Flight Pattern 2e: Anna Drozdowski
Anna Drozdowski perches on her yellow couch, casual and cross-legged in front of a ritual of spirits: a large bowl of salt, three flasks of tequila, and two sharp, clean glasses — the kind you’d get your whiskey in, neat. Maggie brings her signature flood of limes. She slices them, then tucks hands into velvety black pants. Anna’s embroidered phrases shout from behind the couch, as if plucked from another version of now: “fuck,” “you lied,” and “Facebook me.” Maggie finds a tropical fish swimming in a glass bowl on Anna’s stove top, for warmth. No lies here. Just ornaments, phrases, bits of intimate overhearings that ring like gems. -Liat Berdugo
THE CONTRACT: toast #1, Milagro Blanco
ANNA DROZDOWSKI: A contract is most simply about an agreement around a collective experience. Everyone in the room together being in the room together feels important to me, and I think it feels important to Jonathan [Burrows] and Matteo [Fargion] too. What more do we want than to sit up on the edge of our seats because we’re so engaged with what is happening on stage and it is activating something within us?
MAGGIE GINESTRA: We’re being called to presence.
AD: Both presence and also… I think there’s a real difference between someone asking for your attention, responsibly demanding it, and someone who is trying to show you something. The capacity for a performer to get me to lean in, which means I am then participating in the thing they are creating, is what my understanding of this term “contract” might mean. It’s this thing where performers notice, “The audience was really with me tonight.” What does that mean? Does that mean they [the audience] were understanding in a different way? Does it mean you were really offering something that people kind-of velcroed on to? I think the contract is a meeting, in an ideal world, rather than a passivity on the part of the audience, and an expectation that the people on stage have to do their damndest to get them to pay attention. It’s my hope (and it’s a big hope) because of the way that our lives are led in this moment, that in coming to a performance, you show up with your tentacles ready, and that your whole thinking, feeling, present self is going to arrive at the thing that is before you, rather than to sit back a little bit and watch the thing unfold.
MG: Do you think people come with their tentacles ready?
AD: More often than not, I think the answer to that is no. But that’s for many reasons. It’s for: I showed up late and I couldn’t find parking. It’s for: I’m really hungry and kind of cranky right now. It’s for: I wasn’t expecting this work to demand something of me in this way. It’s for: many of us have grown up in a culture where performance is more entertainment-based rather than a about engaging with ideas. So, frankly, I think the moments when it happens are pretty magical and kind of irrefutable. We don’t show up expecting that it’s going to happen, because as frequent goers of performance we’re oversaturated and skeptical. But then something happens at some point with someone’s piece and you leave and you are a different human being having experienced it. Not having seen it in a spectator kind of way, but having experienced it!
MG: I like that you say irrefutable. You know when that has happened.
AD: What is my contract? My contract, in a super selfish way, is about wanting to share the thing I’m excited about with the community I am excited about discussing it with. Other people will tell you other things about audience development, pushing the envelope, expanding etc. But I know the thing I am most interested in has a pretty small and self-defined group that’s going to self-select into the offering. Most of the work I’m interested in is, I think, also incredibly legible, and yet it exists in this high art or really intellectual place. So there’s a juxtaposition: you can know nothing about this thing and come to it from any field or you could be part of the art-intelligentsia and show up to have an equally great and deep experience that might feel very different than someone who is experiencing it for the first time.
MAINTENANCE: toast #2, Centenario Reposado
AD: I, in my lifetime, have alternated between being a steward of somebody else’s something, and a starter of either my own or somebody else’s something. And it seems to me there is a cyclical process around which of those things I can be doing and how much of each of those things I can be doing. A balance between stewardship and starting is very important to me as a human being, in the same way that a balance between city and country is important. It’s only become clear to me very recently that these are things that are on a cycle that has happened with more frequency than I previously have acknowledged.
This summer I bought a house. And it’s in Vermont, which is not in Philadelphia where I make my life and my living. And I think that’s because I love coming home to somewhere that is familiar, but I also need to start something new, so all these things are wrapped up in this shack that is kind of falling apart. It is in a tiny town but also has a view of the mountain treeline. Both of those things are contained within it. Maintenance….yeah. I’m writing a bunch of grants and trying to figure out how to resource the things that I have started, but I’m also fixing leaky plumbing and drywalling and insulating the attic, so actively caretaking for something is happening in many different realms of my life at the moment.
Also, putting things in order, and sorting, and pushing things around and reclassifying is so much a part of my creative process that I don’t even always know when I’m starting something. I’ll just be doing the dishes or my laundry and that claiming of space or reordering is actually the beginning of something. It often feels like procrastinating, because instead of doing the thing I’m supposed to do, I’m doing this other thing that is usually a very physical functional task that is about caretaking or maintenance of a different variety as a method of making space in my brain for expansive thoughts, such that when I sit down at the computer or decide to make the schedule or have a more colorful need for participation, I’m ready to do that. It’s kind of a warm-up.
MG: Maintenance as warm-up!
AD: I work with someone who is very excite-able and always dreaming about what we can do that is bigger or more or fuller, and I am almost always the one that is riding the break and saying no and trying to contain the thing. That huge gulf between us makes for a challenging environment, but also helps temper our natural tendencies away from these pretty large extremes and a little closer to bringing things into being.
MG: So are you of an extreme wherein you’re pretty cautious? Or… what is that extreme that you’re identifying yourself as?
AD: I think cautious is accurate. I think it’s also just my Midwestern pragmatism, my production manager sensibility and just having a need to check things off the list. But it does mean I can be a little bit of a wet blanket.
MG: I’m wanting to imagine you collaborating with someone more cautious than you.
AD: Oh wow, that’s funny.
MG: I don’t know how cautious that would have to be, but what if you had to be the dreamer?
AD: I’m truly terrible at it. I know this about myself. I get annoyed when we have to brainstorm. I’m that person that’s like, “Can’t we just do the thing?” I’m a real doer. I’ve spent a lot of time earning my living helping to actualize the plans of dreamers. That is the role of the strategic planner. That is the role of the administrator. To take a crazy-ass idea and break it down into manageable steps so that it arrives on time and on budget. That is in my DNA. It is my happy place. When other people don’t want to think about the budget, I say bring me the numbers, I’m so excited about it, let’s see if it’s going to work. That can be translated as being cautious, for sure.
MG: I’m not inherently interested in that word. I’m just interested in that island, what that island you’re living on is called. Let’s say it’s not called caution.
AD: I think it’s called the island of understanding your limits.
SHIFTS IN SCALE: toast #3, Cazadores Anejo
AD: One of my first gigs in the arts as a young person was at the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet. So that’s scale on the most balletic, large-dance level. Enormous company, enormous structure, enormous city, et cetera. And I did that for many years while I was going to graduate school, living in an huge arts city, and had a generally great experience around bigness in that way. But also knew that it wasn’t on the human scale that I was most interested in. I landed in Philly to work with Headlong, specifically because I wanted to do something that was intimate; that was closer to process and to practice and to human beings. Having these two polar opposite, predominantly arts administration experiences influenced me a lot. The big, structural, almost corporate way that the arts are manifested. And the small, homegrown, founder-driven, incredibly personal thing.
One of the things I look for in a piece is whether or not the space it is being shown in and the size of the work match up, and if there’s congruency between the scale at which the performance is happening and the scale at which the performance should be happening. This is about proximity to audience, stage size, performance quality… All of these circle around the question: Is that thing right-sized for the environment in which it is occurring? I get annoyed if they’re not aligned in a good way because something feels off-kilter the whole time that you’re experiencing it.
MG: You can’t forget it.
AD: You can’t forget it. Certainly, it’s very easy to be compassionate and understand when an event is happening in an insufficient space because of the economics around the artmaking practice that we have in performance.
MG: Is it therefore less distracting, or is it equally distracting?
AD: I think if it is understandable, I can forgive it immediately and move on, but if it seems ill-considered then it hasn’t been thought through enough. And part of this is because I understand what it is to have a show in a studio that has the giant air blower in the corner and fourteen folding chairs, and I also know what it is to have 62 people onstage and 3000 people in the house. As an audience member you’re 600 feet from the performer wearing giant false eyelashes. If you sit in the front row at the ballet, it’s actually quite terrifying; you’re too close and looking up people’s skirts the whole time, and it’s scary because they have on so much make-up.
ANNA DROZDOWSKI, curator and convener of artists, remains married to the oftentimes opposing forces of performance and pragmatism in daily life. With dance as her home discipline, Anna works with Artists U to plan for creative sustenance in Philadelphia and founded the Neighborhood House program as a gathering place for cross-genre experiments. This spring, through Thirdbird, she’ll organize the work and teaching of Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion, opening a door to new practices in music and dance.
FLIGHT PATTERN is a bimonthly interview series that traces the curiosities and affinities of Liat Berdugo (San Francisco) and Maggie Ginestra (Philadelphia). Berdugo and Ginestra invite curators to toast to three topics over three sips of tequila. Their toasts are three take-offs, and o where will we land?