Interview by Mira Todorova with Barbara Bryan, Executive Director of Movement Research, New York, on the state of the performing arts in New York, the new challenges the artists are facing and the activities and role of Movement Research organization for dance today.

Тell me about the organization Movement Research, which was established in 1978. What was the mission and the idea behind that? And how, in your perspective, it evolved throughout the years?

Yes, it was established in 1978. It was founded by a group of artists. The idea at the time was to unite artists that had practices that were coming out of the Judson Dance Theater. They were what we call “the children of” or the second generation of Judson Тheater. Many of them were working with the Judson Тheatеr, doing workshops with them. And as they started to establish their own practices, creating their own work, but in particular, exploring in the studio, more body-based and somatics-based practices appeared, that lead to performative practices. We’re deeply interested in exploring the evolution of the body-based practices and new somatics. Mary Overlie probably might be the most well-known, who started to develop The Six Viewpoints technique. Аt the time in New York a lot of people were living in lofts in Soho, Tribeca, downtown Manhattan and were hosting their own workshops. It was really hard to find out about workshops, people would post fliers, would make phone calls and voicemails on answering machines. Тhe idea of the Movement Research was to create a context in which there would be a central place where people could connect, promote their workshop, design their workshops together. Тhere were at that time still, like today, a lot of people coming to New York from other places. The organization really started from this workshop and practice-based models. And that’s been a sustaining programmatic and mission-based context for us over these 40 plus years. We evolved over time to have daily classes and this started in the late 80s, early 90s. And then in the mid-90s, we started with these workshop intensives in the summer and in the winter, and that still remains a really strong part of what we do. In addition, over time, we started artists-in-residency programs. In their earlier years they were informal, people were invited and they got studio space. More recently it’s become a formalized process. It’s for New York based artists, a two-year residency for which people apply and then we have an outside selection panel that selects the artists. This residency provides studio space and other resources and an opportunity to perform in the Judson Theatre. And it was in 1991, the Monday night series began at Judson Church. Prior to that, Movement Research had been using spaces at the Ethnic Folk Arts Center, which was in Tribeca and there was a possibility to have performances there and when that space was lost to development Movement Research reached out to the ministry of the Church, knowing of course, the Judson Dance Theater history and our connection to that legacy as an organization. So that series has been running since 1981 till that day except for the COVID time and a pause during the renovation at the Church.  And that is a work in process series and Tuesday night we have Performance Series that also dates back to the 90s. Our relationship to performance is all about process, about ideas sharing, it is not about final production or commissioning. Artists are given space and time and resources, but they’re not required to create a production or a final product. That has been the signature of Movement Research over the years, which wasn’t always so popular with funders. Regarding that we’re seeing a slow shift, and now post COVID that shift has accelerated a little bit. We also have our publication Critical Correspondence which started about 10 years ago as an online publication with the idea that publishing online could be more responsive on a shorter timeline. It has been mostly embedded in the context of the New York dance community but at times, intentionally draw its focus outside, both nationally and internationally. It has a rotating co-editors structure that artists are coming in. Each of the co-editors teams has an 18-month period. The Movement Research Performance Journal started in the late ‘80s. Since early 90s it has always been an artist driven process in terms of editing, which continues today. Usually, MR publishes two issues per year, but with COVID we were only doing one. And that’s been an important place for artists to engage with their practice of writing, whether they have an established practice or whether they’re developing a practice. When you look back at it over the years, it’s really an archive of a community that hasn’t been archived in text in another place, particularly in the years before there was so much access to digital content. That seems really incredible. There was no one else writing about this stuff, except for maybe Contact Quarterly but it had a specific frame around. There are artists particularly in the 90s and also at the later stage of the AIDS crisis in New York that when people are looking for information on them, this is the place to go because other stuff would exist only in people’s personal archive.

Do you think it’s very important to develop both the art practice and the discursive approach simultaneously?

Yes, that’s right. When we talk to funders, we often divide our programs into two areas. One is presentation and process that involves the Monday night series as well as just the artists in residence program. And the other is the discourse program – it is the publication, our GPS chats series, and the Studies Project series, which is purely a discourse series that started in the mid-80s and at the time was the only discourse project. Now everyone has the post-performance talk format, but back then there was not this opportunity to come together around discourse surrounding certain topic, that wasn’t necessarily related to the specific work you were seeing. And now that’s become a very common practice in New York and I think globally. In the earlier years that was rare in New York.

In what way the role of the organization within the broader cultural context changed? The context of the 70s and the 80s was very different from the contemporary socio-political and cultural environment.

Yes, that’s a really good question. I think one thing that we’ve really remained true to is trying to be an artist-driven organization, all of our staff except for me are working artists. And many of our structures like our festival curators are guest artists, our teachers are artists who teach what they’re interested in and not a particular curriculum. Some of them teach Body Mind Centering because that’s what they’re certified in, they have the standard technique, or they’re teaching development of choreographic practices from their own perspective. They do not have, like in the academy or the university to create a curriculum that’s being approved by us. That goes back to our early genesis and really stays true. I would say over the years, certainly we’ve become more attuned to diversity, equity, and inclusion. There were artists of color that participated in the early years of the organization, but there were not many, there were fewer artists of color in this more experimental practice. There’s been a lot of work from our organization, as well as other peer organization and just general structures in New York to create a more inclusive environment for performance itself and for us coming from the white legacy form to think about what is experimentation in relationship to forms that have other histories and how can we broaden that context of experimentation to be more inclusive.

What do you think are the biggest challenges right now for you as an organization and for the community?

Things were very offended with COVID, but also with the what happened with the social justice movement, racial justice movement, specifically. It was further sparkled by George Floyd case and came to a level of urgency that had been slow brewing over time. There’s a strong call for our community to figure out what happened and I think there’s a very steady switch to supporting artists of color and BIPOC artists, and also looking for ways to be more inclusive with the disabled community and looking at a disability justice movement as well and how we can not only be part of that and engaged with that, but actually help that practice evolve. So those are, I think, the most pressing concerns in our community, and what are bringing some of the biggest challenges. As a starkly white organization, we have to think about how we bring in these artists that are needing access in certain ways. And we have to think about how we undo racism and undo ableism not only in our own structures and organization, but in our whole field and what’s the relationship to that. And there’s always this moment, when you are doing inclusion work, that those that have felt included, start to feel dis-included. I think that’s the challenge for us how we can broaden our diversity without alienating a lot of our community that’s been working with us for 20, 30, 40 years.

The notion of crisis has been normalized for the past 10 or more years. We have been witnessing the rise of various social political movements, Black Lives Matter, Brexit, Trump, COVID, now war. In what way do you think it influences the aesthetics, the themes of the artistic work, the motivation and the approaches of the artists?

I don’t think we’ll understand what has been happening for a while. I came to New York in the early 90s when the AIDS crisis was still quite present. There was a conversation about what happened to New York in the early 90s but it was somehow coming from the outside world. When you are in the middle of a crisis, you can’t quite understand what exactly is happening. And I don’t think that we will understand what that is for at least five, maybe even ten years from now. But I do think that one thing that is clearly shifting is that in the immediate community, that we’re working with in the Movement Research, this notion of creating a dance that has a formalist experimental structure that does not have connection with humanity but has connection solely with aesthetics or community or a particular issue is starting to go away. Because it doesn’t correspond anymore neither to my colleagues who are curating nor to our audiences. It’s not that such works are not still being made, but they are just not hitting the stage. And these works may not be addressing specifically social justice or the circumstances of COVID or the environmental issues, but concerns are on the rise and people are bringing that into their work. What I’ve been seeing in New York, especially on the theater stages, is very different from what I’ve seen two years ago and some of this is coming from the artists and some from the programmers.

Do you think the way the independent scene develops novel practices and ways of thinking – aesthetically and socio-politically – affects the popular culture?

I do think so! I think it affects it over time, indirectly, and subtly. But I think that there’s been situations in New York particularly because we’re one of the media capitals of the world advertising wise, where something you have seen in a dance two years later you see it on the Billboard somewhere. There is this low indirect transfer of the ideas that are being developed in the more experimental context into the larger culture. Sometimes they’re pulled out of the context and dropped into a new context. There was a period when I was younger when I thought “oh, different people in different places having similar ideas”. I’m more skeptical about that now.

Do you believe that art can really bring social and political change?

I don’t think, no. I really wish that was not the case, but I think that art is a very active and necessary participant in change and sometimes can be the spark for change. But I don’t think it can bring change alone. The context here is different from that in Europe. In the US beyond New York, there are people that live their entire life with no connection to art or the connection they have to art is with 18th century art or their friend that lives down the street who paints landscapes. They don’t have a connection to contemporary art. And they also don’t necessarily have a connection to some of the aesthetics that come through in New York, when you’re walking down the street. And I think when we’re talking about political change, right now, we’re not talking about what’s happening in our neighborhood, especially in the US. We’re talking about what’s threatening civil liberties in our country in regards to what is happening in the Supreme Court. Think about the case Roe v. Wade 50 years ago, the people that were against “Roe v. Wade”[1] when it started, many of whom are not living anymore, started a fight 50 years ago to reverse that decision. It took 50 years but it happened. And that fight was alive every day for 50 years.

You’re not very optimistic about the future?

I am. I know I sound dire but I have a lot of faith and hope in this generation of youth that are not even adults yet or early adults. I grew up in the 80s when excess was what we strived for especially in the States…to have to have to have…and I think that’s really shifting. There is a consciousness around giving space for people for their individual identities. And people with identities that aren’t necessarily falling into the dominant norm are given much more space to be who they are. That wasn’t there when I grew up. Penny Arcade[2] said something in a performance: “Some 20 years ago I came to New York because all the freaks came here. We all came here because we all fit in. Now normal people are showing up in New York. And this was my place” And she was right. That is exactly what’s been happening. The artists and the freaks keep getting pushed more and more out and with COVID many of them have even left the city. But I think the really exciting thing about this generation is that they feel free to identify themselves. And I believe the work that we’re doing in our field is really important, even though I don’t necessarily think it’s going to make political change but it affects social changes and I continue to feel very committed to working in this direction and supporting people who are deeply committed to that.



[1] Roe v. Wade (1973) was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States generally protects a pregnant woman’s “liberty” to choose to have an abortion.


[2] Penny Arcade (1950) is an American performance artistactress, and playwright based in New York City. She is known for her comedic wit, forthright delivery, and stage presence. Her performances explore topics such as gentrification, humanity, womanhoodLGBT culturenostalgiafamily history, and the life of the outsider. She is  known for her association with underground arts and culture.

Материалът е изготвен с финансовата подкрепа на Национален фонд „Култура“