If viewers are familiar with your previous, more "heart-on-your-sleeve" work, how will they respond to the more aesthetically driven "We Set Out Early"?
They'll have to move with me if they're interested in my art. If they're interested in my personality or my story, then we'll part ways. I'm an artist, I don't do therapy on stage and I don't ask that of people. I am a poet and an artist--and if they're interested in that, then they'll want to see what my latest language is.
Your partner, Bjorn Amelan, designed two of the set elements for the "We Set Out Early" set--a sculpture and cocoon-like piece. What do they add to the dance?
They are in some ways like protagonists in the piece. They have one character, then they transform. They have another character, they transform again. In a way they are like another moving personality on stage.
The metal sculpture in the show in some ways reminds me of the art that one would have seen in the early part of this century: modernist, gleaming geometric forms, striving for some sort of transcendental vision. The sculpture then becomes a cart, something very pedestrian and with all sorts of overtones-- people working the earth, refugees, people who are on some sort of a trip.
The cocoon, Bjorn says, is on one level a textural counterpoint to the metallic sheen of the sculpture. But it's also something meteorological, like a cloud, the sun, the moon.
Like the changing scenery on a trip....
The objects are resonant. The Walker, for example, marked the beginning of a journey--not the beginning for me, but a very important time when I was moving out into the international scene with Arnie Zane, and we were finding our way like a whole generation of artists.... "We Set out Early" is as much about me and Arnie and our company as it is about our whole generation.
By the same token, maybe it's about the cycle of all young artists or young people who start out trying to make their mark, making mistakes, sometimes going backwards, sometimes going forward, but often you really don't know what you're doing. But if you're worth your salt, you're driven. You keep going.
Do perceive yourself as a role model for other artists, African Americans, or gays?
[Laughing.] I appreciate the question, but when I did a piece with Toni Morrison and Max Roach at Lincoln Center, a woman there referred to us as icons. That made me feel very uncomfortable. An icon is something that is frozen and that some people must break. With icon status, you have to be very careful. It sounds good, but what it means is that people think that they've figured you out. You have been made into a little item that sits on a shelf, that some worship and some must destroy. I don't chose to be either one right now, I'm a living, breathing man and artist who is trying to figure out what this life means and how can I make something both meaningful and beautiful.