworks that might encapsulate that piece so it can be thought about and it was so profoundly exploded within the very consistent space of NYLA that I have no means to think about that work, only memories of what happened.

Diana: That’s really interesting. I was going to ask, – I’m imagining the context of NYLA as exploded, so then what? Does that mean that there’s room for other things and then what are those things?

Lindsey: All the way down to this one thing that he did which was fake somatics, – I think it was called fake somatics, where you bring audience members on stage, and he was sitting next to me and said something along the lines of “fake somatics is based on the idea that if you decide to heal someone but you’re going to be fake about it, you’re not going to heal them, then it has a better chance of healing them.” That’s a total merging of self-conflicted information, so that total dedication to falsehood allows realhood in the case of somatics in this idea, and that describes so much of what was happening there, so much. And that is impossible to navigate. I mean that’s also I think what we’re dealing with in dance, that if you take away all the false constructions that we’ve built and are untrue, but allow us to navigate, if you take them away …

Diana: It’s like paralyzing and liberating at the same time.

Lindsey: Absolutely. We have to exist in a falsely constructed context in order to have these ideas operate at all. For any kind of common language, it has to be a fabrication. That’s the crazy thing about context too, it may be that there is no real or false context, just what kind of operation do you choose to exist inside and for what reasons?

Diana: Also, what about your context are you accepting, either knowingly or not knowingly, and what about your context are you actively creating or exploding? Because it sounds like he was creating his context. He’s very familiar with NYLA and familiar with professional, experimental dancing.

Lindsey: He was not blind about anything, but I sure was.

Diana: Yeah, that’s so interesting. That’s cool.

Lindsey: I can’t get over the idea in New York as a large room filled with people screaming

Diana: Yeah! [laughter]

Lindsey: And me as a person amongst many in that room like “blaaaaaaarghhh!” And I am the most absolutely renegade or revolutionary behavior that could be done in this context or even just the modern context that everyone wants to be seen and heard context, the context of being trained from the moment that you’re a young child that your ability to be seen and heard is your value. All of that that helped me arrive at this decision to be an artist to share with the world my personal take on reality, whatever… the most revolutionary behavior is just to shut up, and to be silent, and say nothing, that is the one thing that is not being done everywhere. But it’s useless. It’s a useless behavior, it’s totally disempowering. To shut up is to disengage and cease to exist, so if the most monumental act that you could do is also the most useless…

Diana: I have this ideal of a quiet performance. That there could be a quiet performance and it would be really powerful. I don’t mean like Eiko & Koma or a somatic improvisation thing. I don’t know what it would look like yet, but I also think it can’t exist unless there’s a loud frame around it. It’s kind of like you have to shout about your quiet performance or other people have to shout about it… But I really want that for myself. I recently told someone that maybe I’m making work just to calm myself down.

Lindsey: At the Movement Research Festival: Fall 2011, last December, [with the creation and performance of I am my Shitty Little Box at Danspace Project], I was trying to build that piece as a way of trying to listen, and that’s also why my work has become participatory or interactive.he The only personal solution I’ve found to this issue is creating performances that listen.

Diana: That’s really beautiful.

Photo of Erin Cairns Cella by Ian Douglas


Diana Crum lives in Brooklyn. She works in progressive dance communities as a choreographer, performer, teacher and administrator. She received her MFA from Hollins University and BA from Columbia University. Her choreography has been presented in New York, NY; Concord, MA; Atlanta, GA; Durham, NC; Salt Lake City, UT; Lexington, VA; Vienna, Austria; and Nancy, France. New York presenters include chashama, Movement Research at the Judson Church, Dixon Place, Roulette,  CPR (Center for Performance Research) and DNA (Dance New Amsterdam), among others. She has received an iLab Residence (from iLand, Inc.) an MCAF grant (from Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) and a Choreographer’s Project Fellowship (from Summer Stages at Concord Academy).

Currently, videos of Crum’s project yellow are available for viewing in loveDANCEmore’s Arrivals/Departures, a group show of video and performance at Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City. During Winter 2013, Crum is Adjunct Faculty at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA. She is also Development Manager at Movement Research.

Lindsey Drury is a dance maker and performance artist originally from Seattle. She has lived in New York City since 2008. Her dances are something to contend with, and are electrified by the attempts of performers to problem-solve in the moment. She creates movement structures and specific spatial pathways, she rants and raves about how everything is supposed to be, and in the end, she asks that her performers find a way to seek their own autonomy and their full humanity in relationship to everything she has created.

She has studied dance and performance art in India, Thailand, Mexico, Hungary, Austria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Turkey, and toured her work to festivals in Vienna and Budapest. In 2009, she started an in-home residency program to provide free housing for visiting artists who don’t have the resources to pay for housing while completing projects here. She hosts 1 artist at a time, engaging each artist in a collaborative project. Artists who have made use of this program include: Amapola Prada (Peru), Maria Nurmela  (Finland), Julia Klaring and Paula Pfoser (Austria), Paola Marugan Ricart (Spain), Sarah Ibanez O’Donnell (UK), Martin Lanz Landazuri (Mexico), Katelyn Hales and Molly Beardmore (USA), among others.

In 2006, she received a scholarship to study and perform with MacArthur Awardee Guillermo Gomez-Pena in Oaxaca, where they addressed the intense political protests in the region. In 2007-2008, she was a Graduate Research Fellow from the University of Utah, and traveled and engaged with dancers throughout Balkan Europe, addressing their experiences with social and political displacement.

During the 2011-2012, she was a resident artist at Gibney Dance Center, where she developed her first NYC evening-length work for the Cunningham Studio in February of 2012. This work was the last production housed at the Cunningham Studio before it closed. Over the last three years she has created dances for Danspace, Movement Research, the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Dance New Amsterdam, The Chocolate Factory, the SITE Festival, Chen Dance Center, Superfront Brooklyn, as a part of Panoply Lab’s Performance Art conferences, among others.