Seattle-based dance and performance duo Degenerate Art Ensemble weaves punk, comics, protest, cinema, nightmares and fairy tales into their own, unique style of theater and dance. Joshua Kohl and Haruko Crow Nishimura describe their work as "an exorcism through collision and conflict challenging how we see audience, architecture, music, story, myth and reality. It comes out of a deep desire for communion, soul-exchange and transformation."
We asked them a few questions about drawing inspiration from and collaborating in the time of COVID, the future of performance, and how to make a career out of being creative. Watch their performance piece 'Remotely Yours,' filmed in a parking lot during lockdown.
What tips or tricks can you offer to others who are trying to collaborate creatively during quarantine?
Haruko Crow Nishimura : Everything feels like an experiment right now. Make sure you have everything pre-planned and be sure to have a plan B. Assume that no matter what, the nature of these things can be so unpredictable with the weather, technical difficulties, unintentional interruptions from nature, drunken teenagers appearing in your viewfinder in the parking lot you are using (yes, that happened!) or a visit from a very freaked out police man who thinks he might be witnessing cult activity (we were nearly shut down, but with some calm explanation he turned out to be a sympathetic guy and let us continue).
Has COVID-19 opened up any new perspectives in the way you consider developing your future work and performances?
Joshua Kohl : Certainly our reality has been reconsidered in many ways. Especially the ways in which we gather! New frontiers of gathering beyond location has really opened up because of all of this. It's as if the technology for gathering online has been there all along just waiting for this to happen to force us to discover all of the myriad ways that we can make use of it.
Of course this is not without extreme difficulty and consequence, but there are some very exciting developments. We are only beginning to imagine what these new systems can do to explore and explode the way in which we work. I think in many ways this has strengthened our desire to make work that can be seen anywhere at any time. That is what film/video/streaming allows us to do that our live performances don’t. Hopefully we can find a way to make work that brings the magic of live together with the accessibility of streaming. It is only just the beginning. I think performance and art is going to be changed forever.
Haruko Crow Nishimura : In this COVID time, we realized how valuable of a medium film is, and even though we can’t be with our audience in person, film enables that connection online. And we are excited by film’s ability to communicate our vision in new ways but with the spirit of our theater performance pieces.
Film has become even more valuable as a vessel for us in this time. We’ve been inspired by many different artists generously sharing their work online (live and not live) even though we are not able to look into each other’s eyes or exchange energy and touch.
You’re working all the time and are doing an incredible job of making a career being creative. What’s the secret to your success?
Joshua Kohl : The world keeps throwing curve balls at us—this will never change. We can make all of the plans in the world, but you never know what is coming in the future. I think the key is just to keep moving, keep evolving and seize the opportunities that new realities create.
Our secret, if there is one, is that we have made a career out of being in a state of constant evolution. Each time we embark on a new project, we see it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and break new ground. With this approach we view anything that comes as simply new fertile ground. Even a time like the one we are now facing brings a whole new universe of possibility.
And what advice would you give to other dancers who may be thinking about a career shift during these challenging times?
Haruko Crow Nishimura : Learn to adapt to changes and turn your difficulties into challenges. This has helped me grow in deep and rich ways, strengthening my perceptions to be more open and discover more creativity around me, and work with it, dive deeper into it.
Has the pandemic changed the way you think about future live performances?
Haruko Crow Nishimura : For me, it has been a deep reflection time to appreciate how special and precious live performance is, what a special ritual what we call theater is, and I feel a comfort in a belief that that live performance will never die, I have realized more than ever that we all need it and yearn for it. So many artists are coming up with creative ways to still share live performances and they all have inspired me!