Marissa Brown was a peer of mine at UC Irvine. We went through the Choreography BFA program together. She is bright and strong. Her clarity of body and emotion has always been evident and her choreographic works are spacious and volumed statements. My outside perspective has always been that she is a poised, reserved, lone wolf (or perhaps a LoneKing, the name of her project company). And she is! She is an independent artist that puts her questions and sensations of life into her self study and choreography. Curiosity getting the best of me, I had to reach out to her to explore the unspoken of what I see as a female artist of such conviction and vulnerability. I wanted to converse more deeply with a friend that usually lets the body do all the talking. With such luck, she was willing to sit down and divulge a little with me over tea.
Story of Gathering
It’s December 5th, my sister’s Birthday. Marissa comes over to my apartment on Nostrand. We sit at a soda table for two that used to exist out back on the patio of my childhood home. The wiry black chairs with floral cushions and glass of the table always make me feel like I’m at a cafe in Paris. There is a memory of Marissa’s choreography from college performed to the sound of French vocals. It seems appropriate to be sitting in Paris for the interview. I offer her tea. She takes green tea with muscle relaxant qualities. It’s Yogi tea, which is also perfect, considering she mentions being sore from taking yoga the day before. Then, I get on about prompting an inquiry into something we both know quite well: how to go from dreaming of dancing in a company to committing to one’s own choreography and artistry.
And then, through a round of giggles and sips, it begins.
. . . A PORTRAIT OF A MOVING ARTIST . . .
Like a lot of women, Marissa graduated college with the idea of joining a contemporary dance company only to realize that opportunities are greatly dependent on physical appearance. The development of Marissa’s artistry post-graduation has been a partial reaction to these aesthetic limitations in the field. “I don’t have the typical look. It’s great if you have the ‘dancer look,’ but I don’t have that. I gave up on a lot of things because of this. Right now, it is important to just find what I am interested in. That is more important and fruitful to me than being what someone else wants or being a standard for people who can’t see more. There is more in everyone, in everything.” Marissa has a wider gaze than many of the choreographers that have lead the past leading paradigms of the industry. Furthermore, she finds difficulty with the differing realities for men and women dancers. “There are so many women in the dance world and I have often felt frustrated with my male friends. It is much easier for them to get work. There is a higher demand for them.”
Despite the harsh realities many female dancers face, whether high competition or body type, Marissa knew that the importance of dancing and creating in her life was never going to be jeopardized by exterior circumstances or old world beliefs. These barriers to success actually sparked her change of focus to personal practice, diving deeper into self knowledge and creation in place of continuing to audition for companies that look past her instead of into her. This shift has given her the foundation to choreograph work that is meaningful to her and the circle of dancers she entrusts with her vision.
“As a dancer, you are giving yourself up for someone else’s vision. If the person’s vision is not of interest to me, it is not worth my time.” This statement is blunt, but self-respecting. I cannot relate enough to the difficulty of being a dancer stuck in situations that lack nourishment, alignment or future security. She used to audition for companies frequently until she realized that her concept and dreams of being a dancer had shifted. Marissa is currently working towards establishing a group of dedicated dancers in New York City while traveling for artistic residencies as a freelance choreographer. In the progression towards these dreams she has created LoneKing Projects, releasing videos and presenting work in various settings in the city. Her most recent performance was at Judson Church this March.
The reassurance she feels about her artistic contributions and LoneKing is only made more clear when she goes to open classes to only be surrounded by younger dancers that are still narrow in their concept of dance or beauty. There is this air of desperation and competition in the room that screams “I must reach my dance dreams!” The youth dances from a place of wanting to please someone else rather than please themselves a lot of the time. Despite straying from the rigid dreams of most dancers, whether self-taught or absorbed by pervasive ideologies of success, Marissa does not put herself down for making choices that resonate beyond what a dancer is supposed to achieve. “I’m still going for my dance dreams. I’m more aware of the world than I used to be.” This global and internal awareness fuels her sense of confidence.
Marissa relayed to me a recent audition scenario. She couldn’t find any sense of humanity amongst many of the dancers in the room. They moved beautifully, she told me, but lacked emotional depth. She didn’t get a callback and was left with a feeling of dejection.“I felt everything I was and maintained the choreography at the same time, but walked away feeling like it was too much.” It was upsetting to her because the dancers in the company were incredible movers, but did not have a lot of emotional energy moving through them while performing the steps. Different choreographers and companies have varied priorities, legs and figure sometimes trump performance quality and heart. Ideally, artistry coexists with technical prowess, but some days the pretty face or long legs win over physical alchemy and storytelling. “Maybe I should have been more of nothing,” she tells me. It can be discouraging to continually be turned away when the dancers chosen are sophisticated bodies devoid of embodiment.
As someone so emotionally driven and talented, situations like these only signal to Marissa the increased importance of exploring her own interests while creating work that allows qualities of life to be truly expressed within the form.
The quality she hasn’t found in the audition room or classroom is the expression of life experience. This is what she has gifted herself in making time for self-reflection and the personalization of her performance pursuits. It also finds itself in her casting. “There has to be a certain availability in order to connect. There needs to be some sort of presence.” When she calls in people to do her work, it is important that they show up as themselves. “I need to understand them as a human or animal, a being thing.” Marissa isn’t looking for just aesthetic. She asks of herself and her dancers to be giving in ways that have made her and other talented movers feel insecure and confused in other places. Emotional and energetic intelligence is a language that permeates her undertakings.
Dancing and Choreographing are Marissa’s vessel of connection. The art is a means to move emotion and digest her experiences. Opening up to people outside of the frame of performance in “normal situations,” as she calls them, is not her go-to means of human relation. “Others can talk to a friend, get all their emotions out and then feel better. My choreography is a way of moving through it. The things I don’t talk about with anyone become inspiration for my work. That is where I talk about it.”
The transition from dancer to self-producer can be hard to navigate because it strays from the normative of dance perceptions or accomplishments. There is an idea that one must be in a certain company for a dancer’s life to have meaning and validity. Yet, she has embarked on life as an artist, not just a dancer. In this way, her devotion to her own choreographic, art and life processes are not a rejection to the dance world at large or failure. These are ideas that occasionally creep into the minds of dancers that do not make the cut. Marissa is making her own cuts these days while making effort to stay in the loop with the progression of the field. She still wishes to learn from other creators, see shows and take workshops from inspiring choreographers. Right now, however, she is working towards putting on her own show. The commitment to self has lead her out of the dance studio and into art galleries, parks, and diverse environments. In listening to her intuition, she is allowing to get to know herself and others beyond the confines of dance politics. She’s rad. It’s apparent. She’s LoneKing.
FEMALE GAZE : Confronting womanhood is a process that seems to be continual since the time a girl is cognizant that her body was designed for more than just climbing trees. It is socially pressured and individual by nature. “I’m just starting to actually think about these things. I don’t have the answers.” To make contact with her conceptualization and embodiment of being a woman in today’s world, Marissa listens to a few podcasts of women leaders like the Ladies Who Lead Podcast. This is her way of better understanding how she can show up in the world. It is important to separate the difference between how society wants a woman to show up in the world and how to be genuine in one’s presence as the feminine. “I show up with a lot of masculine qualities in the sense of being very strong headed or stubborn. I’m not very submissive. If I’m always showing up with masculine qualities, what am I missing out on? How can I listen to my own femininity more and use it as a positive thing to help better connect with people or find things I’m looking for.” The exploration of balancing the masculine and feminine continues. Like Marissa, we don’t always have the answers, but just having a question is enough to begin to work towards a great awareness of self and evolution. Making a choice to listen, seeing what is out there, and forming personal relevance is as pro-active as it gets.
POLITICAL CLIMATE : Marissa mentioned to me that the political climate is causing a lot of people to question what it is that they should be doing to contribute positively and responsibly. “What can I do now?” There is a sense of desperation. Yet, she does not feel completely threatened or deterred by the climate. If anything, she conveyed feeling more connected to her artistic purpose. “I need to do what I do.” As an artist and dancer, she knows that it is her duty to continue her dedication to her craft and not be swayed away from her work by the chaos. “A lot of my work is about bringing people together, getting people to be more present. That is how I can help the world right now.” Her perspective is a good reminder that, although there is a lot of turmoil in the world at present, sometimes our best contribution is to continue our efforts and practices. We make the world a better place by being ourselves and being our best selves. Marissa reminds me that our job as artists is to be artist. This calls for discipline, focus and a strong sense of mission. Finding myself more terrified than not by the political climate, it was good to hear that the continuing of one’s path is a form of inspiration and a way to move through the storm. There are many ways to respond to the political upheaval, of course. Marissa’s way is her art, as is mine.
WHAT'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO BLACKNESS?
“You don’t seem to be that black.” I get that comment a lot because of the way that I act. I’m mixed, half black and half white. For me, I just am the way that I am. I don't have a very strong connection to my African roots, but I’m very aware of the color of my skin and proud of that. I’m happy that I am doing what I am doing. I’ve been fortunate because it has never had to be that present on my mind. I just feel like I’m allowed to be myself in the places I have been. I lived in the Bay Area and New York. Those places are diverse. I don’t feel like people are looking at me. I’ve been fortunate in that way. It’s never been something I’ve felt bad about. If anything, I feel glad that I am different.
AFFECTION : Marissa emphasized to me the importance of listening as a means of showing care and affection. “If someone had a hard day coming up and you remembered and wished them luck, that shows you are thinking about the other person even when they aren’t there.” Listening is a form of “showing up” in her book. It may entail gift giving something someone mentioned wanting months prior or simply taking a mental note of someone’s schedule. The attention to detail and the ability to just be there to hear someone out really speaks volumes. It reminds me to be a little more silent and a lot more mindful of loved ones near and far. As she says, you don’t have to be there in person to show that you are there for someone else.
KISS COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE : She was pretty scientific when I asked her about the impact of a kiss. Based on the nerve endings that cause chemical shifts in the brain, she nods that “yes, there is a difference.” Clearly.
INTIMACY : Intimacy is a word that keeps coming up for her. “I’ll do something about that at some point,” she tells me, noting that she hasn’t really experienced what she would call a successful relationship to date. She relayed that she doesn’t have much to contribute on the topic, despite having what seems to me to be a strong relationship to maturation. She’s at ease with herself, feeling okay with the course of her life and relationship history. Her focus is on learning intimacy with the self, which is a form of bravery and patience. “I try looking at it through a dance practice lens, self-intimacy. It’s literally an idea and nothing further.” Marissa’s openness about her freshness of exploration and uncertainty of contribution is refreshing. I find respect in the honesty of which she communicates not knowing how she feels about the subject as she develops more depth of understanding. What she does know is that she doesn’t let people in easily, so she doesn’t want to be touched unless it is by someone she cares about. Proximity is earned.
BAKING : “I should have lavender white chocolate cookies written on my grave. I love cooking, cooking for other people, and its something that makes me very happy. There is so much reward in eating good food at the end, especially after you do all the work of making it.”
I have these memories of Marissa throughout college bringing the most wonderful smelling baked goods to rehearsals and to dance class. It was just known that she had a knack for creating the most delightful and creative goodies. The tupperware and aluminum was always a clear sign that there were treats awaiting someone lucky, probably the dancers in her next choreographic work. Rehearsals days were long and I can imagine the baking definitely made the BFA performance schedule a bit more bearable, if not tasty.
WHAT DO YOU CELEBRATE?
I celebrate the color of my skin. I celebrate being an artist. I enjoy a good smelling candle and like the temperature cool so that I can have a lot of sheets. I’m into essential oils lately and epsom salt baths. There is a strong focus on self care recently.
food - dried mango
couple of different journals - dance note book, regular journal
change of clothes
no banana in any bag . . . (that's pretty sound advise!)
WHAT MIGHT NOT BE VISIBLE ABOUT YOU?
A lot about me is not put out there because I am good at putting up walls about myself, but I think I wish people to know that I am very passionate and very trustworthy.
DO YOU HAVE A POSTAGE PRACTICE?
I’m all about postcards. I send a lot of post cards.
ART PRACTICE : Marissa enriches her dance practice by seeing other forms of art. She enjoys music and photography. She has been doing more film work than photography of late, but still likes to shoot 35mm or polaroids. Aside from the visual arts, she refuels and finds inspiration by being by the water.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT LONEKING.
I don’t know how to say it in words. I think I’m getting rid of it, but I still feel connected to it. I don’t write it on everything I produce, but it is there a lot. (And then she started her LoneKing Instagram @lonekingprojects, so I assume she’s keeping the name).
Bird? (She giggles delightfully.) I was just a bird the other day for this show I was in. I was a swallow. It’s funny because I don’t relate to birds at all. I’m not a bird in any way.
WHAT ADVISE WOULD YOU OFFER SOMEONE?
I’d tell someone to take yoga. To be honest, moving my body is so important to me. Other people should move their bodies somehow because otherwise things get stuck and then they cannot be as clear or as open as the world could use them.
In Summary . . . There is a dedication to artistic alignment, moving emotion and the peace of process towards self-discovery. Marissa inspires me to mobilize the stagnancy that accumulates daily by confronting my psyche through motion. It can be so easy to make the choice to let another day go by without the celebration of having a body to use for digesting the passing of time, whether that be yoga or grooving down the street. She also pushes me to be the most available and of service to the world through my own creative means or as life calls for it. The world can shut a person down, but we have to keep moving in dance and thought. Aside from the acknowledging of individual needs and the varied stages of process, she makes me want to sneak over to her kitchen window (if there is one in little ole Brooklyn) and snatch some of those lavender white chocolate cookies! Yum Yum Yum!
To further check this gal out . . . visit her vimeo! vimeo.com/marissabrown
Cheers Birds of a feather and flesh,
- Lady Deryn of whimsy(nest)