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The Smith Blog

The Smith Interviews Andy Horowitz of Galumpha!

Combining stunning acrobatics, striking visual effects, physical comedy and inventive choreography, the physical theater trio Galumpha will perform 3 pm. Sunday and 10 a.m. Monday (Oct. 14 and 15) at the Smith Opera House as part of its ArtSmart Educational Theatre series.

Formed by Andy Horowitz and Greg O’Brien in 2002, Galumpha delivers a fast-paced, athletic brand of movement, distinctive for its ingenuity yet universal in its appeal to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Calling their work “Experiments in Human Architecture,” Galumpha has been seen on national television (including “The Late Show with David Letterman”) and tours around the world, tallying up to 150 shows a year.

As president, director and performer, Horowitz is joined by Galumpha performers Jennie Codis and Gil Young Choi. (O’Brien is no longer with the group.) The Smith’s marketing associate Karen Miltner recently interviewed Horowitz via email to find out how Galumpha makes its art.

Q: You are only a couple hours away, yet I’m not sure that you have performed in Geneva before. Have you?

HOROWITZ: We have, but it’s been a long time. We performed twice at Hobart and William Smith Colleges back in the 90s.

Q: Well then, welcome back. What should someone who has never seen Galumpha expect? Are your performances narrative, and if so, how do you make them so without language?

HOROWITZ: Expect the unexpected; we choreograph our dances and discover our costumes and props through pattern-breaking games and activities that bear results even we cannot predict. For example, I might dive into a garbage dumpster with a promise not to emerge without a new costume piece. Such was the case when, way back in 1987, I found three discarded cheese-boards, strapped one to my butt, and realized that if I had wooden spurs I could kick the board with my heels. We’ve been performing the piece, called “Clackers,” ever since.

Our performances are not narrative, at least, not as a whole. They are comprised of individual vignettes. Our process is similar to the way rock bands assemble song lists; we consider the venue, the overall show length, and the pieces we may have performed previously as we piece together a given program.

Q: How do you select music with your choreography?

HOROWITZ: Our ears are always open. When music inspires us, we find the copyright holders and begin a conversation that we hope will result in a rights-sharing agreement. Our favorite scenario is to approach musicians directly. Often, they are delighted to have us spread their creations worldwide, while we benefit from the music’s originality. We have such an agreement with a Czech band called Jablkon. We love their music and will feature it heavily in our Geneva program. We don’t always choose music first. Sometimes, we choreograph first and then add music later. Sometimes, we don’t add music at all, as in the piece, “Weird Sisters,” which will be in Act 1.

Q: I read that you are willing to try anything physically with this group. What have you tried that you didn’t think would work but did? And conversely, what have you tried that didn’t work?

HOROWITZ: Well, every single lift and balance in the show is the result of an experiment that worked. The ones we don’t put on stage are the failures. Here’s an idea I had that didn’t work:  Observing that Challah bread dough is very elastic, I made an enormous batch and brought it into our rehearsal studio. I thought that we might be able to roll three strands, dangle them overhead from a batten, have each dancer grab one of the hanging ends, and then dance them into a braid by grapevining around each other. We made an enormous mess and I spent hours cleaning grease and flour from the floor.

Q: At 58, how do you manage to perform such challenging acrobatics? A lot of dancers and athletes have long retired by that age.  

HOROWITZ: I used to think that I had a good work ethic and took care of my body, but I’ve seen so many dancers forced out by arthritis, bad knees, bad backs and bad hips, all of whom took meticulous care of their bodies, that I now believe that my longevity is nothing more than good luck. I suppose a contributing factor is the genes I inherited from my mother. At 86, she still runs up and down stairs, hikes vigorously in the woods, and seems barely to have slowed in 50 years! Thanks, Mom!

Q: You tour overseas. How are audiences the same or different than here in upstate New York? And do make us jealous by telling us some of the fabulous places you have been.

HOROWITZ: Generally, audiences around the world laugh and clap at the same points in our shows, which are non-verbal. The strangest audiences were in China, where none of the 12 venues at which we performed for the 2013 International Shanghai Arts Festival did anything to prevent the use of cell phones. As soon as we started performing, people in the front rows stood up and started filming with their cell phones. Of course, this forced people behind them to stand as well, which forced entire houses to stand. Most people watched us by holding their phones overhead and peering upwards at the screens. It was disconcerting for us, but the locals seemed to accept it as normal. Oh, and here’s where I’ve performed: USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, Finland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Israel, Bahrain, England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland, South Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, New Zealand.  

Q: Costumes and props for your performances have to be both minimalist and fantastical. How are they created? What have been some of the most memorable?

HOROWITZ: Yes, you make a good point. Because of the extent of our touring and our interest in minimizing costs, I design all our costumes to fit in regular suitcases that can go on planes. We approach costume design with the same pattern-breaking tools that we employ in our collaborative choreographic process. At the top of our show, we come out wearing several costumes at once in layers, which we strip off in the wings between numbers. For our Geneva program, we will bring jeans with unzippable out-seams, Velcro hats, Japanese-style hakamas (skirt-like trousers that are part of the Aikido tradition), red jumpers containing fake legs, and a bag that will dump a hundred pounds of rice on our heads, among many other surprises. I have a shop in my basement, half of which is for wood and metal-working and the other half for sewing. Even this morning, before responding to these questions, I spent several hours sewing costumes in preparation for tomorrow’s 8 a.m. rehearsal.

Q: What and who inspires you?

HOROWITZ: I get asked this question a lot, so I’ve had time to reflect. It’s easy to write that I’m inspired by artists like Bill T, Jones, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Igor Stravinsky and Bruce Lee, or by magnificent scenery, compelling stories, love, fear, by marriage and by parenthood, by my teachers and my students, and all of that is true. However, there is one thing that always gets my creative juices flowing and is my greatest inspiration: bad theater! When I’m trapped in a show that I hate, ideas come so fast and forcibly, one after another, that I struggle to remember them. They may start as sarcastic responses to what I’m seeing, but soon they take me far away into worlds of their own.

TICKETS FOR BOTH SHOWS ARE ONLY $6.50! They will be available at the door before the show or at our box office.