So, rejection and distance led you to the development of a very distinct approach.
There have been so many turning points in my life that have thrown me in different directions, leading me outside traditional dance boundaries.
Would you give us another example?
Back then, in California, a new form of humanistic psychology was taking hold, and I began working with the gestalt therapist Fritz Perls. He made me feel comfortable working with feelings in movement.
So many different people I’ve encountered in my life have enriched me and allowed me to incorporate ideas that I never would have thought of myself.
Another turning point came in the 1970s, following a health scare.
For many years I was off the radar in the dance world and not taken seriously. But I trusted what I was doing was art. Then, in 1972, in my early 50s, I was stricken with cancer. It was enlightenment at gunpoint, pushing me to rethink my relationship to dance and explore its connection to healing. Before my cancer, I used my life to create art, but afterward I used my art to have an impact on life. What mattered was no longer who I was but what I could do for others.
Nonetheless, I have always addressed social issues with dance. In response to the Watts riots, for example, I led an all-black and an all-white group to create a performance together. But after my cancer I was less interested in performance as an art event. Instead, I wanted to apply what I had learned about healing myself to other people and large communities, including dancers and non-dancers alike. I began working directly with an AIDS group, at a time when physical contact was feared, and with patients at a cancer facility.
Perhaps being “contemporary” for you is not first and foremost about having a relationship to the most so-called advanced artwork within one’s discipline, but rather emergent ideas in other fields or pressing social concerns.
To me, radicalism is key to being a contemporary artist. That involves responding to what’s going on in the world. It’s not just me, me, me. As I reach the age of 95, I think more and more about the role of elders in other cultures. They teach the young, heal the sick, care for the land, hold rituals, speak with the ancestors, and maintain the family.
What interests me is an art that is connected to life, where the social, political, spiritual, and aesthetic threads are all interwoven in a real way. What inspires me about dance, specifically, is its power to teach, inspire, heal, and transform. I want to make dances that grow out of lived experience, allowing my art to deepen my life and my life to expand my art.