Meet the Artist: Autumn Mist Belk

September 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dance Project Intern, Michele Trumble, chatted with Raleigh dancer/choreographer Autumn Mist Belk about choreography, collaboration and Code f.a.d. Company. Interview June 25th, 2012.

Julep: Photo by Amelia Bailey

Dance Project: What inspired you to research and choreograph about the Kentucky Derby?

Autumn Mist Belk: I was actually sitting down to write a grant proposal and had to include what the work would be about (should I receive the grant to create it), but I wasn’t really sure what my next project should be. I thought I would like to have a dance in which the dancers wore big hats as part of their costumes, so setting the work at the Kentucky Derby came to me pretty quickly since people are known to wear crazy hats to that event. I’ve actually never been to the Kentucky Derby (or any other horse race) in person, but after deciding on the theme, I did watch some racing on television.

DP: There is a little bit of a poking fun at proper behavior during southern high society functions. I imagine that was fun to play around with. Was that always your intention or did it play out in rehearsals?

AMB: That definitely was my intention; I wanted the work to speak to the average person, and I believe we enjoy it when the “high class” people show a lack of class and decorum. I’m not sure how it fell into the timeline of crating the piece, but when I think of it now I recall the episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County when they went to a horse race. Definitely some bad behavior there, though I do not think Julep takes it to that level. It is really just folks trying to be “proper” but getting caught up in the drinking of the day and losing a level of dignified manners, I’d say.

DP: When creating Julep, did you set all the movement or did you look to your dancers for movement invention as well? Would you say that is typical of how you work on creating a new piece?

AMB: I did set all the material in Julep, which is fairly typical in how I work. I create some vocabulary and phrases, teach those to the dancers, then put everything together keeping in mind who looks the best in what movement, etc. I have been very lucky to keep a core group of dancers in the company for many years now, so I really know what each person’s body lends itself to the most. (Some dancers are the big jumpers, others are turners, some are better at intricate gestures or precise musicality…) The work is influenced a lot by the dancers that I work with, but I usually do not have them come up with the material themselves. All that being said, as luck would have it I am currently working on a new piece this summer in which the dancers ARE creating much of the movement material, developing gestures and phrases based on prompts I give them. So, I wouldn’t say I never work that way – but it is much more rare.

DP: What led you to found Code f.a.d. Company?

AMB: I think I always knew once I started choreographing modern dance in college that I would start my own company. After graduate school, I didn’t want the responsibility of a company, but I did start working with some dancers on a few projects almost right away. (And some of those same dancers are still working with me today, over 5 years later.) We performed in some small shows and worked on a dance film just as a loose group, but then once my work was first chosen for the NCDF tour (Dinner in 2008), I thought it was time to really form a true professional company – and Code f.a.d. was created! Having a company that works year-round, rather than just before a concert opportunity, allows me to get to know the dancers that much better, gives the dancers constant training in my movement style, and just affords us more time to develop art.

DP: Multimedia seems to be present in not only Julep, but many of Code f.a.d.’s other works. What draws you to work with combination of movement and other media?

AMB: I just love it when all elements are thought-out and really well designed. I studied visual art in college (and was actually a double-major in art and dance), so I think it was only natural for me to want to work in combination. Using other media with dance allows you to give the audience so much more information, and allows you to build a richer experience in many cases. (I do not believe you always NEED something else, but I do always think about whether other elements would help my vision.) We do use video projections quite often, but I also consider the props and costumes integral parts of the artwork. It really bothers me when the costuming doesn’t seem to add anything to a dance; we’ve all seen those modern dance companies that always wear unitards or gauchos and tunics. I’m just left wondering who are you? Where are you? From a financial stand-point, it certainly is beneficial to reuse costumes in multiple dances, but my dancers are not the same characters in each dance, so usually they cannot be dressed the same.

DP: Proxy (G. Todd Buker) composed the music for Julep and a few of your other works. Can you speak to your work collaborating with artists in other fields such as music and film?

AMB: Collaborating can be such a rich experience if you find the right artists. I have been very lucky to find a few artists that I work well with, and Todd is certainly someone I always want to have around. Julep in particular was a great experience because it was the first collaboration between Todd and I where we really were both creating our pieces of the work at the same time. He has created music first before (then I choreograph to it), and I have created dance first (then we figure out music for the dance), but for this project we both started work together. We got together and spoke about the concept, and as it turns out Todd loves the Kentucky Derby so he was excited for the project! From there, he created short pieces of music and I created some movement phrases, I’d listen and he’d watch, then we figure out what was working and what wasn’t and go create some more.

Honestly I find collaborating with film artists a bit tougher – and so I do a lot of Code f.a.d.’s film work on my own. (Our evening-length project Indulge is the one exception. I was so happy to work with Stephen Aubuchon and Colby Hoke on the video projections for that work!) I don’t think it has anything to do with film or other visual artists’ natures, just more of a comment on the fact that I like to be in control of the vision, and since I do have a background in photography and film work, I usually come to the table with a closer idea of what I want the finished product to be. That being said, I’m always open to trying out new collaborations, and maybe we will find some more film artists in the future to work with more regularly.

DP: Code f.a.d. Company has done a lot of programs and residencies within the k-12 school system. What do you and other company members hope to leave the children you work with? What do you take away as an artist?

AMB: We hope to show the children what modern dance can be. Our work is not “dumbed down” for them; I think children are much more open and receptive to abstract ways of thinking about dance and movement than adults sometimes give them credit for. We perform and get the students to create their own dances about ideas – not focusing on the flashy jumps and tricks you see on dance tv shows. I hope to show them that dance can say something as art, not just as entertainment. Usually, we leave a school wondering why our adult audiences cannot be as open as the children! Modern dance doesn’t confuse the students; they either decide what the dance is about, or decide it wasn’t about anything really and be ok with that, too. Adults seem to get irritated when they don’t “get” something; they are not as willing to just enjoy for whatever it is.

Thanks to Autumn Mist Belk for sharing her thoughts with us!  You can catch “Julep” in Boone on October 26, Greensboro on November 2, Wilmington on January 13, and Charlotte on January 25!   Check out our full calendar at our website.

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