Jennifer Monson has been pursuing an original approach to experimental dance forms in NYC since 1983 when she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. In that time she has created a wide body of work that incorporates well-developed collaborative relationships with many artists including Zeena Parkins, Kenta Nagai, DD Dorvillier and Yvonne Meier. Her solo work has been presented at many venues in the U..S, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and Tanzania. Major works in the past 10 years include The Pigeon Project (2000), The Glint (1998), Sender (1997), La Mer (1995), Tackle Rock (1993), and Ursa’s Door (1990). Her project BIRD BRAIN (2000-2008) includes the theatrical work Flight of Mind (2005) and four migratory tours: Gray Whales (Spring 2001), Ospreys (Fall 2002), Ducks and Geese (Spring 2004), and Northern Wheaters (Fall 2010). Each tour provides over 30 free outdoor performances, and covers routes from Mexico to Canada, from Maine, through Cuba to Venezuela, from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, and from the Arctic through Europe to West Africa. In 2007 she completed a year-long project iMAP/Ridgewood Reservoir on the border of Queens and Brooklyn and is currently working on the Mahomet Aquifer Project in Central Illinois.
Monson has received a Guggenheim Fellowship (2003), a Foundation for Contemporary Performance Art Fellowship (1998), the Lambent Fellowship in the Arts (2007), the National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship (1989, 1992, 1993-95, 1995-97), and the New York Foundation for the Arts Artist’s Fellowship (1989, 1998, 2008). Monson’s choreographic achievements have been recognized by two Bessie’s (New York Dance and Performance Awards), in 2006 for BIRD BRAIN and in 1997 for Sender and sustained achievement in the dance field. Her work has also been supported by Creative Time Inc, Dancing in the Streets, Movement Research, The Open Meadows Foundation, The Puffin Foundation, and the Martha Porter Fund, and, in collaboration with composer Zeena Parkins, by the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Meet the Composer and the American Composers Forum. Her work has been reviewed by such writer/critics as Ann Cooper Albright, Sally Banes, Jennifer Dunning and Deborah Jowitt. The BIRD BRAIN Osprey Migration was reported on CBS radio The Osgood Files. The BIRD BRAIN Ducks and Geese Migration was profiled in the “One Small Step” column of the Sept/Oct 2003 issue of Sierra Magazine. The iMAP/Ridgewood Reservoir project was reported on National Public Radio, April 2007, and in Orion Magazine, April/May 2008.
BIRD BRAIN has been awarded grants from the Multi-Arts Production Fund (2000, 2003, 2005), the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) BUILD Program (2000, 2004), Creative Capital Foundation (1999-2001), the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the New England LEF Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and Altria Group, Inc. The BIRD BRAIN Ducks and Geese Migration also received an NPN Community Fund grant for documentation and evaluation. Flight of Mind has received support from the Multi-Arts Production Fund, the American Music Center Live Music for Dance Program, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bossak-Heilbron Charitable Foundation, the National Performance Network Creation Fund, and The National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts.
Since 1985, Monson and composer Zeena Parkins have been committed to an ongoing investigation of the dynamic interplay of dance and music. Monson has also collaborated and performed extensively with Yvonne Meier and performed in the work of Cathy Weis, DANCENOISE, Karen Finley, Eileen Myles & Ellen Fisher, Lisa Kraus, Fred Holland, John Zorn, Yoshiko Chuma, John Bernd, Pooh Kaye/Eccentric Motions, and Jennifer Miller’s Circus AMOK, among others. For several years she curated two dance/music improvisation series in New York City (Hothouse at Performance Space 122 and Dive-in at Danspace Project at St. Marks Church) and has a strong commitment to improvisation as a performance form. She has participated in improvisational festivals in New York, Seattle, Stuttgart, Minneapolis, Montreal, and San Francisco as a teacher, performer and panelist. Monson is a dedicated teacher to a wide range of communities in New York City. From 2002-2004 she participated in Dance Theater Workshop’s Public Imaginations Program through The Neighborhood School, and incorporated the BIRD BRAIN educational resource guide into fourth grade studies as well as included a group of five students in the Flight of Mind performances. From 1996-1998 she was a NYFA Artist in Residence at The Neighborhood School where she integrated movement and music into the science/physics curriculum for the third and fourth grades; she also directed two projects with El Puente’s Academy for Peace and Justice in her community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Brinca Charcos (1995) and THE SUGAR PROJECT (1997). Her early childhood class from Children’s Liberation Daycare can be seen on the TV show “Sesame Street.”
Monson teaches improvisation and composition. She has taught widely in NYC and at various colleges throughout the U.S., and internationally at The International Summer School of Dance, Tokyo, Japan; The Performance Space, Sydney, Australia; Chisenhale Dance Space, London, England; Center for New Dance Development, Arnhem, Holland; Festival de Danza Post Moderna, Caracas, Venezuela; Acarte, Lisbon, Portugal; Bagamoyo College of Art, Bagamoyo, Tanzania; and in Havana, Cuba. In spring 1995, she co-taught a course at Carleton College, MN with Laura Schere entitled “Moving Queer Bodies – power, performance and cultural re-alignment.” This course combined cultural studies and queer theory with dance history and contemporary approaches to performance and political strategies. Monson currently teaches in the Department of Dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, serving as a full-time faculty member.
I place myself in the tradition of experimental dance artists starting with the early modern dance pioneers and continuing through to the radical artists spawned in the Judson Church era. These inquisitive artists used a rigorous investigation of the body as a vehicle to reconceptualize the nature of form and to constantly re-negotiate the relationships between art, environment, power and place. I am committed to this legacy of being a constant inquisitor and devotee to the rigor of process. Situating myself in the American tradition of examining the frontier—the border between wilderness and civilization—as a dynamic arena for embodying the contradictions of freedom and power, my dance work navigates the territory between what is wild and civilized.
In the navigational dance project BIRD BRAIN I make dances that are informed and created by the process of navigating along the migrational journeys of animals. By literally following a similar time frame and spatial pattern the dancing is responsive to both the micro and macro events that affect the animals migration. My observation of animals as well as scientific research into their navigational tools and perceptual abilities informs my own approach to navigation as a dancer. This process has been rich and complex starting from a deep investigation of the senses and navigating the bodies systems – (Gray Whale Migration); to creating dances within and of particular places (Osprey Migration) to investigating the energetics of flocking and adaptive systems (Ducks and Geese Migration) to creating interactive systems within the container of a theatrical setting as well as pointing to the relationship of the theater’s building to its environment (Flight of Mind). I started this project feeling bereft – that wilderness as I understood it no longer existed in the world (or soon wouldn’t). My understanding of wilderness has evolved into something intertwined within our own consciousness and interaction with the environment. Wilderness or wildness is a state of dynamic adaptability constantly that surrounds us whether in the massive effect of Hurricane Katrina, of the micro affect of endangered butterflies returning to the Twin Cities Ammunitions Plant or the emergent systems of the World Wide Web. Am I compounding wilderness and nature? The usefulness of the term “nature” has become complicated for me as I struggle with the dialectic of nature/not nature. What is not nature? Wilderness becomes a more amenable concept for me in that it alludes to something untamable, unknowable and challenging, and it is a very human concept. Wilderness as a concept seems central to human evolution. Dancing is a powerful medium for addressing our “nature” and is one of the places I experience wildness.
My current artistic concerns have brought me back to the urban environment. In order to support my own work as well as creative interdisciplinary collaborations with other artists, researchers and designers I have incorporated as iLAND- Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance.