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Monday, June 24, 2024
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Choreographer Ann Liv Young makes no apologies for art

<p>Choreographer Ann Liv Young, right, talks to Kate Pope, a 20-year-old dance junior, during a rehearsal of Young's "American Crane Standards."</p>

Choreographer Ann Liv Young, right, talks to Kate Pope, a 20-year-old dance junior, during a rehearsal of Young's "American Crane Standards."

Ann Liv Young stood and faced the cast of her show.

They wore wedding gowns and Rollerblades, and some were perched on lidless toilets. She gave corrections in a voice that was quiet but firm.

Young, an internationally recognized choreographer and performance artist, spent two weeks at UF re-staging her 2002 piece, "American Crane Standards," for the School of Theatre and Dance's production "Dance 2012" opening Feb. 17.

The cast, a dozen male and female UF dance majors, paid close attention to Young's direction during the last rehearsal before she returned home to Jersey City, N.J., on Saturday.

The corrections were standard  — move with confidence, stay in unison, project the voices - but Young's work is anything but.

"Make sure you really stick it when you fall," she said to the dancers as they adjusted their gowns. "When you're down, you're down. You're dead."

Young, 30, has been both critically acclaimed and condemned for her art, which blends dance with elements of theater, pop culture, history and pornography.

The New York Times has called her performances dull, amateurish and inept, while other outlets hail her work as captivating, refreshing and even beautiful.

Critics alternately adore and vilify her for employing shock value and gratuitous obscenity to get her point across.

"I don't feel like anything I've really ever done feels shocking to me," she said.

Young has a history of taking her audience to an uncomfortable place with the goal, she said, of making them feel something.

She defecates onstage in her "Cinderella" show. Live sex, masturbation and lots of nudity are the hallmarks of most of her work.

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But biological processes and normal human behavior aren't shocking to her because, she said, everyone does them.

While watching Disney's adaptation of Cinderella with her daughter, Lovey, the 4-year-old asked, "Mom, why doesn't Cinderella ever go to the bathroom?"

"What an incredible question," Young said. "Because she does. If she were real, she would have to."

Omitting actions such as eating and going to the bathroom reinforce the idea of passive women, she said.

"My Cinderella poops onstage, and people are like, ‘It's so shocking,' and I think that's amazing, because everyone poops," she said.

"This is singular," said dance professor Neta Pulvermacher, who invited Young to reset her "American Crane Standards" on UF students.

While she was still a student, Young took ballet and dance composition classes from Pulvermacher at the American Dance Festival.

Young's work, Pulvermacher said, is important simply because it exists.

"It's very much of our time, almost ahead of its time, and exposes extraordinary angles or fragments of truth, humanity and paradoxes of living."

Young's use of melodrama, porn and "trashy dancing" is so sophisticated, Pulvermacher said, it creates an entirely new theatrical language.

Because of that, there is no possibility of apathy for the audience.

"It will make you feel something," she said. "And ultimately, for me, that's the role of any art form."

But people don't want to be honest and they don't want to be embarrassed, and that's why Young often meets resistance in the art world, she said.

In February 2010, the director of the Museum of Modern Art's venue PS1 cut the power during Young's "Sherry" show after Young, as her character Sherry, ended an altercation with another performer by removing her clothes and touching herself.

The aggressiveness of the roles Young plays might scare some people, and she's aware of that. In fact, she welcomes it.

"I'm not interested in making things to make them feel happy, at least in that way," Young said. "I'm interested in affecting them."

She knows people are terrified to come to her Sherry show, where Sherry might ask pointedly, thrusting the microphone into the face of a female audience member, if she masturbates or if she's had a miscarriage.

Making the audience uncomfortable enough to realize something about human nature is what the work is designed to do.

For all the time she spends onstage rolling around in blood, verbally abusing audience members and chasing fellow performers with knives, offstage, Ann Liv Young is surprisingly unassuming.

Hardly a shade of the oft-feared performer shows through the choreographer.

She was calm and even soft-spoken when working with the UF dancers, who described her teaching as physically and mentally meticulous.

"She's pushed me farther than any choreographer in a nonphysical sense, but it's just as physically exhausting," said Emmakate Geisdorf, a 22-year-old dance junior.

During Friday's rehearsal, Young constantly stopped the dancers to give them corrections, making them repeat seemingly unimportant movements, such as the placing of the toilet tank lid into the bowl, until they were perfect.

Three failed attempts to get the placing of the lids in unison were enough to re-start the rehearsal from the beginning of the show.

"Let's start over. It's better," Young said, kindly but firmly.

Three hours later, Young and the dancers emerged from the studio, tired and satisfied.

"She's one of those teachers who changes your life," said Lindsay Head, a 19-year-old dance sophomore. "She's opened my eyes to being more comfortable with what I'm uncomfortable with."

Choreographer Ann Liv Young, right, talks to Kate Pope, a 20-year-old dance junior, during a rehearsal of Young's "American Crane Standards."

Choreographer Ann Liv Young talks to dancers during a rehearsal of Young's "American Crane Standards."

Choreographer Ann Liv Young talks to dancers during a rehearsal of Young's "American Crane Standards."

UF student dancers rehearse choreographer Ann Liv Young's "American Crane Standards" on Friday afternoon.

UF student dancers rehearse choreographer Ann Liv Young's "American Crane Standards" on Friday afternoon.

UF student dancers rehearse choreographer Ann Liv Young's "American Crane Standards" on Friday afternoon.

UF student dancers rehearse choreographer Ann Liv Young's "American Crane Standards" on Friday afternoon.

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