Featured Member: Carrie Ahern
Carrie Ahern, a Wisconsin native, is an independent dance and performance artist who has been based in New York City since 1995. She worked primarily as a freelance performer/choreographer for over a dozen dance and theater companies until forming Carrie Ahern Dance in 2005. She describes her company as "committed to organic and original collaborations with dancers, composers, musicians and visual artists" and elaborates in this interview with Fractured Atlas...
Tell us more about the work of Carrie Ahern Dance.
I create a hyper-specific world that is complete in its lush layering of visual, kinesthetic and aural textures. The work is architectural in the rhythm created through repetition, precise timing, and the tension within negative space. Deceptively simple movement distill questions about the complex nature of being human. The audience is called upon to participate viscerally and emotionally in the world. This allows the work to cast its potent spell.
What forces have most heavily influenced your work?
Recently my philosophy studies, most specifically that of the ancient Greek pre-Socratics and Friedrich Nietzsche have been very influential. The pre-Socratics' ideas predate so much of what we take for granted as far as scientific theory or what is "known" about our natural world. They were interested in everything and the connections between everything. One of the questions that my most recent piece, The Unity of Skin, asks is, "Where does the intersection of the texture of our environment and the matrix of our own bodies begin or end?"
The pre-Socratics stem from primarily an oral tradition and struggled to articulate philosophical ideas as the Greek language was becoming rich enough for them to do so. I have a lot of questions about oral vs. written traditions, and what is lost when we choose to name something or write it down and therefore codify it. For myself, spending a lifetime in dance -- a form that is ephemeral and live and not viewed by the world as pragmatic -- feels absolutely necessary in a world with such a prejudice towards written, historical traditions.
I also find myself drawn to extreme physical types: ultra marathoners, explorers, and durational performance artists such as Marina Abromovich or Phillipe Petit. Not simply for their seemingly impossible achievements, but for what happens to the body and the mind in the process of those achievements.
I strive to keep up a personal, physical practice through yoga, ballet, improvisation, etc. that allows me to ask questions through the experience of my own body.
What have been your most recent successes?
Continuing to push myself to follow my internal compass. Pushing myself to be braver and investigate deeper. To keep going back to the studio and to be inspired and scared and continue to keep going back.
I am also happy that my last two evening-length works made it to performance at two of the most magical spaces around -- Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church and Baltimore Theatre Project -- and that there was a live, responsive audience to be a part of each. I found the support (with help from many) to pay my collaborators, fulfill my vision, and share it with the outside world. This is no small feat. And dance continues to feed me and others.
You've been a Fractured Atlas member for nearly five years. How do you use your membership?
Fractured Atlas is my fiscal sponsor, allowing me to receive grants and tax-deductible contributions that are normally available only to 501(c)(3) organizations. I also have health insurance through Fractured Atlas. I use my membership to get discounts on things such as car rentals. As one of their Fiscal Sponsorship Projects, I have a profile on the website, which people can view. I ask the staff’s advice on many topics, such as planning a benefit. I also look to their blog to keep me updated on political news as it relates to the arts, and for ideas about new ways to make my art happen.
What's next on the horizon for Carrie Ahern Dance?
The Nietzsche Circle, an organization interested in bringing Nietzsche’s work into living culture, has invited me to create a dance interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra to premiere in Fall 2009. The research phase of this has been going on for almost two years, and this fall I stepped into the studio with dancers to develop the work. I conceive of the end project to be a durational performance with audience moving between two performance spaces and free to move as they choose or stay as long as they like. It is extremely ambitious.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra -- what is there to say?... This is hard to explain, but all I can tell you is reading Nietzsche, I felt he was right in the studio with me.
Kenneth King, the only other choreographer I know of who has attempted an interpretation, says in his essay "The Dancing Philosopher", "Zarathustra is more than treatise or polemic, but an exuberantly prophetic, provocatively high-octane philosophical work written in the form of a fractured allegory whose sublime literary virtuosity is frosted with biting satire and a rarified poetic distillate… Dance is continually referenced as one of its exalted mimetic triggers and serves as more than mere trope or metaphor. Zarathustra announces a new paradigm specter — Isadora Duncan rightly called Nietzsche the first dancing philosopher… Did Nietzsche actually dance, or was Zarathustra's secret art a convenient metaphor for the Dionysian equation?"
How can we learn more about your company and your work?
A great way to learn more about my work is to hear me interviewed by veteran dance writer Eva Yaa Asantewaa.
A benefit performance party for Carrie Ahern Dance and The Zarathustra Project will be held on Thursday, February 19th, 2009, 7-9pm. More information, and the opportunity to purchase tickets, will be coming soon to my website: www.carrieahern.com
Images 1-3: "The Unity of Skin" (2008), photos by Michael Faulkner.
1) David Figeuroa (left) Kelly Hayes;
2) Jillian Hollis;
3) Jillian Hollis (left), Kelly Hayes.
Images 4-5: "RED" (2006), photos by Steven Schreiber. Dancers: Carolyn Hall, Jennifer A. Cooper, Carrie Ahern, Yoko Sugimoto, Donna Bouthillier, Eun Jung Gonzalez, Julie Betts and Christina Briggs.