The Ford’s summer season officially begins Friday, June 7 with Illuminated Manuscript, presented by Antics dance company. Combining street dance and multimedia theater, Antics blurs the lines between past and present with a vibrant interpretation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, set to an original score.
We recently interviewed Antics Artistic Director Amy "Catfox" Campion about her inspiration for the upcoming show and her experiences as a dancer in Seattle and L.A.
Q. Tell us about Illuminated Manuscript?
A. Illuminated Manuscript is a hip-hop dance theater interpretation of The Epic of Gilgamesh that incorporates street dance, graffiti art, video projections and original music.
Q. For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us about the Epic of Gilgamesh?
A. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia -- one of the oldest surviving literary works. It was rediscovered in the 19th century written in cuneiform on clay tablets in present-day Iraq. The story tells of a friendship between King Gilgamesh and a wild man named Enkidu, their exploits fighting monsters, Gilgamesh's distress at Enkidu's death and his subsequent quest for immortality.
Q. An ancient Mesopotamian poem and hip-hop are not two things that immediately seem to go together, but the combination sounds very exciting. How did this come about?
A. The Epic of Gilgamesh is centered around King Gilgamesh, this hero who goes through a harrowing journey leading to profound personal transformation. Those same experiences of struggle and personal transformation are found everywhere in the history of hip-hop culture. The poem is also full of epic battle scenes which lend themselves to street dance where battling through dance is fundamental to the art form.
Q. Where did the name come from?
A.The name "Illuminated Manuscript" was inspired by the first Arabic graffiti piece that I ever saw. It was on a bright blue refrigerated train car in Washington state. The Arabic translated as "illuminated manuscript". To me, this is the essence of both graffiti art and street dance. Graffiti art takes letters or a word and "illuminates" them with elaborate shapes, dimensions, and colors. Street dance uses bodies moving to a beat to "illuminate" an invisible manuscript which is the story of each dancer, or in the case of this show, we are "illuminating" or interpreting an ancient poem.
Q. You have a really diverse background in dance, having studied everything from modern dance to ballet, how did you decide to focus on hip-hop?
A. I've listened to hip-hop music since I was 9 years old and got "hype" on Newcleus' "Jam On It". As a teenager and into my twenties, I was party-dancing to hip-hop and electronic music, but In college I was studying modern dance and ballet. At the time, in that academic environment, hip-hop dance or street dance were not taken seriously as art forms. The first time that I saw Rennie Harris Puremovement perform, using breaking, locking, popping, and house dance in choreography in a very expressive way, telling stories on the stage, I was blown away. I started to see hip-hop dance in another light and to contemplate the possibilities of how I could use street dance vocabulary to create stage performances.
Q. You’re originally from Seattle, what was the dance scene like up there and how did it influence you?
A. Seattle has a vibrant hip-hop culture. To this day, LoFi on Tuesday nights is one of the few venues/events where I have seen all of the elements of hip-hop come together in one room, interacting and spontaneously creating together: DJs spinning, MC's rhyming on the mic about the moves they see the bboys doing in the cypher right there, and graffiti artists on the sidewalk out front doing what they do. When I was learning to break, much of the heart of Seattle's breaking scene was in nightclubs and cyphers are the perfect place to learn to let go of inhibitions, get inspired, and vibe out to the music all night long.
Q. What impact did moving to Los Angeles have on you as a dancer?
A. L.A. dangles the possibility of making a living from one's art. I came to L.A. to go to grad school at UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures in 2003 and that was a phenomenal growing experience for me as an artist/choreographer. After I graduated in 2006, I stayed in L.A. because there is such an overwhelming number of talented dancers who move here to pursue a career in dance and it was mutually beneficial for me to work with these dancers in Antics. Having the opportunity to train and practice breaking and also other forms of street dance with very high caliber dancers has undoubtedly made me technically a much better dancer through my years in Los Angeles.
Q. In addition to your show on June 7, you'll also be teaching one of our free interactive J.A.M. Sessions at the Ford on July 22. What can people expect to experience and learn that night?
A. The Antics J.A.M. Session will be divided into four 30-minute dance classes in four different street dance styles taught by Antics dancers: Hip Hop (taught by Cyrian Reed), Popping (taught by Mike "Shockwave" Hummer), Krumping (taught by Amida "Shofu tha Beatdown" Shofu), and Breaking (taught by Gilyon "Gillatine" Brace-Wessel). Oh andthe time there will be funky beats and fresh sounds from DJ BGirl (Mia Beardsley) spinning records on stage with the students. It's open to all abilities, ages, and experience levels--it's going to be a great night.
Q. You’ve performed on stage at the Ford before – are you excited to be returning? What is it like to perform at the Ford?
A. The Ford Theatres is one of my favorite places to perform ever. It is so wonderful to be in a natural setting with trees, plants, wildlife and for that to be the backdrop of our performance. The Ford is so much more than just a theatre- it really is like going to the park for dinner and a show. It is the ultimate BYOB experience! On top of that, the multi-level stage is very unique and it allows for some exciting possibilities for entrances, exits, and staging that other theatres just don't have.
Don't miss Amy "Catfox" Campion and the rest of Antics on FRI June 7 @ 8:30. Tickets on sale now.
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