Checking in with Miki Liszt

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What are you working on right now?
I’m working on new material for a piece that I’m going to do to the Persian drumming of Djamshid Chemirani. Over the past 10 years or so I’ve been exploring my roots in Iran. I did a solo called “Under the Veil” and then developed that into a group piece. This is more a high-energy movement piece using Persian music.

Miki Liszt says she founded her dance company before there was any local institution that supported dance. “But now, happily, there is a dance minor at the University of Virginia and there are many small dance companies in the area, from ballet to jazz—and a couple of contemporary dance companies.”

Tell us about your day job.
My day job is running Miki Liszt Dance Company, which is based at McGuffey Arts Center. I started the company about 26 years ago to support dance and dancers in the area, but in particular to support contemporary dancers. Part of that support falls into programs, such as the First Friday Dance Series at McGuffey, which supports independent choreographers and dance companies. Then there’s the component of supporting young dancers, which is reflected in the Community Children’s Dance Festival, which will be in its 26th year next year.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?
I was tiny, very young, and I was taken to see the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado and it was Alexander Danilova and Igor Youskevitch performing works from Swan Lake, which I remember vividly today. It was an amazing experience.

Tell us about a piece of art that you wish were in your private collection.
Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” I’m a big fan of the Dutch Masters. I have a very broad interest in art; I love to go to art museums and some I particularly enjoy because of their architecture. We spent a couple of summers in Holland and so I would take our children to the museums quite a bit.

How do you prepare for work?
Much of my time I spend training technically. From the outside, it’s hard to imagine how much time you need to spend to stay trained so you can execute whatever you want to do on stage. I train in a number of different ways. I do Bikram yoga, and I take as many dance classes as I can in as many styles as possible. And then I have my quiet time working on my own material and then, of course, there’s the rehearsal time that’s spent with other people: collaborators, dancers. That pretty much fills up the day.

What is a concert, exhibit or show that has recently inspired you?
We were recently in Paris and went to the Théâtre National de Chaillot, where we saw a performance of Orphée, which is French for Orpheus, by co-choreographers Dominique Hervieu and José Montalco. It was the most seriously thoughtful and challenging, physically and intellectually, because they juxtaposed artificial and physical limitation by, for instance, putting a woman on point shoes next to a man who had pogo sticks under each of his feet next to an amputee on crutches. It was the most powerful use of physical limitations I’ve ever witnessed. There are clips of it on YouTube, I think.

Favorite artist outside your medium?
Can I name my kid? He is absolutely my favorite artist outside of my medium. His name is Greg Liszt and he’s in a band called The Deadly Gentlemen and also with Crooked Still. He’s a banjo player, and just an outstanding composer, performer, musician, producer, poet and songwriter. He’s ferociously willing to take risks on stage and in the music he writes, and I really admire him for that. He performed with Bruce Springsteen.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I have to say, the fear of failure has never stopped me in the past. I mean, being in contemporary dance in Central Virginia for 26 years?  

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