A Brooklynite by way of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Yanira Castro began dancing and choreographing shortly after graduating college in 1994. She has since fascinated New York audiences with an impressive range of wildly imaginative works: with “Dark Horse/Black Forest,” she created an immersive environment for a few spectators who negotiated space in a public bathroom with two performers undergoing an intense interaction. Conversely, in “Paradis,” she blew up the scale by taking her audiences on an experiential journey through the vast exteriors of Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. More recently, in “The People to Come,” she wove her audiences into the very fabric of her creative process: performers rehearsed and created dances in real time, drawing inspiration from materials submitted by the spectators. The Rail spoke with Yanira as her company gears up for a world premiere at Danspace Project later this month.
Ivan Talijancic (Rail): Over the past several years, your work has been seen mostly in unconventional locations around the city, yet I sense that your work right now is at a sort of tipping point, reaching the next level of visibility and recognition.
Yanira Castro: I feel like there is always a “sort of” tipping point that—with each project, site we work with, organization we partner with, there is a wealth of possibilities and potential for different kinds of visibility. I don’t so much feel like a “next level” of recognition is being reached so much as I feel that I have been in dialogue with groups of folks (artists, curators, etc.) for a long time now and that the conversations are thickening. This may or may not translate to some kind of “growth” of visibility—I expect that change will be incremental and of kind rather than of level.
I don’t consider our work to be site-specific, but we are dedicated to asking questions about how we see, participate, and engage in performance—learning about agency and the power structures inherent in our cultural norms, theater design, and seating. To create audience situations that offer alternate modes of attending to work has often meant presenting work outside traditional spaces. That has been an integral aspect of my pieces.
Rail: You were regularly featured as a performer in many of your creations, yet over the past few years your focus has shifted towards a more exclusively choreographic role. Can you talk a bit about what that transition represents for you personally?
Castro: I stopped performing in 2002—to me it is ancient history! Why did I stop? I couldn’t find the time to work a full-time job, make dances, and take class. And having started dancing late, I felt I had to be in class to maintain articulateness. I never self-identified as a performer, so it naturally gave way as other things took precedence. As I was developing as a maker, questions about phrase-making changed into structural, political, social, and presentational questions. It was less a decision than what occurred because of the specific trajectory of my work.
Rail: Where does the impetus for your pieces usually come from?
Castro: There is always a question that I am posing and an attempt to explore the question—which only leads to more questions. I am interested in situations, relationships, and what a scenario can propose. So, with “Wilderness” in 2010 my questions were about what happens when we enter an unknown space together. In “The People to Come” in 2012 my primary question was how do we make the experience of coming together transparent? With “Court/Garden” my question is: how does our shared imperial, Western, cultural history dictate the ways in which we come together? This has led me to the work of Mark Franko, the very specific research of learning a court dance from Baroque practitioner Catherine Turocy, and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Rail: “Court/Garden” is about to premiere at Danspace Project. This is the first time one of your productions has received support from the National Dance Project (N.D.P). To what extent do you anticipate this prestigious award impacting your new work?
Castro: The impact of the N.D.P. award on “Court/Garden” (“CG”) has been immediate. “CG,” in my imagination, has a three-act structure, but up until the announcement we were considering presenting only the first act, or possibly two, at Danspace. And there were many design decisions that were on hold until we knew what we would be able to support. Without N.D.P., “CG” would have been presented very differently—maybe in installments. Also, receiving N.D.P. means support for touring the work, and having put two years of work into something this large it has been a relief to know that the project will have a life beyond the three days of the premiere at Danspace Project.
Yanira Castro / a canary torsi’s “Court/Garden” will premiere at Danspace Project, October 9 – 11, 2014 (acanarytorsi.org).
IVAN TALIJANCIC is a founder and artistic co-director of WaxFactory, a New York-based interdisciplinary art group. He is currently completing his first feature film, 416 MINUTES, and regularly writes on the arts for BOMB, London-based Bachtrack, and the Brooklyn Rail.