Though she’s now among an exciting set of emerging Brooklyn dancers and choreographers, Julie Fotheringham came to contemporary dance via an unusual route. She performed as a dancer and acrobat in Las Vegas shows while earning her dance degree at UNLV, worked as an aerial dancer for Disney in Tokyo, and helped develop one of Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas super-productions. In late 2006 she moved to New York to pursue her own interests in dance, though you can still see the influence of those experiences in her flair for drama and spectacle. And not just in the movements, but also her choices of locale and penchant for multi-media accompaniment. As she puts it: “If I can jump off of a 50-foot wall two shows a night and not die, I should be able to handle taking an artistic risk.”
Whether in official performances or the frequent guerrilla dances she stages (in Grand Central Station, Times Square, MoMA...), Fotheringham’s style is always risky, self-conscious and confrontational. In February, her new piece $20 Up Front at Monkeytown staged a chatroom transaction between an exotic dancer and a customer. The resulting series of dances portrayed a ritual whose performed sexuality was cold and commodified. “Dance inherently has an element with which all people can identify,” Fotheringham explains, “it is the human body. It is flesh, sweat, breath, pain, sex.”
The L Magazine: Your work seems very interested in expanding (or at least questioning) the role that contemporary dance plays in the larger cultural context. What role do you think dance should play for a larger audience?
Julie Fotheringham: The role of dance is the role of art. It comments, it questions, it challenges, it reflects, it exists, but opposed to art as object, live performance only exists to the extent that people see it. It is my intention to reach a wide range of people. One method is with guerrilla public performances and also performances in unconventional venues. Dance inherently has an element with which all people can identify. It is the human body. It is flesh, sweat, breath, pain, sex... It can be experienced on various levels, visceral to intellectual with social and political relevance.
How have your experiences with Disney and Cirque du Soleil informed your work in the last two or three years?
My experience in the entertainment world has inspired me to create work that is the polar opposite of those shows. My work is intimate and low-budget. With my collaborator, video artist and musician Jarryd Lowder, we are a company of two. I did bring with me from Cirque a physical intensity and a daring perspective on danger. If I can jump off of a 50 foot wall two shows a night and not die, I should be able to handle taking an artistic risk.
What unique characteristics do you feel set your work apart from that of your contemporaries?
Most of the work that I see today is safe, whereas if you look at performance art in NY in the '70's, it was daring, sexual, and evocative. I'm trying to bring this back in a contemporary context, utilizing contemporary technology. In my last performance I inserted a surveillance camera to show live projection of the inside of my vagina, the extreme of closeup scrutiny. There was also a section where I put a plastic garbage bag over my head and sealed it off with tape, an abstract reference to Abu Ghraib, which created tension via the real threat of suffocation. I justify being shocking by intending to be shocking in an artistically sophisticated and intelligent way, appropriate within the context of the piece. Whether in works or not, at least I'm willing to go there.
Excerpt from "Heel"
"What do you think I should do for my dance?"