Christopher Williams, 29, is a dancer and choreographer whose work Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins will be performed at P.S.122 from May 12 through 15. Ursula examines the various stages and relationships of a dance career in New York, using an early Christian hagiographic style to tell the story. Williams calls the piece—which consists of 11 short solos for 11 dancers, ranging from a 15-year-old girl to women in their mid-fifties—”oddly whimsical and playfully macabre.” Music for the dance includes medieval hymns and original compositions by Peter Kirn, performed live by singers Jacqueline Horner and Susan Hellauer (of the Anonymous 4), accompanied by viola da gamba, recorder, and electronic sounds.
1 Is your work usually site specific, or do you have an ideal hall in mind, then adapt the work to where you will perform it? I try to craft works to fit the space in which they will be performed, but I must admit that I almost always imagine things on a more grandiose scale and end up doing some serious paring down.
2 If you could dance anywhere, where would it be? It would be truly grand to perform in a Greek amphitheater. It would also be fabulous to disguise oneself as a mythical beast and appear in public wilderness spaces— such as national parks or forests—much to the surprise of any passersby.
3 What sort of music best lends itself to dance? (A) If it can be an invisible partner or foil for the dancers, (B) if it’s like changing emotional weather, (C) if it leads one into a unique imaginary realm or concrete environment, (D) something that’s all of the above.
4 When you create a new piece, does it come fully realized in your head (à la Mozart, perhaps) or do you let it develop organically and change it as you go? The original ideas that serve as seeds for my works always appear fully formed in my head. I have about five years of work in there now. . . . The fun/hard part is translating it into a movement reality. However, I always let things morph according to the idiosyncratic particularities of the performers.
5 What makes contemporary dance contemporary—other than the fact that it’s happening today? Imagination, dedication to experimentation and questioning, allowing the work to follow a profoundly individual path . . . and if you can’t easily explain what you do to your relatives who think that Broadway is the ultimate performance experience.