Making Failure involved a different kind of process than I have embarked on before. We were given a commission by Temple University in Philadelphia called Reflection/Response which involved a long and open residency in the Temple University dance department studios and in October 2012 Failure was produced in the Conwell Dance Theater in Philadelphia.
I decided to rehearse in New York in April and May and take my company to Philadelphia for 4-6 days per month in June, July and August and then we would meet in September to run our dance and put on some finishing touches. This was a different schedule because while in Philadelphia we rehearsed all day long; our dancing days were from 10AM-6PM. Generally, I rehearse for many more months with shorter rehearsals, and in the case of Wooden we worked for 2 years. This process was so fast. I decided to embrace it and make fast decisions. I decided to trust my instincts and not analyze my choices for very long. Just follow the development without judging every decision.
We improvised for many hours, for many days, for weeks, really. We performed epic improvised solos about the feelings of failure in the body for each other. We reconstructed improvisations from video. We tried to create a dance we could not do. To access the psychological state of failure and allow our dance to reflect this experience was also very different for me. I generally remain so abstract as to remove emotional content from my dances. As a company we decided to consider the premiere an experiment, rather than a finished work. While we were dancing the immediacy of the physical choices and the in-performance timing decisions created a kind of relationship with the audience that was palpable and electric. I could sense them closely.
I set out to make a set design that could collapse during the performance. This proved difficult. I had a lot of ideas about the weight of the structure, the size and the material. The set evolved from an initial idea of a 2-story structure that the dancers could inhabit, but that would collapse at a certain point in the dance. As I began to develop movement and work on the engineering problems I realized that the original idea of an inhabitable set design was not feasible and wasn’t really going to achieve the concept that I was going for. I wanted to express the idea of failure in the body. I wanted to explore the journey toward physical failure and I knew that the set must also collapse but I realized that for this dance if the set design was two stories high, we would have to sacrifice the expansive movement I was interested in. So, I let the idea evolve. I had conversations with Jon Pope ,who is our production manager, about how to achieve a collapsing set and he reminded me that the weight of the materials would be critical toward installing the set for rehearsal and performance. I realized that it was important to make something very tall and if it was going to be created and broken many times, it would have to be made out of light-weight and affordable materials that were easy to acquire and transport. Paper. It became paper and wood frames and staples and screws.