5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Liz Vacco

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Liz Vacco has been cross-pollinating theater and dance for more than 10 years, performing and/or creating pieces with a growing list of companies that represent the sharpest blades of the distinctly new, from Les Freres Corbusier to the Collapsible Giraffe to St. Ann’s Warehouse.

Vacco is also a founding member and managing director of Immediate Medium, a nonprofit collaborative founded in 2002 that generates new work in which live performance and multimedia are not so much a shotgun marriage but the by-product of long-term flirtation. The company also deliberately tries to identify the high walls that exist between disciplines — performance, dance, architecture, sculpture, film — and then tear them down, revealing the possibilities of smooth, organic, free exchanges of aesthetic values that force audiences to put any preconceived notions back on the dusty shelf where they belong.

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Doesn’t Everybody Do It In Paris? is the title of Immediate Medium’s latest piece (and the answer –being Paris — has to be “yes”). It considers the title character of Gustave Flaubert’s classic 1857 novel Madame Bovary through the lens of Eleanor Marx Aveling, who first translated the book into English. Marx Aveling was the daughter of Karl Marx and, in a bizarre and morose echo of the original Flaubert, she ended her life through suicide. More than a look at the confluence of fact and fiction, however, Immediate Medium posits a more philosophical question with this piece: What happens when human ambitions and idealized notions are interrupted by reality?

Doesn’t Everybody Do It In Paris?, which is directed and choreographed by Vacco, runs June 9 through June 26 at the IRT, 154 Christopher St. #3B. For tickets or more information, call 212-696-7227 or click here.

And now, 5 questions Liz Vacco has never been asked — and a bonus question:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I can’t remember specifically, but I always like when people ask about the process of creating a piece. I feel if they get the fact that the process is important, then they already have a solid understanding of the kind of work we are doing.

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Thank you for the platform to express this! One question that has always driven me crazy throughout my years of acting and dancing (though this doesn’t really apply to choreographing) is: “How did you ever remember all those lines/all those steps?”

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
This was after a piece in which I performed. I played a 13-year-old British prostitute and during the Q&A that followed, the moderator actually asked me if my tattoo had an effect on my performance. Granted we were performing in Shanghai, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt that something was lost in translation.

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4) Doesn’t Everybody Do It In Paris? intermingles Flaubert’s fictional Emma Bovary with Eleanor Marx Aveling, daughter of Karl, the novel’s first English translator. What specific, shared traits about these women organically suggested a piece? What traits of these two women made it more difficult to create it?
When researching the history of the novel, I came across the fact that Eleanor Marx Aveling, years after having translated Madame Bovary, had committed suicide by taking prussic acid, much in the same way Emma Bovary kills herself at the end of the novel. Marx Aveling killed herself because of complications in her personal life; she found out her common-law husband, who most of her family and friends found suspicious to begin with, was secretly married to another woman. Emma’s suicide was inspired by a similar sense of disappointment and despair when the expenses she accrued while indulging in two unfulfilling affairs threatened to bankrupt her husband and herself. While these women had very different personalities and backgrounds, both their stories centered around an almost blind faith in love and relationships with men to elevate them above the truth of their existence. The thematic similarities were easy to find and fun to experiment with; the challenge in making the piece was more a question of how to interweave their stories. Many of Immediate Medium’s pieces tend to be a kind of performance collage, so it was always a question during rehearsals of which story or character should come to the forefront at any given moment.

5) What are the most underestimated and overlooked aspects of 19th century feminine sexuality? How are these aspects highlighted in the piece? Why are these aspects still underestimated and overlooked?
There was really an assumption that women had very little agency in matters of sex and love. When Flaubert went to trial for Madame Bovary, the main argument of the prosecution was that this book would “corrupt” young female readers and potentially inspire them to engage in similarly promiscuous behavior. The overriding opinion seemed to be that women were innocent unless men, who had all the agency, corrupted them. Marx Aveling was brought up in a much more progressive environment and was really not held victim to such assumptions, as Emma Bovary was. A huge part of the socialist movement, of which Eleanor was a well-known activist, was its insistence on equality between men and women. What is tragic, however, is that both these women, in spite of their vastly different backgrounds — one highly conventional and one extremely progressive for the time — met the same end. The piece attempts to express — not only through action and movement, but through voice-overs, devised games and a fictional interview — what could have been going on in these women’s minds in light of the social expectations of the time.

Bonus question:

6) Immediate Medium challenges “formal distinctions between performance, dance, film, sculpture and architecture.” What are the formal, 21st century distinctions between these disciplines? Do they resist change? Who gets to decide?
In college, each original Immediate Medium member focused on a different area of study: directing, acting, dance, film, sculpture, architecture. We left school with a wealth of knowledge about the history and key figures from each specific discipline as well as a desire to create work together. This work inevitably took on many different and varying forms — installations, long-form performances, etc. — because all the collaborators were coming at the creation process from different angles. The work itself does not resist change; I think multidisciplinary can be some of the richest, most thought-provoking work. Audiences and the media sometimes resist it. They find it hard to categorize and, therefore, hard to understand. But there is a great community in New York making this kind of work and pushing this envelope all the time. I’m so happy to be part of that conversation and that community.