IN A DIALOGUE WITH WRITER AND PERFORMANCE ARTIST, BECCA WARZER, BASED IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK.
Interview by Devonrae Jones with Photography by Mary Kang
Becca grew up in a small town on the North Shore of Long Island called Sea Cliff, just about an hour outside NYC. When asked 'why dance?' she quoted Ayesha A. Siddiqi: dancing is spiritually observant and anti-fascist.
I studied contemporary dance in college, so I don’t have a real background in more traditional dance like ballet. Our dance program was really focused on creating new work, so I was choreographing my own pieces basically as soon as I got there, and I guess at a certain point I just didn’t want to be making abstract shapes with my body anymore. I loved performing choreography in other people’s pieces, but in my own work I wanted to speak, use text and objects, and just expand my performance options in the kind of dance-theater that Pina Bausch popularized. All I did in high school was theater, so in some ways coming back to more performative or theatrical work after my dance training was a combination of everything I had done up to that point.
ON HER FAVORITE PERFORMANCE PIECE
Probably my favorite performance piece is this stand-up act/monologue that I saw my friend Julia Mounsey do about two years ago, called “[50/50] old school animation”. It completely changed the way I thought about performance. It’s just her up at a mic, and she’s talking about herself and establishing a kind of trust with the audience, and then she completely revokes that trust by slowly revealing herself as a deeply “bad person” who has done horrifically violent things to her friends. I remember being viscerally terrified of her after the performance because I couldn’t tell if it was a character she had developed or if she was actually just talking about herself. And even though I ended up performing the monologue myself for my Performance Studies class a year ago, and have kind of internalized it/studied it in that way, I guess I still don’t know for sure if it’s “real”, which is why it’s so interesting to me.
ON THE PROCESS
It has changed so much the past couple of years, but more recently I’m always starting with text. Right now I’m most interested in superimposing academic writing/theory and performance in a kind of performance philosophy. I’ve been doing performative readings of an essay that includes this moment of theatricality/movement, which acts as an extension or elaboration of the written essay, rather than a kind of embodied metaphor of the concepts I’m talking about in the essay. Next I’d like to try and use performance situations as a way of doing theory itself, like getting performance to do the work an essay would normally do. I think that’s important because there’s a lot of interesting and important theory that’s fossilized within language/representation, whereas bringing it into the realm of bodies, situations and performance can potentially lend it the kind of power of a direct action.
You’ve collaborated with several people on performance pieces, most recently with band, True Blue. Does collaboration play an important role in your work?
Honestly, not really. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such a rich art and performance environment and I am constantly inspired by the work around me. But making work has always been a pretty individual process for me. Even when I have brought other people in to perform my work, it’s been my vision/direction. That said, I do a fair amount of one-off performances for other people like the one I did for my friend Maya’s band True Blue—it was a kind of dance intervention where I had this evil twin persona, wearing a big blonde wig and dancing in a big circle the crowd had made around me. But that’s something that I can just sort of slip into—the first time I did it we didn’t even really rehearse beforehand. I really appreciate things like that because it’s an important outlet for me to try out improvisation ideas.
Do you consider the subtleties in movement? How would you describe your relationship with your body?
My relationship to my body is always changing. Recently I’ve started going to the gym more often, to work on my upper body strength. I just want stronger arms—want to be able to lift heavier stuff for longer. When I’m there and I’m like just at the point of not being able to keep going, I think about what Kathy Acker wrote about bodybuilding being about pushing your muscles to the point of failure—like the whole process is just about getting to that point of failure. That helps me feel better about it being so hard!
What role does costume/dress play in your work?
It plays a pretty big role—even if I’m not trying to make a statement with what I’m wearing in a particular performance, it’s still hyper intentional and considered. Recently I performed in this white accordion-fabric Kahle dress, which was very special!
How does your personal style differ from your performance style?
I think they really closely inform each other. I usually don’t try and differentiate, because I think my performances are making me as much as I am making my performances. So my personal style will definitely be reflected in my performance work and vice versa.
Have any upcoming projects you are excited about?
Well I’m working on my masters thesis right now, so I’m not letting myself work on anything else while I’m doing that. But my thesis will be the biggest/longest project I’ve done, so I’m excited about that. And in the meantime, I’m reading/performing at Spoonbill Books on November 13th!