Seven Questions with Autumn Mist Belk

Published Mon, Feb 18, 2013 10:30 AM
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Code f.a.d. founder Autumn Mist Belk. Courtesy of Bridget Daily

Submitted by Melissa Howsam — Correspondent

Adding to the Triangle's deep theater and arts scene since its 2008 inception, Code f.a.d. Company (where f.a.d. is an acronym for film, art, dance) brings some fancy footwork to the forefront in its merge of movement with other multimedia forms.

Founded by walking (or, more accurately, dancing) diversely trained Artistic Director Autumn Mist Belk — whose background in choreography, film and visual arts sets the stage, so to speak, ever so aptly for the company — f.a.d.’s MO is to fashion original movement-based art through multiple mediums. “There were (and are) so many dance companies out there that spend a lot of effort on the dance part of their work,” says Belk, “but neglect other elements. … I'm concerned with the design of everything in a show … all of that is art, and, I believe, should be considered in the construction of a whole piece of art — a whole dance.”

And at this intersection of movement and visual art? This week, it’s MoonPies and wine corks, natch. And, there will be clowns … all part of f.a.d.’s newest show, “Finding Place,” a multimedia dance and story-telling event that looks at how objects trigger memories and shape society, set to make its big premiere this weekend at Durham Art Council’s PSI Theatre.

“There is really something for everyone in this show,” says Belk. “We eat Moon Pies on the farm, remember our grandmother's last days and even hide from a collection of creepy clowns.”

Who knew caramel and clowns could be so profound? For starters, Autumn Belk. Here are our seven questions.

Q: So, let's talk concept. Why f.a.d.? Given its mission, what hole were you hoping to fill in local arts when you conceptualized the multimedia dance company?

Years before I ever founded Code f.a.d. Company (when I was still in graduate school, actually), I thought about ways to describe my choreography and, specifically, what might distinguish my work from what is already out there. There were (and are) so many dance companies out there that spend a lot of effort on the dance part of their work, but neglect other elements. (Do we really need to see another group of dancers in unitards or gaucho pants and tank tops for no apparent reason?) I'm concerned with the design of everything in a show—the dance, the costumes, the props, the lights, the sound, the overall environment. All of that is art, and, I believe, should be considered in the construction of a whole piece of art—a whole dance.

Q: You're sort of a "jill" of all trades—your academic training is in dance (B.A. in dance and studio art from the University of Alabama and M.F.A. in dance choreography from the University of Maryland), but you 'triple' as filmmaker, visual artist, photographer/graphic designer, with a long list of national choreography, performance and gallery showings. How did that myriad of talent inform upon the birth of f.a.d.?

Well, my training really began more in those "other talents." I enrolled at Alabama (Roll Tide!) as an art major—specifically studying graphic design and photography. I began taking improvisation and modern dance right away, however, and quickly decided I needed to double major, adding in dance. The visual arts remained a big part of my life, while I also realized I was not drawn to focus on those avenues for a career. But I knew I wouldn't let them go. I loved photography, but wanted to learn more about video and film—really the merger of movement and photography. Making a dance film contributes to the "control-freak" side of my personality, as well. In the film version of a dance, you can control precisely what your audience sees, rather than have people in various seats in a theater, possibly looking at a different dancer or even part of a dancer than you'd like, you can focus the camera directly on what is important to your vision. So, I dove right in and used everything I had learned (and continue to learn, especially in the film genre) in creating Code f.a.d. and defining what it is we would do (almost anything in the movement-art world!).

Q: In its first four seasons, Code f.a.d. has performed in 40+ concerts across the U.S., with three original evening-length works, two stand-alone dance films (with two more in production), and taught numerous workshops to students of all ages. After four seasons, looking back, is this what you had envisioned?

Maybe? I'm not sure I knew what to expect when I began. It has been a wonderful journey, and I look forward to each new step. The company has performed — a lot — over our past several years, probably been more than I expected, and we have created quite a bit of creative work in a short period of time. It feels like everything is starting to snowball in a way. It is part of our mission to be a dance company with a true local season each year, similar to the local theatre companies. Other than Carolina Ballet, to my knowledge, there isn't another local dance company producing this amount of work each season. Theater goers know they can go see new work by their favorite groups each year, and we aim to put dance in that same context. It has certainly been tough creating all this work. Dance doesn't go buy the rights to a script; we create everything brand new. But I couldn't imagine it any other way.

Q: But it’s not just about the stage. In addition to performances, you lead f.a.d.'s myriad K-12 educational programs tailored to each school's/community program's needs. What do you see as the benefit of implementing such programs? And how successful have they been?

Children are much more open to the arts than most adults give them credit for. We have performed in schools and taught classes ranging from improvisation to strict modern technique and have had great responses from the kids every time. I think the more arts we can give to our youth, the better they will be at whatever they choose as careers, the more responsible they will be as citizens, the nicer they will be to others around them. I won't go into a rant about why the arts and dance are so important, but know I totally believe they are. You will understand so much more about life if you can start to understand art, movement and your body. This season, in particular, we have taken a break from school performances in favor of more classes and workshops. While a workshop cannot reach as many children at once, the take-away from the experience is so much greater when the children can experience more, beyond being an audience member. Children can create their own art and learn their voice is valid.

Q: After an eight-month evolution into an evening-length performance, f.a.d.’s newest show, "Finding Place," is set to premiere in Durham this week. Give us a preview:

There is really something for everyone in this show. There are some showy/big dance parts—what I like to call "dance for dance's sake" parts; there are film sections; and there are lots of stories directly from the dancers. You might cringe, laugh and cry all in the same show. We eat Moon Pies on the farm, remember our grandmother's last days and even hide from a collection of creepy clowns. (Warning: if you have a real fear of clowns, be prepared to close your eyes for 4 minutes near the end of the show!) “Finding Place” is an intersection of dance and theater: easy to watch, yet full of nuance and detail.

Q: A nod to the NC wine industry, we understand the stage is set with a box full of recycled wine corks—that preparation must of been some kind of fun (and tipsy) homework?

The collection of corks began with the dancers collecting and asking others to help out, but we very quickly realized we needed many more corks than we could hope to (at least healthfully) consume between ourselves and our friends! Huge thank-you to Vivace and Nomacorc for donating the majority of the thousands of corks used in the show.

…Thousand is no doubt quite the undertaking. But seriously, what is this box — coupled with the few other common objects inside (think Coke bottles, Moon Pies) — meant to explore?

Materialism is usually thought of as a bad thing. It was my goal to show how, in certain ways, a concept of materialism could be good. Think about those "things" that make you remember other, more wonderful, "things"—in this case people, moments and love. Material things can trigger memories and really help shape our society—for good and bad. I can remember the days of classifying yourself as a Coke or Pepsi drinker—one or the other was your community. Can we take the good from those feelings and use them to help the society on the whole? Rather than being limited by our materialism, can our individual communities find a way to be open to all the others out there? Really each audience member can take it as far as he or she wants. Maybe you see the bigger picture of materialism in today's society, or maybe you just enjoy the stories of how a caramel pie relates to a special person in your life.

Q: So … coming up on the five-year mark, what's the vision for the next five?

While my inner yogini wants to respond by saying that I'm really just trying to live in the moment, to say I'm not looking ahead wouldn't be true to the organizationally addictive components of my personality. I see Code f.a.d. completing more dance films over the next five years — more than we did in our first five — and heading towards more digital ways of showing work. I also envision (and am working for) more touring opportunities. I would love to take one of our evening-length works (particularly “Indulge” or “Finding Place”) to a university's dance department, to allow us to incorporate the student dancers into the performance with Code f.a.d. dancers. In graduate school, I had the opportunity to perform in a similar situation with Joe Goode Performance group, and it was such a great learning experience for me. I hope to play a part of the education of other college students out there (reaching past those I get to teach everyday now at N.C. State University). And I'm sure there will be things I haven't even thought of yet in Code f.a.d. Company's next five years. That's the great thing about being an artist: Your vision is always growing and changing.

Show info

Code f.a.d. Company presents "Finding Place"

Friday & Saturday, 8 p.m.

PSI Theatre at the Durham Arts Council; $14-$16


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