Mark Haim: Finding a Place Within the Wider World

Interview with choreographer Mark Haim, presented by CHOP SHOP Dance Festival

Written by Lucy Carlin during TeenTix’s Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP


Staring. Bending. Waving. With intention, these movements are all dance. Dance is everywhere. Each and every human being can find it within themselves. From the most well-known choreographer to an individual dancer just starting their career, everyone represents tiny parts of a greater community. This concept, being small parts of a whole, is the driving force behind choreographer and artist Mark Haim.

Vibrant, laughing, and quite talkative, Haim draws people in. His words and storytelling have a unique quirkiness to them, moving the conversation along in a fast-paced yet informative manner. These personal qualities are reflected in many of his works. His dances open up into impactful and profound reflections of his thinking. Watching clips of his The Goldberg Variations, This Land is Your Land, Overflow or any one of his multitude of works, it takes only a few minutes for the depth of his ideas to hit, pushing one to break down greater reflections on concepts such as humanity and time. In This Land is Your Land, dancers move along a pattern, then explore mutations of it carrying coffee cups, plastic guns, and even cellphones. The bright colorful costumes and everyday objects paired with his choreography in This Land is Your Land are a doorway into Haim’s thoughts on consumerism. There is thoughtful passion and humor in his works emphasizing the connectivity of life. Each little person, concept, and object is relative to the other, their presence ebbing and flowing with the rise and fall of each.

Haim’s choreography is a spirited, everlasting dance of balance between purely beautiful movement and firmly intentional timed expressions of thought. His experiments with this relationship are present in every piece.

“If I’m working on movementjust trying to develop movementI start to look for the thing that isn’t there, which would be the expression and vice versa,” he said. “I don’t know if I am able to do just one. I think it's important for anyone who is making creations to feel like everything is in everything. There might be less of one thing than another but they’re all still there”

Fans of contemporary dance might remember his piece from 2019, Parts To a Sum, which explores how Haim is impacted by those dearest to him. He created a solo incorporating movements sent to him from 371 friends and relatives, ages ranging from 1.5 to 93. Videos averaging 15 seconds filled with jumping, falling; slow, focused arm movements; and even eating were sent with love and support. The final performance of these movements honored the interconnectedness of humanity. This emphasizes the building of a great artist from a foundation of many, and how the end result is the sum of all those efforts.

Haim is not interested in perfectly packaging his work, preferring to allow audiences to draw their own ideas with his choreography. Audiences are given the freedom to interact with his work in the moment rather than come to a performance with set parameters of how they should experience it. In his newest piece, choreographed in quarantine for film, his goal was to “almost get the focus to go from me to what was around me.” He hopes the audience will engage with parts that speak the most to them. Here, he again explores the theme of a greater whole, however instead of a community of people, it is humans, trees, wind, and air adding up to make the environment. Demonstrating a goal of chipping away at the self-importance of humans and to build towards working in unity with life around us; to respect the environment. Aiming to be part of something that is more than just himself, Haim’s choreography in this piece is almost secondary to the movement of nature around him.

When faced with challenges or lack of motivation in this time of isolation, Haim again brings back the idea of smaller parts of a whole. In the face of uncertainty, he advises people to break challenges down and approach a single part first to trick themselves into achieving the larger goal.

Haim awaits the day people gather together to experience live music and dance as part of a whole audience rather than separate viewers. He recounts “I started to cry… feeling the music can’t replace that'' after watching a live dance performance by Whim W’Him in Volunteer Park this past summer where a mariachi band nearby happened to be playing. Assembling to experience a live performance is something many are craving, and he hopes the pandemic will show people the importance and universality of dance.

In Haim’s upcoming dance film WALDO: 2020 for CHOP SHOP’s virtual contemporary dance festival, viewers can watch him give back to the world around him, blending into the trees and shrubs that characterize the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Northwest. Filmed in the I-90 corridor and on the lands of the Muckleshoot, Coast Samish, Duwamish, and Tulalip peoples, Haim provides a space for people to reflect on being part of a greater whole and humanity in relation to themselves as they are presented during the viewing experience. Emphasizing dance’s ephemerality compared to the seemingly everlasting presence of plants, this work is inspired by his reflection upon nature and its generosity in quarantine. He explores the ways he takes up space in comparison to the greater community and world. Try to spot him, first obviously in the frame, then partially hidden amongst the foliage, and finally almost disappearing into the woods to give the plants a chance to speak. Catch the world premiere of this work on Thursday, February 25, 2021.

You can see Mark Haim's work at CHOP SHOP Dance Festival’s online offering. The dance films are available on their website through March 31, 2021.

Lead photo credit: Mark Haim performs his solo Parts to a Sum, photo by Deb Wolf.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP Dance Festival which was held January 10-31, 2021. The workshop was taught by Press Corps teaching artist Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor.

This workshop was generously sponsored by Case van Rij and the Glenn Kawasaki Foundation.

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