The Zen of Zap

The Zen of Zap

When Martha Mendenhall was thinking about the idea of Wunderkammer, a multifaceted arts carnival profiled in C-VILLE just last week, she picked longtime Zen Monkey Dance Troupe member Zap McConnell to take the reins as artistic director. McConnell has been involved in many different aspects of performance art, from theater and dance to studying clowning in Mexico. When I talked to her, Zen Monkey was in preparation for their seventh annual Summer Dance Intensive, which hosts students from all over the region, and I got to ask Zap about her influences.

Spencer Lathrop: Dance influences?
Zap McConnell: I started late, at 19. I was in the theater department at North Carolina School of the Arts, and I was watching actors and I didn’t believe a word of what they were saying because of their body movement. I switched to dance and fell in love with improvisation. Pina Bausch is a choreographer who is so visual, and I feel like I have more of a visual style also. I got to see her work at Brooklyn Academy of Music several years ago, when the whole Zen Monkey troupe piled into a van and made a crazy midnight voyage up to Brooklyn. She makes things larger than life. The Bread and Puppet Theater has influenced my art through its combination of theater and dance. Bill T. Jones is a heavy hitter. And Sigfrido Aguilar was my teacher in Valencia, Mexico, when I studied abstract-movement theater. Later I took some workshops in New York with him. He is a real old-school clown.

One reason I started dancing was because of music. My older brother was turning me onto music, and I was sneaking into clubs in Charlotte at 12 and listening to a lot of punk bands. The bass player from Anti-Scene was working in a record store, and for my birthday he picked out Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. I listened to that a lot. I love when people mix sounds, like Bad Brains. And I am finicky, but I love all genres: Neil Diamond, Ralph Stanley, The Kinks, Flipper, Bauhaus. And for dance, I love Radiohead. They create an environment, and for me dance is all about an altered state.

Wunderkammer is a celebration that bring artists and people together, which attracts me to it. It is about embracing the spectacle. And it is really good to look at all we do have here in town. The festival will be a combination of dance, theater, installation art, ritual and storytelling. We will have jugglers and an aerial act. And, of course, music: The Falsies, Las Gitanas, American Dumpster, Jim Waive, Three Dollar Date and others. Plus, I  always wanted to grow up and join the circus.

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