Misnomer dance theater
Misnomer Dance Theater is a modern dance company based in Brooklyn, New York. Founded in 1998 by Artistic Director and choreographer Chris Elam, Misnomer Dance Theater celebrates the nuances of human communication, including the tenderness, humor, and absurdity that characterize our day-to-day interactions. The company’s emotional and inventive work transcends the stage as it connects with audiences through theater, installation, film and the web.
Founded in 1998 by Artistic Director and choreographer Chris Elam, Misnomer Dance Theater creates contemporary dances about human relationships that are informed by cross-cultural and international perspectives. Chris Elam approaches dance both as a choreographer and ethnographer, the employment of these two perspectives is indicative of the technical and conceptual complexity of his performances.
Misnomer has performed, researched, and created new work in Cuba, Brazil, Indonesia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Ukraine, France, and Turkey, as well as throughout the United States. Based in New York City, the Company has performed locally at Dance Theater Workshop, the [Skirball Center], Symphony Space, Danspace Project, PS 122, Joyce Soho, and at the River-to-River Festival. Misnomer has also been named one of the top ten dance performances for 2006 by The New York Times and as one of the "25 to Watch" for 2007 by Dance Magazine, Misnomer was awarded year-long residencies from both The Joyce Theater and the [Skirball Center].
Residencies also have been received from the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, ORT, Dragon's Egg, New York University, Union Street Dance, and Brooklyn Arts Exchange. The Company has received commissions and fellowships from The Yard, Summer Stages Dance, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, [The American Music Center], New York State Council for the Arts, The Jerome Foundation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Bates Dance Festival, The Portland Center for New Dance Development, and DanzAbierta in Cuba.
Misnomer continues to partner with institutions locally and abroad in educational outreach. Past engagements include Brown University, Hofstra University, Harvard University, Summer Stages, and the State Conservatory for the Arts in Turkey. Misnomer's aesthetic and extensive online work has led to collaborations and projects with Björk, Apple Computers, Business Week, and [Danish Dance Theater]. Musical collaborators who have set scores to dances by Misnomer include Andy Teirstein, Scott Killian, Mike Vargas, Jesse Manno, the Talujon Percussion Ensemble, and Evan Ziporyn.
Performances and Repertory
Since Misnomer’s inception ten years ago, the company has performed in over 200 theaters across the globe. The following works are part of Misnomer Dance Theater repertory:
Rock. Paper. Flock
Portions of Rock. Paper. Flock. are made anew each night by the dancers, with coaching from their choreographer. The piece blends a few processes, including a real-time creative process that Misnomer sometimes uses in the development of new pieces. This choreography is defined by a heightened energy in the rehearsal studio as the dancers “perform” an improvisational piece aided only by Chris Elam’s coaching because they are kept uninformed on what will happen next. One of Misnomers’s goals is to relay clarity and ownership of their actions as they generate a progression of exceptional physical interactions.
In Rock. Paper. Flock. Chris Elam aims to discover and shape some “A-ha” moments for the audience. He desires to give the audience his own perspective as a choreographer, revealing a movement at the exact moment he himself is discovering it, and then he allows them to witness him enhance, or sometimes accidentally destroy, a rich interaction.
The dancers people see before them – their lives, their personalities – seep into the art in such a way that sometimes the art and the artists become inseparable. Rock. Paper. Flock. explores this explicitly.
Too Late Tulip
This piece layers moments in time to convey journeys through relationships, love, the environment, and parenthood. The delicate structure of the piece repeats itself, but brings new information in its retelling. Suggestions of story can bring people through the piece, but there is ample space for a wide range of interpretations.
Zipper exerts an environmental power that drives the dancers through a dichotomy of catastrophic quakes and soft tremors. These evolutions in the piece dwarf the individual as the environment in the performance shapes the group. Misnomer envisions the work on a geological time scale, capturing human reactions within a landscape that none of the dancers truly own. Little stories might wash up on a shore only to recede into the unfolding momentum of the work. As is true in every person’s life, people do not always know whom or where they are, but find themselves to be fundamentally earnest in their moment-to-moment perceptions and intentions.
“Land Flat” is an in-depth investigation on the physical technique and style that Chris Elam has developed over several years of integrating influences from his research abroad with studio investigations. This piece can be seen as a series of complex interpersonal situations between four women, four entities, who repeatedly fade into abstract shapes and moments of softness. The piece is set on a subtle coordinate system - the use of special patterns and the performers familiarity and confident approach to the movement conjure ideas of ritualistic behavior.
At first the piece appears to be classical, but is redefined through its continual evolution. There are moments of humor that dissolve into beauty. The work is made all the more compelling by the sublimely expressive faces and eyes of the performers, who maintain a sense of mystery while they actively engage in their relations with each other. Ultimately, “Land Flat” aims to capture a distinct sense of communication between performers in a slightly off-center space.
The piece exemplifies Elam’s pointed use of elongated sculptural shapes to convey emotional states. The angularity drawn from Balinese movement is performed in a manner that is meant to draw the audience into the dancer’s physical experience as they negotiate their bodies.
Cast Iron Crutches
Working to find freedom from the bonds of his body, Chris Elam slowly transforms from a hunched-over sculptural form into an erect human. In this signature solo every step is chiseled with precision and a single spotlight casts choreographed shadows on the back wall.
The work “Throw People” examines how people treat one another’s bodies and how violence can reverberate in the human form. Some aspects of the piece take inspiration from the cockfighting that Chris Elam has witnessed during his dance training in Indonesia; the animals appear to become the most aware when they are shaken up and thrown into the arena.
The work is an exchange between three dancers. It begins as a duet between a female dancer who molds with Chris Elam and an androgynous male walking in patterns in the space while wearing a blue union suit. In many ways the female dancer is depicted as the strongest as she is the sole performer to maintain regular breathing, with the two men gasping for breath at chosen points during the piece. Andy Teirstein composed the original music for the piece. When the music is present, it is organically embodied through the dancers and there is a noticeable loss when it is absent.
The work aims to invoke thoughts and images associated with gender, violence, and difficult labor – all through an incessant series of tasks requiring Herculean effort. Each of the three performers involved either self-differentiate or become shunned at various evolutions of the piece.
The modes of interaction accumulate, sometimes engaging in pedestrian drills, at other moments partaking in fine and delicate dancing, but at all times sensitive to acting and tone shifts over time and space. The piece ends in a dark and suggestive place.
Breakfast With You
This piece is a duet between a middle-aged couple stuck in a cycle of attempting to re-kindle an old love. Traversing each other’s bodies with inventive contact partnering and climbing, they are at once both sexual and endearing in their ongoing efforts towards reconciliation.
Misnomer leads workshops, gives talks, and teaches extensively. Misnomer has been a guest choreographer at the University of Wisconsin, Brown University, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams College, Hofstra University, and Manhattanville College. In addition to teaching dance and choreography in schools and universities across the United States and abroad, Misnomer is frequently a featured speaker at various technology conferences across the country, such as [PopTech], Fortune’s Tech Conference, Carnegie Mellon’s Technology in the Arts Conference, and the Arts and Business Council of NYC. Misnomer has been a teacher and advisor on ways of using technology to enhance audience engagement to others in the field, ranging from individual artists to some of the biggest performing arts companies in America. Misnomer also offers programming to companies and universities that use the arts as the basis for developing communication skills, team-building, and creative thinking. Misnomer works with theaters, companies, conferences and universities to offer performances, workshops, corporate events, talks, and multi-disciplinary online collaborations. Misnomer is a leader in audience engagement dance. Misnomer aims to incorporate audiences into every aspect of the company’s work. Rather than using the web as a traditional static storefront, Misnomer has worked to transform its web platform into a dynamic hub of two-way communication so that audiences can be part of the inner experience. Misnomer’s online strategies have been central to the company’s development, and have attracted features by Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and the Business Section of The New York Times – news outlets that seldom cover dance. Misnomer is now developing an array of online tools that have the potential to dramatically increase visibility, exposure, and financial support for participating arts organizations, introducing the performing arts, to a wide range of new audiences.
Audience Engagement Platform
AEP – or the Audience Engagement Platform – is an innovative web-based communications network that is being designed to connect performing artists, and the environments within which they work, with their audiences – patrons, contributors, the media, and potential funders. It aims to be a “one-stop” service for online audience engagement that builds off of the extraordinary technical advances utilized in the commercial and social sectors. AEP is designed as a long-term, arts-wide solution that will facilitate meaningful and productive two-way interaction between those who create art and those who appreciate it.
It is a resource to the creative community as well as those who support the arts, AEP will help artists to actively engage their audiences in an ongoing dialogue about the work being created, providing the opportunity for arts enthusiasts to go behind the scenes and actually participate in the creative process. In addition, because of its reach, AEP aims to help captivate and cultivate arts donors, maximize media coverage, and provide an unprecedented communication network, going far beyond the traditional confines of artist and audience and in some ways, re-defining what it means to be an audience.
For artists, arts organizations and theaters, AEP will provide an easy-to-use set of web tools that can be customized to their needs, offering a built-in customer relationship management database, messaging, and incentives center. This platform provides the ability to mobilize audiences, inviting them to engage with the arts as active partners. This synthesis occurs through innovative web interactions that allow emailing, blogging, live-streaming, instant messaging and much more to occur all through one portal. AEP aims to virtually transport the user directly into the creative process, allowing arts enthusiasts to interact with the artists in ways never before imagined.
- NY Times
- Chris Elam’s interview on Sundance Channel
- The Business Week (video interview). A Radical Experiment, Chris Elam, Misnomer Dance Theater
- Misnomer Dance Theater
- Misnomer Dance Theater Channel on YouTube
- NY Times, DANCE; The Dark and the Light, The Passionate, And the Daring, by JOHN ROCKWELL, December 24, 2006 “Chris Elam's dances burst with distinctiveness ... he is a talent, no doubt about it... Mr. Elam is well on his way to establishing himself as an important voice in downtown dance”.
- Dance Magazine's 25 To Watch
- NY Times, Headquarters at Home and Proud to Be There, by MARCI ALBOHER, September 27, 2007
- NY Times, Two Premieres for Chris Elam and His Misnomer Dance Theater, by JOHN ROCKWELL, May 13, 2006 “Chris Elam's dances burst with distinctiveness ... he is a talent, no doubt about it... Mr. Elam is well on his way to establishing himself as an important voice in downtown dance”.
- Village Voice, Dangling Men, by Elizabeth Zimmer, Tuesday, July 9, 2002 “Christopher Elam's Misnomer Dance Theater hit town with a force I haven't seen since the early days of Mark Morris”.
- Village Voice, Under a Microscope, by Deborah Jowitt, Tuesday, April 26, 2005 “Chris Elam has fashioned a distinctive, engagingly bizarre choreographic style…his skill and clarity of vision delight the soul”.
- Dance Insider by Chris Dohse “Elam, who is more impossibly elongated than an El Greco Christ, frequently looks like a praying mantis or a goofy Hanuman”.
- The Phoenix, Knots, Misnomer at Concord Academy, by MARCIA B. SIEGEL, July 17, 2007 “Only partially resolves into dancing humans”.
- Dangling Men, Choreography by a Committee, a Pair, and a Genuine Original, by Elizabeth Zimmer, Tuesday, July 9, 2002 “Fusion doesn’t begin to describe what’s going on here; Elam is annealing his influences, creating a taut, intense movement language quite remote from the ‘released’ style so common downtown”.
- The Dance Insider, Gus Solomons “Chris Elam is as flexible as a pretzel”.
- Brooklyn Eagle, Finding Clues in Balinese Dance, 08-26-2006 “Perhaps throwing his viewers for a loop each time they think they can figure it all out is part of Chris Elam’s style”.
- Sundance Channel interview
- Sundance Channel, Spotlight
- FastCompany Expert Blog, Exploding the Business Models of Nonprofits, by ALICE KORNGOLD, Fri Apr 17, 2009
- The Business Week, A Radical Experiment, Chris Elam, Misnomer Dance Theater
- Village Voice, Why Is Chris Elam Smiling? A choreographer wins big for virtual steps, by Deborah Jowitt, Tuesday, January 29, 2008