Editor’s Note: Meryl Murman is presenting the work, The Aesthetics of Garbage–which is an ongoing research laboratory for projects that scavenge, explore and reflect on discarded ideas. Curated by FLOCK and lasting the duration of Prospect 4, artists Ann Glaviano, Nick Shamblott, Caitlin Adams, Milo Daemgen, and Meryl Murman will engage with each other, collaborating artists and the public in critical conversations and experiments that respond to cultural artifacts, lost causes, abandoned plans, and forgotten ideas through various media. Opening night is Monday, November 26 and the show runs until February 17.
Who: Meryl Murman
What: Choreographer, dancer, filmmaker
Where: Lower Garden District
Artist’s chosen place for an interview: Her apartment, with her two cats (Chomsky and Ya-Ya) and an antique saw table (circa 1890) in the background
Q: How do you think about movement when you are choreographing?
A: I use bird imagery a lot in my work. There certainly is this relationship between flying and dancing. As humans we don’t get to fly, but the momentum of dancing seems to be the next closest thing to flying. When people get immersed in the act of moving — both the way it looks and feels — there’s this out-of-body experience where you can feel like you’re levitating. You’re so part of the immediate moment that you’re almost not part of this world. That’s what I imagine flying to be like.
And choreography is an ever-changing definition. Movement in choreography is the visual element, like the colors used in a painting.
Q: What color of paint — so to speak — would you choose to describe your choreography?
A: Red. That comes immediately to mind. It seems like I’m constantly revisiting this color and what it means. I’m very interested in shadows, light and darkness, and extreme opposites, and the color red is an extreme. It’s vibrant, fiery, sensual, passionate, and raw. I like that kind of fire in movement and on stage in performance. Because within fire there’s a transformation that occurs, and that is a huge part of performance and my choreography. [Pause] Blue filters in there, too [laughing]. There’s the blue flame in the middle of the fire. The fire wouldn’t be nearly as strong if there wasn’t that contrast of those colors.
Q: Tell me a story about a time when you barely survived.
A: [A warning look] You sure? [Laughing] In 2006, I was in South Africa. I was living in Johannesburg, and I had been somewhat isolated for the first two months, so I was feeling the desire to meet people. My friend and I met this man from France, and we all talked about how we wanted to explore more. We decided to rent a car from “Rent A Wreck,” which are these really cheap cars because they’ve been in wrecks before, and we decided to go camping in Swaziland. The Frenchman didn’t want my friend or me to pack any supplies. He said that he would take care of everything, but being the person I am — which is definitely a product of my father — the night before we left I filled my backpack with some water and peanut butter because … you just never know.
We begin our trip, we cross the border, and we’ve entered places that have no civilization. As we get further into Swaziland, the Frenchman stops being charming and starts throwing temper tantrums like a 3-year-old. These tantrums are happening more frequently as the trip goes on, and I’m starting to feel pretty uncomfortable with the whole situation. We get to the national park, and it turns out that he doesn’t have a flashlight, water, or anything to start a fire.
The peanut butter in my backpack becomes our saving grace, but it also merits an argument and another tantrum from the Frenchman.
There’s a situation where he locks the keys in the car, I have to pick the lock with whatever sharp objects I can find in my backpack, which turns out to be basically a comb and bobby pin. Somehow, I get the door unlocked, and we can continue on. Then, I fall into a python pool, and we still don’t have any water or food, so I’m in need of some solitude.
I wander off by myself. Of course, I get maybe 10 minutes away from them and a tribe of baboons, about 12 of them, are running across the water right at me. They’re absolutely terrifying. There’s this moment where they scream, I scream, and we’re all looking at each other screaming. I go running one way, some of the baboons run the opposite way, and some of them jump into the trees above me. It was a definite face-off. After 10 minutes of paralysis and a lot of noises I was able to walk away unharmed.
I learned a lot from that trip.
Q: Wow. You were attacked by baboons. It’s really hard to know how I can transition into this next question, but I’m going to go for it. What is something you feel like you can never resist?
A: I’m addicted to questions without answers. That’s usually the spark that sends me down the road to creation. Thinking about the question can almost become obsessive; I can’t push it out of my head.
I also love contact improvisation. It has such a surprising aspect to it. The unpredictability and the essence of chance that’s involved is so fun, and I love to play with that in my work and my performances. When I’m offered the chance to improvise with someone, I just can’t resist it.
Kelley Crawford is a professor, young adult novelist, and chronic question asker. Today we introduce her new NolaVie column, “Artists in their own words,” which strikes up sometimes unlikely conversations with creative people around New Orleans. If you would like to suggest questions or “nominate” an artist to be interviewed, email Kelley at Kelley.firstname.lastname@example.org.