The 22 Magazine: To start off with, tell me a little about the Alexander Technique and your work with it?
Cori Olinghouse: I was first introduced to the Alexander Technique around age 14 with San Diego-based teacher Ari Gil. Over the years, I have continued my own study of the work and now have a private practice, teaching in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The technique uses the power of observation to look at the impulses, behaviors, and shaping instincts for how a person embodies themselves in their environment. I teach the Alexander Technique as a point of entry towards understanding movement because it’s premise underlies the capacity of the imagination in movement. I believe the body is a deep place of possibility – that contains within it complex patterning, plasticity, and
the ability for change.
The 22: In talking about your work there are blurry lines between “male” and “female” roles. Tell me a little about your decision to break down gender? Was it influenced by your time with Trisha Brown?
CO: I’m often asked about gender as it relates to my work. I don’t consciously work to construct any particular relationship to gender, though I realize my own preference is to embody a fluid spectrum of gender. With costume collaborator, Andy Jordan, we look at silhouettes and masks that have a dynamic ability to shapeshift and change form. In”Ghost lines” specifically, we were interested in shadow and ghost characters that emerge from a Beckettian void. Here the physical form is meant to suggest a wide array of shapes, forms, images, and fantasies to summon a collective, historical unconscious.
The 22: Your look and style is obviously influenced by voguing and waacking, which in turn is influenced by silent films. Tell me a little about when you started becoming interested the techniques? Are there any specific “stars” or other dancers that inspired you?
CO: In 2005, I had the incredible pleasure to begin a dancing dialogue with Bill Irwin. We began meeting from time to time at the now closed Fazil’s to play with hat tricks and freestyle to all kinds of music. Influenced by this time with Bill, I have continued to research and seek out a variety of movement disciplines as a way to riff, practice, and build up a more varied approach to improvisation. The list of inspirations is huge ranging from silent comedians such as Buster Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, to eccentric dancers such as Snake Hips Tucker, Buster West, Max Wall, and Hal Leroy, to soft-shoe legends Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins, tap legend Eleanor Powell, Fred Astaire, to the underground voguing legends Archie Burnett, Javier Ninja, Benny Ninja, and many others in the NYC house dancing culture. I am also hugely influenced by my partner Kai Kleinbard, b-girl Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, corporeal performance artist, Colin Gee, and tap artist Michelle Dorrance. The fabric of artists that shape the underground vernacular styles are incredibly moving to me.
The 22: What important lessons did Bill teach you?
CO: I continue to find immense inspiration from our dialogue. Bill has the unique ability to take his own language, created from his own mastery of clown, theater, dance, and other disciplines into any context imaginable. He has played in downtown venues, circus, experimental theater venues, on TV, in movies, on Broadway, and classical theater venues, among others. Bill has the ability to perform in all these contexts while remaining true to his own core and essence. For me this essence is his uncanny ability to be irreverently on time, with such impeccable rhythmic syntax to his storytelling. His characters seem to emerge from his incredibly expressive back. He physically maintains a sense of oppositional tension – allowing the spaces of the characters and their complex personalities to be finely nuanced. The comedic tension is full of pathos and deep humanity. Not to mention his ill ability to noodle those rubbery legs! I hope to continue to learn and learn more from Bill.
The 22: You most recent piece “Ghost lines” struck me with it’s more surrealist take. The film itself is a take off of old silent films but combined with sort of this eerie, almost horrific looping music. Likewise the dance piece you do with your partner Kai Kleinbard and others has these amazing looking characters that look they are straight out of a dali painting. Tell me a little about your costume influences, and what those characters represent to you? What are “ghost lines” and what are you trying to convey with this film?
CO: The connection to Dada and Surrealism and Vaudeville is astonishing to me. As an example, looking at Hans Richter’s 1927 film, Ghosts Before Breakfast, there are many parallels to the silent era clown movies. The spaces of Dada/Surrealism and clown/Vaudeville collide through the use of absurd associative logic. Often surreal fantasies magically appear and disappear. The timings are abrupt, non-sequitor, and strange. With “Ghost lines,” I’ve been inspired to imagine the synthesis of these worlds – sharing oddity, humor, and slapstick. The costume elements, created by Andy Jordan, have emerged out of our collaboration where we play with shape, silhouette, and meaning – looking to conjure various images, memories, and fantasies. I’ve also been inspired by the blob-like, amorphous forms that appear in anime films – changing, morphing shape from one scene to the next. In “Ghost lines,” I play with characters that emerge from the ground, looking to find form, disappear, and find form again. I’ve been looking at these types of questions – what is our collective cultural archive of imagery? Over time, what gets remembered? What patterns appear in the cultural memory again and again? With shadowshaper, Eva Schmidt, costumed as a Beckettian, masked character, she is devoid of a singular identity. We see her as a shadow figure animated by the imagery that passes through her form. She is so expressive even though we can’t see her face. We recognize these accumulated gestures and body moments, projecting what we remember onto her 2D shadow form. From the void springs form. From the void, springs our own consciousness and imagination.
The 22: Tell me how you met Shona Masarin and what inspired you to take on this project together?
CO: Shona Masarin and I met this past fall while working on a film restoration project for Elaine Summers film of Trisha Brown’s 1971 Walking on the Wall at The Whitney. I have been working in the archives for the Trisha Brown Dance Company since 2009 and Shona as Elaine Summers film assistant since 2011. With Shona, I began to see the possibility to forge a new visual language, re-imagining the aesthetics from Vaudeville and early Dada and Surrealist films through experimental film techniques and tactics. I am drawn to the intuitive, rhythmic, and tactile way Shona approaches film. When we met, we immediately discovered a shared language with moving images. With Shona and the magic of the film celluloid, I knew we could summon the spaces of Vaudeville and the silent clown era.
The 22: What do you think working with film brings to the project as opposed to digital?
CO: As an archivist, I have catalogued video since 2002. In not being able to touch, see or come in contact to the material inside the cassette jacket, I was amazed to experience a tactile and sensory connection to 8mm and 16mm film. The physical and ephemeral nature of film connects to my ongoing interest in vaudeville, silent clown, and eccentric dance – forms that are fading in our contemporary art culture today.
The 22: Did your work as an archivist influence your decision to use an old film technique for the film portion of “Ghost lines”?
CO: Absolutely. The “Ghost lines” project uses an archival impulse to conjure a vaudevillian past. In my process, I conjure various levels of body archives – an historical body archive, a personal body archive, and an imagined movement archive. The ghost character channels and summons these layers through an unconscious freestyle movement language in which I act as a kind of medium, allowing a series of imagined spaces, characters, and personalities to drift through my body, take form, and dissolve again in what I describe as a continuous “line drawing.” The “ghost line” is a way to remember, imagine, and invent – playing with imagery from our collective, historical unconscious. Having the ability to work with film, Shona and I are excited to use the emulsion as a kind of living organism – alive, with vivid light and shadow, and fragile as the material presence becomes more and more obsolete. We are hoping to use this fragile emulsion to bring forth a new seeing of the ephemeral.