Haim takes inspiration for 'This Land...' from Patsy Cline

Jun. 24, 2013 @ 05:13 PM

Modern dance choreographer Mark Haim owes Patsy Cline for inspiring his dance, “This Land is Your Land.”  American Dance Festival audiences will see the 50-minute work today and Wednesday at the Nasher Museum of Art.
In a recent phone interview, Haim said this dance has never been performed in an art museum. ADF director Jodee Nimerichter had approached him about doing it there. When he saw the space, he was convinced. “I could see it there. There are a lot of skylights. There’s the feeling you’re almost outside,” Haim said.
The choreographer recalled the initial inspiration for this dance. He was listening to a Patsy Cline song on his laptop one day and it prompted him to move. “I was walking back and forth to Patsy Cline and laughing. I was sashaying to Patsy. It was the silliest thing I’d ever done,” Haim said.
Yet, this led to his dance that has lots of walking – among other things. “My best ideas come from playing around and not even knowing what I’m doing,” Haim said.
At the time, he didn’t really like country music. But over the course of working on this dance, he developed an appreciation by listening to both classic and contemporary country artists. The sound score for “This Land …” has a mix of country tunes.  “There are a lot of beautiful songs. I love the lyrics. Some are quite playful and ‘puny’ with double-entendres,” Haim said.
His musicality stems from his background in music. Growing up in Long Island, N.Y., he began piano lessons at age 6 and continued serious study until age 18 when he discovered dance in high school. He wound up going to Juilliard’s dance program. But music still informs his dance-making process. “If I watch somebody move, I actually hear sounds. As I’m choreographing, I’m actually writing a piece of music,” he said.
“This Land …” also has the humor he’s become known for.  There were some humorous moments in his 1997 ADF world premiere of “The Goldberg Variations” – his 30 solos to Bach’s “Aria With 30 Variations (The Goldberg Variations”) played live by pianist Andre Gribou. There were also movements of great beauty and enough variety to engage the audience for the duration of this 74-minute tour-de-force performance.
“I love humor. I spent a composition class talking about humor,” he said. (He’s taught at ADF since 1993.) “To make a good joke, you must allow yourself to feel vulnerable and give the other person the power,” he said.
In “This Land …,” humor stems from a variety of sources, including the variations in a simple, continuously mutating walking pattern. As a Seattle Times writer put it, “subtle alterations of gait … owed a thing or two to Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.”
Contemporary issues, including body image, consumerism and environmental irresponsibility just started to come up in the process of making this dance, he added.  “The issues are more presented in the work than grappled with,” Haim said. “Props (Starbuck’s cups, cellphones …) just sort of magically appear. There’s a whole lot of costume-changing.” And, some nudity, he added.
“This piece is about being an American,” Haim said. He declined to elaborate further but did say that after the Dec. 14 mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., he added another section to this dance.
Haim will actually dance in these ADF performances of “This Land …” “One of the dancers couldn’t make it. I’ve seen it enough,” he said of the dance. Plus, he’s the one who created it, after all.
He attended ADF as a student in 1980 and again in 1981 when he was one of the student dancers in a work presented as part of the Young Choreographers and Musicians program. “Mark Dendy and I used to have contests.” They tried to be the best at imitating each other, he added.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: Mark Haim’s American Dance Festival debut of “This Land is Your Land.”
WHERE: The Nasher Museum of Art, Durham.
WHEN: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. today and Wednesday.
TICKETS: 919-684-4444.