Submitted by Women in the Woods Productions.
Norm Stamper’s Jan. 28 Woman in the Woods interview with movement artist, choreographer and director Jon Boogz.
NS – Who were your early influences as a movement artist?
JB – Well, I started dancing at age 4 and can remember watching all kinds of artists: tap, ballet, hip hop, jazz, street dancing. There was Michael Jackson, of course, but also Gene Kelly, and Baryshnikov. I loved all kinds of dancing, improvisation, especially. And not just dancers but other performance artists. Nina Simone, James Brown, Marvin Gaye. I was also massively influenced by movies. “Schindler’s List,” “The Color Purple,” “Forest Gump.” I’m still a huge film fan. From my earliest years, I’ve been an observer. I seem to absorb everything I see, then manifest much of it in my work.
NS – Your work has such a strong social justice thread. Has there ever been a moment, say in the middle of a piece, where you were overcome with emotion, had to resist the urge to just stop and talk to an audience?
JB – I don’t mean to sound immodest but I work hard to make sure that never happens. It’s all about discipline. Of course, my whole purpose is to spark dialogue. I’m not just out there dancing but speaking to you, the audience. And I strongly believe in making room for dialogue after each performance. The talkback, with Q and A, is vital.
NS – Do you ever surprise yourself on stage, or in front of the camera?
JB – Yes, and I’ll give you an example. You said you’d seen “Am I a Man?” [A riveting short film starring Boogz, Lil Buck, and Bryon Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and inspiration for the new Michael B. Jordan, Jaime Foxx film, Just Mercy.] Recall that we go from an arrest on the street to the courtroom and, finally, to a prison. I’m in my cell, shadow boxing. Not until I saw that scene, later, did I realize the boxing was not just one inmate’s way of exercising or blowing off steam or mixing it up with a hypothetical opponent. No, I realized I was fighting the whole system: the social structure of racism and mass incarceration.
NS – How much of your work is improvised?
JB – Surprisingly little. There’s a lot of discipline to telling a story through movement. So I spend a ton of time writing and choreographing and polishing a production. That said, I do try to avoid planning it too much. The ideal is to have a good strong structure, a solid blueprint while leaving room for those surprises, for raw emotion to emerge.
NS – You’ve said you like to “push the evolution of what dance can be.” And, through the “melding of movement genres” to “inspire and bring awareness to social issues.” Can you cite an example of when you’ve felt especially good about accomplishing that goal?
JB – Let me give you an example of when I did not feel so good about a production. It was early in my career at the Avalon Hollywood. A piece dealing with missing children, police brutality, heroin addiction… It felt like we weren’t connecting with the audience, though I couldn’t be sure. I thought maybe we’d made a terrible mistake. We were talking after the show, and I felt like crying. I really did. But a woman from the audience came up to me. She’d just gotten out of rehab. She told me how deeply the show had affected her, how authentic it was. I knew then and there that if my work affected even one person in an audience of a thousand it was worth the effort.
NS – Color of Reality is one of the most moving, haunting, and relevant works of art I’ve ever seen. Its message is timeless and universal. I know you’ve moved on, are always creating new productions. But how do we get more people to see Color?
JB – By doing what you’re doing…talking about it, writing about it. Encouraging others to view it online.
NS – Thanks for your time, Jon. Can’t wait to catch your act at Orcas Center. There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation here on Orcas Island.
JB – I’ve heard great things about the island, and its people. It’ll be my first trip there. I’m really looking forward to it.