BTS SPECTRA: Anna Brown Massey

An interview with SPECTRA choreographer Anna Brown Massey

Spring show guest choreographer, Anna Brown Massey, draws from a background in North Atlantic percussive and Scottish dances to bring rhythmic attention to choreographic forms. Working intimately with sound and frequently enlisting text with movement, she has danced and choreographed with multiple companies and organizations. She also co-founded NACHMO and the Columbus Dance Alliance and is a guest artist for SPECTRA.

Annas newest work, created for SPECTRA, brings joyful, riotous fun to traditional Scottish dance. She highlights DISCO RIOT’s gift for musical virtuosity and explosive power to celebrate kinship and determination. 

In our interview with Anna, she explains the inspiration and creative process behind her newest work, as well as her hopes for the future of dance.

Tell us about your history with dance, performance, and art practice. How has it influenced your voice as a choreographer?

I have been dancing forever, making up steps waiting in line in grade school, pretending I was in the Nutcracker and showing my neighbors, creating upside down routines on the monkey bars. I met my lifelong teacher, Laura Scott, when I was 9, and she taught me not only the form of Highland dances, but also how to improvise, perform, and be in music. Beyond her teaching, I found delight in many forms of movement. Her lessons in the rigor of jumping on the beat repeatedly joined with affirming community through ceilidhs, however, have stayed threaded through my dancing life.

What has been your favorite part of the process?

As as guest choreographer, I find DISCO RIOT’s dancers remarkable in their virtuosic ability to embody ways of moving drawn from my personal background while bringing their own histories to the movement. Each dancer contributes rich compositional attention to our work. I love learning from their own form-making. 

What role will sound play in your piece?

I often choreograph works in close collaboration with musicians as co-composers of both music and movement. For this new work, I have pulled from my deep familiarity and love for Cape Breton Scottish-Canadian music and for the folk culture of “ceilidhs” (house parties). Through the band Beòlach, I am building the sensation of spontaneously forming a social dance. I enlist the percussive and syntax availabilities of dancing bodies to play with the recorded sounds. 

Other than choreography/dance, what other mediums (if any) are you utilizing to showcase the message or purpose behind your piece?

With this piece, I am interested in the social aspect of performance. I am seeking what kind of convivence can be shaped among audience and dancers. I’m into putting the people–all the people in the room–into a folk experience.  

What would you like the audience to know about your work in this show?

I’d like us to make room for the complexities of joy–how to let it arise by yielding to sensation, how joy can feel so enormous that we might deny it, how the contrast of knowing suffering can be concurrently painful. I want to allow for the “WOOOHP!!” to come through you.

What are your hopes and dreams for the San Diego dance scene?

I’d love for dance artists in San Diego to more radically share resources. This can look like university teachers enlisting their space to invite in fellow artists who are denied access to these areas of wealth. This might be grant-winners spreading word of how to get grants and advocating for more equitable distribution of funds. This can be dancers and teachers being transparent about how much they get paid or employ others. Dance can be an expression of sovereignty, of joy, of ancestry, of intimacy, and of locality. I am new here, and I am interested in how the specific people’s place of San Diego as both borderland and Kumeyaay land can be part of movement. 

Anna will be showing her piece at DISCO RIOT’s spring show, SPECTRA. She is one of four choreographers presenting work in April – stay tuned for more interviews with the other choreographers!

SPECTRA will be held at San Diego’s City Heights Annex on April 21-23 at 7pm. Admission to this show is by donation ($12 for artists/students and $25 for the general public is suggested). Please reserve your seat in advance; tickets will not be available at the door. Masks are required upon entry.