It is through the people who have influenced me with their remarkable insights and gifts that I have been able to bring to my life’s mission something of the breadth and wealth of their fearless intelligence, physical persistence, passion, and clarity. They have been my models and mentors. Although the vision of dance and dance making has changed in me as with the world, the nature of their dedication to its practice and the inquiry necessary in its development has been a force in my life.
As a young dancer, Jose Limon made clear to me the need to transcend physical strength, the technical demands of dancing and the language of physical expression. He, through his actions and his teaching taught me to release movement into the arc of weight, breathe the dance, and let the dance breathe me. He also gave me confidence in my abilities by making me a lead in the student performance of “Danse Macabre” at the American Dance Festival, 1968.
At Bennington College Judith Dunn stripped me of my dance god’s and goddesses, left me empty of a mainstream goal, and turned me into an artist with eyes that understood sight and seeing, and language that could speak simply, without clouds of aesthetic pre-judgment, about what I felt, saw and experienced. Bringing to me the Judson artist’s rejection of Modern Dance’s aggrandizements and essentialisms, she emphasized process, material which included pedestrian action, and delight in the unknown. She taught me to respect what exists, letting go of what does not exist.
Probably my most remarkable influence then, and for many years to come was and continues to be Steve Paxton. He introduced me to the ability to look within an action and find the underlying physical principles present in that movement. He taught me to find what was amazing–that which was already present in the dance and that I was already doing…. This lesson was imbedded in the actions that became Contact Improvisation (CI).
As a result of my work with Steve Paxton on the very early initiation of Contact Improvisation, I was able to be foreground in its emergence. I assisted Steve in teaching CI to a collection of dancers he had recruited to perform at the John Weber Gallery, NYC in 1972. Throughout the next few years I toured nationally and internationally teaching and performing alone and with Steve, Nancy Stark Smith and a changing lineup of others. Together we formed ad-hoc collaborative teaching/performance groups starting with the first CI tour, “You come, we’ll show you what we do”. Others of note were “Re:Union”, “ReUnion”, “ReUnion 2”, and “The East Coast Contact Touring Company”.
Living in the San Francisco Bay area in 1973-80, I was fortunate to introduce Contact Improvisation to a whole generation of Contact Dancers. I traveled nationally and was a guest artist at schools ranging from the Naropa Institute to California Institute for the Arts and New York University. In Canada, and throughout the country I met and taught many students who are now master teachers themselves: Gretchen Spiro, Andrew Harwood, Frey Faust, Scott Wells, Julie Oak, Peter Bingham to name just a few. The more solo work I performed the more my dancing became a weave of my early improvisational influences which had their genesis at Judson Church and CI, and I found myself dancing a highly physical and sometimes gymnastic movement vocabulary with subtle and qualitative details that separated it from a dance sport, and heightened it to a form of extended body language.
By the early eighties, the foundational principals of CI were thoroughly revealed and well developed - as were my own physical and mental skills of being wholly present in the instant “now”. It naturally followed for me to pursue my awareness of evolving consciousness and the mind-body relationship in new and innovative ways. With the additional developmental support and influence of the profound and brilliant mind’s of artist Mary Ashley (the Once Group), Dr. Murray Korngold, and Dr. Gayle Pearce, all of whom assisted me in breaking from the current limited conceptual frames of reality, I developed the “Mind in Motion” in 1980 as a class series through which I could teach the materials I was continually discovering while dancing. For 20 years The Mind in Motion was the primary vehicle through which I explored and addressed dance as extended body language and embodied conscious states.
Throughout my career I have directed a number of companies devoted to performing my choreographic works: 32 ft/sec Squared, Nita Little Solo Dance Theater, Smith Grade Construction Company and now Nita Little Dance Theater, which I maintain as a pick-up company. Among the grants I have received are included an NEA fellowship (1979) and I was included in the California Arts Council Touring Program (1985). I have also received a scattering of local grants from community funding organizations in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.
Over the years I have created long-format pieces that are based in structured improvisation. The works were complex, utilized many performance modalities, and had a narrative form that was told through a series of vignettes. Clarifying the form for my work was influenced by my then husband/partner, Dusty Nelson. A film director, Dusty’s input challenged me to create works which were not only visually and intellectually elegant, but would grab the audience and take them for a moment-by-moment ride. Thus the works I made around the turn of the century each explored a subject. For example “Dirt” (1998) explored infidelity through a composting analogy that noted we can turn garbage into the genesis of new life, “Entering Arthropoda” (1999 & 2001) explored the genetic similarity between humans and insects, it noted that human consciousness resonates with all the phylum, connecting rather than separating us. “Playing God”, a dance/opera (2002, supported by a grant from DANCE USA) explored the potential for artists to work “not in clay, but in human flesh and DNA”, it posits a time when the young population no longer just wants blue hair, but blue phosphorescent flesh, wings and more… echolocation, for example… but what comes with that gift is another, the gift of being truly bat-brained, or batty.
Currently my work has a process orientation that utilizes theatrical elements in the construction of environments as a means to contextualize the action. I am very interested in articulating its linguistic and theoretical underpinnings in order to get at elements that are present in the work, but are not of the visual realm. My performing research explores directed attention and experiential states as choreographic material on par with physical action. Divisadero Dance Research is the performing vehicle through which I develop work. Please see Choreography.