Artist Feature: Annie Rigney

Annie Rigney

[As a dancer] I enjoy putting myself in physical situations where I’m not sure how my body will respond. For example, allowing myself to be perpetually off balance, no matter how subtly,  in order to be in a constant state of fall and recovery, where each action that follows is a response to the previous one.

– Annie Rigney

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

AR: I grew up in Berkeley, California on sunshine, meyer lemons, and an infinite number of ballet classes. I majored in dance performance and choreography at SUNY Purchase, in New York and after graduating, moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, to follow my dreams of dancing with the Batsheva Ensemble. This led me to a contract with Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack Dance Company, the following year, with whom I had the opportunity to tour and travel the world. We performed in theaters in Israel, Norway, Macau, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Japan, Malta and the U.S.. After almost 4 years abroad, I’m finally back living in Brooklyn, New York, a place that is home to many of the people I love.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AR: I think that reflection and response are the essence of the artistic process. An artist reflects on his or her experiences and feelings, and then funnels them through whatever medium he or she chooses, be it music or paint or movement, in order to create a piece of work: a response.

What interests me most about this question, is understanding the ways in which I use reflection and response in my body when I dance. When I think of the word “Response”, I think of my nervous system and my sensory system and how they respond to stimuli. How this response of the nervous system creates an instantaneous action; a movement. I’m interested in making myself available for things to happen to me when I move– for my body parts to affect and respond to each other. For example, if I rotate my forearm far enough, the rotation of the shoulder and the twisting of my spine are both almost inevitable responses. It’s a chain of events that happens out of necessity. I enjoy putting myself in physical situations where I’m not sure how my body will respond. For example, allowing myself to be perpetually off balance, no matter how subtly,  in order to be in a constant state of fall and recovery, where each action that follows is a response to the previous one.

Similarly, “reflection” can be a look back or a processing of something that has already occurred, but it has another meaning–it can be an echo. The act of reflection in sound is when a sound wave bounces off of a surface and returns. Movement can behave in the same way. It can create an echo. I’m interested in riding this echo; listening to the memory and resonance of an action in my body and allowing my whole sensory system to process it. I often ask myself “What does the movement feel like?” while I’m performing, to help keep me in the moment. Cold, tense, empty, sweaty, or powerful, these are all physical sensations that have abstract connections to emotion. I guess the ultimate point of it all in dance, is that an audience gets an emotional response to viewing the physical events happening within the body of the performer. Ideally, it makes the viewer feel something. Feel alive.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

AR: I’m in the very early stages of a solo for myself…it’s untitled at the moment.  After becoming so deeply embedded in the community and aesthetic of Israeli modern dance, I now find myself back in New York, with an ocean separating me from the dancers and people who formed and defined most of my professional career thus far. Now I feel I can begin the real process of reflection. From this distance, I can decide what in my dancing I want to hold on to and take with me. What was someone else’s vision of me, and what is my own? I think in the research for this solo, I’m trying to understand myself in this new context of NYC. How will I chose to move, now that I am filled with  knowledge that I didn’t have 4 years ago, last time I was New York? It will be a solo about sorting and searching and re-searching. Unwinding myself and my habits or familiarities. The time I’m spending in the studio is really just an exploration of how I want to move now. I hope that the solo will be some sort of  response or answer to the questions I’m posing for myself. But we’ll see! I’m more interested in what I don’t know yet…

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

AR: I’ve been working as a practitioner in a method of therapeutic bodywork called the Ilan Lev Method. I am very excited to introduce the Ilan Lev method to New York as it’s mostly being practiced in Israel and is fairly unknown over here. I fell in love with the work during my time in Israel, and I find it to be revolutionary in the way that it can help people who are suffering from pain, as well as being a source of never-ending inspiration for my work as a dancer and choreographer.

Annie Rigney - Ilan Lev

In the method, we use gentle movement to create a rich and thoughtful dialogue between the patient and the practitioner. In this way, new maps and pathways are formed between the body parts and movement is restored to parts of the body where communication was cut off or blocked, due to pain, injury, or emotional obstacles. From Ilan, my teacher, I learned that the body has immense capabilities to heal itself, that pain is not an enemy but an indicator that there is a problem, and that movement can surpass physical limitations, break down emotional barriers and undo old patterns or habits. The possibilities are endless when you learn to let go, and when you release yourself into mess (“Ballagan” in Hebrew) and chaos. From chaos we can find the things we didn’t even know we didn’t know; a possibility will arise that wasn’t there before, a possibility that is usually the solution to the pain. The method has also taught me the value of laziness—something that many years of dance instruction was specifically designed to combat. Now I understand that laziness is a wonderful tool we possess to actually become more efficient. To do less, and with less effort, and to get bigger results. It’s something that’s very important to hold on to and remember in a city as busy and hectic as New York.

I recently started dancing for LeeSaar the Company, and I’m happy to see where it will take me. Lee Sher and Saar Harari are a couple of Israeli choreographers who started a dance company in Israel, and in 2004, brought their company here to New York. Beginning to work for Lee and Saar has made many things in my life come full circle. I left New York immediately after graduating to dance with the Batsheva Ensemble, where they train in Gaga- a movement language rooted in sensation-based improvisation, with no mirrors and no pre-determined form. When I joined Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack Dance Company, the work took me into a different direction entirely. Pinto and Pollack’s bizarrely imaginative and magically twisted aesthetic allowed me to explore my theatrical side. I found parts of myself hidden in mysterious characters and ways to stretch my body’s ability to tell a story. Working with LeeSaar feels like a sort of strange homecoming. I’m coming home to the States, where I can speak the language more fluently, and I’m returning to the movement language of Gaga: the raw and textured aesthetic that first grabbed my imagination and ripped me quickly away from the world of ballet. It’s a welcome comfort for me in this new chapter to wake up each morning and begin the day with an hour of Gaga- or a meditation on my bones, my flesh, and my groove.

Who or what inspires you?

AR: My dear friend Bobbi Jene Smith is a huge inspiration to me. She’s the kind of performer you can’t take your eyes off, who knows how to really strip away all the bullshit and get to the heart. Bobbi’s own work tackles topics so beautifully naive or even cliched, and without any pretension or ego, makes you feel like you’ve been kissed for the first time. Her work is quietly romantic and desperately honest. I think that when I watch something, it’s the honesty and the vulnerability that moves me. It’s anyone willing to expose their weakness that I’m intrigued by. I find it brave.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

AR: Most importantly, never underestimate the value of a smile. It’s so simple, and things always turn out better when you smile…seriously 🙂

Shout out to…

AR: Shout out to, my boyfriend Peter Fonda, also known as DJ Ratfoot, whose new EP is about to be released by the label, Safer at Night! His creativity and passion for music, art, and breaking the rules, are almost explosive. His disregard for tradition and his constant pursuit of the creative process, mean he’s probably already recorded 3 new mixes in the time it’s taken me to do this interview…and they’re probably all going to make you want to dance!

Annie Rigney

Reflection and Response.

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