Choreographer Adele Myers is a born risk-taker. Her new dance theater project, “Einstein’s Happiest Thought,” which will be performed at the Institute of Contemporary Art Friday and Saturday, explores not just the idea of risk, but more potently, the anticipation of risk. Ropes crisscross the stage, and ladders big and small are scattered about. Balances look precarious, and dancers examine concepts of falling – falling down, falling over, falling in love, falling into debt. The evening-length work was created in collaboration with composer Josh Quillen, lighting and visual designer Kathy Couch, filmmaker Emmy Pickett, and dramaturg Ain Gordon. Institute of Contemporary Art director of public programs David Henry, a champion of Myers’s work, hopes the museum will add momentum to the choreographer’s path toward major national acclaim.
Myers, whose company is now based in the New Haven area, chatted recently before setting off on the National Dance Project tour of her latest work.
Q. So what was “Einstein’s happiest thought?”
A. It refers to this experience Einstein referred to as thought experiments or daydreams. In this instance, he was looking out his office window and saw a man on top of a roof, and had one of his first thoughts that led to the theory of relativity, about the different ways we experience time and space and gravity, and that thought experiment led him on the very epic journey of his theory. Experiencing time and space and gravity in different ways is what we do as choreographers, so I was interested in my own investigation of that in relation to falling and the sense of risk. It was really a jumping-off point.
Q. Is it true that it was partly inspired by your fear of heights, which you addressed by studying trapeze?
A. We launched this project by going to trapeze school. I wanted everybody to jump off this 25- foot-high platform in New York City and start with that same sensation of falling – me, the dancers, the composer, the lighting designer. I thought the scariest part would be jumping off. But when I started climbing this ladder on a roof overlooking the Manhattan skyline, I found that climbing the ladder itself was the most terrifying thing. I felt my heart pounding. It was the anticipation that was the scariest part, and that began to feel like the harness of the work.
Q. How does Emmy Pickett’s film tie in?
A. I wanted to think about the function of imagery she could provide, like surreal flashes, these abstract images in select spots. She would come up with these ideas, and the dancers would start to spin off of that. It was trying to create a space that may or may not be somewhere else in the theater, so you have this idea that something is happening at the same time, but maybe on the floor above or in some portal. It’s the space and time you don’t see that we play with a lot.
Q. How did visual designer Kathy Couch and dramaturg Ain Gordon feed into the process?
A. It’s very much a piece of visual art that we inhabit, this structure that we’re in. Working with Ain was paramount. I needed someone with an outside eye to make sure the layering was cohesive and had a complete trajectory. I can really say I love this work. When I watch and see a performer approaching a ladder, it feels exactly the way I felt [climbing]. To have a sensation matching the performance experience is incredible, and the dancers feel that too.
Q. Your current company is four women plus an apprentice. Will you be dancing in the piece as well?
A. No. I’m really appreciating having an outside eye, and as my works get more multidisciplinary, I need to be more of a director as well. And the kind of physicality I use, my 44-year-old body is like, No!
Q. This work is very athletic and theatrical. Are those qualities hallmarks of your aesthetic?
A. The athleticism is always a through line. There’s a certain raw way I like to hurl through space, and I love to watch people, especially women, have this phenomenal power and abandon, and that’s quite dominant in my vocabulary. It’s abstract, but personal. The theatricality here is in the visual design, like the bright yellow ropes that cut the space.
Q. What drives you to choreograph?
A. Three answers. One reason is I really enjoy the craft of choreography, being in the studio working on movement and direction in time and space, the intellectual and physical rigor. Another is I’m really subconsciously trying to figure something out, like an experiment, and I kind of work it out through the process, and that becomes kind of cathartic. And I’ve done it my whole life, and I can’t imagine not doing [it].