Danielle Ross’s newest work, Granular Peripheries, premieres as part of the Utopian Performance Tour at the 2021 Pivot Arts Festival: Reimagining Utopia. Read on for a conversation between Danielle and Gina Wrolstad, 2021 spring season Marketing Manager, about Danielle’s artistic process.
GW: You describe Granular Peripheries as a “meditation on how our bodies soak up the people and architectures which we move amongst and which move us.” Where did the inspiration for this piece come from?
DR: Prior to moving to Chicago, I worked with casts of dancers/performers. Due to being new to the city and not having access to the same resources, I decided to play with a solo practice. I became really interested in what it means to be “alone” in performance.
My graduate research thinks about social erasure as violence, so this solo really became about investigating unseen forces that the body can tap into by way of specific performance sites. Each performance takes its inspiration from the social and architectural histories that it is situated in. I’m then thinking about those histories as fellow choreographers because of the way that they organize, structure, and direct both our bodies and our perception of others.
Mike and I have also started thinking about vision and optics in this work. I’m interested in how performance can rely on the visual and what that might obstruct, so our work also plays with “peripheral” sensations (e.g., What’s a mile to the east of you? Who was standing here a year ago? What motion is unfolding a foot behind you?).
GW: You’re currently doing a dissertation in Northwestern’s Performance Studies PhD program about artistic response to the erasure of gendered violence in Morocco, Nigeria, and Guatemala. How does this research inform your work and/or process?
DR: My research is focused in part on how forms of violence rely on the erasure of bodies from a space as a mode of control. I think often about how that absence shifts the sensation of a place, and how bodily perception holds potential for different kinds of memory, recognition of absence, or ghostly possibilities.
So, my research has opened up new questions, and this solo addresses them through my own body by placing it in varied sites with different bodily and architectural histories that become part of the performance material.
GW: Before coming to Chicago, you created and performed primarily in Oregon and California. What cultural/societal differences have you noticed between the West Coast and Midwest arts communities, if any?
DR: Each place I’ve lived has its own sensibilities, but they can be hard to put language to! In Chicago, I notice that people often ask me if I make “dance” or “performance,” which are completely entangled for me, and which I think is more of the culture in the Portland arts scene.
Chicago is a much larger city than Portland, so there are just bigger scales of performance here by way of more infrastructure around formalized ways of viewing art. Companies and schools are training and teaching distinctly different ways of making, which is happening alongside people making work within smaller communities or with whatever they have access to.
Portland taught me something about the informal economies that making can open up, and how community was really required to make that happen. It always had a very DIY and scrappy sensibility to me. I wouldn’t say those are differences between the West Coast and the Midwest, but more between my impressions of Chicago and Portland.
GW: Who is your dream artistic collaborator?
DR: There’s not one person, but there are qualities that I really feel held and pushed by as an artist. I really value collaborators who think about the material or bodily consequences of what they make and who don’t rely on abstraction. I value deep thinkers and risk takers who can put pressure on decisions when they aren’t quite working.
Right now, I’m collaborating with my partner Mike Treffehn, who is also crafting the conceptual backbones of this solo with me, and I love that he has different disciplinary training as a sculptor, sound artist, and performer. Our different backgrounds with artistic practice open up new possibilities based on what each of us puts on the table, and I love the dynamism of that.
GW: What are you listening to right now? (music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.)
DR: In the studio, I’ve been listening to Arthur Russell, Brian Eno, Sudan Archives, and Fourtet. Outside of the studio, SOPHIE has been in heavy rotation, and I’ve been going back to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill a lot.
Mike’s frequent players have been Pat the Bunny, Clark, Armand Hammer & The Alchemist, Dua Lipa, and Andy Stott. He’s also been listening to the podcasts Slow Burn, Armchair Expert, and Code Switch.
Thank you, Danielle, for sharing your thoughts with us! Don’t miss Granular Peripheries at the Utopian Performance Tour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at staggered start times from May 21-June 6.
Tickets on sale now!
Header image: Danielle Ross, photo by Mei Ratz