Ephrat Asherie on "ODEON"
An Interview with Ephrat Asherie by Nadia Halim
New York City-based b-girl and choreographer, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie brings the underground club ethos to Joyce audiences in Odeon, a music and dance-filled collaboration with her brother, jazz pianist Ehud Asherie. Inspired by the sounds of Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, the work features a unique hybrid style of breaking, house, vogue, and West African dance. We sat down with Ephrat to discuss the creative inspirations behind her work.
Going to school and working as an artist here, how were you first introduced to the NYC underground dance scene?
I grew up listening to hip-hop in the 90s, the golden era, and was fortunate that a friend of mine took me to a breaking practice in Bushwick in the early 2000s. There, I met the person who became my breaking mentor, Richard Santiago, aka "Break Easy," a legendary Bboy from Brooklyn who's been breaking since the 70s. He organized free community practices at the Bushwick/Hylan Community Center. It was free for anybody and you just showed up and got down. But you had to show your dedication over a period of time—show and prove, especially as a woman—to be taken seriously. But it was through that community, the breaking community, and specifically "Break Easy," that I got introduced to this world.
You have studied the vernacular jazz dance roots of contemporary street and club dance. How has your research informed your understanding of the work you do?
I was really lucky that I was surrounded by dancers who were so deeply rooted in the scene that, from an early point, I understood that these dances were not just about the dances, that they were about community, culture, lineage. When studying different vernacular jazz dances, the connections to the club styles that we do were clear. The roots in West African rhythms and movements are so present. I grew up listening to jazz—my brother's a jazz pianist—so I always loved the music, but when I started to understand the depth of the continuum of dances from the African Diaspora and that breaking, hip-hop, and house all come from jazz and are part of this lineage...it changed everything. And I was around people who were passing on this information, how important our dance lineage is in the community, and how important it is to honor your teachers and your elders. That's integral to being a part of the underground scene in New York. Looking backwards as a means to move forward with purpose, you know?
You and your brother work within different mediums of music and dance, what challenges did you find in aligning your artistic visions for this show?
I think the thing about working with your sibling, is that you can be so direct. So, even when you have a just a disagreement or you don't see eye to eye on something, you don't have to beat around the bush.
What captivated you and Ehud about Ernesto Nazareth’s music?
I was lucky because I grew up going to my brother's gigs. He played a lot of standard jazz from the 30s and 40s, but then he would start to play samba—or what to me sounded like samba—so I asked, "Why are you playing samba in the middle of a jazz set?" And he said, "Oh, that's the composer Ernesto Nazareth from Brazil." I already had a deep interest in Brazilian music and dance, because in the house clubs that I was going to in the early 2000s, there was a community of dancers from Newark, and they were Brazilian. I was hearing house music with Portuguese lyrics and Afro-Brazilian rhythms, seeing people doing really smooth and fast footwork rooted in that feel. I definitely learned my first samba in the club!
You’ve dedicated Odeon to Marjory Smarth and Raymond "Voodoo Ray" Ultarte. Can you speak more about your relationship to these dancers?
Yes, I'm dedicating the performance to two mentors of mine, Marjorie and Ray, who were really gatekeepers in the community. I was just lucky that they were both mentors. Kind of big sister, big brother figures to me and many people in my generation, specifically to a lot of women. They really supported us in ways as dancers, but also just as human beings growing up-giving us opportunities to really express, truthfully, whatever we were doing. Whether it was "Here, let's come do a show together” or "I'm making choreography. Come and dance with me," they were always encouraging us to just kind of go for it and not put up our own barriers or let anybody else's barriers get in our way. It's a major loss that they both passed away in the last four years. Marjorie passed 2015 and Ray in 2017. It's kind of insane and it still feels difficult for everyone in the community. But I know they would've been so excited and proud of us.
Can you wrap up in three words how you would describe Odeon?
Music, connection, and dance. I think. But maybe in its simplest form it’s—
Yes. Between music and dance. Between dancers. Between movement and space. Between us and our elders, ancestors, and lineage. What do all these relationships bring out that we can't speak about as easily as we can move about? That's what we're exploring here.