by Aiano Nakagawa
Garth Grimball is a bay-area based dancer and choreographer. In his latest work, "Dolly would", Grimball explores the intersections of Queer and Southern Identity. "Dolly would" premieres this weekend as part of ODC's Pilot Program, an eleven-week intensive with mentorship for 6 artists/groups that occurs bi-annually. You can catch "Dolly would" this Saturday, April 9 at 8pm and Sunday, April 10 at 4pm and 7pm.
AN: How does “Dolly would” speak to/relate to the greater context of the type of work you create?
GG: Knowing that I will be dancing my own choreography my primary goal is to create honestly as both a performer and a choreographer. This may sound rudimentary but I think when many choreographers dance their own work there can be a disconnect between “what I want to see” and “what I can do.” I often feel that disconnect. The piece I want to see may not be the work that is the most honest. This is where feedback is paramount, and not until very recently have I been able to fully open myself up to it.
AN: Why did you decide to explore queer identity and southern identity?
GG: Because I am queer and Southern. So it is an accessible place to mine for inspiration. In a broader context, coming from the South, I am always on some level working to promote a positive Southern identity in the face of many presumptions and stereotypes. The South continues to be panned as the backwards backdrop of Deliverance, or as cartoonishly ignorant, when there is a wealth of culture and history that should be celebrated. Don’t get me wrong, there are serious problems in the South, but there are serious problems everywhere. To get personal, I’ve been called “faggot” by strangers on the street in California far more than I ever did in North Carolina; these issues are not regional and do not exist in a vacuum. I’ll be pleased if I can contribute anything to the Southern artistic canon.
AN: Dolly Parton's name is in the title and you’re dancing to her music, but why Dolly Parton? How does her work contribute to your vision?
GG: Well I have always loved Dolly’s music. She is one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. On top of that there never has and probably never will be someone who can bring together queer culture and country western culture like she has done. Similar to the way Willie Nelson brought together hippies and farmers in the 1970s, Dolly is able to cross genres and cultures in a way that is bigger than her music or her personality, which I find fascinating. She is iconic for the integrity of her character as much as her music and on top of that her style and image is as queer as can be. In terms of crafting the choreography I found a lot of inspiration in the seemingly simple narrative arcs of country music. So much emotion and storytelling can be packed into a three and a half minute song, and I use those arcs as the framework for my own narratives that are danced in the piece.
AN: How has this experience and exploration changed throughout the process? Anything you were really surprised to encounter/discover?
GG: My piece, “Dolly would,” is being produced by ODC as part of Pilot Program, an eleven-week intensive with mentorship for 6 artists/groups that occurs bi-annually. The hard timeline of the program doesn’t allow for much doubt in the creative process, which I have come to really value. The exploration has remained clear throughout thanks to this lack of doubt. Everyone involved is there to support the process and challenge each other to make the best work possible. I am very thankful this piece came to fruition in the presence of other artists working in different dance style and traditions; their feedback pushes me to see more.