Raising the Barre Once More

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With a 14-year tenure at Mark Morris Dance Group under his feet, John Heginbotham is no stranger to the stage. The Alaska native is now the artistic director of the New York-based contemporary company Dance Heginbotham, which will perform a four-piece repertory show with the Celebrity Series this fall, and he was recently named a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. We chatted with the choreographer before his piece steps into the New England Conservatory’s Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre on Nov. 10-11.

When did you first become interested in dance? I first became interested as a really young kid. Let’s say 6. My parents, neither of whom are artists, but are huge appreciators and supporters of the performing arts, kind of introduced me to all kinds of music and dance and theater at a young age. The first time I remember really falling in love with dance was [when] they showed me a video of Singing in the Rain. At that time it was like a Betamax with gigantic video tapes, and I remember really loving that film and the dancing in that film.

What can you share about the pieces you’re going to perform in Boston? There’s a piece in our repertory called Easy Win—which premiered in I think 2015—that circulated through our rep for a bit of time and then went away as some newer works were created. But it’s a piece that I really love, and one of the reasons I love it is because the musical collaborator was this fantastic jazz composer and musician Ethan Iverson, who sort of became famous as one of the three members of the jazz trio the Bad Plus, and he wrote a piece of music for us. We wanted to bring that back, and Boston seemed like the perfect place for this work, so then we just started imagining what repertory would complement this particular piece. We’re bringing a pretty wide variety of stuff. Like Easy Win, the vocabulary of movement is really eclectic. Some of it is sort of recognizable from some social dancing, some of it is completely not intuitive at all and very contemporary-looking. We’re pairing that on the program with Angel Share, which is a piece that I made for Atlanta Ballet, so the vocabulary is extremely athletic, which is a great contrast from the oddity that is apparent in Easy Win. Both of those are big group pieces, so then I wanted to offer a little contrast with something more intimate. I have a duet coming that features a solo guitarist. Then we’re going to close with a piece that was intended for a particular venue. I made this piece for Arts Brookfield and invited some local flamenco students to join us as castanet players. It’s a hit for us, so we’re going to close with this very short, extremely explosive, athletic piece that’s called The Fandango that will also include some local flamenco artists.

What do you hope audience members will take away from the performance? I hope that it will allow them to sort of watch the work, hear the music and have a little bit of space to daydream on their own during the show and figure some things out in a fun, aesthetically pleasing way for themselves. These are dances that don’t have narratives or plots, and there’s a lot of room for association and the fun of figuring out what you’re seeing.

If you could create a piece with any choreographer who would it be? I would really like to know what it’s like to be in the mind of Agnes de Mille. She is the inventor of the dream ballet, which first appeared in the musical Oklahoma, which is the show I’m working on right now. That invention is kind of genius because she found this way to forward the plot but sort of in a way that’s more about the psychology of the characters rather than what they’re literally saying to each other.

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