Cathy Gendron

Illustrator
Cathy Gendron Design
Ann Arbor, Michigan
www.cathygendron.com

Cathy Gendron is a conceptual illustrator for the editorial, publishing, and advertising industries. Her illustrations and paintings have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Utne Reader, and Seventeen. Cathy has also produced work for McGraw-Hill, Penguin Group, Kensington Publishing, IBM, Target, and Saatchi & Saatchi. She illustrated all the covers for Penguin’s best-selling Coffeehouse Mystery series written by Claire Cosi. Cathy is the recipient of awards from Communication Arts, Print, Society of Publication Designers, and the Detroit Creative Directors Council. She has served on the board of the Ann Arbor Art Center and more recently on the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. Since 1987, Cathy has taught painting and illustration for the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.  She resides in Ann Arbor.

Photo of Cathy Gendron

FAVORITES

Book:  Too many for just one.  Inspirational: The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. Best recent: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Memorable: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner From the archives: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Motto: Art is Life. Meaning to me, strive to look at every part of every day with fresh eyes.

Sanctuary:  My studio.

THE QUERY

How did you get your start as an illustrator?

My first freelance job came from my psychology professor at Eastern Michigan University. I drew portraits for a textbook he was writing. On his next book I was hired to produce the chapter openings (conceptual – the real thing). After McGraw-Hill received the final chapter art, they also hired me to do the cover image. I was so green that I sent the art rolled up in a triangular mailing tube. When it arrived crushed and unusable, my valuable lead for future work evaporated.  And by the way, the professor now heads an institute at Tufts and is a pretty famous guy.

Why does this form of artistic expression suit you?

I have a BFA from the late 70s. The language at school was all about abstract art and I was all about the figure. My favorite figure instructor kept trying to get me to LOOK at the model, instead of drawing shortcuts from my head. Those shortcuts proved to be a handy skill when I moved to illustration, where having a signature “style” is most often how we are remembered and how we get the next assignment.

What do you enjoy most about the conceptual element of your work?

Concept is the hardest part for me. Saying what needs to be said succinctly with the right message to the right audience is a challenge. When it works and everything clicks, it gives me much more satisfaction than painting a beautiful picture.

How do you go about making a character come alive on the page?

Being a voyeur may help. I love to watch people, making up stories about them in my head and guessing at what makes them tick.  Most of the preliminary drawing, the energy of the figures, comes from my head, but at some point I reach for my camera or turn to image search engines. Reference can be a dirty word in the fine art world but it’s a valuable tool in illustration. The trick is to use the specifics of a photograph (details that I can’t conjure in my head) and not lose sight of the original spirit of the sketch.  My secret weapon is the large mirror I keep beside my table.

Do you have a particular creative process or routine?

I’m guessing that mine is not much different from anyone else. I read the material for an assignment and do the necessary research.  Then I walk away from it and let the project seep into my thoughts. Sitting at my drawing table waiting to be inspired is almost never productive. When I’m really cooking, the project is with me almost 24/7. Daydreaming is underestimated.

What medium(s) do you typically work with?

I work with oils, applied in very thin layers (glazing), but I often do the under painting in acrylics. In my personal work I’m also teaching myself how to paint with the newer line of acrylics that stay “open” or wet longer than traditional acrylics. I have a blog (that I am not very good at updating) and over the last few years I’ve written several posts that show stages of my painting progress. Beware that you may have to wade through some travel posts to find them. www.cathygendron.blogspot.com

Is there an illustrator that you admire most?

That list changes monthly. At the moment I’m obsessed with Charley Harper.  He was a graphic genius, whose most spectacular images were of birds and animals geometrically reduced with amazing design sensitivity. A partial list of other favorites includes: Romare Bearden, Ben Shahn, Jacob Lawrence, Josh Cochran, Marc Ulriksen, Joe Sorren, Melinda Beck,  Nicoletta Ceccoli, Andrew Hem, and Leo Espinosa. And now I’m looking at children’s illustrators: Steve Johnson, Lane Smith, William Joyce, Peter Brown, and Jon Klassen.

What types of projects are you working on these days?

In June, I finished a book cover for a Penguin mystery series and an editorial piece for Eating Well magazine. But I’m proud to say that I’m hard at work on my first children’s picture book. It’s non-fiction and tells the story of how three brothers from Utah brought the Nutcracker ballet to the United States. Published by Millbrook Press, it’s due out some time in 2015.

Where do you find inspiration?

People-watching, artists from other disciplines, and other illustrators. I keep an unsorted folder of printed examples of good design, intriguing color palettes, anything that catches my eye. I read a lot and am in awe of good writing. I love to meet new people and learn about their lives. Travel and time off from the daily routine is critical to rebooting my brain too.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Keep it simple. Don’t over-think.

How do you define creativity?

Wow, how to answer that? I guess for me, it’s that magic moment when random thoughts come together to make something new, or to see something old from a new point of view.

What three things can’t you live without?

Sharp Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, deadlines, and my glasses.

Who in your life would you like to thank, and for what?

My father. We had a very close bond when I was young even though we argued constantly. He was an early feminist and taught me that, with enough hard work, nothing is impossible.  And my mother – the opposite of my father in many ways. She was quiet, understated, strong, and without a critical bone in her body. It took me too long to realize what an amazing woman she was. I want to thank her for giving me inspiration in the second half of my life.

Do you have any recommendations for aspiring illustrators?

The illustration field is crowded and the talent out there is astounding. Hard work and passion are critical if you want to succeed.  At CCS keeping a sketchbook is mandatory, but very few students take that requirement to heart and I often do not practice what I preach. The deadline pressure on my book project is intense and I’ve been drawing non-stop (nine to ten hours every day) for the last two months This experience has reminded me what it is like to be “in the zone” and how that only comes with practice, practice, practice. 

Katie Derosier

Exhibitions Manager
University of Michigan Museum of Art
Ann Arbor, Michigan
www.umma.umich.edu

Katie Derosier serves as Exhibitions Manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.  She oversees the management of up to fifteen temporary exhibitions each year.   Since joining UMMA in 2001, Katie has worked on a range of exhibitions, including The Romanovs Collect: European Art from the Hermitage (2003), Multiple Impressions: Contemporary Chinese Woodblock Prints (2011), and the upcoming HE: The Hergott Shepard Photography Collection opening in February 2015. In her earlier post as Curatorial & Exhibitions Coordinator, Katie provided research assistance and contributed writing to such exhibitions as Graphic Visions: German Expressionist Prints and Drawings and Betye Saar: Extending the Frozen Moment.  While living in New York in the 90s, she served as Assistant for Administration in the Department of Modern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. When Katie’s not working you can find her in the garden with her dog Rosie.  She resides in Ann Arbor.

Photo of Katie Derosier by Jane DeChants

Jane DeChants

FAVORITES

Book:  Everything on gardens by Louise Beebe Wilder

Destination: the Atlantic coast

Work of art: Caravaggio’s St. Matthew cycle of paintings at the San Luigi dei Francesi church in Rome

Motto: Volevi la bicicletta. Adesso, pedali. (You wanted the bicycle.  Now, pedal.)

THE QUERY 

When and how did get your start in museum exhibitions? 

Though my work at the Met was largely focused on new acquisitions to the collection, I was given the opportunity to work with curators on several exhibitions including a small show of Hans Hofmann’s paintings from the collection.  Smaller, collections-based exhibitions, in particular, were a great training ground for what the process can be.    

How would you describe your behind-the-scenes, multi-tiered role at UMMA?

My role is to build a strong foundation for every exhibition and to help keep the ship on course.  I’m involved in all the preliminary planning, such as calendaring the exhibition slots, creating the budgets, managing deadlines, and running project team meetings.  Ideally, I do my foundational work and then largely step aside to let the team perform their respective roles. My work is focused and detail-oriented, which I really enjoy, and once our projects get underway it’s a team-driven experience.

Which exhibition has presented you with the greatest learning curve, and why?

The Betye Saar project was my first experience in both organizing a national museum tour as well as contributing writing to a publication in tandem with my regular exhibition responsibilities.  My learning curve was very specific to developing the skills needed to grow and succeed — how to juggle multiple (sometimes competing) priorities, negotiate terms with tour partners, and write for a larger audience — generally how to be nimble and organized.

What three things typically come together in the best exhibitions? 

A fantastic concept (a curator’s wonderful idea), a team of people who are smart and talented (and enthusiastic, too), and the resources to make the project possible. 

What have you enjoyed most about managing the current roster of exhibitions at UMMA?

Experiencing that moment when everything comes together.  The team has met, the curatorial vision has been articulated, the checklist has been confirmed, the deadlines are being met, the layout has been created, and the exhibition is on track.  When you think conceptually and plan so far ahead, it is a great moment when you realize that it is all quite solid and real.

How far in advance do you begin working on an exhibition?

Our exhibitions range in size and scope, so some come together more quickly than others.  Typically our planning — knowing what an exhibition season or an entire year will be — is a few years out and it’s in that advance period where I do a lot of my work figuring out timing and schedules, consulting with colleagues, finalizing agreements. Aside from the day-to-day oversight of our exhibitions, I live very much in the future in my work.

What’s the first thing you do when you finish an exhibition?

Two things: first, I always clean and organize my desk (as a means to clear my head). Second, I visit the exhibitions when they open to the public.  At the point an exhibition is open, I’ve spent months if not years with the project and when deadlines loom the beacon for me is thinking about visitors experiencing what we’ve created. 

Do you have a favorite art history book/resource?

When I researched and wrote for exhibitions I used the University’s Fine Arts Library frequently and it was my best resource.  A well-worn copy of Ray Smith’s The Artist’s Handbook has also been indispensable over the years. Today my best resources are my connections with colleagues at other museums — we often call on each other for advice, ideas, and support.

What three things can’t you live without?

To-do lists, people in my life who inspire me, and a garden to dig in.

Who has had the greatest influence on your life, and why?

My mother.  She moves through the world with kindness and curiosity — an unbeatable combination in my book. 

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Do what interests you.

Lisa Waud

Floral Designer
Owner/Founder, Pot & Box
Floral Design/Horticultural Decor
Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan
www.potandbox.com

Lisa Waud is the owner and founder of Pot & Box, an Ann Arbor-based floral design studio situated in the Zingerman’s industrial complex on the south side of town. She founded the business eight years ago after moving back to Michigan from the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. In 2013, Lisa opened a second Pot & Box studio housed in a vintage Airstream trailer in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood with lead floral designer, Katherine Yates, who manages the Ann Arbor location.  When Lisa is not immersed in fresh flowers, you can find her exploring Detroit with her dog, Zero, or scheming her next trip to an inspirational city.

image

FAVORITES

Book:  Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart was the catalyst for my expansion from a gardening service into fresh flower design.

Flower:  This is an unfair question!  It used to be the dahlia with its endless petals. Then I picked up on the intensity of the ranunculus, but lately I’ve been smitten with the delicate astrantia.

Motto: Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Sanctuary:  I have a cabin up north on the water.  When I’m there, all is right with my world, even with its infuriatingly patchy internet.

THE QUERY

When did you first realize that you were intrigued with the art of the flower?

When I realized that flowers and plants were a possible medium, something in my whirring factory of creativity clicked.  Floral and garden design is no different than any other field of combining colors and shapes; it just has the added challenge of perishable elements. I was surprised that I feel closer to chefs with that challenge than I do with graphic designers or interior designers. And I’m starting to understand that the longer you work in your field, the more you have to build on when you want to pull off really interesting work.

How did you get your start in the business?

During the summers of my college years, I worked as a gardener for a seasonal company in my hometown until starting my own business with a friend. Eventually, I moved to Ann Arbor and founded Pot & Box, specializing in container gardens — pots and boxes. One thing led to another — during the weekdays I was a gardener and on the weekends a wedding florist.  While each followed their own set of design rules, both gardening and floristry fit well into the business, and I was enjoying my work. 

What led to the creation of Pot & Box in Ann Arbor in 2007?

After moving around the west coast for a few years and finishing school, I just knew it was time to move back to Michigan.  Ann Arbor was the only city I considered. Lucky enough, it was the perfect city to hatch my business, especially considering the economy at that time.  It would be a few years before I went full-time with my own business, but I appreciate the skills and connections I obtained until I was able to take that leap.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

It depends on the season, the day of the week, and how much coffee I have had.  If designing for myself, I tend toward clean lines and mono-floral in unusual vessels, or many simple vases overflowing with textural, foraged foliage and flowers.  The common theme to my aesthetic is a juxtaposition of some kind. I like modern if it’s habitable, and clutter if it’s well-aligned.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

When my client believes I understand his/her vision thoroughly, and then grants me flexibility to incorporate the season’s most beautiful offerings is the moment when I do my best design. So, I suppose what I enjoy most about my work is clear communication. When I say that, it sounds so business-speak as opposed to waxing poetic about flower petals, but it’s true.

Where do you typically source your flowers?

In the warmer months, we pull from the cutting garden right in front of the studio.  It’s a really lovely day when we take an order based on the most beautiful blooms of the day. We also enjoy working with local growers to source seasonal flowers for our daily deliveries and events. Of course, we can’t grow every flower we want whenever we want in Michigan, so we source from local suppliers with farms in California, South America, and in tropical areas around the world. Luckily, flowers grown in environmentally and socially-responsible ways are becoming the norm as demand grows.

What led to the creation of Pot & Box in Detroit?

I never could have explored my interest in Detroit without knowing that the Ann Arbor studio was in the capable and talented hands of Katherine Yates.  We had been working together for years when she came on as studio manager, and when she did, I was able to really consider opening the second studio in Detroit. I had been visiting the city more and more, and eventually it was obvious that I should make the move and expand our business.

Where can people go to find your traveling, stocked-full-of-blooms flower truck?

The flower truck makes appearances at pop-up markets and retail hot spots in southeast Michigan, with times and locations posted as we book them.  We’re currently stocking the former ice cream truck with a line of goods we call APT. DEPT., with fresh flowers, vases, plants, and containers geared toward efficient, designy, urban life.

What is it about a simple bouquet of fresh flowers?

Exactly! That’s the gist of my business plan.

What types of projects are you working on these days?

These days, I am working on my dream project, actually.  Next May, florists from Michigan and across the country will fill an abandoned house in Detroit with fresh flowers and living plants for an installation called Flower House. In addition to welcoming the public for visits over a long weekend, we’ll offer a few slots for couples getting married at the stunning venue.  I aim to raise the bar for innovative floral design in southeast Michigan, and anticipate national media coverage. www.theflower.house

How do you define creativity?

If you can take something that’s just an idea and give it life, that’s creativity. If you can make something you have done many times before and have it feel fresh, that’s also creativity. If you can take something trendy and have it feel unique, there it is again.  

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Specifically, the best advice I ever received was from Mark Hodesh at Downtown Home & Garden, who said, “Don’t do it.” What he was advising me not to do isn’t important. What is important is that I actually listened. One of the reasons I am still in business after eight years is that I can be incredibly fixated (read: stubborn). Learning that it’s ok to walk away from an idea was — and always is — humbling, but it is just as crucial as following through.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned as a business owner?

The greatest lesson I’ve learned (so far) is a hybrid of two answers above.  As a small business, your clients and followers are invested in your journey of success. If you communicate with them about where your inspiration is leading you, they love to hear the honest narrative, even if it’s about a design that didn’t work or a direction you didn’t take. Sharing the story is another currency of business.

What drives you these days?

I have been absolutely buzzing with inspiration this summer. I’ve made so many lovely connections with florists here and in other cities, and there’s a new school in session.

Leslie Stainton

Writer/Author
Ann Arbor, Michigan
www.lesliestainton.com

Leslie Stainton is an Ann Arbor-based writer and editor.  Her latest book, Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts, is a personal history of the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—one of the oldest theaters in America. Leslie’s other titles include Lorca: A Dream of Life, a biography of the Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, which won the 1999 Society of Midland Authors biography award. She has written for numerous publications and journals, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Opera News, American Theatre, Michigan Quarterly Review, The American Poetry Review, and the online journals Brevity and Common-Place. Leslie also serves as the editor of Findings, an award-winning magazine for the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Her earlier work includes a post as founding editor of Inside Borders and editor at the U-M Museum of Art. She is a two-time Fulbright award recipient.  Leslie was the 2010 creative nonfiction fellow at the Prague Summer Writers Workshop. She resides in Ann Arbor.

Photo of Leslie Stainton by Sean Carter

Sean Carter

FAVORITES

Book: Anything by Patricia Hampl.

Most treasured possession: My outlook.

Destination: Spain

Motto: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)

THE QUERY

Where were you born?

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

What were some of your earlier passions and pastimes?

Collecting dolls from around the world (a hint of the wanderlust to come), going crabbing on the Rappahannock River, theater. Anything to do with theater.

When and how did you decide to become a writer?

If I had to pick a moment, I’d say my 13th summer, when I was briefly a student in a boarding school in my grandparents’ hometown in Virginia. Deeply homesick, I’d sit in study hall in a fluorescent-lit gym after dinner and write out my anguish in my journal. It’s the first time I realized how writing can help make sense of life. The other answer is that I’ve always loved making sentences.

What led to your decision to write Lorca: A Dream of Life?

I fell in love with Lorca—his poetry and plays, his mercurial personality, his childlike take on the world—in graduate school, when I was doing an MFA in theater. For my thesis production, I wrote an original script based on Lorca’s Poet in New York. That led to the idea of a biography. I was also horrified by the story of his death and wanted, for lack of a better word, to “resurrect” Lorca—especially for American readers. I was lucky enough to get a Fulbright to fund two years of research in Spain. Without that grant, I would never have had the chutzpah to pursue the book.

What did you learn from sitting down to write this book?

Perseverance.

Do you have a particular writing process or routine?

Nothing I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share. Except in my day job (as an editor at the U-M School of Public Health), I’m a slow and fairly wasteful writer. My computer is full of files labeled “fragments,” “draft,” “notes.”

What intrigues you most about the craft of writing?

I’m intrigued by how the search for the right word or phrase or structure so often leads to a realization or understanding I didn’t know I was capable of.

Which authors do you typically turn to for inspiration?

Patricia Hampl. Virginia Woolf. Rebecca Solnit. Charles Wright. The Best American Essays series. My friend and former biography professor Stephen Oates. Jonathan Raban. André Aciman. Daniel Mendelsohn. Most of them contemporary, alas. I need to do more reading from the past.

How did you come to write Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts?

This is a building I’ve known and loved since I was maybe 12 years old—the Fulton Theatre, whose foundations were once the walls of the colonial jail of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Inside those walls the last of the Conestoga Indians were slaughtered in 1763, and African Americans fleeing slavery once languished. That a major American theater should arise on such ghosted ground has always struck me as both absurd and acutely poignant.

Why was this project important to you?

My friend Keith Taylor says that as writers, we all have certain god-given stories that are ours alone to write. This was clearly one of mine. I spent a fair amount of time working in the Fulton in my teens and early twenties, and that’s when the compulsion to write its story really took hold.

What topics are you drawn to in your essays and articles?

The usual suspects—time, death, parents (lately those three are pretty much one). Theater. The power of place. Social and racial injustice—I’m beginning work now on a book about my slaveholding ancestors, the Scarletts of Georgia.

What three things can’t you live without?

My husband. My passport. My memory. (If I could choose a fourth, it would be my kitchen.)

Who has had the greatest influence on your life, and why?

My mother, who taught me to look—really look—at what’s around me.

What’s one of the best sentences ever written?

From Federico García Lorca: “Solo el misterio nos hace vivir.”  (Loosely translated: “Only mystery keeps us alive.”) 

Peter Sparling

Dancer/Choreographer/Screendance Artist/Educator
Ann Arbor, Michigan
www.petersparling.com

A native of Detroit, Peter Sparling has been a dancer, choreographer, and educator for over 45 years. Currently, he is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Dance at the University of Michigan, where he has taught dance technique, composition, theory, and screendance for 30 years.  He is also co-creator of the U-M Ann Arbor Dance Works. A graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and The Juilliard School, Peter was a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company from 1973 to 1987, and has performed and staged Graham’s works worldwide. The Graham Company will perform his own work, Notes for a Voyage, this fall in New York City.   In recent years, Peter has turned his focus to the hybrid art form of screendance, the composition of movement imagery specifically for the screen His screendances have been featured at festivals around the world, and he lectures on dance for the screen at academic conferences and guest residencies. Among Peter’s recent screen productions is Last Man at Willow Run, “an elegiac tone poem for the post-industrial age,” shot in the Willow Run Bomber Plant just months before its demolition.  He also served as artistic director of the Dance Gallery/Peter Sparling Dance Company during its 15-year run in Ann Arbor.  Peter resides in Ann Arbor with his partner of 24 years, visual artist John Gutoskey.

Peter Sparling

Peter Smith Photography

FAVORITES

Most memorable performance: Rudolf Nureyev in Roland Petit’s Paradise Lost at the Masonic Temple, Detroit, 1968.

Sanctuary: the north woods behind Bay View, Michigan

Motto: Who ever said it would be easy?

Destination: back into thin air

THE QUERY

How old were you when you started dancing?

My first attempt was when I was about eight years old. I begged my mother for dance classes and it lasted for six months at Rose Marie’s School of Dance until I decided to become a violinist. I picked it up again eight years later as a student at the Interlochen Arts Academy.

Why has dance been your life’s work?

When I began dance lessons in high school, I found it absolutely liberating. It allowed me to ground myself in the world, and to engage space and time physically and poetically as if they were clay to be molded. It has granted me membership in a very elite and devoutly committed community of like-minded artists who share and create together a dynamic and precious legacy. Dance gives me the means to communicate with others and share my visions.

How would you describe your creative process?

Instinct, lots of lists, trial and error, a dance of random with the pre-conceived, calculated risk, technique, obsession, the ability to block out any distractions, giving into a flow, defying authority, the odds, and my own worn-out habits. Expecting everything from my dancers as I do of myself, giving everything to the moment and to the movement… then being able to step back, and to edit, edit, edit. Choosing good collaborators who share my vision and respect the process.

What was your experience of working with Martha Graham?

Martha was witty, temperamental, ruthlessly demanding, and stubborn. She challenged me to reveal and express very deep parts of myself.  I will remember her most as a supreme master and poet of the body who chose me as an instrument for her creations and taught me how to navigate the cruel, lovely waters of a life in dance.

Is the Graham technique still relevant?

As Modern Dance turns 100, Graham’s technique continues to set the standard as a complete system of modern dance technique and provokes little revolutions among the ranks, just as Graham and her generation revolted against what came before them. To understand embodiment as a practice vs. a theory requires the in-depth engagement and exploration of movement production and initiation that Graham’s technique demands. One cannot understand release or flow without an understanding of resistance, command, and sheer willpower.

What led to your intrigue with the art form of screendance?

Fourteen years ago, my colleague Terri Sarris and I decided to teach a screendance course together that merged our interests and disciplines. I had experimented with video since the early 80s and was anxious to expand my own and my students’ options for expression. I also was intrigued by the shift in scale: of a few minutes or hours moving for the camera vs. weeks or months sitting and editing on Final Cut Pro. The results were something more permanent, lasting, and material.

What is the most challenging part of making dances for the screen?

Our experience witnessing dance live and on stage involves what John Martin called metakinesis, a kind of kinesthetic empathy. Movement on a screen is flattened, risks being one step more remote, and is lost in the proliferation of visual information that gluts and creates our pictures of our world and our participation in it. My challenges are to manipulate scale and motion, camera and editing, performance specifically for the camera, and to evoke immediacy, visual excitement, and visceral connectivity.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about the body?

The body has an ancestral memory and a lively intelligence that sustain me when I respond to it with trust, respect, and receptivity. It causes me terror and fear… fear of injury, of aging, of immobility. I think of Blake’s Tyger, tyger, burning bright, of the body’s fearful symmetry. But the body is temporal. I must learn to give it up.

Who has served as your most important mentor?

No one person. Martha Hill, the founder of Juilliard; the first degree-granting dance programs in colleges and universities; the great dancer/choreographers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and José Limon; Rudolf Arnheim, the great explorer of film, art and perception; and my partner, John.  Norm Herbert.  Paul Boylan. The poet Robert Hass.

What do you enjoy most about choreographing others?

I am ecstatic when I see a complex system that I plotted in my mind and body materialize in front of me on other bodies. What a high. That said, the purest pleasure of the process for me is allowing for coincidence, chance, and the unexpected contributions of dancers to take the dance to places I’d never imagined and that mirror or make into metaphor the strange and wonderful workings of the universe. Craft opens into something greater, more comprehensive.

Where do you find inspiration?

When in the creative zone. Also music, film, books, articles about literature, the sciences, the brain, nature, long walks, lectures by colleagues, and long talks with smart people. Occasionally performances of theater or dance.

If you had not become a dancer, what might you have done with your life?

I might have become an English teacher or a violinist in an orchestra. I might have moved to France and become a painter.

What’s next for Peter Sparling, the dancer?

If I still even consider myself a dancer, I’d say it is to preserve what mobility I still possess, and continue to perform movement improvisations for the camera until I drop. I will pass on my knowledge to other dancers and continue to serve the U-M Department of Dance until I retire in three years. Then I plan to paint, write, and make videos.