James Graham is a performer, choreographer and teacher. During 2014-15, he taught both the introductory and advanced levels of Modern Dance Technique in TDPS, and was also featured in our 2015 Alumni Panel. [See bottom of page for full bio.]
Can you briefly talk about your career journey from graduation until now?
After graduation, I lived in SF for a couple years, dancing project to project, living in the Haight and working at a raw food restaurant. I wanted to continue my studies, so I went to The Ohio State University from 2007-10 for an M.F.A. in Dance. I returned to SF, working with Joe Goode, Lizz Roman, and started to make my own work professionally. In 2011, I moved to Tel Aviv, Israel for a year and studied with Ohad Naharin/ Batsheva Dance Company to pursue becoming a Certified Gaga instructor. In the Fall of 2012, I moved back to SF and began teaching Gaga, making more of my own work through my company, James Graham Dance Theatre, and dancing with Hope Mohr Dance and Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts. I have also been on faculty at Dominican University (LINES Ballet BFA Program), Shawl-Anderson, SF Conservatory of Dance, and right here at UC Berkeley.
You majored in Theater and minored in Dance but actually ended up using more of your dance background in your current career. What drew you to major in Theater, and how has that course of study also informed what you do today?
I was drawn to study theater at UC Berkeley because of the performance studies aspect of the department. I loved that I could take Classics, Rhetoric, Film, Queer Studies, Dance, and Theater courses in one major. As a Theater and Performance Studies major, it only took me one semester to find dance. I loved it and, with great encouragement from former Lecturer Christopher Dolder, started to pursue dance seriously.
Being able to speak in front of a room, talk about my choreography in a clear and easily understandable way, and be in charge of a dance technique class—ready to set the tone or atmosphere—all come directly from my theater skills. I know that using my voice and understanding movement and human behavior has fed and imbued my dancing with qualities that are compelling. Being a well-rounded dancer (one who can speak or act) or actor (one who can move or act with their whole body) is incredibly valuable.
Congratulations on your recent Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Individual Performer for your entire season of performance with James Graham Dance Theatre (which is a great honor since usually people are just nominated for one piece), as well as your nomination in the area of Choreography for “Guilty Survivor.” Can you tell us more about “Guilty Survivor” and how it came to be?
Thank you! It is a great honor to be recognized in this way. I presented “Guilty Survivor” at the Joe Goode Annex in the Fall of 2013. The piece deals with paying homage to the gay men who died of AIDS, feeling their presence in the city, and honoring those who helped these men (nurses, families, clergy). I had been feeling this energy and the need to create something from these ideas since I moved to the city in 1999. I was finding my way as a young gay man, but had the intense awareness of something great and huge just occurring in this place, these streets, those homes. It was out of my reach, I had just missed the “party.” Men my age, who grew up roughly in the 1980’s, sometimes have an odd relationship with HIV/AIDS. It shaped us as children, into our coming of age years, and once we found ourselves as adults, we had few if any mentors around us, and felt a sense of guilt for being alive, a sense of “I’m sorry.”
These issues of being a gay man and what it is to deal with self-perception, interpersonal relationships, history, gender, and American culture continue to be central to my artistic and choreographic focus today.
Can you share a favorite memory of your time in TDPS?
Dancing in Janice Garrett’s “Hither Thither” in 2013-2014. Up until this point, I hadn’t thought of myself as a dancer. I was not confident in counting while dancing. I did not have as much experience as everyone else in this piece. However, after rehearsing for the entire year, when it was in my body and I didn’t have to think so hard about every single movement or count, it was one of the most exhilarating, joyful dances I have ever been in. So much so that I think Janice had to ask me to tone it down.
What advantages did your TDPS education give you?
I left Cal and TDPS feeling full. I knew something about Shakespeare and Greek Tragedies, Martha Graham, Augusto Boal, myself as an artist and a thinker. I had a relationship to my moving body that was positive and brimming with curiosity. The world was clearer because of my education. And I had connections with people that would serve me in my future. A degree from Cal opens doors.
James Graham is a performer, choreographer and teacher. Graham is currently on faculty at UC Berkeley, the Dominican University/LINES Ballet B.F.A. Program, and at the SF Conservatory of Dance where he teaches GAGA People classes on Tuesday evenings. Graham was chosen by Ohad Naharin (Batsheva Dance Company) to be a Certified Gaga Instructor and to take part in his pilot training program of international Gaga teachers. He has taught extensively on the West Coast, the Midwest, as well as Canada, South Korea, and Israel. He presents his choreographic work through his company James Graham Dance Theatre, while also curating the work of others, namely in Dance Lovers, his annual Valentine’s show of duets. He will be premiering “Homeroom” an evening-length show looking at male relationships at ODC December 10-12, 2015. This year he won an IZZIE award for Outstanding Achievement in Individual Performance (for his Entire Season) and was nominated for an IZZIE award in Choreography (“Guilty Survivor”). Graham received an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University in 2010, and a B.A. from UC Berkeley in 2005 where he Majored in Theater and Minored in Dance. www.jamesgrahamdancetheatre.com.