Photography by Julien Besson, Interview by Isa Prieto.
“My fourth trip to Brooklyn in May 2018 was caressed by the world of the dance.
I was lodged at the corner of Myrtle Ave with two dancers and choreographers.
It was impossible not to be interested in their life. I found two blocks from where I lived, an almost abandoned basketball court, the ideal setting for the movie 'West side story', with these old buildings with firescapes in background.
We did not prepare anything. She came dressed as she is in life.
In order to present her for this series, I photographed her with what the street offered me; an old cadillac - the ideal symbol of America. It nourishes the timelessness of my work, linking past and present. Annalee used the structure of the basketball court to express her Art by freezing the movement with my direction. Then, she danced with talent, without music. I admired her expressing her Art and I tried to film her.
She edited the files, choosing music, mixing my images in color and black and white, a perfect representation of my relationship to time in my photographic work.
Finally, it is a private dance that I want to share with you, with her agreement.
We concluded this collaboration in a neighborhood pizzeria, with pronounced neon lights, like so many in New York.
Another typical setting, the city that never sleeps.”
- Julien Besson
Interview with Annalee
IP: Where were you born? Where do you live now?
AT: I am originally from Huntsville, Alabama and I am currently based out of New York City.
IP: When did you learn to start dancing?
AT: I have wanted to be a dancer ever since I can remember. My mom is a ballet teacher, so I grew up watching her teach. At the age of 5, I started dancing at the local studio where my mom taught, and she became my ballet teacher around age 7 or 8. When I decided I wanted to seriously pursue dance as my career, my parents and I agreed that I had to leave my hometown to study in a conservatory setting in order to get the training I needed. From 10th to 12th grade, I attended two dormitory arts conservatories: The Alabama School of Fine Arts and The North Carolina School of the Arts. I then went on to obtain my BFA from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA.
IP: What do you call the sort of dance that you do?
AT: contemporary/dance theatre
IP: What or who influences your choreography and your style?
AT: My style is influenced by the techniques of ballet, contemporary/modern, and jazz. If I had to describe it I might say something like...quirky syncopation and rhythm accompany asymmetrically raw and isolated movements, beautifully grotesque shapes, and unpredictable virtuosity. Some artists that I greatly admire are Jasmin Vardimon, Zimmerman & De Perrot, and Rosie Herrera.
IP: How do you choose music for your choreography?
AT: I grew up in a very artistic household, my dad was a concert pianist and my mom IS a ballet teacher, so music has always been a large part of my life. I was lucky enough to be introduced to all genres of music from an early age, and I attribute that to the reason why I don’t use one specific genre of music for my work. It’s really as simple as hearing a piece of music that makes me feel something and keeping it in my rolodex for when the time is right.
IP: What do you want the viewer to take away from one of your performances?
AT: If the viewer feels a connection to what they see in the work, whether it’s emotional physical, or mental, I have accomplished a significant goal of mine as a creator/choreographer. Just recently, I received feedback from a highly respected artist in the NYC community saying that my work “begs for a narrative”, and I think that is developing into a primary goal of mine also. I don’t want to spoon feed you what was going on in my head when I created the work. I like to leave the room for your own imagination to spark. I find joy in listening to all of the different interpretations and narratives from the audience after a performance!
IP: What is your relationship to your dancers?
AT: I have the utmost respect and admiration for the artists that I work with. First of all, I have been in their place many times before and remember what it is like to try to find and produce someone else’s vision and aesthetic in your own body. It can be quite difficult! My past experience allows me to empathize with the artists and see them as humans first before dancers. Second of all, there are reasons why I don’t dance in my work… One being I can’t do some of the stuff I ask the artists to do! And even if I could, I wouldn’t want to watch me do it! LOL! To make movement tailored to the dancer, revealing them in their best light, while simultaneously blending my distinctive style, is something I value…
IP: Does your creative process allow for improvisation?
AT: Typically, I find myself the most inspired by the people in front of me, the performers, and their individuality and unique artistry they bring to the work. I feel it is my obligation as a choreographer to encourage this authenticity to shine through as it keeps the work alive, present, and constantly evolving allowing the artists’ intuition to enhance their (and in turn the viewers) personal connection to the work.
I use many tools in my creative process, improvisation being one of them. I challenge myself to remain open to the discoveries made during the creation process and working collaboratively assists this; I value the “mess-ups”, the perfect imperfections, as they sometimes lead to more organic and interesting choices.
IP: What is your most memorable experience choreographing or dancing?
AT: It has always been a dream of mine to tour my work abroad… so when my work “how the Quiet won” was invited to perform in Rotterdam Netherlands last summer, I couldn't have been more ecstatic. It was definitely a high of my choreographic journey thus far. I stayed after and explored Amsterdam too.
IP: What is the most challenging and rewarding part of your work?
AT:As an emerging choreographer, the most challenging part of what I do is absolutely finding and obtaining funding! I find it exhilarating and humbling to be able to create with people (sometimes whom I have never met) who put their complete trust in me. When I connect with someone who I may not speak their language but are able to energetically sink up through movement, that is the universal magic of dance. The end product is just the cherry on top…the real bliss is the time I spend learning about who these people are in relation to this world that we are creating together. For me, that process is the most rewarding part of my work.
IP: Is there anything that you learn from dancing that applies to your daily life, and alternatively, is your dance inspired by any lived experience?
AT: To me, dance is a mirror of humanity, so there are many things about dance that I see and use in my daily life, for example spacial awareness, ha! In all seriousness though, I think the one thing that stands out the most would be how sensitive I have become to the world and people around me… how I communicate, how I interpret and am interpreted, how my energy can effect everyone in the room and inversely how I can align with someone’s energy in an effort to arrive at a place of mutual understanding. I am inspired by an array of ideas and topics: the harmonious relationship of performer and music; alternately, the dimensions created when opposing or contradicting sound to movement, my own and other’s life experiences, my imagination, my dreams, the unknown and other-worldly concepts, and the deconstruction of social behaviors, expectations, and traditions. What I’m most interested in is how human experiences can exist in fantastical realms where over exaggerated characters, or even caricatures, can then come to life. To give you a specific example of a personal experience used as inspiration, a duet I created two years ago was representative of my younger brothers and my relationship. He passed away around three Christmas’ ago.
IP: What are your dreams for the future?
AT: To continue creating, connecting, learning, and sharing with people around the world. It is my goal to use the vehicle of movement, this art form, to help humanity continue to evolve by reflecting each other with empathy.