Collaboration is a lauded concept among artists, but it's a lot trickier to pull off than to talk about. In essence, it requires a deep level of confidence in others and in one's own ability to roll with whatever arises. But that comes naturally to Durham choreographer Justin Tornow, who leads the dance group COMPANY.
"I have a tendency to be super free," she says. "I trust my collaborators so much."
Tornow's openness and faith in others will be fully on display in her latest work, No. 19/Modulations, which premieres this week both inside and outside of 21c Museum Hotel Durham, closing the DIDA season.
The performance incorporates the work of almost ten other artists, including videographers, musicians, and a visual artist. Even the structure of the piece contains a measure of uncertainty that could only be created by someone willing to relinquish control. Tornow says she's never collaborated with so many people at once, but she's not worried.
"I'm working with super pros—that's how I can have so much trust," she says.
Tornow's core partner in the piece is Heather Gordon, a visual artist who makes maps and geometric designs based on personal data. The two have been working together for three years and agree that they share a deep connection that informs their creations.
"We are entwined when it comes to the work," says Gordon. "We come across concepts independently and find that we're both interested in them."
In the case of Modulations, they began with an open-ended sense of investigation. "She gave me five maps sometime last fall and said, 'See what you think,'" says Tornow.
Those works of art, titled "Dynamics of a Binary System" and "My Flow in 160 Iterations," became source material that Tornow used to inform the piece's spatial patterns and the dancers' encounters.
Tornow and Gordon recently worked together on another piece, "Echo," and several of the concepts from that show—like how people reflect one another and the mutability and flow of water—recur in this one. As it developed, Tornow had to figure out its location and overall structure. Originally, she hoped it would run at the Durham Fruit and Produce Company, but that venue was being renovated, so she decided to use a couple of sites: 21c Museum Hotel and the downtown plaza with the statue of Major the Bull.
"I wanted it to be super accessible," says Tornow. "If I put it outside, I'd hopefully remove some of the trappings that modern dance has," which tend to keep novices away.
The result is a show in two parts. On the first two nights of Modulations, live-streamed video of COMPANY performing the piece will be projected on the hotel's outer wall by the plaza. At ADF's indoor studios, videographer Alex Maness will be filming the dancers in real time; the audience's experience will depend on how he chooses to shoot. That showing will be accompanied with a live performance by musician Del Ward.
Modulations' second half will be performed more traditionally, inside the hotel, but the audience will be invited to move around and take in the piece from different angles. For the July 23 show, previous Tornow collaborators Matthew McClure and Lee Weisert will play a sound score; on July 24, DJ PlayPlay will perform an experimental synthesizer set.
Exactly what the show will look and feel like is unclear. After all, Tornow and the other artists have had only one meeting with everyone in attendance, which means the end result will be a bit of a game of chance. But that's kind of the point, says Gordon, who likens collaboration to alchemy.
"We can put [our individual creations] together into this big idea, something that's not achievable by any of us independently," she says. "It has its own life because so many people are touching it, moving it forward. It's like a balloon that's buoyant, taking its own course."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Good Company"