Last year Amy J Lambert, director of AJnC Dance-Theater, produced Young Manic: I Wanted To Be On Broadway (read our review here) at Velocity Dance Center and received a 2018 DanceCrush award. Now, SeattleDances catches up with Lambert on humor, teaching, and thinking big.
SeattleDances: Congratulations on your DanceCrush award! You received it for “use of humor in choreography,” specifically in your work Young Manic. How do you arrive at humor as a tool?
Amy J Lambert: I’ve never gone into a showing being like, “I’m making this one funny!” A couple of years ago I was getting these theater gigs, with comedy theater shows and musicals.Those shows really taught me how to incorporate comedy in dance. Then it pretty organically started moving over into my own work.
SD: So you’ve never had any formal theater training?
AL: No. Growing up, dance training took up a lot of time. And marching band. The comedy and the theater aspect of my work is where I stretch and struggle as an artist. Choreography isn’t taxing for me…I can generate material quickly. It’s a challenge to make the theater content the quality I want it to be. I’ve been lucky to have friends in the theater world – and for Young Manic, in the show – to hold my hand a little bit.
SD: That’s surprising, it seems to incorporate so easily into your work.
AL: I would like it to be even more integrated. It’s still alternating for me (theater, dance, theater, dance), but I don’t have as much experience blending those. I’m still learning…there’s a whole career’s journey ahead!
SD: So the “I wanted to be on Broadway” theme of Young Manic…that wasn’t your dream?
AL: I love Broadway, but I never thought I’d be on Broadway. It was more of a vessel. The jokes were about modern and contemporary dance. My pieces are personal, of course they are. But I don’t think they look as personal as dance can sometimes look. I pull from a lot of sources, and I do that on purpose. Each of my shows have looked distinctly different.
SD: Aside from choreographing, you primarily teach. As a teacher, what is your favorite class/age group to teach?
AL: I love teaching adults, and high school students. I’ve had an intermediate adult modern class at eXit SPACE for six years. My humor reads really well with them. I also teach a choreography class at a summer ballet intensive every year, and it’s one of my favorite classes I teach all year. They’re so left brained all day, then I come in and it’s all about engaging the right brain. Giving them ownership to incorporate their artistry in a different way…it’s incredible to watch.
I came into my college years not knowing how to verbalize abstract thoughts. No one had ever asked me to do that. Now, I’m able to bridge that gap for some of these young people. I make them talk about what’s happening, what they’re seeing, what they’ve made.
SD: Do you see yourself teaching more choreography?
AL: Yes, I would love to eventually transition into teaching Dance History and Choreography, at a university or college, which means going back for my MFA at some point. But I also love teaching a good technique class – I love ballet. Ballet was very hard for me. I don’t have many of the things that ideally go with a ballet dancer, but in trying to figure out my own relationship with that, I bring that spirit into my teaching. It’s okay to excel at ballet, and also think it’s really weird. It doesn’t have to be as stoic as we thought.
SD: I can’t see you teaching a ballet class and it being anything but fun.
AL: It’s fun. That’s all dance should be. Amongst other things, it should be fun, and enjoyable. For those of us who didn’t quite have the benefit of the new age teaching ideas of being inclusive, and verbally supportive of dancers through their young training…there can be a lot of baggage to unpack. Whether a teacher has said something to you, or has not said something to you at some point in your life. We hold onto it. That’s why there are so many dance jokes in my pieces…I’m still unpacking.
SD: So what’s next right now for you?
AL: I have a lot of things in early development in my head, but it’s really hard to explain all that. Someone recently asked me what I was working on, and I said sort of as a joke, ‘nothing!’ Because I’m not physically laboring over anything. They were very off put by that answer. There’s something about dance culture that requires an artist to constantly be generating. There’s this judgement over the duration of how long it takes someone to make a work. If you’re not showing something on stage all the time, are you even doing it?
This silence I received from saying ‘nothing’, is very interesting. How are we as peers and patrons of each others work, supporting the growth of an artist? Because, emotionally, we’re not. We’re supportive and excited when people are generating material, but I don’t feel we’re very good at supporting in moments of rest, and brainstorm.
SD: What about the support in the Seattle dance scene in general? How do you feel about it?
AL: I feel like 10 years ago, choreographers were just making solos. Now it’s really different. There’s more work being made. If I wanted to be in a show right now, I could literally walk into Velocity, yell it out into Founders, and I feel like I would get a gig. That is a great place to be as a community.
One thing is I wish bigger venues would utilize local dance more…it’s starting to happen. Seattle’s emerging choreography support is awesome, better than most cities. I’ve felt very supported as a young choreographer here. But AJnC would have to become its own large, self sustaining company just in order to make work happen. That redirects the energy toward programming rather than the work itself. If smaller companies have to raise $15,000 a year themselves, they’re not gonna make anything! We’ll burn out.
SD: Any early ideas in your head you want to share?
AL: I think the next show I make will be a comedy again, and I definitely want theater people included again. I would love an opening scene where we’ve built temple steps leading up to a volcano, and we are sacrificing clowns. I know it’s going to be bigger in terms of spectacle, that’s why I’m not jumping forward so quickly. My imagination gets better every time I make something. My first show, the biggest thing I could think of was putting up chandeliers. For Savage Summer, Markeith Wiley and I were like “let’s fill a huge sandbox with sand!” You also learn the consequences of those big ideas. It’s getting easier to think bigger, which I like.
Keep up with Amy J Lambert’s work at http://amyjlambert.com/.