My drive to choreograph arises from a desire to celebrate life and the human experience in all its humor and grit, dust and glory. At the heart of my work is a love of community, a desire to share ideas and emotions with others, an awe of our bodies' vast capabilities, and a deep faith in humanity. I believe bodies in movement hold our ultimate communicative power.
Anthropology is at the very heart of how I see the world and how I approach a choreographic problem. As a field, anthropology tries to reveal the connections between aspects of life or culture that may at first seem unconnected – it is a truly cross-disciplinary intellectual experience, which is worldview that I love. Many of my dances have started with anthropological questions such as "What happens when two cultures meet?" "What is the experience of female immigrants who come to America because of arranged marriages?" "What is the essence of humans' creative drive to build things that has produced the Egyptian pyramids, the great cathedrals and today's skyscrapers?" There is a wonderful overlap between dance and anthropology because they both deal often in metaphors, experience and feeling. And at its heart, anthropology is all about people: what they think and dream and how they make meaning out of the world. That is exactly what I try to explore and convey in my dances as well.
As a performer, I do not approach a new dance or character by trying to "pretend" or to imagine what he or she would feel or do. Rather, I dig within myself to find what part of me – however small – has experienced something similar. I perform from that pocket of personal experience and magnify it to fit the dance.
I am constantly searching for ways to expand modern dance's audiences and its relevance to society. Creating dances that speak to audience members' own experiences, tackling contemporary issues as subject matter, investigating themes of cross-cultural interactions, and dedicating performances as benefits for non-profits have been some of my explorations towards this goal. In short, I am preoccupied with the question: How can dance make a difference, in our community and in the world?
The theater is a magical place for me, where ideas can be introduced, shattered and fit back together – in a stronger matrix than before; where worlds can collide without violence; where diversity is celebrated as each audience member ascribes his or her own meaning to the artwork. Ideally, I hope that audiences leave my performances having seen the world from a different perspective: to open minds to the possibility of infinite possibilities – if only for a moment – when it comes to culture, people and life.
-- Mariah Steele, January 2011