In her latest dance-theater piece, The Other Here, Molly Hickok ’82 plays the role of a Japanese man-servant. She smokes a pipe while lying on her back, waves a saw around, interacts with her character’s wife, and executes energetic Okinawan dance steps. She also listens to presentations taken from American insurance sales conferences.
That’s all in a night’s work for Hickok, a dancer who has spent most of her career with Big Dance Theater, a New York company known for combining dance, music, literary texts, and drama into experimental theater pieces. The Other Here, which had its final performance Sept. 29 in New York, began with a grant from the Japan Society to support Western artists exploring Japanese culture. Hickok describes the piece as a work with “disparate, counterintuitive elements.” It combines Okinawan pop music, traditional and modern Okinawan dance, two short stories by Japanese author Masuji Ibuse, and rah-rah presentations culled from sales meetings. “We wanted to add something very Western to the mix, and we found these speeches,” said Hickok, who thought the sales speeches were surprisingly earnest.
A Boston Globe critic called The Other Here “a rumination on the meaning of existence and the quest for purpose.”
Other Big Dance Theater pieces have been similarly idiosyncratic. Plan B, produced in 2004, took inspiration from the Nixon White House tapes and the life of 19th-century German “wild child” Kaspar Hauser, who was discovered on the streets of Nuremberg and suspected of being a member of a royal family. The troupe began as a dance company that added theater elements, and “now we make plays that look like dances,” says Hickok, whose dance experience includes folk, flamenco, Japanese, and Georgian.
That eclectic sourcing works well for Hickock, a self-described “cultural omnivore” from Minnesota who majored in comparative literature at Princeton and got a certificate in theater and dance. Soon after graduation, she moved to New York and joined Big Dance Theater. Hickok also holds down a highly flexible day job working for a firm that administers charities.
Besides dancing with the troupe, she gets involved in the costumes, choreography, and administration. “We look at a scene, a piece of clothing, and over time we knit them together. I’m the person who says, ‘Let’s try this,’” says Hickok.
She’s now involved in crafting the next piece, to premiere next year at a French arts festival in New York. The new work will be based on a New Wave film, possibly Chloe in the Afternoon. (New Wave films are iconoclastic French movies mostly made in the 1950s and 1960s.)
When it debuts, it will be the next step in a path that in 2005 won Hickok a New York Dance and Performance (aka Bessie) Award, for her overall body of work at Big Dance Theater. She muses on her path as a hoofer: “I don’t feel like I had a career. I have a vocation. I feel lucky. I’ve always known what I wanted to do.”