Tulsa has the huge honor this week of welcoming Vancouver-based Kidd Pivot to town for two performances of Crystal Pite’s most recent work, The Tempest Replica. Choregus Productions snapped up the chance to bring this internationally-renowned company here to a part of the world they’ve never even come close to on a tour, and from the responses I’ve heard to last night’s show, this visit is proving to be transformative for arts patrons in our community. Kidd Pivot presents one more show tonight at Cascia Hall — get tickets at http://choregus.org — and dancer Eric Beauchesne will offer a master class tomorrow. I got a chance to sit down with Kidd Pivot dancer Cindy Salgado this morning to talk about her five years’ experience working with the company and about The Tempest Replica in particular. Thank you to Cindy for her time, and to Choregus and Kidd Pivot for the opportunity to go inside this extraordinary company.
AC: How do you start the process of creating these incredibly elaborate, complex theatrical pieces with Crystal? Do you start conceptually, or with physical exploration?
Cindy Salgado: It’s been different for every piece I’ve been part of the creation for. With Dark Matters, which was the first piece I joined [in 2009], Crystal had created some phrases for the dancers at Nederlands Dans Theatre and came in and taught them to us. For me that was really beneficial because I got to learn her movement quality first and then she gave us tasks based off those phrases. She knew she wanted to work with this idea of dark matter, she knew she wanted this shadow character throughout the piece. She’d already started exploring with Frontier, which was an NDT piece as well. So we had some jumping off points. She also had this idea of working with a puppet but wasn’t totally convinced about it. As we went along and she worked with a puppet maker and we started to explore with it, she was convinced she wanted to use it but wasn’t quite sure how. It was amazing how that piece came together really last minute. The storyline for the puppet came, like, the week before the show. She wrote the script of it and we had been playing so much in the studio with the way the puppet could move and articulate but it wasn’t until the very end that she put all the pieces together and understood that the story had to be that this puppet had to destroy its master and that that had to come back around at the end of the show.
AC: That’s amazing, because it’s tied in so beautifully all the way through, so to hear that it wasn’t the starting point of the whole thing is so surprising.
CS: She knew she wanted to work with the idea of us being “puppeted,” and that’s something Crystal always works with, really, the idea of the dancer being danced instead of dancing. That’s a concept we like to play with even in our improv classes: how can you allow for other things to manipulate you, either outside dancers or outside energies, whatever it is. I think that’s one thing that makes her work stand out — the idea that we’re not always in control of what we’re doing — and we’re really available to that process.
For The Tempest Replica, it was kind of the opposite. She had a story, so the challenge was how to tell a very complex story! She knew she didn’t have enough dancers to really tell it in its fullness, but she also didn’t want to tell the story from start to finish the way any Shakespeare play would. She played a lot with what kind of order to put it in, and that also came together quickly, how she wanted to structure the piece and how the “replica” parts wanted to fit in.
We do this whole “replica” storytelling [in The Tempest Replica] — which is another thing she tested out on NDT with a piece called Plot Point – and we worked with developing how these replica characters would move, finding the best way to tell the story as concisely as possible but still in an interesting fashion. We just fell in love with that process, trying to figure out the walks — we spent hours working with how to walk in a way that would look not too human but not so out of place so that you can’t connect to it.
AC: Can you describe the “replica” idea?
CS: We thought originally there might be sort of a play within a play that would help tell the plot of the story. But then Crystal realized in the process that Prospero’s character is creating everything that happens, orchestrating the plot. So these are characters that he’s built that he’s using to help make the plot a reality. Almost like a puppetmaster again, in a different way. Prospero creates these characters and they come back to haunt him. In the play itself, everything he wants to have happen, happens, but he is destroyed by that process. Crystal’s work has a tendency to be about a creator being destroyed by their creation. That came back within this story line, particularly with this being Shakespeare’s last play. In the last speech that Prospero gives he talks about “release me,” and there’s this sense of “I’ve done everything I can, I’m putting it all out there, let me go.” It’s just another really fascinating multi-dimension and layer of her work.
AC: In these pieces I see a beautiful combination of pinpoint heart-connection, a very personal quality that never feels sappy, and then a highly intelligent abstraction. That’s a really valuable set of qualities.
CS: I know. I’ve always been surprised myself at the balance she’s able to achieve. I think that’s just Crystal’s nature. When we improv together as a company she talks a lot about having a balance of instinct and intellect. You’ll probably hear that in your class on Saturday! That translates into everything she does. You can see that there’s a very thoughtful intellectual approach to the work, and at the same time there’s this instinct that drives it. There’s an emotional quality that, like you said, doesn’t feel sappy and comes from a deep place. I don’t know how she does it either!
AC: Kidd Pivot’s movement language combines extreme specificity and also an energy that’s a little bit out of control, a little bit wild. How do you train together? How do you achieve that quality?
CS: Crystal has an improvisationally-based class that we explore together as a company regularly, not an every day practice but it’s something we always come back to. A lot of it has to do with isolation. Crystal is a master of isolation, which I guess shows most in the Replica characters, her ability to break down one piece of the body and make that articulation so fascinating. We play a lot with leading from different parts of the body, and with partnering, which helps you to understand that “puppeted” quality. We do an exercise called “predator and prey” where two people are manipulating one person and that person can choose how passive or active they want to be in the process. In doing exercises like that you start to gain an appreciation for being both the follower and someone who can tap into that intellect in terms of how they choose to follow.
What’s unique about this company also is that when Crystal went off to have a child and then brought Nico back into the fold, we were functioning on our own for a bit as a company. We don’t have a ballet master, per se, so we would help to ballet master one another. In that process we all understood how to articulate the certain aspects that make her work special for one another. It’s weird when you’re working with your peers and you know they’re extremely talented to begin with and still to be able to find the details that make the movement more or less magical that you want to help them bring out. It was really special. First of all it brought us closer together as a company, and also it helped us all step up in our level of responsibility for understanding her work. A lot of us have been with her for a while but there are a few new-ish dancers. Crystal has a tendency to work with dancers she already knows through other companies, people she’s really worked with, so she knows what they’re like in process. She can tell that they’ll be muses of some sort for her. I was the one random person who didn’t come in that way, but I lucked out and had good timing and all that! Getting to know her deeper as a person helps us to understand what she’s looking for.
Cindy Salgado (center) in “Dark Matters” (photo by Christopher Duggan)
AC: There are often huge pieces of group partnering you have to do that just tumble across the stage. Can you talk about how you put those moments together?
CS: Because we do so much partnering in Crystal’s improvisational classes, we already have a sense of how we react to one another. Crystal puts a lot of faith in her dancers and our artistic choices. Every once in a while she’ll jump in and change a choice … “what happens if this person does this here, and what’s the reaction down the line?”
One of the big group partnering sections actually developed out of one in The You Show. It was a very dark moment, but she liked the tumbling energy we had there. But it has a totally different energy here, we’re talking throughout and it’s very playful. She’s never afraid to borrow from herself.
AC: There’s a kind of honesty in that. “I’m not done thinking about this yet!”
CS: She’ll use a lot of the same material with us and with NDT and it will look completely different depending on what the overall arc of the piece is. I think that’s why her work is so rich: because she is willing to return and develop it further.
AC: There’s some talking in this piece, which might be surprising for some people, and a lot of props, a lot going on on the stage. What’s it like to work with those challenges?
CS: With the replica scene we definitely struggled with props at first, and every once in a while something will go wrong and you just can’t help it. There’s this rock that comes on and off the stage that’s drawn by a string and we had a show at the Joyce where the string got caught and the rock couldn’t move and it was just a long stillness onstage with nothing happening! We just had a performance in Toronto where the projector stopped working, so you have to pause and reset … at the same time it’s amazing how the piece didn’t lose too much momentum, we were able to keep going, and we’re lucky to have a really strong technical team who can adjust so easily.
It’s quite fun to have all these things to play with. Eric [Beauchesne] is the one who plays Prospero and does the most speaking throughout the piece. He’s gotten so used to having this dialogue with himself as he goes through the piece that last night [after the first Tulsa show] we were saying, “If you ever do another dance piece you’re just going to be talking to yourself the whole time because you’re so used to this way of working!” For the rest of us there’s only a little bit of speaking, especially in that one scene we all do together, and there’s more natural sounds that come out in the movement depending on the emotional depth of what we’re doing.
For me, I play Miranda, and there’s a scene where I’m watching the shipwreck and seeing destruction and suffering for the first time and I’m crying throughout the whole scene. At the beginning it was very subtle, but the more that I played with how far I let myself go, she appreciated the sounds that came along with it. It wasn’t like we said, “Sound like you’re crying!” That would be horrible and would come across quite forced. So it just naturally kept growing, and because it was natural she appreciated the sound that came from it. There are also some recorded sounds in the piece that came from dancers and our sound designers. Peter [Chu], who was our original Caliban, recorded some sounds that he thought his character would make, and also Meg [one of the sound designers] recorded some of the lines for Ariel. You can feel the natural connection to Shakespeare because she’s an actress who has explored Shakespeare quite a lot. But there are only tastes of the language, so you don’t feel like you’re watching a play. You can tell that Crystal picks lines that she thinks are beneficial to the story line, to helping you understand, to heightening the emotional moment.
AC: How did you approach getting inside of your character?
CS: In the past, we’ve never had specific characters (well, in The You Show Germaine has a part where he plays a superhero, but it’s not like he even has a name or a history he’s playing with). This was the first time we had characters from a play that have multiple lines we could be drawing from, or not, and I think most of the dancers chose not to try to be somebody else and take on a role, but tried to find what it is about those characters that they relate to and apply that. Crystal’s also very smart in creating a piece where most of us are quite similar to our characters in some way or another. So getting me to be this dramatic girl who cries over other people’s suffering is really not very far from who I am! So it’s quite easy for me to connect to that part and each night go there because I’ve had experiences in my own journey that I can easily connect to. So I’m not trying to imagine myself as this child living on an island watching a shipwreck; I can imagine myself seeing children suffering that I’ve worked with personally. Crystal doesn’t put too much pressure on everybody to find it a certain way. We’re all given the freedom to find our characters the way we want to, and that’s really helpful. Bryan [Arias]’s Caliban is scarier; Peter’s was more vulnerable. She likes to bring out different aspects depending on who’s performing it.
AC: What might this show give to someone who comes to see it, maybe someone who doesn’t know Kidd Pivot or even contemporary dance at all?
CS: I’ve seen how this show impacts people who come to see it. If you know the play, there’s a depth of understanding through the movement that you get to experience. Actors who have come to see it, for whom The Tempest is their favorite play, find that elements of this show move them so much deeper than they’ve experienced watching the play before. I’ve also had plenty of friends who know nothing about Shakespeare or this play and can still appreciate the physicality.
Crystal has a way of connecting physicality to humanity. Each gesture is something you can relate to. Each gesture comes from a real human place, so you can go through a cathartic experience through the artists involved and hopefully come out with a story that you can somehow relate to. Whether it’s about forgiveness, whether it’s about letting go, whether it’s about trust – all of those are things we all experience, and telling a heightened story to get to those places sometimes helps us process our own journey.