The Artist Formerly Known as: Heather Brubaker

[I knock her coffee over. What a wonderful way to begin an interview.] Oh s-I’m sorry.

It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s just a little.

[I blush] So, I know the Dance Company is just getting going right now, but are there any big plans in store for you this year?

Well, we have our fall concert in December, and we just received six new members for the year that I’m really excited about. I’m also doing an independent study with Becca Linder, another senior, which I’ll be concentrating on this year.

What is it going to cover?

The independent study is called “choreography in contemporary dance theater.”

[I give a confused look] Dance theater?

Dance theater is not extremely new, and it’s sometimes called physical theater, but basically it’s a new mode of performance art. It involves combining elements of non-scripted theater, dance and movement. It’s essentially using the body not only in terms of patterns and traditional choreography, but also to express what might normally be said verbally or to create images that might typically be made with sets or paintings, but using the body instead to make up those areas.

Does it involve any crazy, wacked-out stuff? That’s what I usually associate with performance art.

Well, the piece that I’m working on right now – it’s called “Trio” – comes out of a conversation that I had with Rick Spalding, the college chaplain, about him wanting to bring religion back into the body and welcome the body as a positive force in the world. As a dancer and as someone who believes in the body’s importance as a means of communication, I was thrilled by this. I mean, it’s not very often that you hear a chaplain saying these kinds of things. So we’re working on developing some form of script that he’ll be speaking and then I’ll choreograph it myself. I’m still looking for a musician who is interested in exploring themes of art and spirituality and how that relates to creativity and our creative purpose here.

But there’s no dancing for the man of God?

[laughs] I don’t know, there might be. I mean, probably when I do warm-ups. A lot of time when there’s interdisciplinary work with a lot of people from different backgrounds, it’s useful to try to do warm-ups that are universal. I might have everyone do a little bit of movement, a little bit of voice-work. So he’ll probably be doing some yoga – he doesn’t know this yet, but it’s okay.

Is dance something that you might pursue after college?

Yes, absolutely. I’m currently in the process of applying for a Fulbright to go to Cape Town, South Africa. I want to study performing art and conflict resolution and how performing arts can function as a means of promoting cross-cultural, cross-political dialogues. Basically, I’d be studying dancing and choreography and theater at the University, and then there is the possibility of an internship with a company called Jazz Art, which is a contemporary dance theater company in Cape Town. We’ll see what happens I can’t count on a Fulbright.

That sounds amazing. I’m going to be honest here. I don’t know much about dancing, but is it a discipline in which it’s easy to transfer back and forth between choreography and dancing, or are you pretty much set in your role as either a dancer or a choreographer?

I think it’s getting easier and easier to cross those boundaries. A lot of times if you look at playbills you’ll find that the people who are performing often also have independent work being produced at other locations and times. I find that most of the really interesting people to watch and work with are also the ones who are creating their own work. But it’s hard to know until you really get out there. It’s hard to tell from Williamstown what the scene is like in New York or in Paris or London. It’s definitely a dream of mine to be able to create a life out of making art. It’s incredible. But here’s the thing.

Tell me the thing.

I’ll tell you the thing. You have to have a real sense of artistic ego to believe the work that you make is so important that you must make it, and that you’re willing to sacrifice absolutely everything to make it. Because to live a life of an artist you give up stability, you give up money, you’re traveling, you sacrifice your relationships a lot of the time. That’s something I don’t think you know when you begin – whether you have that absolute belief that your work must be made, that it must be put out there for the good of the world. I guess I’ll find out, though.

I hope it works out for you in the affirmative.

I do, too, but if it’s not I want to be part of creating a space where great works of art can happen. I believe in the utility of art. That’s part of why I’m looking into the concept of conflict resolution. The concert scene is awesome, important, and I think it belongs in the world of dance, but there’s also the need for artwork that’s based in community, based in the issues that people are living with right now. And if I’m not making it, I want to be involved in helping promote it.

Where does dancing fit into your conception of art as it stands today – it seems like it doesn’t necessarily include the form of the standardized dancer?

The American public’s conception of dance is definitely dominated by images of the New York City ballet, and they have a place to exist here and there’s a need for that. For me, though, there are so many other ways you can explore dance and movement. The great thing about contemporary dance is that there are really no boundaries as long as you’re making work that has integrity and thought and some time behind it. There are a billion different ways you can express things with the body: if you’re moving, if you’re not moving, if you’re small, if you’re large. It doesn’t really matter what size you are.

If you go to contemporary dance festivals, you’ll see people with all sorts of types of bodies moving in ways that are completely individual. It’s so refreshing to see what kinds of flavors that can bring to a work or a piece. For me, that’s one of the great things about working here because you get a completely eclectic mix of dancers. We get people from all different backgrounds, and since you don’t have the option to say, “I want six uniform dancers in this piece” – you have to say, “what can each one of these people bring to my work, and how can I make people show the best of what they have to offer?”