Making Dances in Short Windows of Time: An interview with Stephanie Nugent and Savannah Cox (mother-daughter)

This is part of a series of interviews with families that make art and perform/exhibit together. We hope there is something here for you.

Rolypoly Family is beyond excited to share this abridged interview with Stephanie Nugent (mother) and Savannah Cox (daughter, in middle school), who live in Indianapolis, USA. They created and performed BOAT, a dance work that is now also a dance for camera. When we first watched a recording of BOAT, we were moved by the unfolding of a relationship between 2 artists – with their decisions, their mass, their touch, their trust, their selves, their femininity, and their history together. 

Thanks, Stephanie and Savannah, for chatting with us!

 A still from  BOAT  (a dance for camera). Photography by Charlie Borowicz (filmmaker).

A still from BOAT (a dance for camera). Photography by Charlie Borowicz (filmmaker).

Hi Stephanie and Savannah! We love BOAT, as you know. We’re curious when the both of you started dancing together.

Stephanie: Savannah, you want to start?

Savannah: I was already dancing when I was in my mom's belly. She was dancing while pregnant with me and that’s when we first started dancing together.

Stephanie: Yes, and when she was a little older, I would have friends come over to our house for dance sessions. Savannah was interested and would join us from time to time. We built a dance studio in our garage, so it ended up being easy for Savannah to join in.

Would you tell us something about Boat?

Savannah: I thought the name should be bridge,” but my mom came in one day with the word “boat” and she thought it would be a better name.

Stephanie: It was after we had finished the dance that I was looking back at a video and BOAT came to mind. For the majority of the dance, Savannah is on top of me and we improvised with the rule that she couldn’t touch the ground, kind of like the game “the floor is lava.” This made me think of myself as a kind literal and metaphoric boat for her. It seems to me that BOAT is more suggestive of me being “under” Savannah, supporting her body weight, than the word bridge.

Whose idea was it to make it and perform it? Why?

Savannah: It was my mom’s idea to make the dance, but once she brought up the idea, it was a team effort to create it. We wanted to do this, because it was special. I don’t think there has ever been another mother-daughter dance like this before and I wanted to show the world that there is a different kind of connection when you are dancing with family. So that is what we did.

Stephanie: Savannah already mentioned the dance - "Yet-to-be-named" - that I made when  I was pregnant with her. This was an incredibly special experience as well, because it was specific to a short window of time in our lives. Robin, my husband and Savannah’s dad, wrote the music for it and we performed when I was 7 ½ months (very) pregnant. After improvising with Savannah one day last spring, I realized that I wanted to capture (even if ephemerally), the experience we’ve been having, moving together while she is still a child. And, at 10 almost 11, the kid window is quickly fleeting.

Where have you performed Boat and how have the experiences been?

Stephanie: I was invited to conduct a residency at Lawrence College in Appleton Wisconsin, which included both teaching and performance. Knowing Margaret Paek, the woman who sponsored us, I thought this venue would be a wonderful place to debut BOAT. We presented six different works that each, in their own way, related to or expressed the female experience. The performance itself was in a fairly informal space with a hardwood floor and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the beautiful campus. The audience sat in folding chairs, in a semicircle around us, and they were invited into some moments of audience participation throughout the performance, in which Savannah, the other dancers, and I took part. The intimate and immediate relationship we were able to cultivate with the audience created a perfect setting for BOAT and offered a potent inter-generational experience for the audience.

And the film! It premieres at the Indy Fringe very soon. Anything about the process of making it that you can tell us about? Looks like you got quite drenched…

Stephanie: I have been wanting to make dances for the camera for quite a while. Having seen many of my colleagues create beautiful works, I was excited by the numerous creative possibilities that were opened when the camera was the eye of the audience. I had also served on faculty at CalArts for six years, during which time I witnessed many of my dance students learning to work with this medium. After directing and performing BOAT with Savannah, I wanted to continue performing it, but I was aware that Savannah was growing quickly and the work would inherently change as she did.

I put the word out on Facebook that I was looking for a collaborator to help me record BOAT before it was no longer BOAT, and to edit the work using the artistic magic of this new medium. Several Indianapolis artists all recommended the same filmmaker, Charles Borowicz. After speaking with him, I jumped at the chance to collaborate and began to plan our process. Charlie has a fantastic sensitivity to my aesthetic interests and is quite intuitive when it comes to the way he edits. He is currently working on a 2nd draft and we are really excited to debut it at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival in a couple of weeks!

You mentioned seeing the still shot of Savannah and me in the creek. It was a beautiful (but cold!) setting and, yes, I got quite wet (laughs). But, I won’t say any more as I don’t want to give anything more away!

Have there been times when you did not want to dance together or found it challenging to dance together?

Stephanie: Savannah has been playing more soccer recently, so she mostly dances socially and when she puts music on at home. It is important to me that she does not feel pressured to follow in my footsteps so I’ve tried to minimize the amount of time we rehearse.  When I first brought the idea to her, I told her that we would have to dedicate some time to the process if we were going to perform together. Luckily, she is a natural performer and improvisor, so we have been able to create a lot of the work by improvising with a score (guidelines to keep us on track), and then develop the structure by looking at videotapes of our improvisations. Funny enough, our biggest challenges have not come from lack of ideas, but from deciding what to include!

Savannah: So, at times, I had a lot of ideas and so did my mom, and it was hard organizing it to fit in the piece, which was frustrating. We also have a lot of other things we need to do during the day, with me dealing with middle school and soccer, and mom having to work a lot. But, when it was finished, I was very happy with dance!

Who else do each of you dance or work with?

Stephanie: In the past I have worked with many other artists including dance improvisors Shel Wagner Rasch, Stefan Fabry and Kim Epifano, choreographers Victoria Marks, Keith Johnson, Selene Carter, Suzanne Lappas, Doug Varone, Doug Neilson, Laura Dean and Alison Chase (Pillabolus), writer Virginia Grise, and composers such as Eve Beglarian, and Belinda Reynolds.  I also frequently collaborate with my husband, violinist/composer Robin Cox. Our most recent and long-term project is HOURGLASS, a live music and dance improvisation community event, offering participants the opportunity to move freely with community, in an immersive environment of live amplified violin and cello, electronic playback, and video projection.

Savannah: I used to take ballet, but now I mostly create dances to my favorite songs, either by myself or with my friends, and improvise with my mom and her friends when they come over. Sometimes mom will find me in the living room dancing to my favorite songs, “My Shot,” from Hamilton, or “BO$$,” by Fifth Harmony, blaring from my ipad.

Savannah is off to middle school! Congrats, Savannah. What will dancing and making together look like with this new phase?

Savannah: Well, I’m starting practice again with my soccer team, I’m in my school choir, and I’m planning to sign up for Artistically Talented (the visual art club). So, I’m not sure how much I will be dancing, though I will definitely dance when I go roller skating, make a dance party in our studio, or score a goal in soccer! I might like to take a hip-hop class sometime too, but for now, I’m pretty busy!

Any last words for dancing families in Singapore?

Stephanie: Savannah kind of said it best, “there is a different kind of connection when you are dancing with family.” I’ll just add that dancing with Savannah has been and continues to be a unique and beautiful bonding experience for me, and I think for her as well . . .

Savannah: Oh, yes!

Stephanie: So, I would just encourage your readers to seize opportunities to enjoy each other through dance. Whether you create performances together or simply enjoy moving for fun, these experiences and memories are what living is all about!

Thank you, Stephanie and Savannah!


For more information about HOURGLASS and Nugent Dance:

HOURGLASS - http://www.hourglass-music.com
Nugent Dance - http://stephanienugent.com

Interested in a screening of BOAT in Singapore? With enough interest, we will organise it! Tell us at hello@rolypolyfamily.com