Silas Riener is a dancer and choreographer currently residing in New York City. Described by New York Times as one of the most ‘superlative performers of our day’ he graduated from Princeton University having studied Comparative Literature.
In 2007 he became member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company whilst studying at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
At present, and as both choreographer and performer, he develops projects that vary from site-specific, improvisational and traditional pieces and often works in collaboration with creative partner Rashaun Mitchell.
Here Louise Leverett discusses with him the process and influences behind his work and also what inspires him within his creativity.
LL: At what moment in your life did you decide that you wanted to be an artist? Can you pinpoint it?
SR: I can’t exactly. I know the first time someone asked me what I did and I said I was an artist and I didn’t feel sheepish or false was only really recently, maybe in the last 3 months. Maybe it corresponds with the first time I made something I feel really connected to (the site-specific show “r e v e a l”) presented by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival.
I know that in college it hadn’t really occurred to me that you could have a life as an artist (or mainly as an artist). I came to New York for the summer in 2005, sort of to try it on. I think the fact that I was even considering it means I already had half a leg in.
LL: Has there been a person or particular influence on you which has made an impact on your creativity?
SR: I think once you open that door it’s hard to cram it shut. I think there is room for a lot of different kinds of things to influence creativity. Food does, for me. Travel and experiences of space feel really powerful to me, seeing the Serengeti, seeing really desolate parts of the natural world like rural Thailand, southern Egypt, Banff national park, and seeing the cities of the world. also, as of this very moment William Gibson, Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter, Merce Cunningham, Anne Carson, Tere O’Connor, Sarah Michelson, my teachers Rebecca Lazier, Carol Emerson, Tracy K. Smith, Linda Gregg, my dad, my close friend Michael Rider, Tacita Dean, Helmut Lang, my work with Ariane Harrison and Harrison Atelier, lighting designer Davison Scandrett, science fiction writers Octavia Butler and Orson Scott Card, the artist Martha Friedman and writer Claudia La Rocco and endless conversations with Rashaun Mitchell about all of the above.
LL: In terms of creativity what surprises you in the world today?
SR: Less and less surprises me, and I think that’s maybe endemic in what is happening in the art and performance world. I’m not after being surprised; I think we have equated innovation and novelty and progress for too long. So don’t surprise me. Make me stop breathing, or make me forget where I am, or make me remember something or dream about it.
LL: How important do you see culture as a way of defining creativity?
SR: I live in New York in order to maintain a foothold in a really impossibly vibrant cultural community. It’s really important to me that I see what other people are working on. I think that watching culture is a way of maybe looking at how a society, or a people, or a city, is trying to deal with some problem, or points of conflict, or tension that is felt. So it’s a creative departure point, whatever kind of art you might be making.
LL: Do you use music as a point of reference for your work and if so, what pieces inspire you most?
SR: I don’t typically use music when I’m constructing a work necessarily, but I think a lot about how musical experiences shape the viewing of dance. I think “inspiration” as a sort of fantasy idea of how art gets made is a perforated idea. Right now I’m listening to sound recordings of horses, a lot of hip-hop, a lot of American poets reading their own work, and the baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.
LL: What scares you as an artist in the world today?
SR: I’m not sure scared is what I’d call myself but the thought of putting work in front of people for them to think and say what they will is really hard, especially when the work doesn’t yet know what itself is. When I choreograph or dance I’m making work out of my very self and then giving it to people; there’s a part of me that wants them to care as much as I do.
LL: Is there another culture in particular which your curiosity is drawn to?
SR: No. I want to go everywhere and know everything about everyone.
LL: How does your own culture or place in the world influence your work?
SR: I think a lot about the context in which work gets made and I’m not sure how I would separate culture and influence from the work itself. For myself or for anyone else.
LL: And as an artist, creatively speaking, what terrifies you?
SR: I’m not terrified. I’m also terrified all the time. I’m nothing but terrified.
LL: And finally, If you are the centre of your world, what makes your world turn?