Emerged: an interview with choreographer Shannon Mockli

We here at Kaleidoscopic Arts believe a choreographer can emerge from anywhere through anyone so we try our best to represent female choreographers from different places, backgrounds, and ages both in interviews and in our platforms.

For our second emerged interview we decided to choose choreographer Shannon Mockli. Mockli is the same age as our previous interviewee, however, lives on the opposite side of the US (and for us opposite side of the Atlantic.)

Shannon Mockli is an Associate Professor of Dance10419058_10152471065463257_749496295890441307_n at the University of Oregon. She recently presented her new work “Breathing Under Water” in Portland, OR. You can read more about Shannon here.

As – specifically a female – choreographer what adversary have you faced when applying for dance platforms/choreographic work?

“To be honest I can’t name specific adversaries as a female choreographer. I can’t name a specific moment where I know that a male progressed or was funded or awarded and I wasn’t.”

What do you think of this quote? “Men (veer) towards making work that (is) splashy or virtuosic, and so more likely to attract large-scale funding and promotion.” An excerpt from an article by Judith Mackrell from The Guardian (which you can read here)

Do you personally find any difference between the works created by men versus women?

“I actually would make the same claim as the writer. I think men tend toward more virtuosity and spectacle than women. Based on personal experience, I have observed men as being more assertive and open about claiming the greatness of their work, where women tend toward more questioning and perhaps unnecessary concern about their work. Of course, not all women are this way by any means and in order to compete, I think women who own their work with strength, clarity and assertion that it’s great, also receive more viewers.”

What is your personal opinion on the state of equality between male and female choreographers? For example: What is your knowledge of equal exposure? Equal Pay? Etc.

“I think that the general public still has biases toward men in terms of confidence; we can see that in politics, for example. I think this translates into boards/presenters/funders and the general public having more confidence in male choreographers/artistic directors. I think the climate is changing, but not quite as even still, big name choreographers that come to my mind immediately are predominantly male…Ohad, Bill T., Forsythe, McGregor, Kyle Abraham, Sidi Larbi, Shen Wei, Kylian, the list goes on. Interestingly, as I think about it, modern dance began with primarily women and then even in the 70s/80s there’s still Trisha, Twyla, Sara Rudner, Martha still working, so quite a few female artists directing companies. It seems to have taken a dip? And perhaps is now re-surging as conversations and awareness like this begin to occur.”

Do you think there are limitations in providing a choreographic platform for only women? (keeping in mind men are not excluded from performing or collaborating with the female choreographers in any way.)

“ I don’t deny that our experiences are shaped by gender, as they very much are so. However, our experiences are shaped by so many other elements of our identity as well, such as race, ethnicity, age, etc. etc… I’m not sure that I think separation is the key. I so appreciate the female experience and all artists who speak to it in their work. And, I’d love a platform that encourages that. But, I don’t think that’s relegated to only females as we are acknowledging and opening up to the experiences of transgendered individuals and so on. Let’s do get some Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie involved in a dance platform :-).

My bias is also American as I realize that all of the female 70s artists are American. There’s also Pina and Anna Theresa that came out of the 80s. But, I still get pressed to think about new female company directors in the 90s and beyond…? I know there’s Crystal Pite and Azure Barton…”

Any other thoughts?

“I was listening to an interesting report today on NPR about how women tend to be less entrepreneurial or even have less success with it because they are more humble and rational than men who are more likely to be over confident. I thought it was interesting and definitely applicable to this study. My experience would fall in line with the study. For example, this recent concert was a pretty modest endeavor, not expecting a large audience, and making sure I could front the cost, rather than planning to make money. Though, I err on the side of intimacy and focusing my time on the work itself, I am understanding the importance of self-promotion, almost more vulnerable than performing, it is important to spend the extra time talking to people and ready to hand out flyers or promotional materials as needed. I’d like to develop more confidence in my work, less fear of imagining big.”

We hope this interview has been insightful for our readers and as always,
Kaleidoscopic Arts

This post was written by Cecilia Berghäll.

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One thought on “Emerged: an interview with choreographer Shannon Mockli

  1. Because it is in my nature to consider and reconsider and so on and so forth, I have to look back at some of my answers and provide further elaboration, as I do think these issues are incredibly complex. For one, my general agreement with the quote about male choreographers tending toward “splashy” work, does not intend to imply that the work is without substance and this is not applicable to male choreographers across the board. I would add that many big name choreographers are more ballet based, and these days even reside in other highly physical techniques that focus on control, design and line, and as such the work tends toward virtuosity and physicality; also with more funding, productions are larger in scale making them more spectacular often times. I don’t mean to cheapen the work of choreographers who value physicality, virtuosity and large scale productions. It does, by observation, seem that more of these endeavors are directed by men than women these days. As such, I think that what this conversation can provide is an opportunity for female choreographers to consider the ways we approach promoting our work and the ways that we may have been engendered in our education and cultural upbringing to be more modest with self-promotion and risk taking with entrepreneurial projects. At what point does our rationality and humility get in the way of taking chances and when possibly failing, taking the chance again, not allowing ourselves to become deflated or defeated? I think these insecurities are a human thing, not necessarily a female thing, however, I do think that more females than males are cultured toward humility, modesty and conformity. It reminds me of observing a men’s ballet class at Jacob’s Pillow when I served as a video intern there. I was shocked to see the differences in teaching these boys than what I had experienced in the ballet classroom. They were explicitly told, “Practice, just practice doing multiple pirouettes over and over and don’t worry about falling.” I never felt this same kind of permission in a ballet class and I remember thinking, wow, that encouragement to try and fail, and try again and fail, was not made explicit to me as a young dancer. I now try to make sure that I emphasize falling, risking failure (whatever that means now) in my own classroom with women and men alike.

    Liked by 1 person

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