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Flash 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.

Philip Sandstrom: What was your motivation for creating your "Julius Caesar Superstar" show? What was the impetus?

Lawrence Goldhuber: 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) role!

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....

PS: (Chuckle.)

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 myself in.

PS: People, audience and critics alike, tend to pay more attention to you and your size because it is so unique in dance.

LG: Exactly, 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.

PS: (Chuckle.) 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 the piece?

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 very dynamic.

PS: It is also very difficult to portray onstage.... It can be boring.

LG: Exactly, 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 a soothsayer!

LG: Exactly, 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 group work?

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?

LG: Exactly, 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!

LG: Speaking 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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