Exploring the Complex Terrain of Being Human with Krista DeNio

April 9th, 2012  |  by Published in featured, featured artists, Uncategorized

Krista DeNio works in multiple ways, on multiple fronts. A choreographer, director, performer, writer, educator and arts administrator, Krista relocated to Western Massachusetts from New York City in 2009 to head-up Earthdance, an artist-run workshop & retreat center located in Plainfield, MA. In this capacity, Krista has brought innovative programming to the region including the Western Mass Moving Arts Festival and E|Merge, an interdisciplinary artist residency that focuses on collaboration.

As an artist, Krista explores the complexities and contradictions of the human condition, using on whatever resources she has at her disposal and her vast range of interests and skills.  She is currently working on Edith and Me (working title), a new solo performance that draws on the life and work of Edith Piaf to explore the joys and struggles of being human. DeNio performed an excerpt of Edith and Me at the Performance Mix Festival in New York City (March 2012) and she will be performing the next version of this piece at Spring WIDE OPEN at the Tree Studio in Holyoke, MA (May 25-26 & June 1-2).

DeNio is devoted to making work that engages communities large and small about issues of social justice. Since 2011, she has been developing CONTACT, an interactive performance with a mixed ensemble of veterans of war & civilians. The first version of this performance premiered in September 2011 in Holyoke, MA. The project will be in development throughout 2012 and the next version of the performance will premiere in New York City in 2013. http://www.kristadenio.com/

Sally: M.I.A. (ensemble) CounterPULSE Artist Residency San Francisco 2007 Photo by Ian Winters

1) What are you trying to communicate or explore in your work?

It depends what I’m working on.  On one hand it’s always different: military vs. civilian life; automated technology & its interface with the human; human nature, instincts, nature vs. nurture; capitalism vs. the human being, through micro & macro lenses; fairytale versions of the apocalypse.  On the other hand, it’s always the same: the tragedy & absurdity of the human condition, with a simultaneous acknowledgement of the beauty &  gigantic humor of it all—which leads to, when examined, the essence: the core of being human is basically good AND bad, ugly AND wonderful.

My work is driven from an emotional center – the emotional body, if you will. But then, maybe it’s more accurate to say that the work is ignited from a repetitive, emotional response to something that I am witnessing on a macro level and experiencing on a personal level (i.e. my emotional response to the experience of technology taking over my body).  Once I’ve clocked this repetitive, emotional response, I begin to investigate and research the content surrounding the state of things that are creating a certain condition/situation/circumstance that we’re all navigating together, as humans.  The format or style of the work and the approach to the process varies with every piece, depending on the content, my current interests in how to present work, the actual spaces available to contextualize the work within, and how inter-related the space is with the actual process itself.

Sally: M.I.A. (solo) soloNOVA festival, P.S. 122, NYC 2008 Photo by Jill Steinberg

2) Where were you when you created (made) one of your favorite works?

In a warehouse space in San Francisco’s Mission District: CELLspace.  We transformed the entire space into an airport: the airport lobby, a corridor under construction, a waiting area, the airplane cabin (where the audience sat), and then took them on a crazy flight…music coming live from inside an actual plane…the captain sitting at and standing on an actual cockpit of a plane….a photo installation with rice & beans & suitcases spilling out of the tail of a plane. The way that we transformed the space, through set, lights, action, sound, and the integration of media, while maintaining the integrity of a strong, scripted  dance-theater piece was phenomenally exciting to me.  An audience entering into an entire, interactive experience, is ultimately the most engaged and engaging way to deliver theater, for me. Also, backing a  large UHAUL into the workshop/garage space and unloading various pieces of airplanes with my crazy set designer—and me sporting my badass shaved head boot wearin’, mid-20’s, can-do-anything attitude, while being filmed by a documentary crew,  was pretty fun too.

Flight W-2: Emergency Exodus CELLspace San Francisco 2000

3) How do you see your art in relation to cultivating community, and how does community effect the work you make?

I see it as the essence of the interaction, ultimately.  If we don’t know who we’re making work with or for, then it can’t possibly be as alive, engaged.  In the end, whether I have an idea that stems from my immediate surroundings and socio-political experience, or one that originates from a more historical, theoretical or personal/ emotional location—it all gets grounded in the reality of who I’m making the work with and who I’m sharing the work with.  Still, whether I’m aiming to serve or work with a specific community or communities, verses a more general/global audience, it’s all toward the same end, and that is: social justice and communication amongst ourselves (all of ourselves) about the human experience, with all of its dilemmas, ugliness and grace.

Under the Leaves Shuberta’s Fall 2003, New College of California, San Francisco Photo by Louise Bertelsen

4) What is your spirit animal?

Definitely the unicorn (if you mean my mythical spirit animal), or some version of the impala – aepyceros melampus – (if you mean my earthly spirit animal). One of the most common antelope of sub-Saharan Africa, the impala is an evolutionary success story and is capable of living in many different conditions. They are one of the few animals in Africa that have increased their numbers and range over the past century despite human encroachment and threat. They are very handsome antelope and their meat is tender and not gamy. (My impala is definitely a male.  They have the pretty horns, and when it comes down to it—I have some fairly masculine attributes: strong, stubborn, endurance based, dominant & submissive, adaptable to environment, I can be a strong and also a gentle leader).

5) What spaces in Northampton are you most curious to see inside of, or to (make) work in?

I hope to make work at A.P.E. one day sooner than later, as I love working theatrically in gallery spaces, and I think that one has some interesting potential that I haven’t yet seen tapped (in my short time here, thus far).  I’m mostly interested in old buildings with interesting spaces, and architecture that we don’t get to live inside of so often in contemporary life.  For this reason, I really enjoyed producing CONTACT at the Canal Gallery in Holyoke (former paper mill) on the Canal.  The building, inside & out is fascinating; the history is compelling and working with and against the sense of abandonment | quiet | isolation down there is profound.

From rehearsals for: CONTACT, an interactive performance installation Created & performed by a mixed ensemble of veterans of war & civilians In collaboration with Matt Mitchell’s 100facesofwareexperience.org Conceived & directed by Krista DeNio Canal Gallery, Holyoke (now called ‘The Guilded Brick’)

6) What are some strategies you use to sustain your art (creative) practice (while living in Northampton)?

Being completely engaged with my job at Earthdance (www.earthdance.net), and many incredible artists who come through there, creates ground for ongoing creative exchange; rehearsing at Wild Life Sanctuary (where I feel super inspired); producing work here in the Pioneer Valley, and travelling it to NYC, SF and other locations; working with a group of artists who I find inspiring and to be good humans/ attempting to create a collective with them; practicing a specific improvisational structure, called the Underscore, developed by Nancy Stark Smith, with Nancy and a group of seasoned improvisational dance practitioners, on an (ideally) weekly basis.

7) What 5 items do you always carry with you?

Bag (containing: wallet, keys, journal, pens, i-phone, lipstick, make-up bag,), water bottle, a patch of camouflage (in my car), knee pads (alternately in car or in bag), a cup of coffee or chicken/protein (depending on time of day).

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