A new dance work to be unveiled at Mass MoCA promises to bring Jack Kerouac into the 21st Century, tracing mobility as something that was once a form of rebellion, but has now become the norm for Americans.
The performance of On The Road by dance company Zvidance, under the leadership of creative director Zvi Gotheiner, a co-presentation with Jacob’s Pillow, will take place Saturday, April 23, at 8 p.m.
The residency that precedes that performance allows Gotheiner to gather all the parts and see how they mix. This includes working with the eight dancers on the movement, as well as the placement and role of a video element mixed with the music by Scott Killian. But Gotheiner can’t predict how this will all come together, what it will look like when the audience sees it or if it will actually work. That’s just part of the journey for him.
“I’m experimenting, I’m trying things,” Gotheiner said in a phone interview from his studio in New York City. “If it works, it’s good, if not, I’m trying something else. I think there’s a piece in me somewhere. I wish I would have more concrete information and I could be very smart about it. Now I’m like the village fool.”
The idea for the show came from Gotheiner’s regard the book from which the work borrows its name, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, which Gotheiner first read as a young man in the ’70s after just arriving in the United States from his native Israel. It shaped his view of America.
“It shook my genetic material,” he said. “It was such a powerful book at that time. It suggested a new lifestyle that was so opposite to the way I was brought up, and opportunities to experiment with my life, which I could not imagine. I’m not Jack, I didn’t go in a car on the highways like him. But something he suggested touched a nerve with me and stayed with me the rest of my life.”
As an older man, it seem obvious to Gotheiner what he needed to do to prepare — take a big road trip.
“I think now there’s very little youth in me, but there is some, and actually going in a car and speeding on the highway, you can fool yourself into being very young,” said Gotheiner. “I felt like it would be interesting to reflect on another art that was very powerful in my evolution, to reenact the trip but now as an artistic exploration. “
Gotheiner dove into books about the period that Kerouac traveled in, learning about the Beats and the counter culture of the time, and examining the popular culture that the work informed. Gotheiner was really more concerned with the scope through time of Kerouac’s work, rather than any nostalgia for the time.
Gotheiner’s road trip took the form of four dancers and a videographer accompanying him in a van-ride from New York to San Francisco, along a similar route as Kerouac’s first trip out west, with stops in different locations where dancers improvised movement t.
“After awhile it became wilder and wilder, and they took chances,” Gotheiner said. “It was sometimes scary for me, but they could handle it.”
The trip also provided interaction with people at the various stops, and these were captured on video.
“They just wanted to talk to us,” said Gotheiner. “We were walking on the street in Denver, and some people see a camera and want to talk. Some street people, some other people. It was not an academic research. All of it was spontaneous, in Jack’s way of writing.”
Gotheiner asked the people questions on camera, asking specifically their views on freedom and liberty, if they felt restricted or able to pursue their aspirations. Gotheiner said he found no conclusive answer amidst the interviews, but did note that his own troupe felt an incredible freedom on the journey, going about their business without any interference, performing in public places without the sense that there was an authority watching them waiting to shut it all down.
And part of the result of the freedom he observed, in congress with the reach of the book in popular culture, is the embrace of movement as part of living.
“It’s a mobile society,” said Gotheiner. “People are not bound to location anymore.”
Gotheiner is still devising how to incorporate the video into the performance, but the pieces are there for him to bring together in service of a dance piece about a society that has embraced mobility and perhaps even makes the audience feel they are sitting in the front of seat of a moving car.
“Maybe the audience can feel young with us as well,” Gotheiner said.
The afternoon of the performance will give aspiring dancers age 16+ the opportunity to take a class from Gotheiner, along with the rest of the company, and this, Gotheiner says, has a component in the overall creative process. He hopes students will share their own materials.
“The material they bring would be far more fun to do,” he said. “It may give me some perspective about the movement. Since it’s all new, any engagement something that brings the movement to reality can tell me something, so I can incorporate it into the process as well.”
It fits in with Gotheiner’s philosophy that people outside his company have something to offer the work.
“The studio, when I create work, is open, and we like people to come visit,” said Gotheiner. “We always ask for feedback. We have a group of apprentices in our company that participate in the improvisation at the conception of the work, and they may not perform the work, but they contribute something to it.”
And it’s instructive to the outsiders, he believes, to see the creative process and watch how ideas are shaped into performances, how experimentation turns into something solid. And giving that opportunity, he says, helps hi m in his own process.
“Many times, I’m in the dark,” Gotheiner said. “It’s good to realize that the moment of creation is a spark that comes from nowhere, and for me, it was a great realization. It’s not the notes your prepare or the intellectual reasoning. I know what I do, it doesn’t really make a difference for an idea to come through you in some way. For me it’s more important to create an environment that facilitates something like that.”
Originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle.