When I first met Olivia, I could tell she was a dancer. She was poised and confident, and she moved with intention. We worked together at a massage studio in Brooklyn where I was a receptionist and Olivia was a massage therapist. One of my favorite things about that job was being able to chat with the therapists when they weren’t seeing clients. On top of their massage work, most of them also had creative projects and gigs—as writers, actors, dancers, and singers—and I loved hearing about the different parts of their lives. When Olivia told me she founded a dance company, Bridge and Olive Dance, with her friend Bridget, I was intrigued.
I went to see Olivia and Bridget perform at a gallery in Dumbo on a hot summer night. The room was packed with a big, cheerful crowd—everyone sipping wine and commiserating about the humidity. A live band played moody, eclectic songs that reverberated in my chest. When the performance started, I was mesmerized by Bridget and Olivia’s movements. In one scene, they each put a leg through a pair of overalls as if to create a third person between them. A third dancer, Meghan, came onto the stage and the three of them weaved across the floor, at times perfectly in sync and at other times alternating in commanding solos. It was so impressive—and fun. In the second act, they even guided the audience through an improv together.
Olivia and Bridget have been official collaborators and company founders since 2012. Their creative partnership is enviable and inspiring. Here’s what they have to say about what makes it work, how they handle conflict, and how their collaboration is its own living and breathing thing.
How did your relationship begin?
Olivia: Bridget and I studied in Italy together as dancers in college. We had teachers who paired us in an exercise, and that was the first time I started watching her move.
Bridget: I was totally blown away with how expressive and creative Olivia was. We did a lot of improv in Italy, and I came from more of a traditional ballet/modern background. I still had a lot of fear surrounding improv because I wasn’t totally comfortable in my own skin. But Olivia was entirely unafraid. I was really inspired by her brazen and weird style—it helped me start to open up.
How did you begin collaborating together?
Olivia: After college, Bridget moved back to Vermont, where she’s from, and I moved to New York City. I started a company with another woman where we did a mix of dance and comedy and theater. Bridget moved to New York, and I hired her to perform with us. Then my partner kind of dropped out. Bridget was auditioning for companies and I could tell she wanted to do something. I asked her about starting a company, and she was like, let’s do it.
"I was really inspired by her brazen and weird style—it helped me start to open up."
Bridget: I remember we were walking down a street in the West Village when we decided to start Bridge & Olive Dance (although we didn’t have a name yet). We were on our way to Olivia’s apartment—at the time she was staying in Westbeth, the rent stabilized artist housing complex where Cunningham and Cage used to rehearse, and now is home to the Martha Graham Dance Co. I think being in this dance-history-rich environment helped inspire us to make dance and art together in a more official way.
How do you work together? What does your process look like?
Olivia: Often we choreograph our own bits and then come together and show each other and teach them to each other. It’s really cool because then we create choreography that’s Bridge & Olive instead of Bridget and Olivia separately. It’s collaborative to us, and we want it to come off that way—to have our styles meshed.
"I really love when our different styles collide with each other. When Liv teaches me her movements, and I teach her mine, we end up expanding our own styles and tendencies."
Bridget: One of us typically has some sort of image or vision, and we build on that. Usually we dive right in and start generating movement and ideas separately and together. Then there is this point when one of us has a lightbulb moment and gets really excited about what the piece is turning into—and we both just snowball off each other with dialogue and movement. I really love when our different styles collide with each other. When Liv teaches me her movements, and I teach her mine, we end up expanding our own styles and tendencies.
Do you each have different strengths or skills that complement each other?
Olivia: I think it helps that our styles are different but our intentions are basically the same. We both lean toward abstract performance, but Bridget is really good at being like, Ok, why are you doing this? What is your intention? We need to have a reason. Because we’re not gonna be like, Guess what audience! This is why we’re wearing this! People pick up on if things are just random, and it doesn’t make a good show.
Bridget: It is really important to me that we keep the rawness of Olivia while still integrating some sort of underlying logic. Liv is really good at making bold decisions that come from a guttural spontaneity. I think I come from a more subtle place and when we collaborate we sort of weave our strengths together.
At the performance I came to this week, you collaborated with a third dancer, Meghan. What does it bring to your process to add another person?
Olivia: Bridget and I have created mostly solos and duets as Bridge & Olive Dance, and so we get into a rhythm collaboratively. Meghan comes from a heavy ballet background so her performance style is a bit different than ours, but it brings in another level to our performance, which rounds out and diversifies our work.
Bridget: Meghan completely fits in with our dynamic—and she also brings a lot to the table. She is a very dedicated artist, and when Liv and I get tired or lazy, she lights a fire under us. I think the most important part about the collaboration of Bridge & Olive is the complete lack of drama. Meghan works so well with us because she is very low drama.
Do you have particular values you adhere to in your work?
Olivia: We both make our company a priority because we would feel lost if we didn’t. For me, Bridge & Olive Dance has been an ongoing outlet to create, workshop, and perform my art. I think with our creative partnership, we birthed a whole new set of rules and vocabulary that is has become a part of our unique style.
"This is where the collaboration really shines—in the blending of these differing values into a symbiotic whole."
Bridget: I think that there are different tiers of values in art-making. Liv and I adhere to similar values overall but especially in the primary tier: we really care about being genuine and integrous. When it comes to secondary and tertiary values, we start to differ slightly in that I tend to focus more on the technique and embodiment of the dance aspects, and Liv tends to focus more on the raw emotional/expressive elements. This is where the collaboration really shines—in the blending of these differing values into a symbiotic whole.
In what ways does conflict or jealousy show up in your relationship, if at all?
Olivia: I’m a middle child, so I have no problem with confrontation. But with Bridget, it’s really easy to just be like, Oh, you forgot to send this email? I’ll just do it. I don’t mind because I know that she’s invested.
Bridget: I’m often really surprised that Liv doesn’t get more frustrated with me because she is much more organized and assertive than I am. But at the end of the day we come out doing an equal amount of work, and we really don’t have any conflict.
Olivia: Sometimes I feel inadequate when we dance because Bridget’s technique is better. I felt that way for a while and I finally voiced that to her about a year ago when we were drunk [laughs]. I was nervous that she felt like I was holding her back in terms of the way we were performing. She was like, Not at all! And then she kind of admitted to me that she felt inadequate choreography-wise, and that’s what she was working on growing. So we’re kind of like a yin-yang.
Bridget: Sometimes I wish I could command a room in the same way Olivia does—something I am working on!
What do you call one another?
Olivia: This is funny. We used to call each other our partners. And then one day someone at work asked if Bridget was my girlfriend (based on a Facebook photo). I said, No, I’m straight, but that’s my dance partner! Now I call her my dance partner.
Bridget: Yeah, I definitely bumbled around for awhile trying to find the right wording. I think collaboration is at the core of our company, so that’s why I settled on collaborator.
"Our creative partnership keeps me grounded because there are always two perspectives. When it's just one person, it is easy to become insulated in an ego-driven vacuum or to get discouraged."
Why collaborate? What do you gain from your creative partnership?
Olivia: I feel really lucky. Bridget wrote me a birthday card that said she didn’t think she would still be dancing if it wasn’t for me, and I was like, Whoa. That’s the best compliment. But it’s true. When you have a mirror, when someone’s mirroring you, it forces you to keep going.
"Collaborating is unique because the substance of the work lies within the dialogue between us."
Bridget: Yeah, I definitely feel really lucky. It’s hard to find someone to have a totally inspiring and equal collaborative relationship with. When we started Bridge & Olive I had quit dancing and was thinking of going to school for Occupational Therapy. I was frustrated with the dance scene in NYC. Our creative partnership keeps me grounded because there are always two perspectives. When it’s just one person, it is easy to become insulated in an ego-driven vacuum or to get discouraged. But with two, there is always a back and forth that creates a gestalt-like momentum. Collaborating is unique because the substance of the work lies within the dialogue between us. It is not mine or hers—it is its own living and breathing thing.
Bridge and Olive Dance is a contemporary dance duo that strives to reach new audiences through multimedia productions that are humorous, thoughtful, a little outrageous and always collaborative.
Bridget holds a B.A. in Dance and Philosophy from Goucher College, and an MFA in Dance and New Media from New York University. She is the recipient of a space grant from Danspace at St. Mark's Church and the Tisch Initiative for Creative Research.
Olivia holds a B.A. in Dance from Muhlenberg College and has been chosen to show work at The Lehigh Women's Conference and Movement Research at Judson Church.