By Tara Sheena of Dance Informa.
Chafin Seymour is a choreographer who is interested in asking more from dance. His newest work, Median, premieres this month at Triskelion Arts in Brooklyn, New York.
Using text and music—which, in addition to his choreography, he usually has a hand in creating himself—his company, seymour//dancecollective, weaves an abstract work on race and identity. The movement will draw from the socially conscious writing of Al Young and Ralph Ellison, but will be imbued with Seymour’s highly physical, expansive movement vocabulary.
Seymour spoke to Dance Informa recently about his early influences, the intersections of intellect and entertainment, and how he is working to broaden his audience’s ideas on dance. Excerpts of the interview are below.
What originally drew you to choreography? Do you have any early influences you can recall?
“I think my relationship to dance has been inextricable from choreography. The first modern class I took at 7 years old required us to make our own solos at the end of each year, so it only made sense that it would become a continuing practice. Early influences range from my first viewing of Mark Morris and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane companies to imitating Gene Kelly movies and Michael Jackson videos. If there was music and movement involved, I was into it.”
How would you describe your aesthetic and style to someone who has never seen your work?
“I firmly believe in the possibility of dance to contain emotion, narrative, cultural and intellectual relevance while still entertaining an audience. I work in a hybrid movement vocabulary that stresses physicality, musicality and a resilient relationship to gravity. By using movement and music I work collaboratively to create environments and tell stories. My work tends to rest on a thin line somewhere between classically inclined and extra bold.”
What, in your mind, is the biggest challenge for emerging choreographers right now? What are the strategies you’ve employed to navigate that challenge?
“There seems to be an overwhelming stress put upon all ’emerging’ choreographers to create work that appeals to a very specific intellectual demographic, especially in New York. This creates a system of merit that does little to advance live dance of any kind as a relevant art form.
To this end, I challenge myself to work in between the realms of what I have observed is artistically viable [what will appeal to an audience] and wholeheartedly indulging my tendencies to the contrary [doing what I want to do]. My interests and experience with music, literature and pop culture allow me to mine for inspiration in multiple mediums.”
What are the next steps for you and your company?
“Next up is the premiere of Median as a part of Triskelion Arts Split Bill on November 20 and 21. The work is an exploration of race and identity through the text of Ralph Ellison, Al Young and a wide array of musical selections, from Chopin to Biggie Smalls.
Photo (top): Chafin Seymour dances on a rooftop. Photo courtesy of Chafin Seymour.