We had the good fortune of connecting with Koryn Ann Wicks and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Koryn Ann, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Oh gosh, there are days when I find myself asking that very question. I don’t know that I ever felt like I had much of a choice in the matter; the decision came out of a combination of luck and being headstrong. Effort is a big part of how I express myself in the world. It’s a sense of identity I’ve adopted living under capitalism; productivity = worth. As a result, I’m most comfortable when I’m busy. Making art; in my case, making dance/immersive dance/multimedia dance; happens to be the arena I’ve always found myself most motivated in. And so, I am a choreographer. I think that is how a lot of us find our ‘calling;’ accidentally, by following the rewards and positive reinforcement from the social structures we live in. I’m lucky that the path I stumbled upon empowered me to explore and express myself. I’m also lucky that I grew up in a social and economic setting that supported a career in the arts. I was also strong willed enough to adopt the idea that, ‘I am an artist.”. I don’t know whether that is an expression of curiosity, will or sheer egotism. Maybe it’s a mixture of all three. Now that I’ve gotten to a point in my life when I’m looking at my impact beyond productivity, I’m incredibly fortunate to find myself in an artistic field where I can examine the world around me and my place in it. If I had to articulate what pushes to create I’d have to say it is a need to move and a need to analyze. I’ve loved dancing so long, I can’t tell you what triggered my relationship to movement. Despite not knowing where the love affair started, I know that the time I’ve invested in my dancing; my training, my studies, the time I’ve spent watching dance; has deepened that relationship. In many ways, a lot of the dancing, teaching and choreography I do today feels like an homage to everything I’ve experienced through the medium. I think dancing is the closest thing I have to religion in my life; it colors everything I do. In terms of my need to analyze the world around me, since I can remember I’ve been inquisitive. I think this comes out most when I look at the social structures around me. I’ve never been a ‘joiner.’ I’ve always shied away from socially prescribed expectations and roles. Through training and practice dance has a become a vehicle through which I explore these feelings and impulses. As a result, a lot of my work explores feelings of conflict and loneliness and socially constructed expectations of femininity and relationships. I don’t think my inquisitive nature is particularly unique. I just think that I am lucky to have been able to work in field that fosters and rewards inquiry. Of course, there are times when I question my career, times when I have a hard time justifying art making. At times like these, for example, when is so much suffering and social unrest; when the impact of health care workers, educators, civil servants and activists is so visible and needed; it is easy to question the importance of what I do. My rationalization for pursuing an artistic career has changed over the years; art as a means of social commentary; art as an expression of shared experience; art as a vehicle for visibility and imagination. But at the end of the day, I don’t know that rationalization really matters. At the end of the day I always come back to creating. So for all of this theorizing, I still feel some kind of impulse that I can’t, or choose not, to explain.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My work has undergone many transformations over the years. Today I like to say that I make immersive, digitally augmented dance. My work is immersive in that it is usually staged in unconventional settings and encourages physical audience participation. My work is digitally augmented in that it uses interactive sound and video to expand upon traditional dance practices. In both of these practices I’m interested not only in creating an aesthetic effect, but in having that effect support the overall work and the themes the work explores. In this sense, I’m interested in exploring the intersection of medium and message in my inter-disciplinary practice. I think my rigorousness in this approach sets me apart. I came to my current practice somewhat accidentally. I performed for many years in the downtown dance scenes in New York and Montreal before moving to California pursue a Masters in Dance at the University of California Irvine. I had vague ideas that I wanted to explore immersive dance and dance on film when I arrived at UCI. Shortly after starting the MFA program I connected with Professors John Crawford, Chad Michael Hall and Lisa Naugle, all of whom integrate dance and technology in their work. This exposure got me interested in exploring the intersection of dance and technology in a live setting. So I used my Masters studies to explore the integration of interactive tech with live, immersive dance. This practice has not made for an easy path. Technology can be tricky. When I first started working with technology I programmed and developed all of my interactive video systems myself. This was incredibly time and labor intensive and created added challenges throughout the creation and rehearsal process. Whereas working as a choreographer I was able to focus on the dancers and choreography exclusively, adding technological components necessitated that I also focus on video interaction, camera placement and troubleshooting. Luckily, now I have a network of collaborators I work with, which has eased some of this pressure. Another challenge I face is finding opportunities to share my work. As an immersive choreographer, the traditional model through which choreographers gain exposure; by performing at festivals and showcases; is not available to me. My work does not conform to traditional proscenium stages and it is hard to use the various interactive technologies I employ in a festival or showcase setting. In order to make the work I want to make I’ve had to create my own opportunities and self-produce. It’s been hard and necessitated gaining skills in production, fund raising and marketing. Just when I was finally starting to feel like I’d got a handle on all of these moving parts, everything hit a standstill in the face of COVID19. Now, I’m having to adapt again. But, that’s life and I’m still creating. I just launched an intimate online immersive project project, The Polaroid Project. It’s a collaboration between myself, vocalist/composer Hanah Davenport, programmer and web developer Nick Duckwhiler, and sound engineer Alex Lough. The piece encourages embodied audience interaction with dance over a digital platform. You can check out the first installation here: https://korynwicks.com/work/the-polaroid-project/
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
For a fun day I’d probably keep it local and stick around my neighborhood, Atwater Village. I’d start the day off with a coffee to-go from Kaldi and a breakfast burrito from Tacos Via Corona. We’d eat at some of the outdoor seating along Glendale ave and watch people walk their dogs. Then I’d recommend some kind of outdoor activity. My favorite days off are spent hiking, biking or hitting the dog park with my partner in crime, a Chihuahua-mutt named Lennon. I’m a big sucker for a dinner and drinks out and 3 of my favorite places are in Atwater. At the end of the day I’d let my guest pick between Hail Mary (incredible wood fired pizza), Momed (unbelievable North African food and unique cocktails) and Salazar (tasty tacos and margaritas). Other destinations I always recommend to out of towners are: – Live music at the Bootleg Theatre. They always have an interesting line of diverse bands. – The Queen Mary in Long Beach. I’m a sucker for history and haunted landmarks, so this spot is a real one-two punch for me. – The Neon Museum in Glendale because neon is fabulous. – El Floridita for Salsa dancing and live music.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are a lot of people and institutions who have supported my career, friends, family, mentors, schools… Narrowing it down to one for this article, I’d like to give a shout out to Noah Nelson and No Proscenium. Noah is the founder and publisher of No Proscenium, the leading publication covering the world of immersive art. Noah covered my most recent evening length work, I love you so much, SQUEEZE ME TO DEATH for No Proscenium. After seeing the piece he invited me to participate in the Inaugural LA Immersive Invitational. The LA Immersive Invitational is a 48 hour festival in which companies are challenged to create a short, intimate immersive work in a weekend. My piece Casting, a mock-audition that devolves into an interactive dance exploring how the split-second choices we make can impact and change personal relationships, won the grand prize. After the festival Noah invited me to present Casting at HERE, an immersive summit for immersive companies, producers and artists that was suppose to take place at the Pasadena Playhouse in March. Unfortunately, HERE was postponed due to COVID19. Noah is my favorite kind of arts advocate. He is enthusiastic and excited about immersive work. He loves immersive art and that enthusiasm oozes out of him. The arts world in the United States has a surplus of talented artists but lacks an infrastructure of art producers, advocates and critics to support them. Noah sees the problem with that equation and is one of the rare souls trying to do something about it. No Proscenium supports the immersive scene through posting immersive listings to their highly engaged online community; seeing and reviewing immersive work all over the world; hosting a weekly podcast interviewing immersive makers; and organizing events and workshops for the immersive community. Noah is also really educated about immersive theatre. He doesn’t just talk in terms of taste, but in terms of the functions and effects of immersive practices. Noah and I have had some great conversation about immersive art; what makes it unique; what makes it effective; and what makes it timely. You can here some of that conversation on the No Pro Podcast ep 214. Although most of my interactions with Noah and No Proscenium have centered on the world of immersive dance and theatre, No Pro also covers a diverse range of immersive practices including Escape Rooms and Virtual Reality.
1st image: Koryn Ann Wicks, photo by Joshua Romero 2nd image: Performers Chris Tyler and Robyn O’Dell in I love you so much, SQUEEZE ME TO DEATH (ILUSQME2) at the Bootleg Theatre, photo by Brian Hashimoto 3rd image: Performer Robyn O’Dell in ILUSQME2 at the Bootleg Theatre, photo by Brian Hashimoto 4th image: Performer Jemima Choong in ILUSQME2 at the Bootleg Theatre, photo by Brian Hashimoto 5th image: Performers Brittany Tran, Jemima Choong and Robyn O’Dell in ILUSQME2 at the Bootleg Theatre, photo by Brian Hashimoto 6th image: Performers Jemima Choong, Robyn O’Dell and Brittany Tran in ILUSQME2 at the Bootleg Theatre, photo by Brian Hashimoto