July 17, 2019 Artist to Watch: Ann Glaviano
writer, dance-maker, DJ, born-and-raised New Orleanian, and proud LSU alumna
Since 2013, Ann has directed a collaborative, cross-disciplinary performance project called Known Mass. As a freelance dancer Ann has performed with the New Orleans Ballet Theatre and the New Orleans Opera Association, among many others. She has choreographed for Hulu’s television show The First, an episode directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Mustang). Her dance film 01_fieldrecording had its world premiere in January 2019 at Highways, an experimental performance art venue in Los Angeles, selected for the inaugural event of their MOTION CAPTURE series. In February 2019 she was an Associate Artist in Residence with legendary dance-maker Deborah Hay at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In March 2019 her solo work was presented at COAST DANCEfest in Ocean Springs.
Ann’s writing has lately appeared in Best American Short Stories 2018 (ed. Roxane Gay), Tin House, and Slate. Since 2011 she has run a friendly neighborhood dance party called HEATWAVE! spinning vinyl records from 1957-1974. In 2018, in recognition of her cross-disciplinary artistic achievements and track record of art community facilitation, Ann was honored as one of Gambit’s 40 Under 40.
How would you describe your art?
My performance project, Known Mass, which I direct, produce, and administer myself, is ethically and aesthetically motivated by devised theatre and DIY punk traditions. That’s another way to say I like things that look kinda junky. My most recent ensemble dance piece is about my family’s church. One of the dancers, who is also a visual artist, was helping me with set design, and as I articulated what kind of materials I wanted to use to construct the world of this show—to reconstruct this beautiful 150-year-old Catholic church—she accurately summarized the aesthetic as “stuff you would find in the janitor’s closet in the back of the church.” I gravitate towards the lo-fi. I want my work to be thoughtful and rigorous, but not necessarily slick.
My official explanation of the vibe, the one I put in grant applications, is this, and I stand by it: The dance pieces I produce tend to be preoccupied with community—how it’s built and how it’s dismantled—and foreground the fine line between the banal and the absurd, playing out with both humor and poignancy what the writer and dance-maker Deborah Hay calls “the full, the sensuous, and the completely unremarkable.”
My writing I like to be slick, and I usually describe it as “funny-sad.”
As far as DJing goes, I spin vinyl but I’m not a turntablist. For this reason I consider my DJing to be less an artistic practice and more a kind of witchy energy work. An artist and UNO student named Alyssa Newsham made this five-minute documentary about my regular DJ night, HEATWAVE!, and she captures it better than I could explain it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77Eo7o45DkI
Were you an artsy kid, and what got you into art?
The concise version is: I was lonely and very short.
The long version: My neighborhood was full of old people, my cousins lived across town, my brother wasn’t born till I was almost six. Because I didn’t have anyone to play with, I made up stories.
My parents encouraged my reading and writing. One of my earliest memories is my dad letting me type on his electric typewriter at home. This was before I could read. After I was finished typing, he would sit me on his lap and read what I’d “written” back to me. First he would make up a story—this weekend I visited Grandmotherdear, and I got to play with her dog Lulu, etc. When he was finished, I’d say, “Now tell me what it really says.” He’d sound out what I’d typed: “JKKDSNLNVkkkaowaaaaaaaaaaz,” and I would laugh my head off. We also used to write song parodies together.
I went through books fast—at a certain point my mom started taking me to a used bookshop, because I think my book habit was probably pretty expensive. We made great use of the public library and the school library too. Eventually my mom went for a “no reading until your homework is done” rule, which I got around by hiding in the bathroom with a book.
The thing about being very short was that I was bad at P.E. and bad at recess. I looked two years younger than everyone in my class; I was about a foot shorter than my friends. Team sports were an exercise in futility.
Meanwhile my mom had put me in ballet when I was four, and I stuck with that. In retrospect I think I stuck with it because it was the only physical thing I could do where it didn’t matter how small I was compared to the other kids my age. I was also musical and obedient, and those were useful traits for classical dance, but I was not exceptionally gifted in terms of physical facility—I don’t have amazing feet or amazing extension or amazing turnout. I kept dancing anyway. I was lucky to be at a studio (Lelia Haller Ballet School) that focused more on technique and strength than on the physical gifts over which we have no control. I think I needed dance—an embodied practice—to balance out my reading/writing life, which was kind of dissociative. And I still do.
How did you learn your craft?
I took my first creative writing class when I was 12 at a fantastic summer program called ADVANCE in Natchitoches. It’s on the campus of the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, where I eventually went to high school. I took creative writing classes there and I danced in their dance repertory company. The dance program was run by a wonderful teacher named Randy Allen; he really set us up to be a little dance family, and my experience of the school centered on my life as a dancer there. When I applied to college, I assumed there was no money for me to fly around auditioning for dance programs, and I didn’t know any professional dancers, and I didn’t think I was good enough as a dancer anyway to get into a college dance program. (Having met dancers later who’d gotten BFAs, I think I underestimated myself.) I decided to make the more responsible, pragmatic choice and declare a creative writing major instead.
At LSU I got what I consider a stellar English degree, with concentrations in literature and creative writing. I’m extremely proud to be an LSU English grad. My professors were mind-meltingly fabulous—shout-outs to Moira Crone, Jim Wilcox, Rick Moreland, Anna Nardo, Elsie Michie, and Pat McGee, among many others.
I also danced at LSU, in the program run by Molly Buchmann, and I studied at Dancers’ Workshop, which Molly co-runs. I did some musical theatre choreographed by Molly too. I am allergic to most “mentorship”—I am suspicious of people who try to mold you in their image. Molly is my kind of mentor—a steady presence, watchful and invested, and she’ll tell you what she really thinks, but she isn’t in the game to acquire acolytes. When I was an undergrad, Molly was quietly cheerleading my writing life just as much as my dancing life. She once recruited me as an emergency substitute tap teacher for her studio, and when I protested that I wasn’t qualified, she explained the basic premise of teaching (“You don’t need to know everything. You just need to know more than the students do”), a concept that has served me well over the past fifteen years. Another essential life skill I learned from Molly was how to steam vegetables in the microwave.
With stories I wrote as an LSU undergrad I was eventually accepted into the MFA writing program at Ohio State. I danced there too and got a graduate interdisciplinary fine arts minor with all my dance credits. I don’t think everyone who wants to write needs to get an MFA (and I feel even less bullish on dance MFAs), but I needed an MFA, and I needed the program at Ohio State.
Dancewise, I continue to seek out new ways of thinking and moving by taking intensive workshops offered by master artists—usually I go out of town for those—and by being an active participant, student/maker/performer, in my dance community, which is an extremely rich resource of intelligent, thoughtful, diverse, subversive, delightful humans.
What would you tell someone who wants to make art?
To young artists I would say: the difference between the “professional” artist and the one who doesn’t “make it” is that the professional artist never stopped. A professional artist is just someone who didn’t stop. The professional artists are not necessarily the most innately talented. They are not necessarily the ones with the fanciest connections. They are merely the ones who kept going, while everyone else got frustrated or bored or distracted and gave up.
This sounds cutesy, maybe, but I mean it very literally and unromantically. I danced when I was young, for free, and then I kept dancing as I got older, for free, and one day someone decided to pay me. I was not a better dancer the day I got my first dancer paycheck. The difference between money and no money was not my skill. It was an arbitrary thing having mostly to do with longevity. This applies, I think, across all art forms, and across all common artist anxieties. Will I ever get published? Will I ever get cast? Will I ever get paid? Will anyone ever seek me out as a collaborator? Will anyone ever invite me to present my work? Will anyone ever care about what I make? Yes, but only if you keep bothering to make it.
The money from my art work doesn’t pay all my bills. It does pay some of my bills, though. And the professional artists that I looked up to as a teenager—I’ve gotten to meet many of them as an adult. I’ve worked with them—as their colleague. They have written me thank-you notes. These people whose artistry inspired me and whose lives seemed not only beyond reach but beyond imagination—they have written me thank-you notes. This is not because I am special and exceptionally deserving. It’s because instead of stopping, I kept going. Without fanfare, I am telling you, if you keep going, you will meet your heroes.
For adults who want a place to begin (or begin again), I recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. A while back, I was working through one of the chapters at Highland Coffees, and a young woman sitting at a nearby table caught my eye when I glanced up, and she said, “That book changed my life.” I told her, “It’s in the process of saving mine.”
For everyone who just rolled their eyes at my little rant about staying in the game and “bothering to make art”: the pressures to give up—the pressures on our money and our time and, most critically, our attention—are real. In addition to The Artist’s Way I recommend Cal Newport’s Deep Work.
Where can people see your work online and in person?
I’m at the start of a residency at Art Klub in New Orleans, part of a cohort of dance-makers doing choreographic solo research; that residency is called re: FRAME and it is curated by the dance-maker/filmmaker Meryl Murman. I’ve been working on this solo since December and am eager for opportunities to perform it (the practice of performing it helps me refine it), so anyone who is down to host an extremely lo-fi solo dance performance in BR is more than welcome to get in touch. Other upcoming work, gigs, and publications are at annglaviano.com // knownmass.wordpress.com // IG: @annglaviano