The Story Behind the Scars
Nicole Decsey interviews Rachel Levitt on her new piece "Normal People".
It was a pleasure interviewing my friend, colleague and co-writer for A Dance Way of Life, Rachel Levitt on her piece “Normal People” which premieres at Dance Corps' Our Stories – Flash Show on Oct 3, and will also be part of The Assembly Theatre's Window of Opportunity Festival on October 10 and 11.
After listening to Rachel, I realized that the narrator’s words became the second dancer. What started out as a solo had morphed into a duet between these two beings and what was being said between them. As the soloist in this work I experienced the emotional rollercoaster of the creation process. It was fascinating to feel the piece develop and evolve through the three rehearsals. And did it ever evolve!
Thank you, Rachel, for chatting with me and sharing a little piece of yourself in this interview. I am deeply moved by this piece, your choreography and the narrator’s words.
What was it like to develop this piece through a “workshop” process?
Extremely stressful, I’ll kick this off by saying it was extremely stressful. There was a lot of trust I would say, in this process. I had to put aside the feeling that I had to be perfect and then I began to delve into this very painful story. The words, and what was going on in the spoken word piece really hit a painful cord for me. And I was fighting through that pain, because even though pain can often be a charge for creativity it can also be a shutdown point.
The first couple of hours of rehearsal we dove into blindly, and it started off very gestural. I’ll admit that at the beginning I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to pick up, but I felt like there was something in it that had to be finished. I felt like there was more that had to be said. So even though I had to push through a lot of heavy emotions in this piece and I wasn’t sure where it was going to go, I eventually became invested in what the narrator was trying to say, and I knew it was important that it be heard.
What was the significance of having the dancer break away from the narrator halfway through the piece?
Listening to the words, it seemed like the narrator was conflicted. The story actually lacked a degree of detail as if the narrator was purposefully keeping it vague. Because of this vagueness I felt that when the narrator decided there was a change and realized they were not saying exactly what they wanted to say, my dancer had to reflect that. And in this case that meant the dancer had to tell the narrator to shut up, because at that moment if felt like the dancer was actually dictating the flow of the piece for the first time.
How were you able to connect personally to this piece?
So, this piece is about someone who is neurologically ill, and there is definitely a lot of gas lighting around how people who are neurologically ill are treated and what services are open to them. I really resonated with this concept and with the way the narrator talks about the abuse of authority figures. Last time I checked just because someone is a “professional” does not give them the right to ever tell another human being to “throw someone out and declare them homeless”. In my books, it doesn’t take a “professional” to say that that is flat out wrong and should never have happened.
I guess another reason why I really connect with this narrator is that my brother also suffers from a neurological illness, my uncle has schizophrenia and I have another relative with bipolar disorder. Throughout my experiences with these family members I’ve learned that when you live with an illness every day, you can’t just give up, but you don’t have to fight for something in everyone’s faces. Sometimes helping the people in your immediate circle is the best thing you can do and it’s important to give a voice to those who can’t speak out.
What is your favourite dance movie?
Okay, one of the reasons this is so hard is that despite being super passionate about dancing there’s so many really bad dance films out there…wait, why did I just say this is hard? It’s The Red Shoes! It’s The Red Shoes because it’s just the perfect dance movie in every way. And added bonus, it sums up everything this blog is all about!
What are your backstage habits?
As a performer I was serious backstage, with a razor focus. As a choreographer, I have a good luck card that I read before every opening night. This card was written to me from one of my mentors, and I didn’t even know I had it until two years after she gave it to me. When I finally found the card buried at the bottom of a gift bag, I was at a point in my life where I hadn’t really done a lot of choreography and I was going into a big career transition. I was scared, but I found that letter at the perfect time and it became my good luck charm.
What is your favourite song to dance to?
Anything by Years and Years. I’ve actually thought of renaming my jazz classes to Years and Years jazz because my playlists are full of their music.