Elliot Reza Emadian is an interdisciplinary artist, teacher, and scholar. Their work occurs in the intersection of dance and choreography, video art and editing, sound and music, light and photography, and popular culture.
I am a contemporary, intermedial artists whose work emerges at the intersections of choreography and dance, sound and music, light and photography, video and text production, and popular culture. Through these media, my collaborators and I place historical reference, commonplace trope, pedestrian gesture, and self-reflexive thought in conversation to interrogate our place in social systems and in the dance field. My work is unnervingly humorous, mentally and physically challenging, and inexorably queer.
I was born to an Iranian father and an “American” mother. My older sisters and I started dance class together, but for me, tap, studio jazz, and ballet provided an outlet for my neurodivergence and queerness to bloom. I spent my early childhood moving, until our family settled in a small Tennessee town where the limestone quarries, cows, and whiskey distilleries drastically outnumbered visible queer people. My relationship with burgeoning queerness grew as an extension of my love-hate relationship with the South. I became small, quiet, obedient, and taught—waiting for release. I orbited the South until relocating to the Midwest, where a sudden lack of mountains and rivers and lakes—a certain dampened silence at a blizzardy dusk, or, a seemingly endless expanse of flatness glimpsed from the balcony of an ex-lovers high rise—dominates my consciousness. My affinity for living in inhospitable places has made me vigilant as to how I am seen and where. I couple this with contemporary releasing techniques to unwind the tensions of my reality. Now, my work injects me into places or placelessnesses where I desire to see myself: an Instagram feed, a music video, the future. Dance is my medicine. I dance myself into existence and aim to help others to do the same.
I see the world around me as a complex decision matrix, one in which a series of events has cascaded to make my existence what it is. I believe in the power of dance as a transformative mode of knowing the intricate, delicate complexities of ourselves, our environments, and our histories. Choreography becomes the vehicle through which I attempt to make visible those invisible threads that have woven me into who I am. By interpreting the choreographic alignment of social, political, geographic, and artistic systems, the bearing of each individual component becomes clearer. This “open source choreography” exists in several iterations. Jack and Diane is an evolving solo performance interrogating the façade of the American Dream through an examination of my maternal and paternal, danced, and cultural lineages. Similarly, Jack be nimble, created in collaboration with Jacob Henss (St. Louis-based performer and producer); Jill of all Trades, created in collaboration with Rachel Rizzuto (performer and writer for Dance Magazine); and acreage, created in collaboration with Alfonso Cervera (contemporary and ballet folklórico performer and choreographer) all take interrelationship as a primary focus, generating performance material in the space between our creative efforts. I believe that community is the bedrock of artistry, and activate collaboration, curation, and resource-sharing as the primary genesis for my work. My 2021 dance film MASCCHAOS, created in collaboration with 29 femme and nonbinary US artists, also explores these themes directly. Seemingly infinite copies of my queer dancing body melt and whip through complex improvised sequences, never quite in unison but always attempting to align: they are foiled by jump-cut editing. Repetition works itself into visible rhythms until exhausted into new physical tangents, and all the while spacious sound (supplemented by a queer narration) pulse dramatically through surround sound speakers.
I have toured my solo work across the U.S. and found a home in the vast expanse of the Midwest dance community. I have also performed in the work of Sara Hook and David Parker, Rachel Rizzuto, and Jenefer Davies. I have had the great privilege of creating musical scores to accompany the works of artists such as Jennifer Monson (in collaboration with Joy Yang, Ph.D.), Jacob Mark Henss, and Anna Sapozhnikov. My music productions can also be found on streaming services under the name Elliot Reza. I use digital manipulations like Photoshop, video and sound editing softwares, and autotune to hyperbolize reality, to make tangible the sensation of space, and to envision alternative futures.
Elliot has presented their choreographic work all through the Midwest and East Coast including at the Ailey Citigroup Theater and Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan, NY, the Center for Performance Research and Triskelion Center for the Arts in Brookyln, NY, and the Boston Center for the Arts. Most recently, they have shared solos with artists from Illinois in various settings as part of their long-term open source choreography project. Additionally, their choreography for live theatre has been seen at the Dick Van Dyke Auditorium, Agecroft Hall, and most recently in a production of SpongeBob: The Musical! at Parkland College. In addition to extensively performing their own work, Elliot has performed and toured including as part of works by Sara Hook, Jenefer Davies, and Rachel Rizzuto.
Video mediation has been a consistent choreographic tool for Elliot since they began making work. They move reflexively between live and recorded material as a method for eluding or elucidating the failures of either. They have created video works in several genres including lyric videos, music videos, screen dances, and video art studies. Most recently, they were commissioned by Links Hall in Chicago, IL to create MASCCHAOS as part of the 2021 Co-MISSION festival of new works, which has been programmed by other festivals since its premiere.
Additionally, Elliot has designed lights for numerous dance performances including their own work. Elliot released a full-length pop album in 2016 (selftalk) under the moniker Elliot Reza. They went on to study songwriting with Drs. Julie Jordan Gunn and Stephen Taylor and have since self-produced and released several follow-up singles and companion videos for each song. Most recently, they created the sound score for Jennifer Monson's heap loose, in collaboration with Dr. Joy Yang. They have an active photography practice that includes portraiture and dance photography. Elliot‘s written research also appears in publications including Integers, Electronic Journal of Combinatorial Number Theory and PARtake, The Journal of Performance as Research (V.3 I.1) as well as on their website: elliotreza.com.
Elliot sits at the intersection of disability, neurodivergence, and queerness. They hold a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Washington and Lee University and a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Illinois, where they studied with Dr. Cynthia Oliver, Jennifer Monson, Sara Hook, Tere O’Connor, and other esteemed faculty in and outside of dance. They currently serve as administrator, assistant media coordinator, and lecturer for Dance at Illinois.