Young (center) with some of her collaborators. Photo by Michael Guerrero, courtesy NYLA.

10 Minutes with Ann Liv Young

The controversial artist shares the stage with a pig in Elektra.

The performance artist Ann Liv Young is most notorious as her alter ego Sherry, a platinum-blonde provocateur who lashes out at audiences and gives free therapy (Sherapy) in her roving Sherry Truck. But she can do other characters, too, as her dark, deranged takes on Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty have shown. Turning to Greek mythology with her latest works—Elektra and its more portable companion piece, Elektra Cabaret—she offers a sympathetic portrait of the princess who plots with her brother to kill their mother for killing their father. This Elektra even has a pet: a live pig in the role of the Chorus. Both versions come to New York Live Arts, January 20–23 and 26–30, and both boast more dancing than much of Young's recent work.

Why Elektra?

One of our producers actually suggested it. I read as many versions as I could find, and loved the story. I can relate to Elektra's character, and I think a lot of people can, this woman who has dedicated her life to avenging her father's death. I'm interested in that intense will, to be so devoted that nothing can deter you from your goal.


Do you identify with that?

Sometimes I've felt super-strong and willful, and at other times I haven't cared as much about the path I'm on. I actually ended up exploring the other characters more, Elektra's mother (Clytemnestra) and brother (Orestes) and sister (Chrysothemis). How they operate gives you a lot of information about her. The show is fast and exhausting and has a lot of movement, which I haven't done in a while.

What kind of movement?

There's a lot of synchronization and singing while dancing, some improvisation and some set choreography. We do things that are very physically demanding. In the original version we have a fight scene, and we've hit heads before. That was scary. So we've had to figure out, How do we make this really terrifying but still safe?

Your work is often less physical, or at least less choreographed. What inspired the shift?

Around the time I started making Elektra, I was diagnosed with this rare inner ear disorder, superior canal dehiscence syndrome. It's basically like I have holes in the bones between my inner ear and brain, so I have constant vertigo. It's insane. Moving is one of the only things that alleviates the dizziness and stress. So that's why I wanted Elektra to have more movement. The disorder also makes you sensitive to loud noise, which is a huge part of my work. It's all very metaphorical. I just can't do what I've been doing. My body is like, “No."

I have to ask about the pig. Are you importing one from out of town?

We're getting it from my mom's farm in Virginia. We've only done the show in Europe, where they provide the pig and a pig handler and another pig in case the first doesn't work, because it's Europe and they have the capacity to do this. But here, we're just going to go get the pig. It will probably end up staying in my apartment.

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Ballet BC dancers Tara Williamson, left, and Darren Devaney in RITE by Emily Molnar. Photo by Chris Randle, Courtesy Ballet BC

Why Do Mixed-Rep Companies Still Rely on Ballet for Company Class?

In a single performance by a mixed-rep company, you might see its shape-shifting dancers performing barefoot, in sneakers and in heels. While such a group may have "ballet" in its name and even a rack of tutus in storage, its current relationship to the art form can be tenuous at best. That disconnect grows wider every year as contemporary choreographers look beyond ballet—if not beyond white Western forms entirely—in search of new inspiration and foundational techniques.

Yet dancers at almost all of the world's leading mixed-rep ensembles take ballet classes before rehearsals and shows. Most companies rarely depart from ballet more than twice a week and some never offer alternative classes.

"The question, 'Why do you take ballet class to prepare you for repertory which is not strictly classical?' has been in the air since Diaghilev's time," says Peter Lewton-Brain, Monaco-based president of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science. "What you're doing onstage is often not what you're doing in class."

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