'Fishing' Brings An Unlikely Trio To The MASS MoCA Stage
A dancer, an actor, and a drummer are joining forces at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, to present a work in progress this weekend.
On Wednesday, MASS MoCA offered reporters a first glimpse of Fishing – a new collaboration between Jon Hamm, Danielle Agami, and Glenn Kotche. In the dark of the museum’s Hunter Center, the performers flexed their respective crafts on a stage arranged with only a handful of minimalistic, geometric pieces by set designer Amir Raveh.
Hamm – the Emmy-award winning actor best known for “Mad Men” – sat at the edge of the stage to deliver a monologue about the ripples made by a chance encounter with a stranger penned by writer Nadav Heyman. Kotche – drummer of the Chicago-based rock band Wilco – played heavy, muted rhythms on his kit and samples of the melodic plunks of a kalimba. Agami – an Israeli choreographer who serves as the artistic and executive director of her LA-based Ate9 dance company – twisted and flowed and reacted to Hamm’s words and Kotche’s beats.
Hamm says the idea for the collaboration percolated almost three years ago, after his path crossed repeatedly with Agami in Los Angeles.
“And then every time she said what she was doing, I was like, well that sounds really cool," he said. "What you’re doing sounds fun and interesting and cool, and I like fun and interesting and cool, and maybe we should find something fun and interesting and cool to do together. That would be fun and interesting and cool. And so that was then sort of the object – was to find that thing, or to create that thing.”
Kotche was both a friend of Hamm’s and already a collaborator of Agami’s, having scored another piece of hers titled calling glenn, first performed in 2017. Hamm says the trio entered the project with little more than an idea of what it would become.
“You’re a dancer, he’s a musician, I’m an actor – let’s combine these three things and see what the mixture creates," said Hamm. "It was literally that organic and weird and nonspecific, and what we’ve come up with I think is something unique.”
Also directing the show, Agami says she oversaw the process of wedding the text by Heyman to her vision of the trio’s collaboration, which she describes as “an ongoing conversation.”
“It was my fantasy to have Jon collaborate with movement," said Agami, "and when I say collaborate, it doesn’t mean he has to dance, it means I thought putting dance near him could be really interesting and then to have Glenn support and create the backdrop of this meeting between words and movement.”
Agami says that while 80 percent of her movements are planned, the rest is left to improvisation and reaction. Kotche says he’s composed new works for the show, using a software called Sensory Percussion to trigger samples from his drum kit for large portions of Fishing.
“So, I’m trying to keep it more on the drum set for this, and less – in Danielle’s previous collaboration with Ate9 Dance, I was doing a lot of melodic percussion as well," said Kotche. "So this is more beat driven.”
Hamm says he has around 16 pieces of Heyman’s text to deliver over the course of the show.
“The challenge is to tell the story – what’s the story? What’s the story within the monologue, what’s the story overarching, and bring everyone along on that journey,” he told reporters.
As far as artistic precedence, the trio said there were few examples of the kind of collaboration Fishing represents. Only Hamm found a specific reference point for the show – the work of the late monologist Spalding Gray.
“It kind of feels like that – it’s very presentational in many ways, but also in the way that those shows were so emotionally affecting," said Hamm. "He was telling a story, and you got swept along in the story.”
Fishing is part of MASS MoCA’s residency program. With the museum serving as the host to Wilco’s biennial music festival – Solid Sound – Kotche already knew what it could offer.
“And so, I love this place, and always get deeply inspired when I’m here," said the drummer. "When we were thinking about places to workshop, this came up because I think Mike in my band did a workshop last year too. It was like, yeah, that could be great – easy people to work with, lot of resources.”
“I’m learning that it’s essential to concentrate and not have LA or New York around you," said Agami. It’s only the trio’s second full meeting to work on Fishing, and the first since September 2018.
“So it’s actually great to be here for a week," she continued. "Not only how amazing the crew and the production is around us, that is a treat, but also because Jon is really busy. And Glenn is very busy and has two kids. And I am very busy. And here we are, busy with this. And it’s really nice, and it’s a privilege to do only this.”
Two work-in-progress showings of Fishing – the first public offerings — are at the Hunter Center at MASS MoCA Saturday and Sunday.