Under the muscle and punk rock exterior, Atalee Judy is a true beauty. Piercing pale blue eyes, refreshing honesty and self-awareness tinted with humor are what you get one-on-one. She’s fierce, cool and definitely one-of-a-kind. Her background is as interesting as her look. Judy grew up on a horse ranch in Mansfield, Texas. After her father died when she was 12, she ran away to New York and lived with three punk bands, serving as a techie and housekeeper. Her uncle, a rich Republican that lived in the Chicago suburbs adopted her and she ended up in an all-girl Catholic high school which happened to have a terrific dance program. “I was on the basketball team…and the basketball coach was inspired by the football players taking ballet and dance to get better coordination. We got thrown into dance class and I pitched a fit about not wanting to wear pink tights. I didn’t want to take ballet, so she put me in this modern dance class. I insisted on wearing my basketball jersey. I was such a fucking tomboy. I fell in love. From that point on, I was doing talent shows. The nuns loved me. I had the shaved head, Sinead O’Connor look with my combat boots and little Catholic girl uniform.” A brief stint as a bio chem major led her to realize that dance was her passion.
As Artistic Director of BONEdanse, the new incarnation of her brainchild Breakbone Dance Co, which she started in 1997 after graduating from Columbia College’s dance program, she’s tackled social and political issues with tenacity and creativity. She’s also codified her own technique – the Bodyslam Technique – that she teaches in the Chicago area dance scene. “At Columbia, I realized that this whole falling stuff that I’d been working on was very interesting to them, but also confusing,” Judy says over coffee and some very hot tea. “They didn’t know what to do with me. When given a choice to improvise, instead of using classical technique stuff which I didn’t have an interest or want to do, I’d be doing prat falls and things I thought were exciting or energetic.”
For This is a DAMAGE MANUAL, four dancers (including Judy) and a sock puppet named Earl take the stage for a two-week run at Theater Wit starting Thursday. The evening-length work takes its cues from 1950s self-help records mixed with some 80s themes and a little psycho-analysis and self-reflection. Characters (a stressed out housewife, a dysfunctional ballerina, a Hitler-esque figure with a cold that under hypnosis becomes an Elvis impersonator) born out of last summer’s 12-week video project Danse Skitz are brought to life in problematic glory while trying to “fix” their damage via hypnosis and outdated advice. I sat down with Judy in mid-January to talk about the show.
From punk bands to dance, it seems an unlikely transition.
I was choreographing early on. It felt like something that I needed to get out. I’m a doer. I’d just do, not knowing what I was doing. When I was a kid, I would sketch the horses an try to make them move as opposed to static pictures. I was always watching them, how graceful and gorgeous they are. When you’re up on a balcony and looking down on a mosh pit, that kinetic energy going on and the whirlpool that happens…I’ve always wanted to bring that to the stage. I want a mosh pit on stage. I’ve always said there’s a lot of fall and recovery in the mosh pit. You really have to know where your weight is or else you’re going down to the ground and get a boot in your face.
Why the name change?
A lot of cumulative things. Some are kind of trivial, some are deeper, but I really feel personally trapped when I get categorized too much or defined…even when I feel obligated to be something that I don’t want to be or I’m not all the time. I think Breakbone started defining itself and me as this one thing and that’s all I did. I wanted to fold and just create something else that had a little more leeway and a little more play with it to where I could do anything I want, so I wouldn’t be defined by it. Oh, she falls a lot. I didn’t want to be the one-trick pony. It started getting to get to where I was demanding this of all my dancers. A lot of dancers don’t think they are athletes. I couldn’t keep working on the psychology of their issues. Either you’re an athlete and you believe it and you go to the gym and work out and build your muscles or you atrophy. It’s not enough just to do the movement. I was projecting a lot of my values onto them and I hate when people do that. I dwindled it down to people I really wanted to work with, because they offered different skill sets. And the other thing is the trust issue, making sure that I trusted their skill sets to be more collaborative. I used to come in with all the movement, all the concepts, all the answers – not in a control freak way, well they may have thought it was – they wanted to be fed and I would have all the answers for them. They just had to implement. Things have changed the trajectory. It feels more open, a little bit freer…less defining. One of the other elements is I feel like I said everything I wanted to say with Breakbone. We had a lot of social issues, political stuff that was very ragey, some controversial. I’m not going to top any of that. I think I’m done talking about that. The new trajectory it’s getting into a more psychological level of evaluating my own issues as well as things that I’m sharing with the company right now. It’s deeper versus reactionary.
Tell me about DAMAGE MANUAL.
I don’t know what I’m sitting on with this show. There’s a solo I do that’s so fucked up that I don’t even know if it’s funny. It’s just wrong. The whole show has a mash up feel. I saw Jyl Fehrenkamp perform this solo once for a show with Winifred Haun and it blew me away. It was about Women’s Stress Disorder. When we were working on this show, that idea kept coming up. I commissioned that from her. We’ve been working on a ten-minute chunk from last spring that we did it for the Other Dance Festival. My partner Karl has an old collection of self-help records from the 50s. Oh my, are they creepy. The records have all the glitches and skips. Somehow the 80s was coming in so I just went with it. There’s a therapist’s office, a ballet studio, a bathing suit section with a Crisco can, bathing caps and tanning bed goggles, a bullet bra…a mash up.
WHAT’S YOUR DAMAGE?
BONEdanse presents This is a DAMAGE MANUAL, Feb 2-5 & Feb 9-12, Thurs-Sat at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
Theater Wit, 1229 W Blemont, 773.975.8150, $15-$24