Interview: Pat Graney on Girl Gods at REDCAT

In Pat Graney’s newest work Girl Gods, her company of fierce female dancers explores rage and the pressures and expectations women face in Western culture. Winner of the 2016 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Visual Design, Girl Gods is an episodic voyage into the female experience which is brought to life using dance, humor, and bold, colorful visuals. Downtown Weekly contributor Elizabeth Austin interviewed Pat Graney about her process, the creation of Girl Gods, and how it connects to an everyday audience.

Elizabeth Austin (EA): What is your creative process?

Pat Graney (PG): My creative process since 1990, when the Pat Graney Company was incorporated, has been that the piece is really the process, and the honor and integrity of that process is what creates a base for the piece to live. Even though the audience is not part of that process, they connect to the truth that comes out in the piece.

EA: How did you create Girl Gods?

PG: Girl Gods is part of a triptych, with the first piece being House of Mind which I did in 2008. The first triptych I did (Faith, Sleep and Tattoo) is about women and identity. Faith really launched my career, and afterward, I started looking at the creative process in that way. House of Mind was my first installation piece and it was about my childhood and my mom dying of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2013, when I started making Girl Gods, I wanted it to have the same sensibility and accessibility of an installation piece, but the process for Girl Gods was really hard to access. We [the Pat Graney Company] talked about women and race and we came up with individual rage solos. For me, it brought up all this stuff from the 1970s and I got in touch with a lot of anger about how women are treated in our society.

As part of this process, we went to this glass recycling place in Seattle, and we were just picking up pieces of glass and throwing them until they shattered. Without exception, everyone who threw some glass then instinctively pulled back in shame. There is this legacy of women not being allowed to be angry and show their rage. And that led me to the question of, who has the privilege to get angry?

I also do a lot of work in prisons through Pat Graney Company’s Keeping the Faith – The Prison Project, which is a three-month-long program of movement, writing, and visual art in correctional centers. We’ve been doing this program for over 20 years, and time and time again we meet these women who are in prison for murdering their children when in actuality it was their male partner who committed the crime. They feel so guilty that they take responsibility for the murder. These women come from a legacy of abuse and violence, and we see them in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, and they still have a spirit and are still human beings. It puts into perspective the fact that we are not allowed to have rage as women, and that there is this other side to us as well.

Girls Gods really embodies a woman’s life and the choices about who you can be in Western culture. We address beauty pageants, eating, and the infantilizing of women and each dancer has her own rage solo about her personal experience.

EA: How does Girl Gods tie into your other work, such as Faith which came to REDCAT?

PG: The overarching themes of women and identity are the same, and it’s also about lineage and legacy. I like the idea of seeing the lineage of the work, and I think that visual artists get to do that much more than performing artists. With my work, which is both visual and performative, you can see the arc over ten or twenty years. If you saw Faith, you can see where we are now with Girl Gods and see that connection. And if you didn’t, you can connect to the work in a new way with a fresh perspective.

Pat Graney is a winner of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Alpert Award, US Artists Award, and the Doris Duke Award. Girl Gods is at REDCAT from November 3 – November 6. Tickets are available online.