‘Four Men in Suits’
450 7th St. N.W.
For out choreographer, performer and conceptual artist Ann Carlson, the world of dance and performance is wide open.
Throughout her acclaimed career, a great curiosity and zeal have nudged her to create innovative works that question the very definition of dance and dancer. A new version of her seminal work “Four Men in Suits” is now making its D.C. premier at Chamber Dance Project, a contemporary ballet company with live music helmed by artistic director Diane Coburn Bruning.
The piece has an interesting backstory.
In the late ‘80s, Chicago native Carlson moved to New York City. For a young woman who’d spent most of her life training in dance studios, seeing hordes of suited men squeezing through the canyons of Wall Street marching to work was a striking and somewhat puzzling image. “Their lives were so different from mine,” she says. “I was really, really curious about them.”
Then came the dream that inspired the dance.
“I dreamed of four men in suits who were trying to move but they were stuck to the floor. I wanted to change the image into a reality. I knew one guy who was a lawyer who wore a suit to work. I figured he might have some friends who also wore suits. My plan was to invite them to dinner and trick them into going along with my idea. It worked.”
When the piece premiered at Performance Space 122 in New York, it got a big reaction from mainstream media sources like Newsweek and Good Morning America, a rarity for a nontraditional dance piece. “The idea of the white men in power suits struck a chord,” she says. “It was being explored a lot at the time.”
Not long after Carlson’s big success with “Four Men in Suits,” Diane Coburn Bruning invited her to restage the work using trained dancers.
“I refused,” says Carlson. “At the time I had some very strong ideas about who danced and what was dance. For me, that work required lawyers who suited up every day in real life too. ”
Carlson’s ideas about dance formulated early on. At 12, she attended a lecture by famed dancer and choreographer Murray Louis who spoke about blurring the line between dancing and not dancing. He taught that you could dance when working, walking down the street or even while sleeping. His ideas informed Carlson’s entire career. Carlson went on to create works and collaborate on internationally performed projects featuring untrained dancers and varied animals including a goldfish.
“Growing up, my chore was to do the dishes,” she says. “So when I was standing at the sink, I’d be dancing. It changed my outlook on everything.”
Several years following the first invitation, Bruning again asked Carlson to restage “Four Men in Suits” for trained dancers with the New York company she headed before relocating to Washington. This time Carlson agreed. And most recently, Carlson again agreed to re-adapt the piece for Chamber Dance Company’s summer season at the Lansburgh Theatre.
“This most recent time I came back with a lot more curiosity,” says Carlson, who is based in Los Angeles. “As I’m older, I’ve experienced more open heartedness. I’m not holding so tight to the work. I let it grow and breathe with these four new guys in context of a contemporary ballet company. I had a great time with them.”
“Four Men in Suits” plays with the neurosis found in the modern world in a gentle way. In general, Carlson’s work doesn’t overtly deal with her sexuality, she says. “But it’s a fabric of my being. I guess it always was and I gradually woke up to it. I came out kind of late, but I was never closeted.”
Still a performer, Carlson is currently reworking a piece with animals. This time it’s for very audiences (age 3 and under). “That’s the pleasure of being healthy at 60,” she says. “I can continue to work and adapt.”
At the end of our interview, Carlson was eager to get to rehearsal where she would be meeting her new dance partner — a rabbit.