My interview with composer Svjetlana Bukvich regarding her upcoming June 1-3 performances with Janis Brenner & Dancers at Gibney’s Agnes Varis Dance Center, New York
I had the opportunity to work with Kennedy Moore who runs ASK A NEW YORKER interviewing various artists in NYC for AANY Entertainment column. I really enjoyed the experience and have decided to add the occasional interview to my website/blog. I have been told I ask interesting questions so my asking…continues. Enjoy!
About the Artist: Integrating the leading-edge technology with her classical training and bold, yet sensuous style, Sarajevo born and New York City-based Svjetlana Bukvich has been billed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) as a “concert composer/performer whose music defies boundaries”.
Set up & interview:
So I interviewed you back in March of 2016 for Ask a New Yorker when your 2nd collaboration with Carolyn Dorfman Dance Traces was about to premiere at the NJPAC CDD Gala. Now a new piece ONCE YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER, you were commissioned to write for Janis Brenner & Dancers, is having its third premiere in two weeks. The US premiere took place April 8 at the Dance Hall in Kittery, Maine, and the NYC premiere will be June 1-3 at the Gibney’s Agnes Varis Dance Center, New York. The first time the piece was seen was on an international scale, February 10, 2017 at the National Theater Sarajevo as part of XXXIII Sarajevo Winter Festival – The Silk Road Art, which you helped to facilitate. The work received the 2016 O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation, Inc. grant. My first question is:
- Which came first, the grant or the booking at the festival?
Thanks, Denise. The booking of the festival came first. As is often the case, there will be an interest, a spark, an inspiration between those who run festivals and those who (will) populate them. Then, the “how” comes into play, and it is as unpredictable as the next rainbow in the sky.
- Did having the international exchange help the choreographer with her grant?
I believe it did, but then again, the grant that we applied for as well and that was specifically for American artists doing work abroad we didn’t get – USArtists International. In fairness, though, I was the recipient of this grant with another company the year prior, so maybe that had something to do with it.
- If yes then you are now defining your work as a “creative artistic exchange facilitator” (my new title for you!) between NYC, USA and your country of origin?
Grateful for the title. Actually, I just took on the leadership of the artistic section of the Bosnian Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences (BHAAAS). I hope to do more work with fellow artists from my homeland that are here and have “two brains” like I do. These times are calling for an increased awareness of, well, everything! This new piece, too, lives in worlds of empathy and “otherness” and attempts to show what it means to try on someone else’s shoes. Knowledge and courage is what we need now.
- Tell me how that works? Was the Sarajevo performance part of the grant? I know it went extremely well! Congrats!
Thanks! This grant specifically champions new works for music and dance. I think that they have liked the overall package, including the very meaningful and timely tour to Sarajevo, but even more so the chance for the new work to be seen on this turf, and with live sound. It is also a 45 minute multidisciplinary work, with expanded lexicons in all mediums involved, and that’s a good thing.
Still, I believe that getting a grant has to do with the chemistry between the work and the circle of panelists who served in a particular cycle. Their background, expertise, and the type of morning they had that day – all play into the final decision. At the end of the day, it is about emotion. The world runs on that fuel.
- Tell us how do you go about finding these incredible women to collaborate with or do they find you?
Yes, thank you, they are incredible. Carolyn Dorfman found me online and called me on the telephone. We went on to create a very strong bond – our visions for our work combined are aligned. Jeanette Stoner heard of me through her dancer whose son goes to school with my son. Jeanette and I were love at first sight. Our work was a hyper strong match, and I don’t know how to write about Jeanette without writing a litany. I was fortunate to take Janis Brenner’s Moving, Sounding and Acting workshop at Movement Research in NYC in 2004. Her work with Meredith Monk intrigued me deeply and I just love everything she did with Michael Moschen, and a plethora of other unfathomable creatures. She sings and talks and moves and thinks while inhabiting multiple highways. I do that in my work too. I call it ‘the flow’. It’s what interests me more and more. It is also how it was when I was little. Then there was this ‘huge and nasty’ specialization gap. “License they mean when they cry liberty!” rings true in arts education today as it does in Milton’s 17th century. But back to Janis. We also have mutual friends. After I came from the Sarajevo tour in April of 2016, we started talking.
- Who came up with the title, ONCE YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER you or Janis? Tells us a bit about the piece both visually and sonically.
Janis and I conversed about things that interested us and empathy came up right away, as did the need to really hear one another. I spoke about walking in someone else’s shoes – feeling wise – and how that impacts the strangeness in any relationship. Next time we got together Janis had the title and it stuck. I can’t imagine it now being called anything else, especially after the Sarajevo tour and workshops Janis and the company conducted there and in the city of Mostar.
Visually, the piece unfolds in wavy patterns which “freeze” on occasion, or so was our intention. There is a hanging set piece onto which video is projected in the same fashion. With each unfolding, messages becomes clearer, there is a shedding, a letting go, a cutting into deeper layers of pain and, yes, beauty and goodness which lurk in all of us. Like taming a wild animal, the piece comes to terms with its audience. The music is complex and electronic at first, then becomes gradually acoustic, with a string quartet, then a voice, a scrape of a shoe, and into silence. Art-rock-meets-electronic experimental-meets-old world sentimental.
- How many times did you visit the rehearsals before composing for it or was it ongoing?
It was ongoing, back and forth, helped with video clips sometimes. Meeting and seeing the dancers is always a must. We had probably 5 rehearsals together. Janis was wise to put me in their hands to move and speak with them. We work-shopped a difficult subject – my dad’s passing in Sarajevo on 9/11. I was in NYC at that time. There was a feeling of trust and interdependence established. I gave them a piece of my heart, as they gave me theirs when I sent them to Sarajevo to do good- and as they do every time they move to my sounds.
- Are you ever influenced music wise by any particular dancers in the company or do you mostly focus on the creative director’s direction – vision and feedback?
Everything is connected, but the choreographer/composer playground is where the final shapes are manifested. Janis consistently gave me succinct and musical feedback. A blessing, really. In this way, working with choreographers can be more rewarding than, say, with the type of filmmakers who solely rely on temp tracks to do “the talking” with the composer. For me, getting the feel for the right tempo is the same in dance as it is in film. The body is key and it doesn’t lie.
- How do you figure out how much to charge for a commission? Explain the process.
These terms can be found in publications (such as Meet the Composer Commissioning Guide) which help composers and those seeking to hire them determine the fee. Most of the times the context determines the amount. Both parties need to want to make it work- for the work to happen, often times, one side ‘gives in’ a little. Professional experience is supremely useful here.
- How is working with a collaborator for the first time, different than working with a collaborator a second time?
This is a very good question. Collaborating first time around is a more sheepish dance and if the work is successful, the thrill is that much bigger later on. There is wonder in discovery and a sense of ‘love is in the air’ as the work gains ground. The second time around there is more freedom to “go for it”, and also more counting on the collaborator to do the right thing, because now you know his/her strengths. This can amount to more work for one side or the other, however in the end, it is like watching a glorious sunset. I feel calm and accomplished.
- How are the egos kept in check?
Collaboration is an art form. In my experience, usually the more well known the person, the kinder and more egoless the person tends to be. I learned this in grad school when working with composer Robert Ashley. I was impressed by him beyond measure. At the time I came from Europe in my twenties, thinking I knew everything, ha!
- Pick the top 3 wish lists for choreographers/companies you’d love to work with over the next few years.
Mark Morris Dance, New York City Ballet, and New York City Ballet.
Thanks Svjetlana, and we wish you the best of luck with this project and all work ahead!
For more about Svjetlana please visit: www.svjetlanamusic.com
For more about the event: https://gibneydance.org/venue/gibney-dance-agnes-varis-performing-arts-center/
Visit Denise’s company: www.keymediapublicrelations.com