Elliot Reza Emadian is a gender-nonconforming 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.
“My mama told me when I was young, conform or die.”
Perhaps I’m misremembering…or conflating Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” with my own life, I certainly wasn’t allowed to wear lipstick when I was young…
I was born to an Iranian father and an American mother and spent my early childhood moving, until our family settled in Tennessee. My love-hate relationship with burgeoning queerness grew as an extension of my love-hate relationship with the South. 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 a lovers high rise—dominates my consciousness. My affinity for living in unhospitable places has made me vigilant as to how I am seen and where. My work injects me into places or placelessnesses where I desire to see myself: an Instagram feed, a music video, the future.
I situate my work at the intersections of choreography and dance, sound and music, light and photography, video and text production, and popular culture. My conception of the world emerges through reference inside and out of dance. It drowns in and critiques the mediated aesthetics to which I am drawn: contemporary television, pop music and music videos, experimental video art, social media “branding,” poetic structure. I fixate on the webbed patterns that give rise to form and trope.
My recent project, Jack and Diane considers matriarchal lineages (in dance and in family) in relation to the possibility of visibilizing the omnipresence of whiteness in our US music, dance, and cultural heritage. I see this intervention as an imperative as a tap dancer, a bootstraps music producer, and a staunch anti-racist practitioner. I believe in the power of dance as a transformative mode of knowing the intricate, delicate complexities ourselves, our environments, and our histories.
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, their duet Here we go again (2019), created with significant contribution from Rachel Rizzuto, toured to Chicago, IL and Saint Louis, MO, before being adapted to a screendance for the 2020 Cleveland Dance Festival. Additionally, their choreography for live theatre has been seen at the Dick Van Dyke Auditorium, Agecroft Hall, and most recently in a production of Cabaret at the Krannert Center for the University of Illinois. 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.
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. 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 holds 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.