Jo Andres ‘Freaked’ by Her Own Magic Show


Choreographer and film maker Jo Andres experiments so much with high-speed dance, fluorescent fabrics and cinematic light during performances that the artist admits to being “sometimes freaked” by what it all represents.

Getting this 33-year-old New York quasi-cult figure to talk about the tricks of her trade is like pulling artistic teeth.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” Andres says with a giggle when asked how and why her dancers turn into luminous and cartoonish skeletons. “You wouldn’t ask a magician to tell you how he did stuff.”


But you would ask a choreographer. And since Andres makes use of vaguely menacing arm-waving and hip-twisting in her dances, it seems only fair to ask her why she feels compelled to make light shows on the human body, as did revolutionary choreographers from Loie Fuller to Alwin Nicolais.

“The reason why I’m drawn to using film to enrich dance is that there is a kind of mystery--a mood thing--that I don’t think would be possible with just dance or just film alone,” says Andres.

“For me it is more interesting to change the flatness of film--to make it kind of 3-D and to make light dance--and to make the dancing look less dimensional, more compressed, like pictures, mysterious symbols where the light bends and shifts, than to work with just the human form.”

Andres is speaking of her newest work, “Before Your Eyes,” which incorporates the primal and earthy movements of Cynthia Meyers, Ellen Sirot and Andres, the part-Eastern-influenced, part-heavy metal music of various East Village bands as well as experiments with film, scratch animation, fabrics and plastics. It will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Ahmanson Auditorium tonight.

Andres, a Cleveland native, had trouble arriving at her technological vision of dance when she arrived in New York in 1981 after graduation from Ohio State University with a BA in dance.

“I just hated that term, modern dance . The dancers were either trained to look bland or to be smiling all the time, which I found really irritating. I wanted to see dancers use their faces as part of the moving body.”

A divorce and a physical injury forced her to leave New York and return to her alma mater for a master’s in film and dance.

The artist returned to New York in 1984, becoming what Interview magazine called “the high-priestess of day-glo” when she galvanized a group of artists around monthly performance marathons called “Full Moon Shows.”

In “Liquid TV,” dancers doused themselves in fluorescent yellow paint, manipulated plexiglass tubes and made patterns in the darkness with the lights, parading like banshees to live singing by Mimi Goese.

Such visions seem about as far away as possible from the calmly Midwestern and laconic Andres, who admits to growing up “in ticky-tacky suburbia” and being “100% corn-fed.” Where then does the morbid negativity in her work come from?

“Oh boy! That’s an even bigger mystery,” Andres says, laughing. “You see, I don’t like talking about this stuff, because it has to do with psychic phenomena and stuff going on inside me I don’t necessarily understand or want to understand. But the truth is that there is some pretty dark and scary content in the work, an acceptance of dark energies which exist whether we like it or not.

“I am mostly interested in getting at a place, a mental reality, that the day-to-day human body couldn’t express: a half-way place between film and the body that points to a strange, unexplainable way of seeing stuff, of feeling stuff, of knowing stuff, of being completely different.”