So the first question is: what is your name, and where are you from?
My name is Grace McLean, and I’m originally from Costa Mesa, California.
What is the project you’re working on at SPACE?
I’m working on a project about Hildegard von Bingen. She’s a twelfth-century German mystic, abyss composer, scientist, language-inventor, all around super cool gal. I’ve been working on this for the past couple of years. It’s a theatrical piece with music and hopefully movement, which is what we’re here to be working on, we’re working on the movement portion. We’re focusing on sort of the first 30 years of her life. She lived to be 80, or in her eighties, which is insane for someone living in the twelfth century. Her life really blossomed after the age of 44, when she accomplished everything that we know of her.
She was in a church; she was a nun, right?
Yes. But for the first 30 some-odd years of her life, she lived with an anchoress named Jutta in a cell. So they basically lived in a tomb. This was a practice for the very pious, who decided that they wanted to be closer to God and by doing so, they would cut themselves off from the world, and would just live in a little cell for the rest of their lives. She spent the first half of her life in a little cell.
So like “Kimmy Schmidt” style?
Kimmy Schmidt style. Then the woman who Hildegard was living with died, finally, Hildegard was actually like, “ I actually want to get out of this cell now, thank you so much.” Then she had this amazing life, where she accomplished all theses amazing things and became an important medieval figure. But we’re sort of focusing on this part of her life; this weird incubation period, before she was writing anything, before she was having these crazy visions, before she was composing music or poetry, or any of that. We’re asking these questions about what it is that makes someone have such an individual voice, especially in a time when individuality was not a concept. We’re sort of focusing on that period of time. We’ve brought some dancers up here with us, I’ve written a bunch of music over the past couple of years, and we’re now going to sort of put some of that on these bodies and see what we get, in a three-dimensional manner.
Interesting. So I’ve noticed that you only have female dancers, are they embodying Hildegard? Are they playing her in different moments?
So we’ve got myself, and Dawn Cantwell, sort of like singers/actors. I’ll be
Jutta in this situation and Dawn will be Hildegard, and the dancers are sort of extensions of those characters, but also extensions of Hildegard’s imagination.
So they’re like the visions that Hildegard has made in her mind.
Yes, but they’ll also serve as metaphors for Hildegard as a person, and Jutta as a person as well. These are questions that we’re asking ourselves at SPACE.
Well it sounds very exciting.
Well I know you’ve only been here for a day and a half, but where have you been spending most of your time at SPACE?
We’ve been mostly in the barn, which is really fun because you’ve got a great floor in there. We’re using that as a stage space.
I think technically; I believe that’s our indoor stage space.
Even though we don’t have much lighting in there.
That’s okay; it’s kind of nice because we’re working in the world of a cell, of a tomb. It’s like an enclosed sort of womb space, which is exactly what we need for this project.
A womb space. That’s an interesting picture that you just put into my head. Well, what’s coming up next for you and your project?
Well we’ve applied to some other residencies to keep writing on things, this is been for movement, and we’ll get there. There’s some more writing to be done, but I’m going to be at Lincoln Center in the spring, doing a concert in their American Songbook series, and I intend to premiere some more music and movement from this piece at that concert. So that’s kind of the next big thing.
So the last question is: if you were reincarnated as a farm animal, what farm animal would you be and why?
Well this is hard to say, I’ll talk about my spirit animal, how about that? I’ll say I want to be a swan, but I really think in fact that it’s a flamingo. There is an element of gracefulness and ugly-duckling coming into her own and being this lovely thing that’s also kind of fierce and will charge at you and eat your baby if you’re not careful.
I can actually see you as a flamingo.
Yeah, then there’s the flamingo, which is like a little bit weird.
I mean they’re beautiful but they’re kind of exotic and people don’t really know that much about them unless you’re a specialist, but it’s not common knowledge.
They’re like funny little birds with weird skinny little legs that stick out of their bodies.
But they’re pink.
But they’re pink. Yeah. So I think I’m a flamingo who wants to be a swan.
But flamingos are pink.
But flamingos are pink, they’ve got their own special thing, that’s exactly right. That’s the thing she’s got to remember: she’s pink. That’s a thing our flamingo selves can learn.
These leaves, and their changing are killing me!
Yeah, it’s so scenic and beautiful, and it’s hard to believe you’re only an hour away from New York City.
I know. It’s so nice. We as humans have this gift of consciousness; we get to know who we are. We have this ability to make choices based on that thing. I think that’s ultimately our responsibility. Not every creature has that, they just follow their instincts, but I think we are more than just instincts.
Well thank you so much for speaking with me.
It’s no problem!
interview by Emily Selyukova