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Interview, 5-10: Great Caesar's Ghost!
Goldhuber in the Baths with LaFosse & Julius
By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2005 Philip W. Sandstrom
Lawrence Goldhuber is
a choreographer, dancer, actor, and performance artist who has worked
in New York for more than 20 years. His new "Julius Caesar Superstar"
opens Thursday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church.
What was your motivation for creating your "Julius Caesar Superstar"
show? What was the impetus?
The first motivation was the space itself -- actually, the very
first motivation was the Jerome Foundation, from whom I received
funding for my last project, "Goldhubris." They tend to fund in
cycles; you have to think about your next show or shows well in
advance. If you want to be eligible for a grant, you have to propose
ideas two years before your show. When you're working on one show
you have to be thinking about the next show.
PS: So you pitched
several projects to Jerome simultaneously?
LG: No, almost
exactly two years ago, I was sitting in St. Mark's Church, thinking
about developing my next project, so I could apply for Jerome funding.
While sitting there I gazed at the columns and thought "Roman Baths,"
then: Caesar, I could do a piece on Caesar! Around the same time,
I had just finished a solo project with text, and was now thinking
of moving away from a solo show and doing a dance piece with a large
cast, with no text. So I thought of a dance version of Julius Caesar.
I was trying to think of someone noble, I was trying to think of
my biggest celebrity friends. First I thought of Bill T. Jones,
but I know he's way too busy. I had recently become friends with
Robert LaFosse and thought, He's perfect for the central (Caesar)
Funding was the impetus.
The grant writing I've been doing usually focuses on my size, that
being the most unique thing about me in modern dance, that is the
niche I've carved out, exploring issues of body fascism and self-acceptance,
due to my size. It's not something that weighs heavily....
LG: .... Heavily
being the key word. It's an aspect of my life, so I won't deny it.
One may look at the body of my work and think I'm obsessed with
it, but I'm really not, it's just the niche market that I found
PS: People, audience
and critics alike, tend to pay more attention to you and your size
because it is so unique in dance.
you've got to play the guitar you're given. Along those lines, I
thought of the bath house filled with all these big fat men, the
image of the corporate fat cat; the power base of America, if not
the world. So, I came up with the idea that all the senators are
very fat, and they conspire to murder the slender Caesar.
So, the impetus was the funding cycle and the inspiration was the
church. Now you have this great idea, where did you go from there?
Did you base this work on the play by Shakespeare? How did you fashion
LG: Both and
neither. So, I start out with the idea of Julius Caesar, get a copy
of the play, read it, get a copy of the movie, and watch it. The
play, after the first half, after Caesar is killed, becomes a military
battle, the two factions fighting each other for control; it's not
PS: It is also
very difficult to portray onstage.... It can be boring.
and since I'm not using text, I felt free; I don't have to follow
Shakespeare's version of the story. There is a Caesar story by Handel...,
there's "Caesar and Cleopatra," there are a number of Caesar stories.
Caesar is an iconic legend so I can use all of this as a basis for
my play, my dance play. I use Caesar's liberal attitude toward sex
as his crime. There is a little gay orgy that happens in the presence
of the senators. They are horrified and they oust him.
The narrative of my
show is: we introduce the senators; Caesar arrives and is crowned;
there is a little bacchanal and orgy; then there is a scene in a
bath house where the senators conspire against Caesar; then the
trial scene where they murder him; then he does a final "dance of
death"; then Lady Macbeth enters and escorts him to the afterworld;
then the senators return and sing about a "brand-new day" now that
they have been liberated from the liberalism. Boom, one hour, a
very clear little narrative, almost a parable. It follows the story,
that he's been betrayed, but they're just the senators, no Cassius
or Brutus. There are the soldiers and the Soothsayer comes in and
s/he does say, "Beware the Ides of March." There are aspects of
the (classic) story but I don't adhere to all of it.
Casting helps; by using
Micki Wesson, even if people don't know her they've certainly seen
her because she is at every performance, she is so diminutive, and
she is an old woman. I don't have to ask her to act like an old
woman, I hate that onstage. She comes on in a robe with a cape;
when she pulls that hood off, half the audience is going to get
such a kick out of it.
PS: But she is
it's perfectly cast. That's what her presence is there for, doubled
and doubly. The show's a big pageant!
PS: You had mentioned
that this show is a big departure for you, after working and co-choreographing
as the duet company of Goldhuber & Latsky, then setting solo work
on yourself. Now you are choreographing and directing a company
of about 20 dancers?
LG: 16 people.
Big departure isn't entirely correct; I've worked with large groups
of people. I have made large pieces on groups of students; I just
got back for the University of Texas and that piece had 13 people
in it. I've done one like it at SUNY-Brockport. Caesar is only a
departure in that it's a 180-degree turn from doing a solo show.
That's why I think I call it a departure. It's a big spectacle.
PS: So you are
familiar with staging such a work due to your experience staging
large works at colleges. Are there any other challenges with creating
LG: I've also
been in many plays and dance pieces with large casts. The bigger
challenge is producing large cast works, e.g., trying to get 16
people together for rehearsals. I will not have the entire cast
together in a room until the technical rehearsal (in the theater).
I've been working in small groups since December. In December, I
started with Robbie on the solos; in February I made the duet for
him and Keely (Garfield); then in March, I made the work on the
soldiers; then in April, the senators; then this last week we started
putting everyone together, but still everyone has not been there
(at any one rehearsal).
PS: Because the
people you've chosen are extremely busy?
working professionals. Unfortunately, there is not a large enough
salary to be paid to get a full-time commitment. But that being
said, I'm actually paying a nice salary for this sort of project,
for the kind of salary this sort of show usually pays. In the modern
dance world, for these kinds of shows, you get $100 a show, that's
what it averages out to, no matter how long you rehearse.
PS: I know in
theater, when you do a showcase, you barely get carfare!
of theater, I got a call to be in the new Elaine May Broadway show
in the part of a big man who could dance. I couldn't do it because
it just went into previews last week and I open (this) week --@*%@*^$+?#!!!
Well, I'm inundated
with work here, producing work; the hardest part is the producing.
It's not only getting the people in the room, but also raising enough
funds to pay for them, for a lot of costumes, for original music,
and then as the director you also have to interact with all these
people. I've got meetings with the costume designer, the composer,
with the technical people, with the lighting designer. (Editor's
note: Geoff Gersh composed the score. Liz Prince designed the costumes,
Gregory L. Bain the production, and Kathy Kaufmann the lighting.)
It's very exciting but it's a tremendous amount of work; and on
top of choreographing, I'm also performing in the show.
PS: So, you create
this show, it plays at Danspace Project for four performances. Let's
say someone, a producer, wants the show. Could you recreate it with
different people if necessary?
LG: If they come
up with the fee!
Philip W. Sandstrom is a theater consultant who has worked in
production and lighting design, management, and producing, as well
as a consulting editor for 2wice Magazine. Disclosure: Philip W.
Sandstrom and Laurie Uprichard, the executive director of Danspace
Project, have had a near-familial relationship for a number of years.
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