Drea: How old are you?
Arien: I’m 24!
Drea: So you’re 24, you sound like this razor-edge of a person. How did growing up hone that? How did you sharpen yourself to get to this point?
Arien: Just from not having anything. Just from the ability to live with not having anything. Then you start to know what you want, you know? And start to know what you need and not only what you want. Like, “What do I need?”
Drea: What do you need?
Arien: What do I need? That’s interesting because it’s a difference. It’s like, do I need stability or do I not need stability? Do I need money or do I not need money? Now as I get older, it’s hard for me not only to define what I need but to say what I need because everyone needs the same shit! I’m kind of like, “I need that. But that person needs ‘that’ too.” I’m starting to realize that everyone’s really the same in that kind of context of everyone needs money, everyone needs stability, everyone needs consistency, [and] being able to go back to the same thing or to do something new and still have the same basis.
I was talking to my friend George who is a volunteer at the Boar’s Head Festival and he is apart of the Hartford Symphonies Orchestra. He was like, “No matter what, we always have 400 people in our shows a night. We know the starting base of any amount of money that comes to see Hartford Symphony Orchestra is 400 people. It can go more than that, it can go less than that. But we know we always do a range of 400 people in the audience,” or some shit like that.
The point he was trying to make is the idea that they have something consistent. So no matter what, they know that they have 400 people that are always going to see a show or 300 people that are always going to see a show at Hartford Symphony Orchestra. It’s that kind of idea of being able to maintain that and that’s what I feel like every artist needs: that consistent thing that you can go to. When Rihanna drops an album, she has an album, a video, a tour, then vacation, then she does it again. Every artist needs that.
Ony: Can you talk in general about Black Boy Jungle and The Projector Series and if someone were to come see the show at Real Art Ways, what they should expect from The Projector Series?
Arien: Well, Black Boy Jungle is completely different from The Projector Series because Black Boy Jungle was interesting in a sense that I just feel like The Projector Series and Black Boy Jungle are climate pieces because I choreographed them at weird times. Every time I think about The Projector Series, it’s always done in the winter and we’ve always done it in November, December, January. We’ve always done this piece when it’s cold. [laughs] I’ve always found that to be very weird.
And with Black Boy Jungle, we made it in the summer. I feel like Black Boy Jungle is the story of American identity told through reggae music, which was fun because I’ve always wanted to use reggae music. I’ve always wanted to use Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and King Tubby and I’ve always wanted to indulge in that type of, still, very political way of thinking. Reggae music was so political back then. In the 60’s and 70’s, it was more political than what it is now. And they said more than what you can probably say now.
There were songs like “Straight to the Capitalist’s Head”, as titles. Just sharp edge, you know? They’re not missing anything and that to me was important as fuck. Let’s just take the essence of being able to be next to your fucking father on the island in the God damned truck, driving down the road with your hair in the wind meets who am I? How am I going to define myself? Where is it that I come from? What is the idea of an American, the perfect American? How do we make up an American? How am I an American but still have ancestors that link me to a place that is not here? Am I essentially American or am I not? How does that define everyone? Especially in my company. [Black Boy Jungle] was about them. It truly was about the members of the company that I have. I have six beautiful dancers and they’re all different. Literally. One’s Greek, one’s Buddhist - he is Malaysian - one’s Mexican, one’s German and Polish and half-Black, one is West Indian.
Ony: What's The Projector Series?
Arien: Now The Projector Series was cool because like I said to you before, it’s a work of iteration. It was a one man solo done in a room [at about] 17 minutes long. A 17-minute solo that was non-stop moving. I kept changing, and everything was happening in front of the audience. When I changed clothes, when I did everything, it happened in front of the audience - it was a one-man show. I liked it because I’ve never done a one-man show before.
Coming from dancing in companies to doing a one-man show was fucking scary, but it was exhilarating as fuck because you start to defy what you want versus what you need. As artists, what do I want to say and what do I need to say? So that was kind of fun too.
Drea: You said that it was broken into pieces? The Projector Series?
Arien: It was kind of done like that. It was a 17-minute long solo then it became a one-man show that had duets that spurt over time. I had two dancers just to perform in two different sections of the work. Then I kind of stopped and I don’t know. I think that’s weird now that I think about it.
Drea: Now that you’re thinking about it, what made you do it that way though?
Arien: I think it was more so because of the timeline of it. I was actually apart of the first hip-hop dance company in Connecticut and that was 'the thing'. I was the Rehearsal Director of the company. We performed everywhere. The Riverfront - everywhere. It was like 'the thing' and it was cool because I still have the picture in the brochure and the 2014 featured events of my face and me dancing. It was really cool, it was a really great year.
Before that, it was just weird for me because I left this company and I wasn’t necessarily dancing and Tnmot-Aztro wasn’t necessarily about “dance”. I felt like I could get dance from somewhere else [while] Tnmot-Aztro was about being able to say things that I couldn’t say through not dancing. It was fashion, photography and film. A lot of films we just did a lot of impromptu films on cellphones and fucking bullshit-ass cameras and it was just about being on the block and really not having [anything] and not having [anything] to do and really being bored. When you’re really bored and really have nothing to do, you really start to figure out what it is that you want to do and what it is that you need to do.
Ony: How did you get the name Tnmot-Aztro?
Arien: That’s so funny because I found the ‘Tnmot’ and my boy found the ‘Aztro’. The Aztro came from Quasimoto. That’s really cool just because we fucking love Quasimoto and we love Madlib. That's just a mutual thing. I'm a hip hop kid, so before ballet and before modern dance and African and West African styles, there was hip-hop. I would never have known dance if it wasn't for that so that has always been first and foremost to me within the company. It has to stay connected to ‘the root’ of the street.
‘Aztro’ came from Astral Black and Astral traveling and the whole Quasimoto vibe of getting high and motherfucking making art, you know? We love to smoke weed and we fucking love to make art. The ‘Tnmot’ - I didn't want something that was Spanish, I didn't want something that was Greek, I didn't want something that was French. I wanted to find something that was really interesting to me. So I looked up Macedonian language and it's a really hard ass language. There was talk about it being Russian or it being Turkish. It's the south Slovak language. It's Middle Eastern enough. It's hidden [and] people have to look it up which is kind of fun. I wanted something that was just hard. ‘Tnmot’ means “team”, so it's just ‘Team Aztro’. And ‘Tnmot’ can mean “team” or it can mean a “hard substance”. So the idea is that rocks are built together in one big clump.