Face to Face: Stefanie Batten Bland

Company SBB in Patient(ce)

As the daughter of a writer and a jazz musician, it seemed preordained that Stefanie Batten Bland would pursue a career in the arts. But she didn’t encounter her first serious dance classes until her freshman year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. “I thought I would audition under dance—I was very flexible—and then transfer to another department,” she says. “Thanks to some formidable teachers, I was bit hard by the dance bug. It was the most glorious thing, to feel so good doing something and realize you could touch people, doing it.” Her foray into choreography happened equally unexpectedly: In addition to being cast in the Opéra Comique’s Looking for Josephine, she was hired as the musical’s co-head choreographer. Now, as director of her own company, known for creating futuristic and often site-specific environments, Batten Bland splits her time between New York and Paris. This month, Company SBB performs Patient(ce), a study in jazz and homage to her late father, as part of New York City Parks’ SummerStage series.

Inside Patient(ce) “It looks at the formal structure of jazz—something that happens in the present tense only once, but it’s constantly happening. I find that so rewarding in jazz music, that sense of camaraderie that the musicians have with each other and trust and, due to the formula, knowing when you have to come in. We do that in dance, too. It’s absolutely necessary for a successful improvisation. It was at the same time quite cathartic and a lovely tribute to my father, who was a very important atonal and jazz composer and producer and director.”

Why the space is important “I grew up in a loft without doors or separations, where space is very communal, and at the same time has distinct properties and meanings, depending on where you are. I’ve noticed from the get-go that what has made me tick is bringing places and spaces to life. My works aren’t necessarily large in scale, but they do render the space between audience and performer really rich and even tactile.”

On choosing her dancers “I don’t really follow a company system, casting the same people. There’s a big pool of people with whom I work. Each piece has its own casting identity; I don’t want a project to resemble the one that came before or after it. I’m inspired by subjects and ideas, and then I make the right casting according to that.” DT

Training: Los Angeles County High School for the Arts; Joffrey Ballet School; Purchase College, SUNY

Performance: member of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, 1998–2001; performed with Sleep No More, Seán Curran Company, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Kraig Patterson and Tanztheater Wuppertal under Pina Bausch

Choreography: founded Company Stefanie Batten Bland in 2008

Photos from top: by Marc Millman; by JC Dhien, both courtesy of Batten Bland

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