The Real Story: Joanna Furnans premieres her solo work, “Doing Fine”
This creative process… happened in tandem with my rehabilitation from a disc injury. In fact, the research, writing, dancing, and rehabilitating are one hundred percent intertwined in the fabric of “Doing Fine.”
There are few instances in life where we feel like we are in total control of what is happening. In fact, take a moment to reflect on your own life and see if you can find one of those occasions. Having trouble? So is everyone else. There are so few of these moments, but every now and then, a rare opportunity may arise that empowers you to take your fate into your own hands. Choreographer and dancer Joanna Furnans did not quite come across one of these rare opportunities; rather, she saw the opportunity to create it for herself.
In the world premiere of her latest solo work, Doing Fine, Furnans investigates the “engaging ideas of memory, anxiety, injury, isolation, dedication, love, and community” through the use of her innovative movement aesthetic and autobiographical writing. During her year as a 2018 Chicago Dancemakers’ Forum Lab Artist, a Schonberg Fellow at The Yard, and an Institutional Incubation Sponsorship at High Concept Labs, Furnans chose to create unique collaborations with five prestigious artists across the country and sought writing mentorship from acclaimed author Barrie Jean Borich. The collaborations culminate in an evening length performance featuring an original score by Ericka Ricketts and art installation by Christine Wallers.
DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera recently caught up with Joanna Furnans to discuss the concepts behind and development of Doing Fine, as well as how this one woman show challenges the conventional presentation of concert dance. Here’s what she told us:
I think I was looking for ways in which to tell a story, and I was noting what kinds of stories and methods of storytelling were resonating with me.
Kristi Licera: Doing Fine was created thanks in part to a grant awarded by Chicago Dancemakers Forum, which allowed you to set up one-week intensives with five of your professional peers. Prior to working with these artists, you worked on a project with seven dancers, which raised ethical questions for you on how working artists are treated. Those questions, along with some experiences in your personal life, created the initial context for this work. Can you tell us more about the development of your work, and how the five artists you collaborated with affected the final product?
Joanna Furnans: This solo is autobiographical, so the development of the work really began with reading and writing. I read a lot of queer, female autobiographies as research for my own writing. I think I was looking for ways in which to tell a story, and I was noting what kinds of stories and methods of storytelling were resonating with me. I love stories about lesbians coming-of-age and about queer relationships and perspectives on the world because, you know, I identify.
This creative process also happened in tandem with my rehabilitation from a disc injury. In fact, the research, writing, dancing, and rehabilitating are one hundred percent intertwined in the fabric of Doing Fine.
In the early phases of this project development my pain was pretty constant and I had a fairly limited range of motion. I couldn’t do much dancing. But I could write, so that’s where I started. Once my healing progressed I was able to fold movement into the process.
The process of working with each of them looked slightly different but, essentially, through our conversations about our shared history and the overlapping times in our lives, I developed a movement score and vocabulary that relates to each person/time/place.
Joanna: My decision to work with multiple collaborators was guided by the fact that making a solo can be a lonely and overwhelming endeavor. I didn’t want to spend hours and hours alone in the creative process. And because this project has an autobiographical theme, I wanted to take the opportunity to reconnect with dance artists whom I had known, in one way or another, from various times/sectors in/of my life. Lu Yim (Portland, OR) and I attended the same college but were three years apart. We have different practices but were steeped in similar pedagogy. Deborah Goffe (Holyoke, MA) choreographed the first modern dance I ever performed— when I was 15 and she was 21 or 22— back in Hartford, CT. I often credit Deborah with being the person who helped solidify my decision to pursue dance as a career. Morgan Thorson (Minneapolis, MN) is a long-time friend and was the choreographer I worked with when I first started my career as a professional dancer. And Molly Shanahan (Philadelphia/Chicago/Granville) and I have orbited around the idea of working together for a couple of years but never had the opportunity. This project was the perfect way to make that happen.
When people walk into the space they will be walking in to our creative home. They are witnessing a slice of our lives, somewhat polished, but imperfect at the core.
The process of working with each of them looked slightly different but, essentially, through our conversations about our shared history and the overlapping times in our lives, I developed a movement score and vocabulary that relates to each person/time/place. Additionally, each of them was generous enough to make movement material for me that I learned and took liberties within the piece.
Outside of the movement, I worked with a writing mentor, Barrie Jean Borich on the writing. Barrie is, among other things, an award-winning lesbian memoirist, so I was extremely lucky to have her on this project. Like any good editor she saved me from myself numerous times, cutting unnecessary material and urging me towards more specificity and reflection. It was an incredibly vulnerable process for me to share my writing with her— because writing is a newer creative form for me— but I’m super jazzed about the outcome.
Lastly, Erica Ricketts (NYC) came on board for the sound design. She’s just freakin’ awesome. She is a dancer and dance maker herself so she brings that understanding and support to the sound-development process. We speak a similar language, ya know? We worked together on my last project, Genuine Fake, and she blew that one out of the water. I think she’s done it again!
This work is an autobiographical solo and an artist’s studio is one of the most personal, vulnerable, intimate spaces they inhabit.
Kristi: Your performances will take place in your own studio space, which will feature an art installation by visual artist Christine Wallers. Dance performances often take place outside of traditional theaters, but your choice of venue aligns and contributes to the questions and concepts you investigate in Doing Fine. Can you tell us about the significance of your performance space and your reasons for selecting it?
Joanna: Four years ago, Christine and I decided to earn and invest the money necessary to rent our own studio space—the grey space— a space separate from where we live. As a visual artist, Christine has always put her resources into a dedicated studio for her work. As a dance artist, I had never really considered that option because it’s rare to find an affordable space large enough to be useful for movement. I was also accustomed to working on a project-to-project basis, only renting studio space when in need. But because we work well together and were comfortable pooling our money (did I mention we are married?), we realized we could find something that worked for both of us. The ability to have space available to me at all times absolutely changes the way I think about a dance making practice. It helps me value “non-productive” research. (In quotes, of course, because isn’t all productive?) This isn’t to say that I use the space all the time; just because it is available to me doesn’t mean I’m not daunted by it. But that’s another conversation…
Conceptualizing and building the installation over the course of many months in its intended home is what’s best for the work and for us as artists.
So, performing Doing Fine at the grey space, was both practical and poetic. This work is an autobiographical solo and an artist’s studio is one of the most personal, vulnerable, intimate spaces they inhabit. Like a memoir, the space holds history and experience and energy. For those reasons it made sense. And then, the logistics REALLY made sense. First and foremost, Christine and I knew we wanted an installation as part of the piece. The ability to be able to consider, experiment and build an installation in the very place where the work would be performed is ideal and it’s a luxury we rarely experience. We don’t have that opportunity in a conventional theater rental or in performance scenarios where we are splitting the bill with another artist and need to be mindful of our shared space or if the venue needs to be restored to its original “blank slate” at the end of the night. We’ve done all that before. Conceptualizing and building the installation over the course of many months in its intended home is what’s best for the work and for us as artists.
…I made the decision to present it on my own. Once that decision was made I realized that I could— miraculously— do the entire performance on my own terms!
Additionally, although I have gotten a lot of incredible support for this project, I do not have a presenting partner for this piece. Early on in the project I considered trying to get a presenter involved, but I wasn’t able to summon the stamina or courage necessary to have that dialogue with people. I wasn’t sure what the final product was going to look like — or what kind of mobility I was ultimately going to have— so I didn’t know how to talk about the project to someone who might be in the position to provide production support. It felt too vulnerable. So I made the decision to present it on my own. Once that decision was made I realized that I could— miraculously— do the entire performance on my own terms! So that meant I could choose a performance time that worked best for me (2pm!) and a length of run that was of interest to me as a performer (3 weekends, 12 shows total!).
All of these reasons—the personal, the logistic—feel entirely wrapped up in the work. When people walk into the space they will be walking in to our creative home. They are witnessing a slice of our lives, somewhat polished, but imperfect at the core. We are doing our best with what we have and from where we’ve come. It is fantasy and reality all in one and it feels so incredibly meaningful to align the production elements of the performance with the content of the work. It’s aligning my insides with my outsides… or something like that.
The world premiere of Doing Fine, a solo dance performance by Joanna Furnans, takes place at the grey space (1803 W. Byron St. Suite 104, Chicago).
Performances run Thursday-Sunday August, 22-25th, Thursday-Sunday August 29-Sept 1 and Thursday-Sunday Sept 5-8th, all performances at 2pm.
Tickets are $20 (Cash, Venmo, Zelle) and require reservation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doing Fine is Produced/Created/Written/
To learn more about Joanna, visit www.joannafurnans.com.