Charles Slender-White interview with Tanya Chianese, 1 of 2

This interview was conducted in Berkeley on April 6, 2018, leading up to the ka·nei·see | collective and Cat Call Choir's premiere of their latest work, Nevertheless

Nevertheless World Premiere
April 19-22, 2018
CounterPulse, San Francisco


Charles Slender-White: What were the initial, leading inspirations or motivating questions for this piece?

Tanya Chianese: After my last large project, I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to make work about. This was in 2016 around the election and the Women’s Movement that followed. I realized that all I cared about during that time was women’s issues. I decided to make a trio based on Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood videotape about pussy grabbing. I was specifically inspired because I was really shocked by how many people were discrediting the fact that those things had happened and were happening to many women around us.

 Photo by Rob Best

Photo by Rob Best

I was curious what it would be like to work with three women and make a trio with luscious movement and inspiring classical music. And to have this lovely piece happen while the performers were grabbing each others’ crotches and boobs and other areas. With that work, Please Don’t, I wanted to juxtapose the beautiful music and dancing with these disgusting acts. It was really terrifying to start presenting Please Don’t. We got received a huge amount of enthusiasm around the work, as well as some online trolling.

Then I decided we should make one or two more pieces in this vein. Next, we made a duet called Stop Telling Women to Smile, which was inspired by the Street Art Movement and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s work of the same name. And, we made a third piece, …, about women being interrupted in conversation. We presented all three of those works during the 2017 International Anti-Street Harassment Week.

From there, we got even more positive encouragement and a lot of people wanted to see more. I was personally afraid to continue working on the topic of sexual harassment - it’s a huge - but then Heather Arnett from Cat Call Choir reached out and expressed her interest in continuing this work. So, we started collaborating together on Nevertheless.


CSW: Are you still interested in those inspirations and questions or has that shifted? 

TC: Definitely. 
 

CSW: Is there anything you’d like audiences to know before they see the work?

TC: In addition to the general trigger-warning and parental guidance we’ve included before the show, we also encourage people to take care of themselves, enjoy the show, feel free to laugh at the jokes, and come in with an open heart.


CSW: What do you mean by ‘take care of yourself’?

TC: It’s a hilarious show, but there are also a lot of tough parts for the audience and for the performers. To support everyone, we’ve been talking with a lot of arts organizations in the Bay Area about how to make sure we’re supporting our audiences when we’re presenting such difficult subject matter. For instance, there is a section about sexual assault, and for an individual viewer who might have gone through something like that, we want to make it very clear that they can leave if they want, and that there’s no shame in getting up and walking out of the theater. Or, if people want to talk about the show, they can reach out to us or contact other sources for support. We want people to know that the reason we’re creating the show is to create a space of solidarity where we can crack up and laugh at how ridiculous it is that this [sexual harassment and assault] happens, but also allow where we can cope with it and discuss it and increase awareness. 

 Photo by Rob Best

Photo by Rob Best


CSW: How is this work similar to or a departure from your past works?

TC: I’ve always been interested in perspective, and in putting things on the stage that can remind viewers that there are many perspectives and to encourage us all to have an open mind.

The last show I made was about Marchel Duchamp’s readymades, which was about taking everyday items and looking at them differently. The work before that, Cookie Cutter, was about how we look at things from a stereotypical point of view.

But, above all, I’m interested in presenting things on stage in an accessible manner without telling people to look at things in a certain way.

Beyond that, this show is very different than anything I’ve done before. It’s a collaboration which, for me, is very different. Without Heather Arnett, I don’t think I could have made a show that talked about vaginas and penises on stage, and grabbed boobs, etc. She has really pushed my creative envelope in a good way.


CSW: Have you learned or discovered anything in this process that you think you might carry forward into future projects?

TC: Collaboration. It has been both very hard for me. But, it has also helped me open my eyes to my own work and challenged me to try new things, which is what art making is all about. I really appreciate what we’ve been able to do together, and I’d like to continue that further.

Also, I want to not be afraid to make this sort of work again. If I want to make something blatantly about social change, I should just do it.


CSW: Do you see this work participating in a larger socio-political context? If so, how?

TC: Yes. We’re hoping to make a solidarity space, and a space for allies. We also want to create a place for everyone to have a good time, to joke about these things that we deal with everyday.

A fair amount of people who are going to come to the show are likely to experience street harassment on the way to the show. And so giving individuals the tools to recognize that by bringing more awareness to these issues, and taking power away from those instances, we can make change. 

 Photo by Rob Best

Photo by Rob Best


CSW: How many creative hours would you say it took to make this work?

TC: About 1,200 hours 


CSW: How many administrative hours?

TC: About 1,200 hours


CSW: How was this project funded?

TC: The project received support from the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the Frank Shawl Residency at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and individual donors. Heather Arnett and I have also provided a significant amount of support for the project out of our own pockets.


CSW: Was the funding for this project typical or atypical compared to your past projects?

TC: Typical.


CSW: What are one or two things about this process/project that have been challenging?

TC: All of the collaborators are really busy making ends meet, with their other projects and many jobs and work schedules - this has made scheduling pretty hard. This, of course, is related to funding. If we could pay everyone more, they would be able to prioritize this work more - everyone has to be able to pay rent. 

  
CSW: What are one or two things about this process/project that have been working out really well?

TC: I feel very happy, satisfied, and thrilled to be sharing this work. I think we’ve done a great job creating a well-rounded show where you laugh so hard you cry, while touching on the horrible feeling of trauma and assault. I’m very excited to present it. For all of the nights I was worried about the project and afraid to put it on stage, I think it has been working out really well.


CSW: Anything else to say about the work?
    
TC: One of the reasons I think Cat Call Choir is so successful, is that they take these real life stories of harassment and sing them to nursery rhyme melodies. By making fun of the harassment, you can start to take away its power. Maybe by acknowledging how ridiculous this all is, we can start to feel more empowered to start to speak up. 

 Photo by Heather Arnett

Photo by Heather Arnett

The Cat Call Choir performed at the Women’s March, we’re hosting community events, and we have plans to tour the work to keep the conversation going. The #MeToo movement and everyone else making work about this topic has been great and really inspiring.

We’ve also been gathering stories in this process from each other as collaborators and others in the community, and many people have been bringing their stories to us. Even though am making a show about this, and am fully aware that it’s happening all around us, I’ve been horrified to learn about how many people I know personally have experienced very intense sexual assault. That’s been emotionally really hard to process those stories, and has also provided a lot of fuel for the work. 

The performers deserve a huge shout out. They are being objectified and abused on stage, and abusing each other against their intuition. That’s really scary to do, and they’ve been so inspiring. 

I’ve never felt so empowered in my life as I’ve felt while creating this work. It has been thrilling to see how many people are excited and interested in the work. 


CSW: Counting both small and larger pieces, how many dances have you choreographed? 

TC: 75-100


CSW: What motivates you to make work?

 Photo by picsprobono

Photo by picsprobono

TC: Making work is all I’ve wanted to do, ever. I want to constantly make positive and beautiful experiences in life, about life. I think art makes our world a better place to live in...not only because it can make social change, but because it can create these stunning landscapes and environments. Art is everywhere, and society tends to forget that. My goal is to help others get into enjoying art.


CSW: What is something you’d like to do in your work that you’ve not yet been able to do?

TC: I really like choreographing on large groups of dancers. It’s very inspiring. Last year as a guest artist at SF State University, I got to work with 17 dancers and it was an incredible experience. I get to do that a lot in my teaching, but it’s a bit different. I have an idea for a next show, and having a large cast of 20-30 people would be ideal.


CSW: What are some outside limitations or constraints on your ability to make work?

TC: Always funding. This limits the ability to rehearse more, rent larger theaters, afford a publicist, afford marketing that is going to reach a larger audience. More funding would also give me more space, as a choreographer, for creation.

    
CSW: What is something you learned earlier in life that helps you in your career now?

TC: Two things.

 Photo by Rob Best

Photo by Rob Best

I was home-schooled. My parents were great about encouraging me and my sister to study what we love. That’s really important for me to remember to create work that speaks to me, with a heart to bring it to others and to include them and share with them, and add to our society in positive ways.

And, my dad is a professional film composer in Los Angeles. He’s the most humble person I’ve met. No one outside of the movie industry probably knows who he is. But, he’s been making a living and supporting a family and two kids solely on his work. He’s never been the main credit on a particularly famous movie, and he’s spent his professional life making music for documentaries and commercials and smaller projects. He reminds me that it’s not about recognition or ‘success’ but it’s about enjoying what you’re doing and living life and giving back to the world.

Unfortunately, competitiveness is a part of our field, but my dad and his career reminds me that winning and huge recognition is not what it’s all about. 


CSW: What is something you didn’t know that you wish someone had told you?

TC: I didn’t realize until after college that the job opportunities in our field are unlimited. It’s not just about getting a full-time dance contract. You could be a house manager, an administrator for a regional ballet company, etc. There any many avenues you can go down and still be a part of this great community. It’s important, also, to recognize that success is relative to what you want to do. 

 

Tanya Chianese, Founder and Artistic Director of ka·nei·see | collective, has been professionally commissioned twice and awarded three residencies. She was the 2016-2017 guest choreographer and teacher at San Francisco State University, and honored to be the Guest Speaker at the School of Theatre & Dance's 2017 Graduation Ceremony. Most recently Tanya has performed with Rogelio Lopez & Dancers, Garrett + Moulton Productions, Paufve | Dance, and Kristin Damrow & Company. She teaches movement at primarily Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Roco Dance, Berkeley Ballet Theater, and Ace Dance Academy, and is a guest teacher at Dance Mission Theater, City College of San Francisco, and San Francisco State University. In 2010 Tanya taught ballet to visually impaired adults and children in Oklahoma City through a grant funded by Devon Energy, and has also instructed children in after school programs at low-income elementary schools in Los Angeles through a grant funded by the city in 2006. She has worked as an administrator for Oklahoma City Ballet, Epiphany Productions, Blind Tiger Society, and dance anywhere®. She holds a B.F.A. in Modern Dance and B.A. in Art History from the University of Oklahoma.