Bite #1 – Anneliese Charek
We can’t go back to what we used to be
Contemporary Bites Archive
Bite #1 by Anneliese Charek
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE US TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
My name is Anneliese and I am from the US. I am a choreographer and dancer. I also call myself an ‘arts facilitator’ because of the other work I do that I am not sure how to describe. These are things pertaining to curating, producing and running art spaces. I respect curators, producers and gallerists enough to not claim right out to be one. However, I dip my fingers in those areas in an unofficial way. I started Basement 6 Collective in 2013 with an ever -shifting group of individuals until we had to close our doors two years ago. There I presented the work of artists working in various forms, started a bunch of my own side projects and ran some residencies, forums and weird parties.
I decided to give another go at an independent art space, and this year started HOME art space. It houses a few of my projects as well as invites artists I respect, and feel are under represented, to have a place to show their work. I have had my eye on curator Silvia Vannacci for a while, and have asked her to make it her playground as well. She curates her own programs there, and together we have shaped the space. I have been studying dance since childhood, and now I am lucky enough to say that is my job. In recent years I took steps to develop my work as a choreographer in addition to being a performer.
Over the years I have had to find my process. I realized that all the work I was making and was trying to make was always about the people I am working with, on a personal level. I don’t want to make anything that is not real or doesn’t honor the performers involved in it. In a way this has extended to what I do outside of making my own work. I want to make space / spaces for people I believe in. Besides running independent art spaces like Basement 6 and HOME, I have wanted to create performance opportunities. I don’t for one second think of myself as a person responsible the work that comes out of these series. My intention is to do the dirty work for people who don’t like the dirty work, so we can see what great work they can make. People working in experimental forms of dance and theater are often the last artists in an art scene to get substantial support, although work coming from this form is undeniable compelling. In my years creating and performing here, I noticed some gaps and have tried my best to fill them in.
I have created an ongoing performance series for people I want support called IN THE FLESH as well as a new one called MICRO. In these projects I try to connect some dots between alternative and non-traditional spaces that I think would benefit a performance and an artist needing a place and a reason to create. I do this for free and within the rules of presenting performance in Shanghai – which are complicated and which I respect. In this role I use whatever resources I have at my disposal to support the artist I am presenting. When you are working in any field of performance in Shanghai, you will most likely be wearing a lot of hats – you will be making the show, promoting your show, mopping the floor before the show, arguing with the venue, setting up chairs for the audience, even sometimes hanging your own lights, designing your own lights, playing your own music and then of course performing in the show. Even when you are lucky enough to find a place and audience for your work. My goal is to take care of all of the annoying and stressful aspects of creating and presenting work, and try to give artists all the space they need just to create in peace. For my own work, I created an independent contemporary dance company called SLATE in 2014. I am the artistic director and choreographer, and yes I still dance too. This group is always intercultural and often invites high level dancers with illustrious careers along with people who are starting out and need an opportunity. We create and perform locally and abroad.
HOW DID THE COVID-19 BREAKDOWN AFFECT YOUR WORK AS AN ARTIST?
It literally broke it down. I have stayed in Shanghai since the outbreak, wanting to show some solidarity with the place that has supported me. As the months passed and things became worse, I watched as my plans and projects disintegrated into nothing. Two of the biggest opportunities of my career were set to happen this Spring. I am meant to be with my dancers right now in Israel to perform and run a workshop. In May I was set to present my ongoing performance ‘Why?’ at Shanghai International Dance Center with an incredible group of dancers.
The work I do with my dance company here is already a challenge, as I need to do a lot of creative problem solving to be a foreigner making work here independently and following the rules. Nothing comes easily or naturally, which made it even harder to watch it all be washed away to nothing. I held on as long as I could. I created plans for all of my dancers even though half were stuck outside of the country. I came up with a way to rehearse in my house, rehearse one by one, two by two, rehearse virtually. Every week was a new problem to solve. I did so much talking about the project over those months and how I would solve all the road blocks we were facing. More talking than actual dancing. It wasn’t until travel bans and closures of programs issued by the government in March that I had to finally give up.
I am not a person who gives up. I cried big tears in my empty apartment wearing the same pajamas I had on for days. It is not a time I want to revisit. It made me think of all the people missing big life events, all the while dealing with the fear and stress of a virus and the well being of people close to them. After watching this virus unfold, I don’t feel the same. I don’t think I have fully digested the fact that I am living in unprecedented times. That I am alive at a time when people’s lives and livelihood will be lost from a pandemic. Everything has become very real. I feel the good and bad so intensely.
I am daily infuriated by the injustices I see in response to this pandemic as much as I am humbled by the acts of people around me. I can’t believe how many people have come out of the wood works to personally show me kindness at a time when we all feel so vulnerable. The constant fury and the thankfulness has made me want to do even more with my work and various projects. This is what I have and this is how I express. When everything is gone, this art form that has been with me since I was a kid will stay. I feel what I create now can’t be separated from what I have been feeling during this time. An intensely positive and negative observation on our current times. I don’t think we can go back to what we used to be.
HAS YOUR WAY OF THINKING/PRODUCING ART CHANGED? IN WHAT WAY?
For me, what I do has always been born out of a desire to escape. When I perform, I am always thinking that I want to create a new reality and take the audience with me. When I started to choreograph, I was able to shape these other realities even more. Now because my hands are tied and cannot legally perform on a stage anytime soon I want to put the energy from my cancelled projects into another place. At the moment, I have had the urge to move to another format. I have always done work from time to time in film, since I was doing my university dance training at Cal Arts. I have always done it in a small and humble way – a Maya Deren approach to filmmaking. Using what resources and skills I have taught myself over the years and of course incorporating the language of dance. Right now, I have extended this to photography, which I know nothing about. What I have learned in cinematography and directing for film doesn’t actually cross over to photography directly, but still I have an urge. So, I am picking up my camera to see what happens. I will use my hands, eyes, lens and unsophisticated software to bring my lost choreography to a frame until I can be in a theater again.
Doing things like this that have a trace are always very satisfying. When working in performance, you spend months creating only to show what you have done once. It disappears when it is done. This ephemeral nature of dance is also what makes it special to me. However, it feels good to create something that sticks around too. I believe my intentions and process will be the same, but for the time being presented in a different way. I will always make things in a small way, using what I have and with my heart first.