Bill Young/ Colleen Thomas & Co.

This week Bill Young and Colleen Thomas bring their New York-based company back to the Twin Cities, where they've already left a big footprint. Since the early 1990s, Young and Thomas—together and separately—have been creating evocative and explosive dances for area companies. Their own troupe features dancers who go for broke physically and emotionally, inspiring adjectival ecstasy in critics worldwide. Co-choreographers, Young and Thomas create force fields where complex interactions between dancers (think lots of contact between bodies, often moving at warp speed, sometimes in aerial harnesses) become charged metaphors for life in our rampaging times. They took some time out of their busy lives (which include a toddler) to talk about what lights their creative fires.

CP:Your work has been praised for both high energy movement and emotional texture. How do you combine these sometimes contradictory elements in your choreography?

BY: It has always been our goal to find a way to let whatever the dancers do at any moment be integral to that moment—to make sense in a way that it seems real and not contrived. A lot of our images spring out of a material that involves the dancers interacting together—whether with a quiet gesture or with a full-blown physicality. Anything that yields a sensation of risk is a bonus, and sometimes high-energy stuff can do that. When that happens, the high-energy stuff can be as much of an emotional journey as anything else.

C.T: Right now I am most interested in the movement language coming out of imagery and imagery coming from an emotion whether it be subtle or extravagant. It is a choreographic goal for us to try to viscerally influence the audience. We want them to be moved by what they are experiencing. To feel something they have to identify with the visual and hopefully the visual covers a full range of vibrant life.

CP: What qualities do you look for in the dancers with whom you work?

B.Y: Emotional transparency-- it’s that quality you get from the best dancers, whether by training or by an innate talent: they somehow project their own internal experience on stage while dancing , as opposed to merely showing or presenting something out to the audience. When you get a hit of what the dancer is going through on stage, you actually tend to notice the person more than the specifics of what the dancer is doing, and thereby create for the audience not just an experience of a performance, but actually a brief encounter into who that person really is. Working with material that explores a certain risk-- either emotional or physical-- can help pull exactly that out of a performer. I am drawn to dancers who are drawn to that risk.

C.T: Individuality, grounded, a sense of knowing. We are drawn to incredible improvisers because you can see so clearly what they feel in the moment rather than what they have been trained to “do.” We are also drawn to dancers that are comfortable with contact. Crazy, rude, special, and unique.

CP:Why is partnering—the physical interaction between two or more dancers—so central to your work?

BY: It all is part of a preference to watch people onstage engaged with material and with each other in a way that paints some kind of world that they are a part of, instead of the experience of the dancers presenting to us sitting in the audience. Somehow it has always been most compelling to experience any performance when I feel like I'm peering into the performer's real world as it unfolds before me onstage.

CT: There is something completely engaging about the tension built between the play of bodies, the trust, humanness, inclusiveness for the audience, and the virtuosity of surprise.

CP: What is it like to be married and co- directors of a dance company? How do you negotiate the personal and professional aspects of your life together and divide up the responsibilities?

BY: It's totally nuts, all of it!

CT: It's one of the best things in our life and sometimes one of the worst. We have to remember not to get hurt by each other's criticism. Working together forces inherent high expectations. There is pressure or more of a sense of responsibility to make work that is worth devoting a life to, because it is not just you alone or your name on the work. I think it challenges us to work hard and obviously (like any collaboration) there is the gift of a different perspective.

CP: What is it like to maintain a dance company in New York these days? How has the dance scene there changed over the past decade?

B.Y: Actually, the idea of ‘scene’ or ‘community’ being tied to a physical location is probably less relevant nowadays, as we become connected more and more to artists as part of a global community. In fact, those global connections (e.g., eastern Europe, Latin America) have been a rich and enduring source for us for many years. See Bill Young/Colleen Thomas & Co. perform a variety of works tonight.
Sept. 14-15, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 16, 2 p.m.

 
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