After premiering an excerpt of her work, Lost and Found, at Big Range Festival in 2006, Teresa Chapman was proclaimed “a choreographer to watch” by Houston dance writer, Nancy Wozny. Chapman, an Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Houston, has enjoyed a varied career as a performer, choreographer, and instructor. She is an adjunct artist with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange and a member of Travesty Dance Group-Houston.
Along with choreographer and performing artist Leslie Scates and designer Frederique deMontblanc, Chapman will premiere a new work April 3 in the DiverseWorks Theater. The Convenient Woman is a dance-theatre performance that provides a personal and satirical look at our culture’s obsession with conveniences, afflictions of dissatisfaction and discontent, and pursuit of the feminine ideal. Chapman takes a moment from her busy schedule to talk with me about this collaborative project.
Can you describe the circumstances that planted this seed of collaboration with Leslie Scates?
I danced with Leslie in Karen [Stokes]’ company (Travesty Dance Group) some time ago and I’ve always appreciated her energy and performance abilities. In addition, I am fascinated by her approach to choreography and use of improvisation to create unpredictable patterns. I knew this would be a very small cast, just 2 women and I thought she would be the perfect dance artist to ask to collaborate with. I was right.
Leslie is known, in particular, for her spontaneous dance creations. What is the ratio of choreographed vs. improvisational score in this work?
I think it’s an interesting mix. Some sections begin with set material, then slide into a structured score. We used improvisation to develop a few of the sections, then set the material. We have a number of set movement phrases that can be used in a improvisational score, then other sections are completely set. I really appreciate the freedom to use both. I think people should see the show twice, then tell me what the ratio is!
Were there any challenges in meshing your processes with Leslie’s or did the blending come naturally?
It came naturally I think. We’re pretty open with each other and any discomforts were discussed immediately. We developed it together and let the work be what it wanted to be. We followed our instincts throughout and and think it worked for us.
You have a continued association with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. How have your experiences with them informed your own creative process?
We worked with text throughout the process to develop movement material using an LLDX “tool” called “equivalents.” We would free write on a given topic, then create movement (and accompanying text) based on words and phrases that spoke to us. In many ways we’ve combined thoughts and responses. Sometimes I’m telling her story, sometimes she’s telling mine. Maybe they’re the same story, maybe they’re every woman’s story.
You are also working with video and set designer Frederique deMontblanc on this project. How did her involvement come about?
I was sitting next to her at a Fresh Arts meeting and mentioned that I was looking for someone to design some video for the piece. She said that was something she was interested in. She sent me her portfolio and I was floored! Her work is multi-layered, colorful and fresh, yet slightly disturbing. She was exactly what I was looking for!
We will see you and Leslie on stage. Will there be anyone else out there with you?
Frederique will be on stage creating collages and drawings that are projected onto the back wall. She is the third collaborator/performer and a major contributor to the look of the piece. It’s only natural that we all share the space.
I understand you’ve also collaborated with folks from the University of Houston’s Women’s Studies department. Can you give us a hint about how they have contributed?
Yes, we will also have a small cast of “extras” (non-dancers and dancers) who participate in selected scenes. A friend of mine teaches a Woman’s Studies course at UH and this happens to be a class project for them. Each night we will have a different cast performing tasks, supporting background action, delivering boxes…I’m sure it will add another layer of unpredictability!
You’ve utilized some interesting texts on womanhood and the feminine ideal as inspiration for parts of this work. Without giving too much away, tell me a bit about these books and how you’ve used them as a springboard.
Ideas for this piece started with a book written in 1969 called “The Way to Become the Sensuous Woman” written by “J.” The author, “J” could be a woman or a man! I think the book itself is hysterical, offering tips on where to meet men and ways to please your partner. It got me thinking about all the things we do to make ourselves more convenient for our lovers. That lead to conversations of how we make ourselves more convenient for other people and how easy it is to sacrifice personal needs in the process. While some sections of Convenient Woman are more serious, text from the book have added a bit of comic relief.