20 Questions: The Articulate Body speaks
“The thing about creative process isn’t what you get done. It’s that you show up every day. It doesn’t matter if you even get off the frickin’ floor. It’s that you show up every day. And that lets you then get out of the way so that the work can happen. The work will then take care of itself. Awareness practice is the same thing. It’s more about tuning awareness so that ego can be as much out of the way as possible.”
Whew. If you want an education in dance history, just sit down with Margie Fargnoli for an hour. This woman, as she herself said, is an “elephant” in the Minneapolis dance community: she has a long memory. I had to edit for length, but I feel like I learned how to be a better human while in her presence. (I also feel like I have the beginnings of a book on the history of dance in Minneapolis.)
Name: My name is Margaret Fargnoli I go by Margie.
Occupation: I’m a certified practitioner of Body-Mind Centering. The work that I do now with dancers in body-mind centering is primarily in two areas. The intention of…the Articulate Body [class at the University of Minnesota] is to help dancers come to understand what embodiment actually is, and how to apply an embodied methodology to their actual work: technically and beyond technically, into realms of creative exploration. In Articulate Body (AB) , it’s focused very much on working both in the skeleton and with muscular system, how to be safe as a dancer, technically, and how to understand what it is teachers are actually asking you. The other course I teach at the University is an Introduction to Body-Mind Centering. That’s focused on the relationship of how consciousness co-arises with the body and in the body.
Minneapolis or St. Paul: My office has always been in Minneapolis, I’ve been mostly Minneapolis-based. I’ve lived about an hour north of town for many, many years, so I live out in the boonies. That’s where my family has been raised, my dogs, and my husband and my gardens.
1) How did you end up doing the work you do? That’s a good question. I came out of a dance background. I graduated from Juilliard in 1971, I worked with Anna Sokolow for a while, I was trained by Jose Limón, I was a Graham baby since I was 14. I got to a point in my professional career after Anna’s company folded, where I really wanted to ask myself if I wanted to stay in New York and work from that as a base, or if I really wanted to go somewhere else. I was always interested in doing my own work. I’ve always loved teaching. I’d been teaching since I was 14. I’ve been fortunate in that. . . it’s never been a struggle for me to go from what my experience is to languaging, and have that feel connected to dancing. So even before I had this information, especially coming out of what was really solid training for the time, being able to help dancers was something that I did not have to struggle with, and I don’t get to take a lot of credit for, because it just did come easily. I spent some years in Indiana. I had a company there and did a lot of solo work there, but again, there was a real limit- there wasn’t a whole lot of other modern dance around. I needed a bigger pond.
Minneapolis at the time was very exciting. This is the late ‘70s. So in 1978 I moved up here, and Nancy Hauser and Loyce Houlton were the two big forces that were at play. There was also this evolving studio called O-Zone that then became Zenon. I was pregnant at the time with what turned out to be twins. I was a single parent. Yeah, all the plans to come up here had been in place before that part of my life had taken the turn that it did, and I didn’t know any better, I just did it anyway! [laughs] But right away: there’s a phenomenon in the dance world - not just here, but I have a feeling in most communities other than the really big centers - which is the “new kid on the block” phenomenon, which is a really nice thing to coast in on. I got to kind of glide into semi-recognition status really quickly. I got a State Arts Board grant right away. There were a lot of things that were immediately available just because I was the new kid on the block. And one of those was that I got to start teaching everywhere. Before long I was teaching for Nancy Hauser. I was teaching for Loyce Houlton. I wound up teaching over at O-Zone. I was teaching at Children’s Theater. I was teaching everywhere. I started a small performance group of my own. Lasted for a couple three, four years. I got very involved with the Minnesota Choreographers—it became the Minnesota Dance Alliance but originally it was the Minnesota Independent Choreographers Alliance. There were a lot of really interesting independent people here in the community doing great work, and we had great foundation support. It was wonderful. Jerome Foundation stepped right up with grants that allowed us to—I don’t know if anyone remembers this except us old farts—but we had a pull-it-out-of-the-hat dance grant, where you could get money, and if you wanted to do work, your name went in the hat, and in one meeting there was just. . .
Life now and life then, there are a lot of things that haven’t changed. And the grant-making process and the grant-giving process is very subjective, and it’s very network-based. There’s the larger political landscape of the arts world at the time, and for those of us that weren’t working in a post-modern way; those aren’t my roots. So while I got a lot of grant support initially, the forces that be were trying to move within what was the forward movement in the dance world at the time.
I got married, I had another kid, and in the late ‘80s, there were a number of people in the community that had been exposed to Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who is the matriarch of Body-Mind centering. Other kinds of somatic practices were starting to find their way into the world of dance: Alexander Technique started being something that was known; that and BMC around here were the biggest ones. I became intrigued. I’m moving into my late 30s and at that point, there was a set of circumstances that really brought me into having to directly face into my own personal experience: from my family and a number of things like that. BMC, through a number of indirect channels, became the most significant method that I found for working with my own personal materials. Plus, it just blew open my world as a choreographer and a dancer.
At this time, also, I’m starting to begin to wrestle with the effects of arthritis. I’m starting to feel my own internal landscape changing. I’m starting to look down the road to, “There’s a shift coming here.” Some people are able to continue making work because they’re so strong visually. There’s a line between their visual-kinetic understanding and being able to create work. And especially people who have work that’s grounded in a particular vocabulary. My work had not been grounded in a particular vocabulary for a long, long time. So if I wasn’t actually making movement, it was clear to me that I probably wasn’t going to be making work.
I wound up studying body-mind centering, here, locally. It was very clear to me that this has this organic evolution to it from the work I’d been doing. So I decided to become a practitioner. I went through a short period of time where I wasn’t at the University as I was making this shift, but once I’d made it, I started teaching in 1990 again, and I’ve been there ever since. I was no longer teaching dance, per se, but I was in the dance program teaching this somatic work. It was only the evening class. There was a long time when…dancers knew how to find me if they needed to, but there’s this generational gap there where I wasn’t actually involved with dancers, per se. Most of the work that I do here in private practice is people that are in various stages of trauma recovery. It bends more into the psychological and mindfulness aspects of the work that I do. The other big thing, at the same time that all of this is developing, I found my way into Buddhist practice, which is a huge part of what I do and share. Once the AB class opened up - the person who was teaching the class at the time left very suddenly, and a friend and I were visiting with Carl, and it just came up, and I said, “Well, you know, I can probably help you out with that” and then it was mine. I’ve been teaching that class now for about five years. And once I started teaching that class, that’s how dancers started finding their way back into the BMC stuff, the younger dancers.
2) Who/What’s your nemesis? Why? I would say my nemesis isn’t really personal as much as it is . . . I would say that for me, the nemesis of practice in living is when bitterness arises in the field. It’s not really personal, it’s just a habitual quality, a characteristic of mind that is a defense that would co-arise when something deeper—It’s sort of deeper psychological. . . it isn’t really anything out there in the community. As far as I know there isn’t anyone out there! [laughs]
3) How long have you lived in the Cities?/What brought you here? What brought me here was that professionally, it was time to be in a place where there was more stimulation, more dancers, more interaction, there were more opportunities professionally; all of that. I came in 1978, and I’ve been here ever since.
4) Preferred place to be if you’re alone and incapacitated? At home, in the country. If it’s the wintertime, it’s with a fire in the wood stove and I’m snuggled up reading a book or I’m watching TV and knitting. The other thing is with my grandchildren. I have eight grandchildren—and there are three of them that are old enough now to spend tons of time with grandma. One of them loves to spend tons of time with grandma, and she comes up fairly frequently. We kick grandpa out of the bed so she can sleep with grandma. As the weather warms, I’m a gardner. I have a huge vegetable garden. I have many perennial beds. I am a homebody, I really am.
5) How often do you call home? Well, I live “home”, but in terms of—You know, the other homes are the dance world. That’s been a home, and now it’s mostly here [indicating her BMC practice space]; in fact it is here. That’s an on-going interaction that is supported by the university. My family of origin is all on the East Coast. I don’t get to go home very often because it’s so far. The other home is the Buddhist community and intensive practice, and that happens fairly frequently.
6) Best performance space in the Twin Cities? Why? Wow. You know, I am so bloody out of it. I am. You know, the Arts Board calls up every so often and tries to pressure me into being on a panel. I live so far away that I don’t feel like I have the level of expertise in terms of knowledge base of what’s out there. [Interviewer: What was the best performance space for you?] Well, back in the day, there just bloody wasn’t one. It just sucked. It was really bad news. So the places that had the best opportunities—you know the McKnight Theater over at the Ordway? [Which is now gone.] That used to be a really nice spot. It sort of [did] what the Cowles does now. So there’s that.
So the last performance work I did was with a group called Women’s Performance Project. It was myself, Diane Elliot, Rebecca Frost, Susan Delattre and Erika Thorne. And we all came from these different backgrounds. . . where there were different emphases placed on performance value. I came from this, “Get your foot pointed and get your legs up there” world. Diane came out of the Murray Lewis group. Rebecca had been trained by me at the University, but also had a theatre background. Erica had been pretty much self-taught, coming out of that Hauser freeform world, doing very political work in the women’s community, and Susan was mostly an actress. We wound up doing work in a lot of different places. We did one set of performances—Do you know where 2B is, over in the Hennepin Center? [The second floor of the Cowles Center educational wing]. Well, that could get dressed as a theater space. The black box, which was run by the Choreographer’s Alliance, which became the Dance Alliance, which is now the Tek Box, that was another place that was interesting for doing performance. It had a nice, close, intimate feel to it. Over on the St. Paul campus [of the U], there’s a theater over there that we did a lot of performing at. It was godawful: it had a cement floor. It was nasty.
And of course, The Southern. I love the Southern. I really love the Southern. For me it has—it’s that right in between when you can actually feel like you’re in the work. When Joanie Shapiro first presented the Hinckley Fire piece—I can’t remember the name of it now [“Burning Air”] - they did it at The Southern. And, oh my God, it was just unbelievable. You felt like you were drawn into the fire, by being in that space. And then when I saw it again at the Cowles, of course it was beautiful and it was wonderful, but again, you’re not- you don’t just have fourth wall, but you have fourth wall and a bump back. So there’s a way that it’s marvelous for certain kinds of compositional appreciation, which of course I love, but actually where the fourth wall gets a little permeable, and where you get drawn into work, [is at] The Southern. I really like The Southern, and I really liked setting work at The Southern. And there’s Red Eye, which has that intimate thing to it.
I think it’s mostly about aligning the intention, the choreographic intention, choreographers thinking really clearly about what the experience is that they want their audience to join with in relationship to the space, and then can you make work that’s right for that. So I don’t know that there’s really a best space.
7) Favorite performer, living or dead? Why? Oohh, that’s hard. As a girl, I got to see Martha [Graham] perform. And that was pretty amazing. I also got to see Jose [Limón] perform when he was still alive. I don’t know if I was 17, maybe 18, so the Limón company still had performing in it: Sally Stackhouse, Betty Jones, Jose, and at that point Louis Falco was doing the part of the Moor. I remember a performance of “The Moor’s Pavane” with those people. So that’s the iconic. Just absolutely iconic.
In the more recent arena, I’m very fond of Joanie Shapiro’s work. I’m a Limón dancer in my heart, so there’s a natural kinship there, and I would say not so much a specific dancer or performer, but The Dancers” have always impressed me. Carl [Flink’s] company [Black Label Movement] has now changed over quite a bit so they’re young and they’re developing. But before the change, like when Carl made the Lake Superior, the “dying on the boat” piece [“Wreck”], that’s some of his best work. I was quite impressed with it. I saw it at The Southern.
I’m trying to think. When I was an active performer, Will Swanson danced with me, and then he moved on to the New Dance Ensemble, and after that he wound up going to New York and dancing with Trish, Trish Brown. He was glorious, and beautiful. [pause]
There were just a number of wonderful people that were—Lee Dillard was performing then, and again, these are people that don’t register as this gorgeous dancer stuff, but Lee Dillard was such an intense performer. Marilyn Habermas-Scher was wonderful, and I’m sure there are many that I’m just blanking on. Back in the day, Eric Thompson was so incredible. There were a lot of amazing people that have moved through our community over the years. I mean, the whole James Sewell company, I mean [overwhelmed noise]! Then…Karla [Grotting] and Joe [Chvala, of Flying Foot Forum], and Jose [Bueno’s] pretty fantastic right now. Wynn Fricke was always quite extraordinary. They’re just amazing people.
I almost don’t want you to [ask] that question because there are so many amazing people that have studied with me and my memory is just not good anymore. Christine Maginnis…just a lot of wonderful, wonderful people. [Interviewer: I don’t think you have to list them all. They’ll be all right!] I don’t want anyone to feel left out who knows that I think they’re wonderful! [Interviewer: You could just do a blanket “Everyone I’ve ever taught”.] There you go!
8) Most hated dessert?
I don’t think I have one. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a dessert I didn’t like. [laugh] Not that I’m a huge dessert fan, but I’ll try anything.
9) What annoys you about the Twin Cities arts scene?
You know, I’m not in it enough to say anything that’s educated, so I don’t know.
10) Arts awards shows and/or “best of” lists in the Twin Cities: go.
Well, I’m glad they’re now here, in that they, not maybe so much for what they are, perhaps, doing within the community itself, but that they take the community into more public recognition. I think it probably does some good that way.
I think the never-ending challenge in the arts is how do you build audience. How do you build a following for something that’s so impermanent? That’s really, really hard. The same things that are challenging today were the questions from when I was actively making work.
I think an interesting study would be how or if the dance audience has in fact actually expanded from the 80s or early 90s to now. The McKnight Foundation might actually have a way to track that, but I think that would really be an important thing to look at, because it might answer questions like, “Is this important to do this sort of elevating? Does it mean anything to anybody except us? And is what it means useful or healthy?” So I think there are a lot of questions, a lot of ways you can walk around that one, but I’m not sure I have enough information to answer in a meaningful way.
11) Donuts: awesome or overrated?
[Interviewer forgot to ask this one!]
12) Best thing about the Twin Cities arts scene?
[Interviewer forgot to ask this one, too. Bad interviewer.]
13) What song or songs best describe your life?
Oh s***. I don’t know. I’m deaf. I’ve gone quite hard of hearing, and the thing I miss most is that I can’t listen to music anymore. So I don’t have an answer for that one.
14) Out of any living Minnesotan, who would you pick as the next Governor of Minnesota?
You know, I’m pretty happy with Mark Dayton. I really am. Arne Carlson isn’t too bad. If he could live forever, too…
I’m a very practical person. I’m not an ideologue, although I obviously lean ideologically to the left, but politicians that don’t understand the fundamentals of interconnectedness, I have no use for. Mark Dayton seems to really get that. He’s such a straight shooter. Even if he could’t talk his way out of a paper bag sometimes. That’s ok! And I actually think he has found the size pond that he is the most effective in. I hope he runs for a third term. I really do. I would like to see what has been established have a chance to become embedded and not just ripped out by the roots in the swing back and forth between Republican and Democrat. But like I say, I like Arne Carlson, too.
15) Spring, Summer Fall, or Winter?
Oh, I’m a summer girl! I love it when— as I said, I’m this insane gardener. I start an awful lot of my garden plants from seed at home, so things start rolling for me, usually, in the middle of March. Boy, from, like, when I can get stuff in the ground in May, and really, through a lot of the Fall, I’m in heaven. The only time of year when I’m not — it may be because I’m getting older, but…after the holidays, it’s a slog.
My husband is retiring this year. I’m 65, so the questions about transition are looming. Not that I’m bailing on anything anytime in the immediate future, but boy, the idea of having more time to do some of those things, there’s a little Pac Man there. But I would say primarily Summer into Fall.
16) Favorite adult beverage?
Right now, it’s changed. I used to be— my favorite would have been red wine. But I can’t drink it anymore without it keeping me up at night because of the tannins and stuff. So now I like a good stout beer. I like Guinness, I also like India Pale Ale. I like a beer that’s fairly hoppy. [laughs]
17) Pajamas: necessary or a waste of laundry space?
Yes, absolutely! I wear flannel tents to bed. Long nightgown.
18) Favorite “luxury” item with which to treat yourself?
Well, I think of books as being a necessity, so I’m not sure they’re a luxury. But the things I most frequently indulge in are books, yarn, and in the summer, all manner of plants, garden stuff. Those are my definite indulgences.
19) What rituals do you have concerning your work?/How do you prepare?
Not just for work, but sitting practice is a — ritual doesn’t quite describe it — it’s an absolutely necessary thing. In terms of preparing for work, in terms of this work, I’ve sat in the morning, and I’m here. The ritual is showing up, is being present. At the University, back when I was more actively dancing, my ritual was that I regularly gave myself class every day. There would be class, there would be kinetic awareness work with balls, and then some authentic movement to sort of prep into creative process.
The thing about creative process isn’t what you get done. It’s that you show up every day. It doesn’t matter if you even get off the frickin’ floor. It’s that you show up every day. And that lets you then get out of the way so that the work can happen. The work will then take care of itself. Awareness practice is the same thing. It’s more about tuning awareness so that ego can be as much out of the way as possible. And that’s true as a teacher as well. If the teacher’s in the room, then teaching doesn’t happen. That’s really the truth of it. So those things that help me to practice that, so that—the best I can, the best that’s possible—I can really do that.
20) You have $500,000 to spend on whatever you want, as long as it’s not on something personal. What would you do with it?
So, by personal do you extend that to the rest of my family, too? [Interviewer: [laughs] Yes!] Ok. $500,000. I would grant out one to the parent — part of it would go to the parent organization of Body Mind Centering, Body Mind Centering Association, our professional organization, to support that in the activities that they then support. I would give a big chunk of it to my teachers [in] mindfulness practice and awareness practice. Another big chunk would go to environmental causes. There would be smaller amounts that would go to specific dance artists whose work I really like. But I tend to think more broadly than that. They would all get significant hunkaroos.
You can find more about Margie’s work on her website.