Midway Avenue (Nichole Canuso): An interview with the artist

FringeArts presents world premiere of Nichole Canuso solo work "Midway Avenue," May 2-4. Photo by Peggy Woolsey

FringeArts presents world premiere of Nichole Canuso solo work “Midway Avenue,” May 2-4. Photo by Peggy Woolsey

Last fall, Nichole Canuso Dance Company presented The Garden (see Phindie’s review here), which wowed its intimate audiences—only six viewers per show—by weaving them deeply into the action of the dance, and outnumbering them two to one.

In Nichole Canuso’s new dance, Midway Avenue, the dynamic shifts. After spending years exploring non-theater spaces for her pieces, and focusing on audience involvement, this is a solo piece presented on a stage.

Phindie’s theater editor Julius Ferraro caught up with Nichole, long distance, for a correspondence interview, to talk about about solo performance and the relationship between architecture and space.

Phindie: You’re currently touring a sample of this show around the country, with the full premier opening at FringeArts next weekend. How is that different in than showing in Philadelphia, or touring an entire show?

Nichole Canuso: Yes, I’m currently touring through SCUBA, a program that unites artists from four cities (Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Philadelphia) and supports the group of four to tour to each person’s home town. 

Short vs Long: It’s pretty great to create a short version and a long version of the same dance. The two versions have similar beating hearts but they shine light on very different aspects of the work. For instance, in the full version, a huge factor is the challenge of using all of Chopin’s 24 preludes, in order. That layer is not present in the short version since I can’t fit them all in, so other elements take focus.

Home vs Away: I love performing in new places. I walk on stage fresh, and there isn’t much expectation about who I am or how I might perform. I get to meet the audience as a stranger and end the piece having shared something. 

Phindie: Do you remember a series of moments or events which inspired this piece?

NC: The dance itself deals with the notion of memories – images, events, sensations–and the ways we store them. 

But I did not set out to make a dance about this. 

This dance grew out of a research project that I initiated a few years ago to investigate the intersection and overlap of verbal meaning and physical logic. I wanted to create a laboratory of exploration in which I would challenge myself to work with my voice, my writing, and my body in a range of ways and to arrange, strip down and layer meaning in playful and meticulous ways. 

Eventually my own stories crept into the process and the improvisations. My body became the source material and the platform for experiments that were veering more and more toward notions of home and memories of childhood. At first I wasn’t sure why the solo was veering in this direction. And then I realized that my own son is currently the age that I was when many of my most potent childhood memories formed. 

I decided to embrace this and fold it into the more formal research I was doing. 

Phindie: Tell me a little bit about how the dance interacts with costume, lighting, and music.

NC: For a long time there were no designers….I’d been working on the solo for over a year before the costume, lighting and sound collaborators came on board. My research began with my voice, my body and my writing, as well as colleagues who would visit my process as provocateurs. (there’s a blog/archive of this research process here: http://canusodanceresearch.blogspot.com/) So when I moved toward production I very carefully chose designers that I knew could offer intelligent and respectful contributions to this process. 

The triangular relationship between music, movement and verbal language is a strong factor in the dance, while lighting and costume aim to find a lighter touch. All three of the design collaborators have been involved and invested in this most recent phase of the project. They are amazing!

Phindie: On May 3rd, you’ll be in a panel discussion about architecture and dance. Who came up with this idea?

NC: Andrew Simonet, the moderator for the panel discussion, dreamt up the idea of this panel and this group of people. He saw an early run through of Midway Avenue and the relationship between architecture and the body stood out to him. He felt that the dance had the potential to resonate with people outside of the dance-going audiences and beyond the FringeArts audiences. I’m very excited by the notion of experts from a field outside of my own reacting to and speaking about the things they see in Midway Avenue

Phindie: Since the piece is about architecture and its relationship to the body, I’m curious—where did you end up creating most of it? How do you think that’s affected the piece?

NC: The architecture that is prominent in the piece is the architecture of the past, the ways the spaces we inhabit as a child can influence our present. The edges of our childhood home determined all our early actions and still live somewhere inside us. At a certain point, well into my process, I read Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space”. He does such a great job of articulating the ways that the house we grow up in becomes the essential diagram from which we move for the rest of our days. I loved this. 

But to answer your question about rehearsal locations, I rehearsed in a lot of different spaces in Philadelphia. But many of my early rehearsals took place in London, when I was working with colleagues there as outside eyes. And perhaps being far away from my familiar day-to-day gave me the distance to notice some essential images and sensations that I am carrying with me always, just below the surface.

Thanks, Nichole! [FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd.] May 2-4, 2014. www.fringearts.com.

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About the author

Julius Ferraro

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, playwright, performer, and project manager in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This and editor-in-chief of thINKingDANCE. His recent plays include Parrot Talk, Micromania, and The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster.