An Interview with Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton

Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton are a cut different than usual collaborators. In addition to collaborating choreographically, they are life partners. Their current show, “Angles of Enchantment,” is yet another in a string of dance collaborations over the past few years. I spoke with them to learn more about the intersection of their working and personal lives.

Emmaly Wiederholt: How did you come to be working together?

Janice Garrett: We started working together five years ago. Charlie and I were contemporaries in the dance world in New York. Charlie had a dance company of his own after he’d danced with Merce. Our first work together was when I started a company and we decided that Charlie would include a piece in our 2005 program, “18-Person Precision Ball Passing.” It’s such a well known piece of his I felt it would be great if people in the Bay Area were exposed to it. And then we enjoyed that so he did another piece, a piece of his called “Chickens” in 2007. Charlie you want to go from there?

Charles Moulton: We discovered a wonderful string quartet called Del Sol String Quartet, and we decided that we were going to do a concert where Janice was going to do half of an evening and I was going to do half of an evening and Del Sol was going to play for both. Very soon in our discussion process it seemed much more interesting for us to do something where we were all collaborating, and it ended up being a piece in which we carried, dragged, threw, tossed, jostled, sat on, and interacted with the string quartet, all while they played beautiful music. How we integrate music and dance was the kind of problem that really required all of our energies and everybody’s skills and was less about everyone making an artistic statement and more about us trying to accomplish something that no one could accomplish on their own. This was “Stringwreck” in 2008.

Janice: After we did that piece to my delight and surprise we really enjoyed working together, and I was at a point in my career where I was looking for more dialogue and interchange around the making of work. I’d begun to feel quite isolated and in some ways burdened by the singularity of being an artistic director, running a company and making all the work myself, so to find partnership with Charlie was a wonderful discovery. Having had the experience with the string quartet we decided to create another piece together in 2009, “The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories.”

Emmaly: It’s very clear you have a wonderful personal and professional relationship. Did you ever have any reservations about overstepping your artistic boundaries?

Charles: If I’m making the work that I need to be making, then I’m incredibly vulnerable. It’s something about this enterprise of discovery and awkwardness and learning; there are always feelings of weakness that are propelled to the front. I think that there’s a lot of strength that’s involved. Making the work I need to be making, for me, is often painful. And so I think opening yourself up to others doing the same endeavor is always a risk. And it speaks to our friendship because I don’t know how many people I could do that with.

Janice: For me there were initially reservations. We had been together as a couple for twelve or thirteen years before we started making work. We had many years of being life partners where we were not trying to bring our creative lives together. When we began that enterprise there were some questions about how it was going to either enhance or impinge upon our personal life and personal relationship. The fact that we’ve been together as long as we have and developed the trust and connections we have over the years gave me the faith and confidence to make that leap. Because as Charlie said, you make yourself vulnerable. I also think that after many years of making our own work we have our own pathways of creating and communicating and different ways that we function in the studio, different ways that we think about art-making. We’ve been learning how to bring these impulses together. I’m learning from the experience and growing and being challenged by Charlie and by our partnership together. There’s also more complexity involved when you have multiple voices and multiple creative needs. We’ve gotten to a point where we’re old enough and either wise enough or foolish enough to embrace what we’ve decided to tackle together.

Emmaly: How did you conceive of the ideas behind “Angles of Enchantment”?

Janice: Well we just finished the third piece we made together in 2011, “The Experience of Flight in Dreams,” and I wanted to delve into something that had a lightness about it that would be exuberant or joyful, that would create something delightful we could explore together where we wouldn’t be burdened by some of the struggles inherent in making a piece of work and administering an organization. There’s a real kind of weight I feel like I carry in that process. And some of our work has had more weightiness to the content as well so I just felt ready to jump into something that had a bit more childlike impulsive energy or a state of wonder and enchantment. At the same time one of our board members brought to our attention the costume designs of Margaret Hatcher. We looked at her costuming and thought, wow, that’s really fun, what a world she’s creating through her designs. So we met with her and began to move forward.

Emmaly: How would you describe your individual roles as co-choreographers in the process of building this piece?

Charles: They’re fluid. We share in the collective enterprise of this work and at different times play different roles. Sometimes Janice takes the lead on a section. Sometimes I take the lead on a section. We change roles boom boom boom. Last year we made a piece called “The Experience of Flight in Dreams,” and the night before opening we cut a six minute section. We both agreed there was something we wanted that we had never gotten. So the day of the opening we made a six minute section completely from scratch. Janice would make thirty seconds and then I would make thirty seconds and so on and I think it was really one of the most successful parts of the work. Generally though what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to explore what happens before the choreography. And once we know that Janice could choreograph it, I could choreograph it, we could choreograph it together, but it’s really about the concepts, the ideas, and the impulses of the work that then get manifested and executed.

Janice: Regarding the functionality of how we work, we’re working sometimes independently sometimes together, so that part is particularly fluid. It depends on what we’re working on and where we are in our daily process of the evolution of the piece. In terms of this particular piece, we’ve decided to move in quite a different direction from the way we’ve worked for the last couple of years. We’re working with a much smaller group; we have four dancers in the piece and a musician, Peter Whitehead, composing and playing live. For the past three years we’ve dealt with giant groups. This is a much smaller group of people and a whole new area of exploration with the costume elements that Margaret has brought into the process. This feels like a new trajectory in many ways.

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Photos are of “Angles of Enchantment” and are by RJ Muna