Joshua Lubin-Levy interview with Dean Moss

Posted in Uncategorized | April 19, 2011 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

Tagged Under : , , ,

This interview took place on February 9, 2011 to discuss Nameless forest, a multidisciplinary performance work conceived by Dean Moss and developed in collaboration with contemporary Korean sculptor, installation artist and poet, Sungmyung Chun. Nameless forest is co-produced by Gametophyte Inc. and MAPP International Productions, and is scheduled to premiere at The Kitchen May 19-21 & 26-28, 2011.

Josh Lubin-Levy: Before we talk about Nameless forest, I wanted to ask you a little about the process of choreographing this work.  There seems to be a contradiction between the often violent content of your work, and the affectionate and caring way I’ve seen you interact with your performers in the rehearsal room.  What is the relationship of this caring nature to bringing such a visceral choreography to your dancers?

Dean Moss: Well, you know in American society violence is so much a substitute for sex.  And so I think it’s an incredibly intimate thing to be violent, especially to be violent on stage.  And part of the use of violence on stage is approaching metaphor in a very particular way – in a very direct way.  To get a performer to go with you, you have to be intimate with that performer.  And you have to have a kind of trust with that performer.  Developing a mode in which you can work with the performer to bring out an activity they might not be comfortable with.  Developing that process is really important to me because I want the use of violence to be specific and I need the performer’s understanding. I need this to be read as behavior in the performer, so that it’s generated by the performer and not that I am directing them.  Part of the interest in my work and part of the reason my work has moved into audience participation is because I am interested in behavior and what happens when you have a kind of behavior-as-form presented on stage.  Read the rest of this entry »

A few questions for DJ McDonald

Posted in Uncategorized | March 4, 2011 | by emilyharney | Leave a Comment

Tagged Under : , ,

How has the idea of creating or initiating a “community” onstage evolved since you began?

What began as an idea of “creating” a community onstage — “the community from which the work emerges” – has morphed into the enactment of a ritual by which the members of the onstage audience may be initiated into the work. Inspired initially by a Sungmyung Chun remark about the way performances in Korea might be enveloped and expanded through Dean’s recollection of temple dances in Indonesia, this investigation has grown to be all encompassing.

The question of “how” has therefore become the heart of the matter; the inquest in which we the “performers”– as both enactors and initiated– have more and more become engaged.  The means keep evolving. The central directive has remained essentially the same.

For the most part, this has demanded a molting process; a shedding of skins. These have ranged from approaches that would have involved our onstage initiates in activities such as make up, conversation, and sharing food to the more personal challenge of sloughing off some of our own habits, techniques and even instincts as trained performers. It seems that primarily through a process of shuffling off, paring and sculpting, a group reflex or subconscious– very much like the esoteric instinctive impulsiveness manifest in schools of fish or flocks of birds– has emerged and begun to reside among us.  This recalls a sixth sense with which I first fleetingly and only intermittently became familiar as a member of an ice hockey forward line in high school when I’d pass the puck into space to have it miraculously arrive on the tape of one of my linemates or vice versa. Except that I somehow seemed to know that it would.

At the age of 19, I drove a NYC yellow cab for a year full time. At the end of every day or night I would have at least one remarkable story to tell.  Interacting with our onstage initiates has reproduced this effect in its sense of humor, challenge, unpredictability, tenderness and occasional danger. Its most surprising aspect is the consistency of its ability to surprise.

How do you modulate your performance to deal with the intimacy of the situation that you’ve created?

Carefully! For seven years I choreographed a series of dinner theater shows in which I frequently called on my young performers to interact directly and shamelessly with members of the seated audience as the cast danced and sang between and among the tables. My charges seemed to love the instant feedback and glowed with a palpable and expansive self awareness.  Now I share their sense of joy and adventure, even as I find myself having to pay it back for my past hubris in the face of even more challenging direct interaction with our onstage clan.

How does this work affect you emotionally or physically?

Nameless forest has evoked from within me just about every level and type of emotional response to which our fool flesh has ever been heir. Ditto the physical, although I revel in and relish that part the most, especially at this stage of my life as a performing artist. The work consistently demands and summons my best efforts to let both my ego and my insecurities fall away as I attempt to maximize my ability to make all this available in performance. The intimacy and trust of the people we have invited to live with and among us onstage give this work a directness and allow a level of vulnerability much closer to that I have experienced or directed in film performances than that which I have normally experienced onstage. I find that I can sometimes whisper seductively or defenselessly in realizing my role in the piece, where I would instinctively have been primed to shout.

Residencies, residencies, residencies

Posted in Uncategorized | November 30, 2010 | by dean moss | Leave a Comment

Tagged Under : , ,

Nameless forest at ASU

It never could have happened. I don’t know how else to put it: without residencies Nameless forest wouldn’t exist. At least not with its current depth and clarity. Forgive my immodesty, but I’m really excited for the work and the growth that it has made in the last few months during two ten day residencies, first at the Galvin Theater at Arizona State University and then at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee (MANCC).

At ASU the Nameless forest performance was put together with its extremely visual and layered set design for the first time. Colleen Jennings Roggensack and Michael Reed provided us with a 300 seat, full fly theater plus a tech crew.  It was fantastic. The set we couldn’t complete in time for The Kitchen was shipped to Tempe and there it came alive. Sungmyung Chun’s torso was finally able to be hung and its fragments arranged. The amazing Mark Armmerman designed and built custom armatures to hold the pieces at the precarious angles needed to create the impression of a chest caught shattering into pieces. Vinny, there for only four days, supervised the load-in and quickly created lights that brought the design from interesting to spectacular. Then the dancers arrived.

During the next six days we completed, in this amazing environment, the unfinished ending section of Nameless forest and for the first time were able to map out the entire work from beginning to end. We did several showings for and with the ASU dance department students (of which Tim Trumble took breathtaking photos found elsewhere on this site) which provided us with a wealth of information about our use of energy, the articulation of the audience and the general effectiveness of the work. For their part, the students got to “perform” onstage with the dancers and have very frank discussions about their participation and the work’s creation. Having been able to mesh the work’s actions with its environment, by the end of our ASU residency we were ready to focus on deepening individual performances and over-arching performance structures. And y’know what, there’s an app for that.

It’s called MANCC. In the ten days there on the Florida State campus, we rehearsed insanely, showing fragments of the work four times to three different classes (one class twice); hosted an FSU dance department Q&A event in which we showed more work and where I interviewed the dancers and the audience for video, and additionally Kacie Chang taught a course in performance practice (talk about student/artist integration!). At MANCC Jennifer Calienes gave us 24/7 access to a black-box theater, audio recording facilities plus video editing workstations, and also a separate rehearsal studio for six hours a day. By the end of the first four days, three of the dancers had minor injuries. Everyone has recovered (shout out to Tom and the body training facilities), but it goes without saying, we all worked very hard.

So what do we have to show for it? Deeply beautiful, risky performances that blur the lines between affect and behavior in a theatrical installation that literally consumes its audience.  Of course I’m biased, but with only six months until the premiere of Nameless forest, you’ll soon see for yourself.

Nameless forest premieres at The Kitchen, New York City May 19-21 and 26-28, 2011.

Creative back and forth

Posted in Uncategorized | September 14, 2010 | by emilyharney | (1) Comment

Tagged Under : , , ,

Excerpts from an exchange between Dean Moss and Joshua Lubin-Levy, PhD candidate in Performance Studies at NYU, on the Nameless forest residency showing August 27, at The Kitchen.

Aug 30, 2010

Hi Dean,

So I loved revisiting this work with you all – and it of course has changed little since I last saw it so it was great to see it in a space with an audience.

I think the obsession people had over the audience/performer interaction was interesting.  It seemed to suck up all the focus.  I was trying to think about how that might take away from the dancers work on stage.  I think it is definitely a matter of focus.  What I loved most about being a participant last time was the way that the dancers would sit with me and guide me in the process of watching (like when they asked me “do you think this is right?  Can only boys play with guns?”). I guess it’s that old theater trick – when you don’t know what to do on stage, watch the people who are talking.

At the same time, the moments that the performance became about the very intimate interaction I was having with a dancer despite there being a capital P Performance occurring onstage was so exciting.  I think intimate is a key word.  It was baffling that people on stage were so concerned with “seeing” the dancers when the dancers were sitting and performing RIGHT NEXT TO THEM.  So the micro-performances that happen aren’t something I would want to see disappear.

From the outside the most interesting thing to watch was the way dancers squeezed in between audience members and caused this miniature choreography of bodies on the side lines.

And it also made me think that it is very important how the audience is welcomed into the space.  The dancers giving tours was slightly awkward in the way it was performed (a little uncertain, not wanting to disturb the audience members) and the same goes for asking people to sit on stage.  It made me feel like even the dancers weren’t sure if they wanted audience members on stage.  I think Sarah’s note about scripting those interactions might be great.  At the same time, just a little work on that performance in terms of acting, avoiding upward inflections in speech and performing it as though this is the most natural and normal way for the space to be would create a different environment for the audience to enter in to.  It could be this immediate welcome and intimate interaction with the performers that really opens the audience up to a new experience in the theater.  How are people greeted?

I definitely had the feeling the women were slightly under-used seeing it on the big stage.  Then you said a brilliant thing: that the women are framing devices. So much clicked when you said that.  I think in our hyper-vigilant gender-equality age that’s a great phrase to hold on to.  The boy-centric material is so powerful and present.  I thought when they started to bring in the girls they did get a little performative – they slowed down, started using their facial expressions more and got a little sentimental.  I didn’t love that as it seemed to imply there was a love-narrative I was supposed to be following.

The mushiness of the moves (curved limbs moving through space, bodies kind of colliding and pushing each other, nothing too rigid) all gave me such a great sense of psychoanalysis – like the bodies were impacting each other but also mirroring each other and becoming each other.  It was beautiful.

I’d be curious to see how it looks when you have the photojournalism images in place – I wondered if the metaphor would appear too literal.  At first, I actually wanted the voice over in that section to be more muffled or chopped up so I had to work harder to hear the reporter’s voice.  In other words – does it make it seem like the whole piece is a commentary on war?  I don’t think it does, but it was something I thought about so thought I’d throw it out there.

So there’s a bunch of notes – but overall the focus on such a male-dominated world, the violence and the psychoanalytic component of Sungmyung Chun’s work is so vivid in the work you have created it is awesome.  I say psychoanalysis in this very accessible and real and emotional and intelligent way (not too academic or cold).  I mean it in this way that the bodies on stage have this extra-narrative or physical/psychic impact and reflection on each other.  It’s a really deep and precarious balance and the forceful inclusion of the audience in that process is jarring and exciting as well.  It brings us all into complicity and complacency and responsibility.  Even just seeing the audience on stage and sitting in the audience outside and having to see my potential self reflected in the different experiences of the audience members is a really intriguing.

All the best,


August 31, 2010


Thank you so much.  It’s fantastic and so useful.

Since the showing I have changed the master metaphor for the work from the performance/performer gravitating to the onstage audience to form a pedestrian generalized community, to the performance/performer initiating the onstage audience through ritualized activities into its own secret society.  In other words the work would function as a rite of passage for the audience participants.  This change in the master metaphor would allow for the artificial and formal elements to be heightened (and limited), as in the speaking, and help solve balance and focus issues. It would also give freedom to more directly control the onstage audience experience. The women can then really become even more clearly facilitators/framing devices, not only shapers of male behavior but the interface between them and the onstage audience.  It would then seem best that the fourth wall is really solid.  That the view from the seats resembles surveillance and that the “performance” is not presented in relation to front or proscenium at all.

Thanks for providing me a thought catalyst.


Nameless forest on location

Posted in Uncategorized | May 25, 2010 | by emilyharney | (16) Comments

Tagged Under : , ,

This new slideshow from Dean Moss really captures the mood of his new work, Nameless forest.  Stay tuned for an open studio showing in August at The Kitchen!

Nameless forest (slideshow 2) from MAPP International on Vimeo.