My live experiences of Kyle Marshall’s work have mostly taken place in front of a proscenium stage, a physical structure my body can barely fathom over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic. So it’s not unsurprising that what Kyle once imagined for The Shed’s Open Call has shifted, and necessarily so.
Originally titled Reign, the work was to follow A.D. (2019), a piece exploring the influence of Christianity on the body. But this deeper foray into religion came to feel heady and weighted. As Kyle told me, in considering “the spirit of dancing,” he tried “to find a joy in moving in a way that felt real.” He asked himself: “How can I choreograph that?”
Not to say Kyle hasn’t been exploring big questions during the pandemic. While developing Rise for The Shed, he’s also been building I&I, an exploration of his Jamaican heritage as well as Stellar, a dance film exploring jazz, improvisation, Afrofuturism, and space.
In our interview, Kyle discussed where these three pieces overlap and how their considerations have made him more sensitive to facilitating rehearsal. Below, he delves into the rich potential of the club and its music, from dancing the night away to the arcs of house tracks looping, and how these experiences shaped the forthcoming Rise.
How are you navigating all of the aesthetics and music genres informing the different pieces you’re working on?
The deeper intersections of all these three pieces are these improvisations I started doing [during the Covid-19 pandemic] around the feet and thinking about the feet as a place of emotional weight, energetic weight, and how when the feet move, it felt like the heart also started to move and pump. That made me think about going out and dancing and missing that. It made me think about house music, my history of tap dancing as a kid, also the little work that I did with house when I worked with Doug Elkins.
And the heart, feet, spirit started to feel very connected. I developed scores around letting the feet move in rhythm, in pulse, to music, stopping, doing material with moving the heart. I was realizing that emotions come out of me as I’m improvising.
Covid felt like a big pause for me to understand why I was dancing and for whom. I feel like I really lost that in the kind of strain that it takes to get my work to a certain level. I didn’t even realize how I was moving for others and not myself.
For Rise, [I’ve been] thinking about the spirit of the body, the spirit of dancing, trying to find a joy in moving in a way that felt real. Like, how can I choreograph that?
From club music, I’m thinking about how the club as a space, especially among queer folks, has spiritual and religious importance. And so, in a way, Rise also seems to address certain questions of Reign from a different perspective.
My past work has thought about Blackness and how it intersects, thinking about history in the body, and all of those things feel there in this work because house and club music has origins in Black and Brown people. When you think about jazz, when you think about scatting, when you think about the emcee, when you think about so many forms, I feel very empowered by this idea that like, “Oh, my improvising body is a practice that is rooted in Black art traditions.” It’s felt very grounding and affirming. It allows me to notice its potential for creation, for expression, for living life. Life is an improvisation, as we’ve been realizing during this Covid time, like, that is a tool of survival.
Improvisation not just as a tool, but a modality for life, and not just survival, but…
Yeah, not just survival because let’s get beyond that now, but it’s a tool for living. It’s a tool for adapting. It’s a process, not even just a tool, but a process for seeing, seeing a problem and acknowledging it as not a problem. Maybe it’s just an opportunity.
We do a lot of improvisation in the process as a way of getting warm or as a way of finding material, as a way of noticing what comes up. And in terms of uplift, it’s interesting. You go to church and you hear the music and it creates a certain thing. I’m not a musician, but there are certain things that help support a feeling of, “I want to get up and dance:” repetition, a certain tempo. I think about up-climbing sounds. [in ascending pitch] dun dun dun dun! That feeling of up happens with certain sound ideas.
The way house tracks tend to be longer and rely on these compositional tools, the repetition of a rhythm played out over time—I’m also thinking about the duration of a night out. There’s going to the club till 1 am, but then 1 to 3 am is a different thing, and then there’s 3 to 5 am, they’re different—
Different durations of the night. It takes time to get there. It takes time to feel comfortable in the environment. It takes time for you to let go of all your past stuff and be where you are in the present. It takes a little fatigue, a little sweating, the body can allow things to come in. It takes time to find that release. I’ve missed going out.
I’ve missed going out! I was curious about some of the associations you were making between your initial thinking for Reign and how things tied with heavier, darker feelings, and on the false opposite end of that spectrum is the club as a lighter space. Also, the way certain physical attributes like hardness and softness are often gendered, how that doesn’t work, how it falls apart very quickly.
It does. I remember being a kid and being called soft, a softy. It’s just the term for, I guess, a kid who’s seen as a boy who’s shy and likes to dance and doesn’t like to get in fights. I don’t know—as an adult, it’s so loose, it’s so flexible. It keeps going and flowing.
How have rehearsals been going so far?
I started the process with solos. I wanted to dive in and reconnect with one performer at a time. To give each person space, to give them solo material to sit with, I felt like it would allow them to get into the material, get into the piece on a more gradual and personal level, as opposed to a situation where everyone’s now together and we’re going to start making a dance. Last week was the first time that we were all in the studio together, so we started to build the material together and connect the sound.
There is something about dancing that is about giving. Giving to an audience or giving them an experience. And I think I needed to know internally what’s happening so I know what I’m offering or I know what I’m creating in the room. It’s been a nice challenge to work in a more condensed way, and also to trust the material, trust the collaborators, and trust myself to make choices and sit with them.
The transcript of this interview has been edited here for clarity.