In early December, a week or so after Zoe left New York, I sat down at the computer and started searching for my recordings of talks with Juniper. I have dozens and dozens of unlabelled audio files of the interviews I do, stretching back more than a year and a half since I last did a full dump of my voice recorder, and it took the better part of an hour before I found the right one—a call I had with Juniper earlier this year, before the Velocity showing of No One to Witness.
There were one or two things I recalled from our conversation that I was planning on pulling, but instead of just searching them out, instead I just went about transcribing the way I normally do: by listening to the audio all the way through, stopping to write out the parts that catch my fancy, which I then use to craft the article. In this regard, I understand I'm considered a "bad" journalist. A friend of mine thinks I'm nuts; it takes me one-and-a-half times the length of the audio to transcribe the parts I use (e.g., 45 minutes for a 30-minute interview). He tells me constantly that I need to learn how to write things down when someone's talking; the audio is back-up.
But for me, that's a boring route to writing stories. I rarely know, for instance, what the story I'm going to tell with an interview feature is. The better I know a subject (either through their work or on a personal level) the worse it is, since it's harder to zero-in on something fresh. I don't like to phone it in, to do the same article everyone else has. I read, I research other interviews before I go in. I discard anything that's been printed before (the more someone's interviewed, the more likely they are to relate the same anecdotes and pat answers). I like to talk to people, get them out of their comfort zones, out of the interviewer-interviewee dynamic. I don't use quotes to illustrate facts or things I already know. I use them illustratively, to try to capture the voicing or the personality of the subject. (Consequently, another thing I get all the time from real editors is that my quotes are too long.)
Anyway, the point is that after it became glaringly obvious to me that Juniper was everywhere in the work but nowhere in my writing about it, I stepped back and just went through the interview, listening with fresh ears. Looking for what was interesting. For instance:
With Zoe I have this conversation a a lot—it wasn't even related to this project, but it's something that has been gnawing at me—and maybe it's related in the sense, the idea of being seen. But coming from a cult background—when I was younger I was in a cult—so it's always been this fascination with people who consider themselves prophets. This was the conversation we were having at one point, the one that's the most provocative for me right now. About creating a world where people believe in you above all else. What does that require? What does that require of the viewer, I guess, and what does it require of the person creating it? And what's the difference between making something that's questionable versus unquestionable?
That one caught me off guard. A cult? Really? You'd think I would have followed up on that one. (I didn't.) Or:
I'm a spatial artist, [an artist of] how we experience space. I think the through-line of my work is belief, and how we believe what is true and not true. How can I spatially create a three-dimensional reality in which the relation to the body is one-to-one?
Not the most eloquent statement out-of-context. Normally I wouldn't use that one, but it caught my ear going through the audio for obvious reasons. Here was Juniper explicitly discussing the same ideas as Zoe was just telling me about. And then:
When the casts were made the question was, what's the most interesting relief that you're making. Basically defining lines in some way. Creating three-dimensional lines and having them fragmented, like memories. But then have them placed in space so that they're relatable as real, in some way that makes sense.
Here, he was talking about the body casts which figured so prominently in the No One to Witness studies. They were originally created as part of the performance residency at the Frye Art Museum in November 2012. That was the second study as part of No One to Witness, and the casts figured prominently thereafter, although they're likely to disappear in the final presentation of BeginAgain. But conceptually, the idea of physical states as manifestations of emotional/experiential moments remains.
And finally, there was this one from Juniper:
In a lot ways the most interesting thing to me is to create something that people remember in a certain way later on, something that's instilled within someone's memory that's activated at some later moment I have no control over.
After I finished my transcribing, I stopped and made myself a cup of coffee and read my notes. In retrospect, the interview seems scatter-shot, directionless. It wasn't "about" anything, and it wasn't how I normally talk with Juniper. It wasn't illustrative, as I see it, of much. It's just a document of some things I asked him, some of which I already knew the answer to, more or less, others of which became tangents that were never explored (like the entire cult thing).
This is, I'd say, another through-line of the company's work: the idea of constructing space as a psychic phantasmagoria. The stage, in Zoe and Juniper's work, becomes a site of engagement with memory, the dancers' bodies by turns either inhabiting or counterpointing memory. There's a Proustian quality to the work, how a certain gesture, pose, or action can call up historical experience that's evidenced in the scenographic design—video, silhouette, fluttering curtains—as constantly vanishing evidence of past experience.
As the coffee machine hissed, I recalled the first time I met Juniper. This was probably five years ago in Seattle, at one of John Boylan's local art conversations. It took place at Vermillion, a hip art bar and gallery on Capitol Hill, and Juniper was one of the surprise speakers, as he and Zoe had just completed a MacDowell Colony residency and residencies were the subject of the talk.
He arrived a bit late with Sara Edwards, the former communications director of On the Boards and then working at 4Culture, an important Seattle arts support organization. I briefly introduced myself to Juniper afterward and that was about it.
I've always known Zoe better. I met her first, when she invited me to a rehearsal of A Crack in Everything. And she travels more than Juniper, meaning that I encounter her far more frequently in New York than I do him.
He's a bit less brash than Zoe, maybe more conciliatory. Diplomatic. Which isn't to say that Zoe's rude or something, but together you can watch an interesting dynamic play out between them. Zoe pushes and pushes those around her, and likes to play with things constantly. Juniper, on the other hand, seems to pull collaborators toward very clearly formed ideas he has. I watched this happen repeatedly during the August tech residency. They'd run a few transitions and then gather around the tech tables. Zoe would offer a variety of ideas or suggestions—she asks a lot of "what if" type questions, whereas Juniper offers very concrete suggestions for sound and lighting, aiming for some particular effect he has in mind. When Zoe makes suggestions, he pushes her to be clear and concrete in order to try to figure out exactly how to make something happen.
It's interesting that Juniper is usually referred to as a "visual artist" and Zoe as a "choreographer" in company descriptions. This is somewhat true, but Juniper actually used to work as a dancer himself with other companies in Seattle after he moved there. He did attend art school, but (if I recall correctly) he focused on ceramics, something that doesn't come up a lot (if at all) in their company's work. I've asked him about his practice before, and he tends to view it very loosely. At a practical level, during production he tends to focus primarily on bigger design issues and specifically handles video and projections, while turning over sound and lighting design to others, but he plays a role in shaping the choreographer at the same time that Zoe plays a role in developing the visual environment.
It is true, however, that he has a particular attachment to spatial elements in the piece more than to the movement, and he will work well outside the bounds of the performance to explore material. A Crack in Everything, for instance, featured an attendant gallery installation that was only truly realized at DiverseWorks in Houston, with a smaller version with the piece in Portland at the TBA Festival.
What's interesting to me is that when you talk with Zoe and Juniper about their work, you begin to get the sense that the work isn't actually a matter of producing a discrete performance event. Rather, the pair are animated by ideas which play out across their work, and pieces themselves tend not to be very fixed. What's the relationship between No One to Witness and BeginAgain, for instance? Or the A Crack in Everything installation and the performance?
I recall having a long conversation with Juniper about what it meant to create a tour-able work. It came up because I saw A Crack in Everything twice: first at the TBA Festival, and then some months later in New York at New York Live Arts. In Portland, it was performed in university theater with a raised stage with a thrust, and it wasn't until I saw it at NYLA's more traditional dance theater that I realized that the flooring—an expensive reflective cover they toured the show with—played such an important role. In other words, it turned out the venue for the TBA appearance was very technically problematic, and that got me asking how he thought about designing a piece that would have to tour to very different sorts of spaces.
Juniper had a couple points to make. First, he was very clear that he liked to design for a space, that he was very cognizant of the qualities and potential one theater offered versus another. But second, it was precisely that limitation—the perspective of a traditional theater arrangement—that inspired the installation, in which the spectator's experience could be profoundly different, immersed and surrounded by the visual elements that they used to create a flexible sense of linear time.
This was also the inspiration for No One to Witness. The idea of a series of chamber studies left the pair room to play with ideas and perspectives well outside the traditional theater arrangement.
The dynamic between Zoe and Juniper, though, is still something of a mystery to me. It's hard to tell where one's ideas end and the other's begin, though it's clear that each is bringing something very concrete to the table. Ask them the same questions about the work, in other words, and the response you get can seem like they're talking about completely different pieces.
But I've certainly gathered enough to understand the trying to clearly distinguish Zoe's part from Juniper's is impossible.
The most telling anecdote I heard from Juniper was back in August in Seattle. By chance, I was telling him about recalling the first time we met, at Boylan's conversation about residencies, and that got us talking about MacDowell. Anyway, that got Juniper explaining the genesis of one of the more arresting moments in A Crack in Everything.
The scene marks a shift in the feel of the piece. The dancers all exit the stage, then one re-enters with the end of a blood-red rope clenched in her teeth. The rope is angled up and off into the wings, and the movement mainly involves the dancer slowly moving across the stage, carefully maintaining tension on the rope so it forms a very strong line.
Anyway, according to the story Juniper told, that particular moment grew out of the stuff they played with at the MacDowell Colony. He explained that participants in the residency are invited to show and share work in the evening, at one of which he and Zoe did an improvised version of the rope-dance. It turns out there was no simple technical solution to maintaining tension on the other end of the rope, so it has to be hand-fed to the dancer in order to maintain tension. At MacDowell, it became a collaborative effort, with the spectators helping feed Zoe the rope.
Ultimately, it was that human connection that led them to keep that moment in the final piece. Although you can't actually see it, the rope-dance is actually a very careful duet between the dancer and the tech person feeding her the rope offstage. Completely buried in the visual is actually an intimate human interaction between artists connected by the rope. Anyone who's seen A Crack in Everything, I think, gets how that's so important to the broader themes in the work, the rope serving as a tenuous and subtle link between between moments, a line demarcating the course of time and establishing past and present.
The easy way to interpret the genesis of the image it is to imagine it as the product of a choreographer (Zoe) staging a technically complicated and subtle movement, in a sumptuous visual environment of arresting contrast produced by a designer (Juniper). In actuality, though, it's the result of a long exploration between the two, the heart of which is actually an interpersonal interaction. I think that says a lot about how they work together, where their ideas intersect, and ultimately, what winds up being mutually important to them in creating their art.