Produced by Marc Santo & Scott Newman
Camera by Rainer Evans
Edited by Todd Beiber
Interview by Marc Santo
On stage, Ann Liv Young has rolled around in her dog’s ashes, had sex with co-stars, covered herself in blood, drank urine and attacked a PETA activist. Off stage, she has given the audience lap dances and ridiculed her own cast for fucking up during a performance. With a reputation like this, Ann Liv Young has no trouble drawing a crowd—even if it has at times festered into an angry mob.
A graduate of the prestigious Hollins University dance program, as well as a former resident of the FUSED program in France and the Laban Centre in London, Ann Liv’s work is presented at some of the most notable venues and festivals around America and Europe. Her shows—which she writes, performs, designs and produces herself—are over-the-top performances combining elements of performance art and choreography with music video culture and strip clubs. A venomous, Caligula-like character on stage, off stage she’s as nice as pie and can be found handing out homemade cupcakes to fans after the show. Whether the end justifies the means or vice versa, the world needs someone like Ann Liv Young—a true entertainer in the spirit of John Waters who continues to push the boundaries of fine art and taste.
MARC SANTO: Your work is controversial. Some people love it and others hate it. You’ve been called “shocking” and “one of the most subversive choreographers of this generation.” Do you purposelyset out to make people uncomfortable?
ANN LIV YOUNG: I don’t know why I’ve been called one of the most subversive choreographers of my generation. I think that’s kind of sad actually. I make work that’s aggressive, sexually explicit and provocative, so I can understand why people could consider me controversial. There’s a misconception that I’m a scary person, but that’s not actually true. It’s not like I’m running around my house naked with a knife all the time. Onstage I play an aggressive female, and that might push people to an uncomfortable place, but it’s not my fault that people are uncomfortable with certain things. When I’m rehearsing, I’m not thinking, ‘What can I do to make these people as uncomfortable as possible?’ The work is about challenging me and the performers and not just the audience, which is what most people think. It’s not enjoyable for me to perform oral sex on stage. It’s not sexually arousing to me at all, but if that’s something the work needs, then I do it. I don’t set out to shock, but now that I know that people are so easily shocked I definitely have fun with it.
MARC: Have there been times when you’ve shocked yourself?
ANN LIV: I did a show in Scotland that pissed people off because a cast member urinated in a bucket and I drank it. That’s gross, isn’t it? [Laughs] Some of it landed on the audience by accident and that was really bad. I had thrown the bucket up in the air and it landed on a lady who was sleeping—how she was sleeping I have no idea—but that certainly shocked me. Even though I thought it was funny, I thought I was going to get arrested after the show.
MARC: What do you hope the audience takes away from your performances?
ANN LIV: I don’t care what audiences take away from my performances. I have no expectations for them whatsoever. If somebody hates my show that’s great, and if somebody loves it that’s great too. I’ve had many people who wanted to strangle me after they’ve seen my work, and I think a lot of people consider that a bad thing. People think you’re supposed to make work that makes people feel good or enlighten them in some way and I’m completely not interested in doing that. It would be amazing if people were OK with everything I do, and I think in some ways that’s my goal. I think the work is accessible to everyone and not just to artist weirdo people. Not that artists are weird, but you understand what I’m saying. Making work that’s accessible to everybody is important to me—it’s nearly impossible—but it’s a fun goal to have. I’m not doing mainstream work and I feel like a lot of people come just to see what crazy thing I’ll do next, which is good because at least they come.
MARC: What can people expect at your shows?
ANN LIV: When I describe my work to someone who knows nothing about it, I usually describe it as a dance performance or play that other people consider controversial. They’re like, ‘You mean like Broadway?’ And I’m like, ‘Um…yeah.’ Even though it’s not like Broadway at all, but what am I supposed to say? It’s easier to make something up than tell them what it really is. Every show is different, but there are some recurring threads. I like things to be uncovered and real, so we don’t leave the stage to get undressed or change costumes. The audience sees everything. If I mess up or somebody messes up, I’ll just restart the show. A huge part of my work is mixing the fake with the real, so if we’re forgetting lines, we’ll just make cue cards on the spot and if there’s sex then it’s real sex. I’m a bossy girl on stage and I blur the boundaries to the point where the audience can’t tell if it’s really me or just my character. I guess that’s why so many people hate me.