Founding company member Amy Miller returns to her roots during GroundWorks Fall 2017 Dance Series with the world premiere of her work, Vade Mecum. The piece, which explores the ideas of partnership, collaboration and inner wisdom, will be Amy’s 12th original work for the company. Past works include Way Leads to Way (2013), Current Frame (2012), and Running to Earth (2011) as well as Valence (2009), a collaboration with Oberlin College Professor & Composer Peter Swendsen.
She received her training at the Dance Institute of the University of Akron and at the Joffrey Ballet School. An Ohio native, Amy earned a 2010 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and in 2009 was voted Outstanding Artist in dance by the Akron Area Arts Alliance. She currently serves as Senior Director of Gibney Dance Company in New York City.
Your new work, Vade Mecum, will be your 12th original piece for GroundWorks. What was your inspiration?
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately. I’m starting to feel like these finite dance pieces we put together come from years and years of being in the world and living as artists, and pushing against assumptions or ways that society encourages us to think about each other and our relationship to space and time.
Over the years, I keep playing with the idea of what it means to be on stage, doing these super human feats and why are we attracted to the stage. Early on in my career the focus was about technique and mastering tough skills, and at this point, as I’m choreographing and directing, I’m gleaning from my experience and exploring other ideas and aesthetics. I’m crafting a lot these days, much like crafting a conversation.
Let’s explore this idea of creating these “finite” pieces of work. How do you keep a work of dance living and breathing, so to speak?
During this process with GroundWorks, we talked a lot about how we’re creating this work for stage and how the audience will witness it, and for the short amount of time that we’re together, dancers and the audience, how do we get to that place where the prep – the introductions, getting to know one another, the creation, collaboration, rehearsal – is also valued as the ‘work’?
We talked about the ripple effects of art- how the audience can see themselves in the dancers, maybe see themselves on stage and what kinds of emotions that could evoke. It could excite them, relax them, take them out of their world for a moment.
Back to the idea of preparation being a part of the “work,” I presented ideas but made space for the artists to embody those movements, those moments, and hopefully they weren’t feeling like they were mimicking me, but instead had the space to amplify it for themselves. To keep it fresh each time. We also talked about awareness on stage and being able to adapt in the moment.
So, in fact, you could see the work as not being finite, but quite the opposite. From the prep to performance to the audience leaving with something – an idea, a spark, an inspiration – these all continue the conversation.
Tell us more about the music. Are you using original compositions?
While at the Bates Dance Festival this past summer I met Peter Jones, a composer and musical director for the dance program at Mount Holyoke College. He and I forged a great friendship. He gave me a bunch of CDs to listen to and sure enough, there were all these beautiful piano pieces with these really thoughtful, gorgeous rhythms. I could feel energy in these pieces. I asked Peter if it was OK with him if I overlapped the pieces and made new versions of several of the tracks. He was open to it!
Years ago, working with Gustavo Aguilar on several of David Shimotakahara’s pieces exposed me to this idea of working around a musical structure. It just opened up so much possibility for me personally and I got more into the spontaneity, fun and aliveness of it. So, technically, very little of the piece is counted per se, but there are landmarks within this lush music that the artists are moving toward and around.
Your piece is called Vade Mecum. Where does the name come from?
I was hanging out in Detroit with a friend. She handed me this deck of cards with long words in many different languages, where the words represented one particular concept. One of these cards really stood out to me – Vade Mecum, which means “go with me” in Latin. The description in the card had two facets – go with me (which made me think about partnerships and collaboration); and this second layer which was the idea of handbooks of wisdom (apparently, back in the day, people would carry these meditation books with them).
That made me think, we could think of ourselves as these wisdom handbooks, and everything that we’ve learned, we keep close to our hearts and share with each other. It might not come through directly in the work, but it led to different juxtapositions on stage and different partnering.
Let’s talk about your origins. You career spans three decades. When did you start dancing? Why did you choose dance as your artistic medium?
I was born in Ravenna, Ohio and also spent a lot of time in Kent and Akron. I was always one of those kids who was flipping, my feet were always up in the air, I was always moving. My mom started getting worried about all the risks I was taking in the living room, so she started me in gymnastics. I did a lot of competitions between the ages of 9 and 12. I loved it. At the gymnastics place, there were mandatory ballet and jazz classes. I had this amazing ballet teacher, and my jazz teacher was a teenager, so of course I loved that.
That teacher encouraged me to go to the Dance Institute of the University of Akron and audition. I was 13 years old at the time. All of a sudden it seemed, I was doing point classes and then at age 15 I was asked to be an apprentice at Ohio Ballet. It just led from gymnastics to jazz and ballet to the Ohio Ballet, which is where I met David (Shimotakahara). I stayed with the Ohio Ballet for 10 years.
At GroundWorks, it was an amazing time of creation. David gave me so many opportunities to create my own work, which meant so much to me, especially as a young dancer. It was during my time at GroundWorks that I met Gina Gibney, which set me up for the next phase of my career.
I was hungry for a wider lens and for different exposure, so I moved to New York. It was hard to leave GroundWorks, but it was also the experience I needed at that point in my career. Gina Gibney and Gibney Dance Company has this wonderful sense of community and breaking down those barriers between artist and audience. And she helped me to see that within myself. And now, I love having that leadership role to help people see that in themselves.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience years and years of different exposure to a myriad of ideas and GroundWorks is really the lifeblood of all that.