Baye & Asa on ‘Making Dance’
DEL Facilitator Randi Sloan interviews Dance Artists Amadi ‘Baye’ Washington & Sam ‘Asa’ Pratt about their DEL course on dance-making
Randi: I just want to start by saying I think we’ve known each other since you were 10 or 11 years old…
Baye & Asa: Sounds about right!
Randi: I’ve watched your budding career as dancers and I am astonished at the fact that you’re still working together since 6th grade and that you’ve created such great material together.
Asa: We were both doing different things — up until the start of the pandemic we had our own individual careers and performance opportunities… While there were a lot of terrible things that happened globally and personally during the pandemic, it brought us closer together and re-focused us as a choreographic duo. It’s led to a lot of exciting opportunities for us, including teaching this workshop.
Randi: What also interests me about the work you’re doing is that there is always something that you’re grappling with that is beyond just making an aesthetically pleasing piece. You’re both politically involved, and you seem to choose topics that we’re dealing with in the world today.
Baye: I think that starts from our personal beliefs and the types of families we grew up in and also our dialogue as friends. It’s inevitable that your personal life and personal beliefs leak into your art especially when you are in a collaboration and a lot of your conversations hover around political ideas and systemic inequities…
What often happens in our process is we start thinking about dialogues we’re having routinely or a specific problem in society we want to focus on, and then we search for primary source material.
Asa: It’s also what we’re curious about as people. We make no statements about what artists should be making or have a responsibility to make, but this is what we’re interested in and also what we feel is challenging as an artist: to create work around these political issues that we care about, the ideas we want to engage with, and the things we grapple with and feel conflicted about. It’s just what interests us as artists.
Randi: And then how do you go about structurally creating your work? Do you have a formula that you’ve started to notice keeps surfacing as you work together? Or do you approach it from a different perspective each time?
Baye: I think one tendency that we’ve found is gestural material, specifically gestures with the hands and arms which later become more embodied and full out in phrase work. We often take the primary source of material and try to find where the gesture lives within it. That normally takes itself into deeper phrase work, that becomes more gross motor, faster, and travels throughout space.
Randi: Do you create scores for yourself or use a set of obstacles?
Asa: We just set a piece on BODYTRAFFIC, a company in L.A., and we read the story of the Sackler family, in the book Empire of Pain. What we found ourselves doing a lot was examining the relationships narratively in that book and the ways that certain characters in the story had statuses related to each other. We would treat those relationships as archetypal, whether it was CEO/employee or husband/wife, mistress/patriarch, child/family—all of these relationships that existed in this story we were working with, we would put them into partnering situations and create group phrase material based on those things.
We do really like to have a little story for ourselves, whether it’s a gestural story or an examination of a relationship that exists in our primary source material.
Baye: A lot of the time we find ourselves in processes where we’re making the work rather than focusing on our dynamic and how we can become better movement inventors. Things like setting rules and boundaries for what we can and cannot do in a process — I don’t feel like we’ve developed that language for ourselves yet.
It’ll be interesting as we continue to use our residency with 92Y to work on partnering and contact improvisation with each other, doing long-form scores where we have set parameters of how we can and cannot move, so it breeds new ways for us to approach movement and we don’t fall into the same habits as we continue into our careers.
Randi: What are you preparing for 92Y? I know you’re performing February 24th.
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Asa: It’s very exciting for us. We’re so honored to be included in their main stage series this year. It’s the first time that dance has been on that stage since about 50 years ago. It’s such a historic spot, and we’re so happy to be included in that program.
Baye: We used to be taken there as Dalton students by you (Randi). We’re excited to be rehearsing there.
Asa: It’s a very full circle experience considering we’re only blocks away from where our dance education began.
We’re creating a piece called Suck It Up. We started thinking a lot about commercial advertising, and we saw a potential to insert humor, comedy, and a lightness as we try to tackle the monster of capitalism. This piece transitioned into more of a commentary on heternormative commercial advertising, masculine insecurity, and resentment. We are trying to poke fun at those things and make a commentary on the way that commercial advertising can create what we refer to as a solution economy. Men are often told in commercial advertising that you’re short, bald, flaccid, or weak… and then here are all the solutions to that. These things exist for women, too, who are often told they are inadequate, but we are two straight men, so we can use our point of view to make commentary on this specifically.
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Randi: You’re also the two men performing it, so it makes sense that it connects with you.
Baye: And that’s something important to us, knowing that we cannot be removed from the context of who we are.
A lot of dance can be made with the perspective that the dancer themselves are a vessel and their identity doesn’t necessarily matter. That’s not the perspective we have as people who are focused on narrative, character-driven work and who focus on political ideas in their art making.
Specifically as it relates to this piece, one thing we found fascinating about commercial advertisements is not only do they promise a solution but that they also sometimes promise reward… For example, “once this has been solved, you can get that career/car/woman.” That leads to a sense of entitlement for a group of people, and if there’s a segment of that group that doesn’t get that reward, they’re going to build up a sense of resentment.
What you see in the 21st century, especially with the added technology, internet, and ability for people to congregate—and also specifically in the United States with the access we have to guns—we see the violent fallout of what can happen when men don’t get the things that they feel entitled to. Unfortunately it’s all too prevalent in culture in the United States to hear about these tragedies that happen in schools and workplaces.
If we’re zooming deep into Suck It Up, that’s a huge touchpoint of what we want to get at.
Randi: Are there any last words you want to share with us?
Baye: Thanks for interviewing us and we wouldn’t be here without you, Randi!
Asa: Dance educators have changed our lives many, many times throughout our career. Being dance educators also continues to change our lives for the better always. I applaud all the students in this workshop for making what can be a really difficult life choice. I just want to say how much I appreciate it and how I’ve appreciated the dance and movement teachers in my life.