One of the interesting aspects of being the chief editor of LA Dance Chronicle is that I get to choose which Los Angeles based dance artists or soon to be performing in LA choreographers to interview. Recently I had the privilege of interviewing dancer, choreographer, educator, and producer Taryn Vander Hoop who moved to Los Angeles a couple of years ago. Since relocating here with her husband and two children, Vander Hoop has formed the west coast extension of Summation Dance which she co-founded with Sumi Clements in New York in 2010. She is also an Assistant Professor of Dance Loyola Marymount University.
Vander Hoop began dancing at age 3 but then stopped during her teen years. She enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a pharmacy major, but Terpsichore, the goddess of dance, had other plans for her destiny. She began taking dance classes there, and soon transferred into the Dance Department, one of the oldest dance departments in the United States. It was a small department at the time, providing Vander Hoop with many opportunities to perform in faculty and guest artist works. She also took advantage of the department’s ample scholarship program for their majors to study in New York City. Her father was not happy with her decision, but Vander Hoop’s mother said that “You will have a much more interesting life!” Vander Hoop told me that her mother was absolutely correct in her prediction.
Vander Hoop graduated from UW-Madison with a B.S. in Dance, English Literature, and Spanish and considered traveling to Spain or auditioning for the NYU Tisch School of the Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography. She auditioned for the department, was accepted and soon graduated with a M.F.A. in Dance.
It was at NYU where Vander Hoop met her “artistic partner” Sumi Clements and following graduation the two women co-founded Summation Dance. Knowing that the decision to start a dance company in New York is not an easy one to make, I asked Vander Hoop about how and why they did so. She agreed that it was not an easy decision, but that at the time it felt like they had no other choice.
“In graduate school the lighting designer said that we (Vander Hoop and Clements) were like rice and beans. Separately they’re great, but when you put them together they make a complex protein,” Vander Hoop said. “Artistically we jived together, had the same ideas about what type of work we wanted to make.”
Vander Hoop moved to New York in 2008, right when the financial crash happened and she said that two years later when she and Clements graduated, things had not greatly improved. There were approximately 45 dancers who graduated from the TISCH dance department, nine of which were men. Of those 45, all 9 men but only one woman were able to acquire dance jobs. Both women had large student loans to pay off and decided that they were not going to wait around for the arts industry to recover financially. Vander Hoop said that the decision to form a company was an easy decision because “It was the only decision.”
“When you go out on your own, it can be very isolating,” Vander Hoop stated. “but because there were two of us we were able to focus on business and the work without sacrificing either.” She credits writer, composer, and Arts Professor Andy Teirstein who gave them a project during their last year at TISCH called Dream Big. “I didn’t follow any of the guidelines,” she added. “But I said that I formed a company instead.”
The word summation has a couple of meanings. To Vander Hoop and Clements it literally means the sum of two parts. “Drifting off that idea,” she said. “Obviously, you can go your own way but when you put two things together it become stronger especially if there is an energic affinity there.” During the early phase of the company it was Clements who did much of the choreography, so the title Summation Dance was a play on her first name, Sumi, as well.
Summation Dance had its first performance in 2011 at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City. Since then, the company has performed at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Judson Memorial Church, Jacob’s Pillow, and received commissions from numerous venues and universities across the country. Vander Hoop has also performed the works of Andrea Miller/GALLIM and Sydney Skybetter/skybetter & associates and been involved in projects with Gerald Casel Dance and Laura Peterson Choreography. With DEL, she has choreographed large-scale Movement Sentence Choirs in collaboration with Larry Keigwin, Urban Bush Women, Monica Bill Barnes, Nicole Wolcott, and Yin Yue. Vander Hoop is an E-RYT 500 certified yoga instructor, and has led 200hr certifications in New York, South Korea, Vietnam, and New Jersey. She wrote her own certification curriculum in 2017 and started Lila Flow Yoga, which is recognized by the Yoga Alliance.
Part of the company’s touring experience was to tour the U.S. in a van, a la Merce Cunningham Dance Company back in the 1950s and ‘60s. This enabled Vander Hoop and Clements more time to schedule studio time to create new works. Now that Clements lives in NY and Vander Hoop in LA, what to call the company has come up. The two women are still artistic collaborators and have decide to make the company bicoastal, naming it Summation Dance/LA and NYC which is a continuation of what the word means to Vander Hoop, that you are stronger when you come together.
Vander Hoop feels that this is the third iteration of Summation Dance and is very proud that she and Clements can have separate personal lives on opposite sides of the country while continuing to collaborate, hopefully impact more people in their work. “I really love how we have morphed as we’ve not only grown but aged and allowed more of ourselves to come to the experience,” she said, “I can’t separate from being a mother and an educator, and all the things that make up my life in dance now.”
While reading about Vander Hoop and her work, a particular part of a sentence piqued my interest. It read “….to invoke poignant images that resonate within the deep recesses of our collective psyche.” My question to Vander Hoop was if she and Clements utilized the ‘collective psyche’ in their work by collaborating with the dancers during the creative process. Her answer was yes.
“Our last piece, Project Highway HabitUS which was cancelled due to Covid,” she continued, was immersive and all about how our habitus and geographies inform our cultural and political ideology. We actually called it Highway HabitUS, a play on words with the United States. We really drew on the dancers’ experiences and we would set exercises that we would do with dancers at each location.”
Habitus: A sociological system aimed at understanding why individuals perceive the world as they do, and how this, in turn, informs their behaviors and participation within society.
Vander Hoop sent me a brief description of Project Highway HabitUS. It read in part: From 2016 – 2019, Sumi and Taryn traveled intermittently by Camper Van around the country researching ideas of how geography shapes political and cultural ideology. This concept was loosely inspired by, and developed in tandem with, the 2016 election cycle. We believed there could not be a more apropos time to observe the country as it grapples with recent and coming changes.
Their work was not just about what divides people, but also what unites them. During their travels a small part of their research involved dancing at community centers in Kentucky, they met the street-dwelling Bathrobe Poet in New Orleans, danced at the border of Mexico and the mountains of Colorado, attended a pro-life rallies and the Women’s March in NYC. Throughout their travels, Vander Hoop and Clements collected their findings through interviews, outreach, observation, photography and video.
One such exercise involved listening. Usually during a conversation, one person might cut the other off with an unrelated statement. “How can we actually turn that off and learn to hear the other person? We would do an exercise where each person got to tell a personal story about a strongly held belief and we then turned that into movement to create these beautiful duets,” Vander Hoop explained. “It is both drawing from the dancers’ experiences to create that imagery and hopefully it reaches the audiences.” Because Vander Hoop considers her work to be abstract, it is not important to her that the audiences actually understand the story that the dancers are portraying, but that it might touch something deeper within them that they may not be able to put into words.
“The culmination of Project Highway HabitUS was intended to be a multi-media evening-length work featuring Summation Dance company members, dancers and performers we met during our travels, and special guests. The performance was set to take place May 28-30, 2020 at The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn, NY, but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she wrote. You can read interviews about this project at DYI dancer and at Dance Magazine.
Vander Hoop said that when she moved to LA, she was open to what came her way. She was fortunate to get the position at LMU and finds that the community there is truly aligned with what she wants to be artistically in terms of social justice and dance for community. “Also,” she continued, “honing the craft and training professional dancers.” She told me that she was so grateful for getting a job that balances both her interests.
Her teaching style involves longer sequences throughout the class. Vander Hoop said that rather than just doing a rote-like warmup her movement phrases are full out choreographies throughout the entire class. “One of the reasons I do that,” she explained, “is that I’ve always found it challenging to go from the technical into suddenly learning choreography. Those two parts of class never made sense in my head so I make the class more continuous and serve the students in terms of being able to remember and learn long, complex phrases that has strength-based technique embedded within the exercise. I try to make class feel like a journey, similar to learning a new piece but with different goals.” Vander Hoop also uses this method while teaching yoga and inserts bits of yoga into her technique classes primarily to help with the mental health of her students.
My final question to Vander Hoop was aside from our readers getting to know her better, what is it that she wants the LA dance community to know what she can offer them.
“It is a hard but good question and one that I am trying to figure out,” Vander Hoop answered. “One of the things that I have been investigating is this idea of large group dances called DEL Movement Sentence Choirs .” It is something that she has been working on with the Dance Education Laboratory in New York. “These are large scale movement performances that you speed choreograph and I collaborate with other artists. So, I’m hoping to do those. It is a great way to gather community into one space, and the great thing about LA is that there is a lots of physical space unlike New York City.” Vander Hoop feels that this will be a way to not only collaborate with other artists, but to introduce herself to more people.
Vander Hoop has noticed that there are a lot of dance festivals and wants to submit her work to be performed on one or more of those. This summer, along with the Chair of Dance at LMU, Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, and Tippy Dringman and Annalise Gehling, Vander Hoop has a residency at Green Box Arts Colorado to develop an evening-length work with three dancers. She is also setting a work on another organization, Danceworks, and feels that after that she will have more of a new body of work ready to present in LA after these engagements.
“I’m really allowing myself for the first time the gift of space to really listen and to see where I can serve,” Vander Hoop said. “I think that I have a different style than what I’m seeing out here, so I would love to offer that.” She hopes to do more choreographic workshops and residencies in schools. “But where I’m really feeling compelled is this marriage between community work and professional work and how can that work to bring more people to dance. I don’t know exactly how that will look just yet, but I am excited to develop it however I can out here.”
It was a pleasure to get to know Taryn Vander Hoop a little and I look forward to seeing her work.
To learn more about Taryn Vander Hoop and Summation Dance, please visit their WEBSITE.
Vander Hoop in conversation with Gus Solomons, Jr.