Personal Thoughts Made Physical: Jaamil Kosoko talks dance, poetry, and the Gemini Show

This photo is completely unrelated to the events discussed by Jaamil Kosoko in this interview. It is, however, an actual photo of Jaamil.

Philly-based choreographer and dance impresario Jaamil Olawale Kosoko is a busy man these days—creatively, curatorially, and administratively. He recently changed the name of his company from Kosoko Performance Group to The Philadiction Movment to herald in a new era for the company, has been performing and touring with his company and with Headlong Dance Theater, and he has just published a book of his poems titled Notes on an Urban Kill-Floor.

But wait, there’s more! He also dabbles in the curatorial end of things. On Thursday June 9 and Friday June 10th, at thefidget space in Fishtown, look out for The Gemini Show: An Evening of Daring Dirty Duetswhich is actually two evenings containing four performance times, and four separate programs, all curated by Kosoko (and presented by thefidget space). The line up includes work and performances by Kosoko and his company, as well as Marcel Foster, Brandon Shockley, Shannon Murphy, Melissa Diane, Devynn Emory, Tzveta Kassobova, Lillie Ruth Bussey, J-Luv, and various special guests.

We caught up with Jaamil to get the low-down on bringing it all together.

Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority: For The Gemini Show, why did you bring these particular artists together, and is there anything to connect them beyond wanting to have them all perform in the same evening?

Jaamil Kosoko: I have a deep performance history with all of the performers showing work in The Gemini Show. Most of the pieces being shown, I’ve made in collaboration with the artists. For example, the piece that Melissa Diane  (Jacelyn Biondo and Kristen Shahverdian) is showing, I choreographed for them, as React/Dance, nearly two years ago now. Like The Philadiction Movement, they recently changed their company name (to Melissa Diane), so it was important to me to work with them to pull our collaboration out of the archive and freshen it up for The Gemini Show.

From The Gemini Show, or so they promise.

Others artists, I’ve invited as special guests because I want them to be a part of this new chapter in the creative life of the new company. Much of my personal mission in pulling together performers is to reconnect with them and their ideas. It’s my curiosity to see what they’ve been thinking about, as I believe performance is a public display of personal thoughts made physical.

PPAA: Is curating/presenting something you enjoy doing? What do you get out of it? Are you planning on taking on that role more and more?

JK: I enjoy curating for presenting agencies. Working with the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival to co-curate The Rockies with Megan Mazarick was a blast. Also, while I was working at nEW Festival, I had an integral role in accepting resident artists to make new work. Some outstanding pieces have come out of my work in pulling various artists together. Many of the nEW resident artists have toured to major festivals in New York City, among other cities. Again, I really enjoy the act of creating community, whether it means pulling artists together to help me execute a choreographic impulse or a curatorial one. Right now, I’m planning SOLO BODY NOIR for May 2012. It will be a co-production between thefidget space, anonymous bodies, and The Philadiction Movement. Those companies, too, will showcase their work as a part of a major two weekend event that we currently call Three’s Company, after the 80s sitcom.

PPAA: You recently changed the name of your company—can you discuss this decision and what you like about your new name?

JK: I recently completed a year long crash course in art management as a 2011 Fellow at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. While in the program, I completed an environmental analysis, financial management plan, and needs assessment that centered mostly around my work as an independent choreographer and maker of small ensemble driven performance art. I learned that Kosoko Performance Group was not as inviting as I wanted it to be, mostly because my name was in the title. It would always be Jaamil’s company. Well, I wanted to change that to invite artists to share in this vision and be real stakeholders in what is produced by The Philadiction Movement. This meant changing the title to be more inclusive of all the characteristics that the company values: Philadelphia (Community), Diction (Discourse), and Movement (Political and Physical).

PPAA: Can you talk a little about thefidget space and what it offers for a performer as a performance space? Also how do you approach non-traditional spaces as a performer and presenter?

JK: Philly has a great underground, grassroots performance scene. This richness in creative culture is what keeps me here. There are a number of artists like myself who make small scale, personal, boutique performance that’s meant for small audiences. My work thrives best in venues that are close and intimate like thefidget space. The Gemini Show will mark my second time presenting work at thefidget. I really enjoy the atmosphere.

Furthermore, I make non-traditional work, so by nature I have to present my work in non-traditional spaces. I love theater spaces, I approach them just as I would any other site. I want to do more performance in public spaces. Artists that I’ve work with in the past: Headlong, Kate Watson-Wallace, and Leah Stein are masters at site-based work. I hope to continue this tradition with my own work in the future.

PPAA: You’ve just published a new book of poems, can you tell me about this collection?

JK: I really love this new collection. It’s called Notes on an Urban Kill-Floor: Poems for Detroit. It’s been years in the making after doing multiple fundraising campaigns for the first publication. I will sell them until they’re all gone, limited edition. Again, boutique, small-scale work with stadium size content. It’s a confessional collection of lyric poems broken into three chapters. My friend Miguel Gutierrez wrote a gorgeous forward for the collection.

PPAA: As someone who has also straddled the world of performance and the world of writing/lit, I’ve often been surprised how little the two worlds meet. What’s your take on this, and do you hope to mix it up, and what are you doing to do so?

JK: Well, I mix them up quite a bit in my live performance work. But my work as a poet is almost a secret, and I tour my poetry at least four to five times a year. My friends and audiences in performance just don’t seem to care much about my poetry life, which is perfectly fine. My work as a poet has its own audience. But, it’s strange that the two are so separate. I think about this often. I remember hearing the choreographer John Jasperse speak (at what was then Dance Theater Workshop) on how far removed our country is from poetics. I guess I have my own politically incorrect feelings about this, but I will say that it’s important to support our new emerging voices in the American canon. It seems to me that we’ve been left out, too long, in the cold, relentlessly knocking on the back door to be accepted in.

PPAA: Thanks Jaamil and kick ass with the show!

The Gemini Show: A Cabaret of Daring Dirty Duets
Thursday June 9th  at 6pm and 9pm (show line-ups vary)
Friday June 10th at 6pm and 9pm (show line-ups vary)
thefidget space (www.thefidget.org)
1714 North Mascher St, Philadelphia, Pa. 19122
Tickets! Tickets! Tickets!

Published by the Philadelphia Performing Arts Authority.

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About the author

Josh McIlvain

Josh McIlvain is the artistic director of SmokeyScout Productions which he co-founded in 2008 with Deborah Crocker (to whom he is also married!). He has had more than 115 productions of some 70 plays throughout the U.S., including more than 38 New York City productions. Josh is also the leader of the rock collective Josh McIlvain & The Generals of Sexcop (listen to the hot tracks at sxcp.bandcamp.com!), the editor/publisher of Philly Fiction (collections of short stories set in Philadelphia and written by local writers), and the editor of the FringeArts booklet and blog.