BRIEFS// Bebe Miller: The Gift of the Present Moment

Bebe Miller. Image courtesy the artist.

By Michael Workman

Part of the following interview appeared as part of a feature with Kranicke, Bebe Miller and Deborah Hay over at Newcity. Below is the full text of the interview with Miller.

Your last visit to Chicago was in 2012, the improvisation festival at the old Links Hall. What about the aMID Festival do you find compelling enough to return?
I was interested in performing with these other dancers. We’re all in the same program, I respect them, so there was that and most of my company performances involve other dancers at this point in our work. And I have done a bunch of performing on my own in recent years, so I thought, “Hm! This is worth pursuing. So I’ll perform an improvisational solo and duet. I’m working with Darrell Jones, with whom I have a long history and I kind of thought I’d see where the two of us are. I think my thoughts about performing at this point in my career and in my dancing life, a lot of it is, “Where am I now? Why is this interesting and who am I with?” So that is the nature of our exploration and the nature of mine that I do on my own as well. So I asked Darrell if he’d be interested in participating and we don’t know what that will be, but we’re both open to it. I’m also doing an other improvisation with other members of the Bebe Miller Company as the year is progressing, so I feel as though I’m entering into a series of performances in some way.

How do you think all of that informs the moment we’re living now, with the #blacklivesmatter movement? How much do these social advancements inform your work?
Well, I think it’s informing my life. I don’t feel that I’m making a different statement about an African American woman living in our times. I think our times are inescapable. What I do feel, maybe not so much in the last couple of years, but this is over a generation and what has become clear is we are more taken for granted in the range of stories or what have you in relation to our personal identities that are out there. Back in my early days there was an expectation that there was a black story that needed to be told and I think we moved through to an understanding that they all need told, and it’s not just the black ones. But I think that our political reality, if you have your eyes open, is that there’s an inescapable, and it shouldn’t be escaped. I don’t think I need to say that this dance is about #blacklivesmatter, this is a black life that matters on its own.

In relationship to that question, especially when it comes to dance, is distinctly ageist and defined by a populist youth cult.
It’s not just America, but the field of dance is considered a young person’s thing. I’m in my 60’s, we know that it’s not just a young person’s field anymore and — all hats off to aMID for doing this — but I think it’s even beyond that. I think we’re living, in the field, a moment where artists of my generation, there is more an expectation and evidence that we just keep on going, whether we’re writing or filmmaking or doing more spoken word, performing or choreographing. I think that there is more and more evidence, of my generation’s time, of this sense that we are still here. I’ve also been doing this series of performances with the Wooster Group in New York called “Early Shaker Spirituals,” and they’re a group of 5 women and we are all pretty much 60 and over, including Frances McDormand, Suzzy Roche, Cynthia Hedstrom — I mean Frances McDormand is recognizable in one field, but you know, we’re all of a certain age and we’re singing these Shaker songs. So, for me, just the fact of my age as a performer isn’t so much an issue. Matter of fact, I feel it’s getting well-used. There was also the 5 First Ladies of Dance, a reminder of the series we toured until 2010 that was Carmen de Lavallade, me, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Germaine Acogny and Dianne McIntyre, so African American women of a certain age. I was the young one! So, this isn’t the first one, and I feel that maybe we are in a time when we can relax a bit and just let us do what we do, because it’s seen as valuable and there’s something to say without just saying that we’re older. So, one would hope.

Who are some of your favorite up-and-comers?
This is one of the hardest things about leaving New York is that I’m really more out of touch with emerging artists than I ever have been. I’m always interested in the work that Darrell is doing, and Angie Hauser. I feel like I’m watching closer to my generation these days; Tere O’Connor, Cynthia Oliver than the young and up-and-coming. Unfortunately, I’m not in that audience because it’s not happening so much.

What the audience to take away for this event?
I hope that Darrell and I are able to create a particular atmosphere or a sense of place and time that captivates. I feel like — and maybe this is age speaking — but I feel like I’m really interested in being in the moment and that in and of itself is a gift to us as performers, but also when I’m watching something. I want to see how involved I can become, and just be with these people now. So, my biggest thing is just, can we connect? So, that’s it.

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At Links Hall, 3111 North Western Ave., (773)281–0824. January 28–31. Tickets at linkshall.org.

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