MOMIX is an internationally acclaimed dance company based in Washington Depot. We joined Choreographer and Artistic Director Moses Pendleton and Associate Director Cynthia Quinn at their home, also in Washington Depot, for a fireside chat.
A lasting impression…
Moses Pendleton impressed us with his passion and enthusiasm about pretty much every topic we spoke about. We both left the interview inspired and seeing nature and our surroundings in a slightly different perspective. Moses and MOMIX will do that to you!
The home is where the hearth is
I got the place in 1978. The real estate agent had heard I was looking for a studio. There was a possibility of getting a carriage barn as well as the house for sale. So I decided to give it a look. We came in the middle of March; all the shades were up, and the angled light was mesmerizing. I’d been in Washington a few years and I’d never seen this place. It was very magical; it felt like I was on a movie set. The wallpaper is continuously evolving and metamorphosing into other shapes and forms, like dried leaves, they get more interesting after they die and dry.
Even though I’m born and raised in Vermont, which is more mountainous, up on this hill was not so dissimilar, to allow me not to miss Vermont that much.
I went to Dartmouth really to study with Al Merl who is the US Nordic coach. In those days, the Dartmouth Ski Team played soccer in the fall to train for skiing. I played goalie all the time because I was worried about getting hurt. During the last 5 minutes of one evening’s practice, I changed positions with someone. My roommate knew how to play soccer and did a soccer block, and it shattered my leg. I was carried off to Mary Hitchcock Hospital and I spent my first 4 weeks of my freshman year at Dartmouth in a cast up to my thigh.
When I finally got out of the hospital and started recuperating, I enrolled in a dance class as an act of therapy, to try and get in shape for the ski team. Then I fell in love with my dance instructor, and she was so much more attractive than my ski coach. The rest is biological, I guess. My dance instructor really encouraged us to not only dance, but make dance. Choreographers. We make our own poems with our bodies. In the Vietnam generation, it was a whole other way of being. I retired into a world of dance and theater and art.
Nature is my muse
For me, I’m really on a track following deep into the mysteries and magic in my own backyard. I take a huge breath before going out in the morning with my tools. My Nikon 810 and my MP3 player, Spotify and Pandora. I’m walking and exercising, moving through cold air on my face and warm sun. We’re nurtured by nature. It’s a muse, an inspiration. It certainly takes up a lot of my time. Which jumps right into the aesthetic of MOMIX. There’s a level of the surreal and dream, and making the connection with the plant, animal, and mineral.
From vision to stage…
I videotape every rehearsal. You want to get people to go into the playpen and have fun and experiment. You don’t think about going in and choreographing, you go and play with some props. MOMIX takes props, dresses, sticks, and small things to expand the range of movement and create new visuals. Very much like a sculptor or painter, we would sculpt the image of fire with 4 women and 4 red dresses and then find some music. MOMIX is not just a dance company, it’s not a group of acrobats or actors, it’s not a ballet company, they are dancers and we attach a great deal of weight to stagecraft and lighting and temperatures in the theater. Hopefully, it’s a mix that’s intriguing and interesting for an audience.
We try to give something new or revive something that hasn’t been seen for so long that it seems new. Another generation has access to see it for the first time. We’re running a show right now, we’ve been all over the world. It’s currently in Italy, on its way to Greece, and it’s a piece we did 15 years ago called Opus Cactus. It’s been good to revive a piece and for it to be well received.
Puccini in the woods
You walk in your woods, you walk on the same path and you play a different score, and the path is very different. Sometimes for me, I’ll explore different kinds of music; I’ll play opera, I’ll play Puccini; and the oak and ash make you see things differently. And it helps me when I have my video camera. I do so many still shots – I have my Nikon here, but I have my Sony video and I use it like a Mars explorer. There’s music going on and I’m just going through an uncharted area. A 75-acre oak and ash woods. I have a whole movie of lichen – the design of lichen that creates the most fabulous photographs. And I’m filming them in sequence to make a kind of dance film with no dancers but just various shapes of lichen. The lichen – like a little fairy dance. And so I will take that video and then be playing Massive Attack radio with some kind of cool beat – it’s a hip thing.
Make your own music
Sometimes the music can be the sound of your own breathing. I’ll make multiple tracks. I might go up a hill and breathe really hard and record that, and then as I’m walking down the hill, I’m listening to myself breathing progressively harder and it gives you a real energy in your step, if there’s such a thing as surreal energy. The voice is very soothing. I love having just voice exchange. I’m working on a recording studio on the 3rd floor where I have a real state of the art sound technology that I can play with so that I could do multiple tracks of my own monologue.
I think there should be some app that you could put in your buds while you sleep and it records your dreams. This is going to happen. I’m sure Google has it already. We need to know how to use the dream. This is a good point about the artistic process. I’m still studying this for all these years and how to tap into that unconscious. And be conscious enough to label it and to use it choreographically. The dream world is endlessly creative. Ever expanding into the night that is someone’s dawn.
I studied romantic poetry at Dartmouth. My real calling was the old Sanborn Library – this chair I’m sitting in is Dartmouth green, it’s from the Sanborn Library – they got rid of them and got new leather chairs. This was pretty threadbare and worn and they had to get it out. But I wanted it. Because if I’d not been in this one, then one very much like it. In the English department was a little separate world inside the large university. They have a tearoom, the Sanborn tea and they have all leather chairs and alcoves and you can have tea and talk to your professor there. I’ll never forget that really.
Smoke at breakfast
I’ve been doing some fabulous work just by accident – blowing the candle out at the breakfast table and a ray of sun just happened to be there. You blow a candle out and it lets out a stream of smoke in this shaft of light, cathedral-like, and I was like, “Look at that!” So I got out my camera and I blow the candle out, grab my camera, and out come the little Caspers – little ghosts coming out. Then I came back in here and played them in slow motion with Debussy on. The other day I did the same thing, I had Debussy one day, then I played it in slow motion to Massive Attack and it’s pretty cool either way.
I lie on my grandfather’s rug from Stonington, CT. My grandfather had the largest woolen company in America. Moses Pendleton of American Woolen Company. I’ve been stretching on it, and lying on it, sleeping and napping, all my life. This is the magic carpet. My grandfather Moses’ carpet that I’ve put my life on, dreamed on.
P.O. Box 1035
Washington, CT 06793
860 868 7454
Words: Bev (and Moses!)/Photos: Lora, except for MOMIX dance photo, courtesy of MOMIX and drone photo by Moses Pendleton