Laylah Ali interviewed by Art 21


What about your performance piece and the process of collaboration?



It’s really very different. I mean, it’s about as different as I can imagine something being, working with dancers and performance. Luckily, when I was in high school and college I was interested in theater for a while, so it’s not completely foreign. But it is foreign enough that when I walk in and there’s actual living, breathing bodies there with hearts beating, it’s a little freaky. It’s a little like, “Aaah! They’re all alive, how do you deal with alive people?”

Dean Moss [the choreographer] is trying to control and order the experience much in the way that I am trying to control and order my own work. But he has all of this other information and human will involved, which makes it extremely exciting and alive. Dean really is the person who works directly with the dancers, I’m not responsible for that part of it. And he’s been fabulous to work with. I think the most exciting thing—and the reason that I agreed to do it—was that it’s a little bit scary for me.

I met Dean, looked at his work, went to a performance of his and felt like we were thinking about similar things in different ways. Not different at heart, but different in approach. I didn’t think I could pass up the opportunity to enter into a kind of creative collaboration with somebody. Something like that doesn’t happen very often. I think in a really honest way and I think Dean approaches it really honestly. It’s a real gift to be able to join in someone’s creative endeavor. 

Oftentimes artists are brought into performances to make the backdrop, to provide the visual stimulation that’s two-dimensional. But that’s not what this collaboration is about, it’s more like, “Let’s put our minds together and see what this is about.” And that has been pretty amazing. I think that’s one of the risks artists should take every once in a while, to step outside of their creative process and see what happens when you leave the confines of your own way of doing things. 


figures on a field (2005)

A performance collaboration with visual artist Laylah Ali, figures on a field questions patterns of cultural consumption through the “staging” of Ali’s provocative “Greenhead” paintings and the museum environment in which they are exhibited.    Extended excerpt: (here)

Cast & Credits

Concept and Construction: Dean Moss with Laylah Ali

Original Cast: Kacie Chang, Keila Cordova, Pedro Jimenez, Wanjiru Kamuyu, Okwui Okpokwasili,

David Thomson, and Dean Moss

Music:  Marcel Duchamp, MEXI, Nguyen van Coung

Lighting and Technical Direction:  Jonathan Belcher

Scene Development:  Laylah Ali, Dean Moss

Choreography, Audio/Video & Visual Design: Dean Moss

Duration:  50 minutes

“In a brilliant move, choreographer Dean Moss translates Ali's knotty concerns to the stage (with Ali as adviser) by scrutinizing the act of translation itself. The exquisitely constructed "figures on a field" asks: What happens when you frame real people as if they were flat, fictive figures? It moves with stealthy grace between the political and aesthetic meanings of "frame."

Apollinaire Scherr, New York Newsday

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Major support has been provided by the Multi-Arts Production Fund, a subsidiary of The Rockefeller Foundation. figures on a field is co-commissioned by The Kitchen, with additional support from Williams College and the Individual Artists Fund of the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. This project premiered and received workshop and presentation support from The Kitchen and MassMoca.  figures on a field is a production of Gametophyte Inc.