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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Dan Safer

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody

Dan Safer

Dan Safer
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Dan Safer is Artistic Director of Witness Relocation and has directed/ choreographed all of their shows, ranging from fully-scripted plays to original dance/theater pieces to many things in between. Dan choreographed and co-directed the acclaimed UBU SINGS UBU with Tony Torn (Abrons, Slipper Room, American Rep, BB King's, Highline Ballroom). His work as a choreographer has been at BAM, DTW, Danspace Project, Ash Lawn Opera, and many other places. In 2011, he choreographed Stravinsky's RITE OF SPRING for Philadelphia Orchestra with Obie-winners Ridge Theater. Artforum Magazine called him "pure expressionistic danger" and Time Out NY called him "a purveyor of lo-fi mayhem." Currently, he is faculty at MIT. He got kicked out of high school for a year, used to be a go-go dancer, and once choreographed the Queen of Thailand’s Birthday Party.

Dan Safer (front) with Ae Andreas
in the duet, Surveys The Prairie of Your Room
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I had JUST started work with the amazing composer Christian Frederickson. We had no timeline but were planning on meeting once a week and improvising together to see what would happen. We had one meeting.

I have a show I'm making with my amazing friend and collaborator Robert M. Johanson (who I made The Loon with). We workshopped it at MIT last fall. It's like a nine-person play with dances that takes place in a split-level ranch house based on designer Sarah Brown’s childhood home. The audience is just in this house with the performers; there’s no official ’seating.' It has original music by Sxip Shirey and videos by Josh Higgason. Abby Marcus from Vampire Cowboys is our producer.

We were up for a few residencies to develop the next round of it, all of which have been cancelled. It's about bears and homes and your life falling apart and experiences doing Toad Venom as intensive psychedelic therapy.

I teach a full load of classes at MIT. I'm basically the entire Dance Department. I'm in the Theater Arts program, the only person teaching dance classes. This semester I'm suddenly remotely-teaching Choreography, Improvisation, and an Intro to Acting Class.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

I got into dance going to Punk shows and slamming around in the pit, but when I was very young, I used to make my parents and their friends watch my ‘shows’ which involved me putting on a suit and thrashing around on the floor to a Bee Gees album. I think very little has actually changed.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I'm staying sane by doing yoga every day, but that's been the deal for a few years now.

The last piece I made for Witness Relo was a duet, Surveys The Prairie of Your Room, with Ae Andreas and music by Heather Christian. I had no idea how to make a full length duet, or how to be in the whole piece from start to finish as a performer, so I made that show to see if it was possible for me to do so, and to try doing a thing I had no idea how to do. Now I’d like to make a solo, because i have NO IDEA how to do that. This seems like the world has conspired to set me up to do that.
I'm also filing yoga classes and putting them online for people to do if they want, as a way of getting moving and taking care of themselves in isolation/stay-in-place-ing. I'm trying to think of how to put ‘good,' whatever that is, out into the world right now.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

A while ago, I changed my official ‘mission statement’--you know, the thing on the website and that you need to put down on grant applications--to something about “combining dance and theater to make shows about the fact that, when it comes down to it, you just don’t need to be an asshole." That's basically how I feel.

I've been dealing pretty intensely the past few years with being in recovery (alcoholic, etc.), and my life as I knew it kind of falling apart and re-assembling itself. I feel like I'm still the same person, but a LOT has changed and I approach other people and reality in general from a very different place now, and I think my work and practice have begun to reflect that.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

That's what we’re all figuring out, isn’t it? I think there is something about the fact that everyone is getting through self-quarantine by watching movies and reading, which means the arts are actually really important to our lives. I'm trying to figure out how I teach and make work for this new reality and am considering the fact that this might be a regularly-occurring thing in the future, and how do you teach Contact Improvisation to isolated people via Zoom, or ensemble work, or any of the things I really love doing. I'm getting a website together of free resources for people to share, of idea and techniques and warm-ups and etc., so that's one way I'm trying to contribute and help.

Besides that, I'm just gonna plug away and try to make a solo, and see what happens and how it can get delivered. I'm not very satisfied with the experience of Video Conference Performance yet, but it is VERY early days on that stuff. I don’t know. I really want to be in a room full of people, to be honest, and I’m keeping it together and holding it down, but I’m also pretty fucking sad sometimes. I'm also super-lucky to have food and shelter, and I actually still have a job right now thanks to my teaching practice, so that's super-lucky.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

Produce seems to be available. Eat lots of greens. Exercise. A friend of mine is trying out blowing a hair dryer up her nose, and my mother told me to gargle with hydrogen peroxide solution because a friend of hers from Trenton told her it would help.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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