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.
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.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.