Robbinschilds

robbinschilds is the creative partnership of Manhattan native Layla Childs and San Francisco native Sonya Robbins. Since meeting in their Upstate college years they have choreographed, danced, and produced all manner of creative work while striving to navigate a changing NYC landscape. Sonya is also a therapist, and Layla is a massage therapist, who is likewise pursuing an MSW.
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In their own words:
“We met in the dance department at Bard College in the early '90s. The focus was on composition, as opposed to conservatory programs where the focus was on technique.

‘Our foundational years happened essentially in the stone ages. No phones, no computers really. Papers were written on these mysterious things called word processors. A very special, creative, open time in our lives.’

Roof Top BrooklynHalf Moons Totes On the Roof
On the roof of a once-abandoned factory building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where robbinschilds’ Seriously Heavy (i hurt myself hurting you) was staged at the gone-but-not-forgotten Autumn Skate Bowl in 2006.

The Bard dance department was small, with only a few full-time faculty members. There was Albert Reid, one of the original members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, who was so quietly elegant and who used to make his students unsalted popcorn as a treat while we shared our dance sketches. Susan Osberg was the hip professor who would come up from NYC every Friday and lead us into the woods to do incredible open score movement improvs against a tree, or in the waterfall on campus. Jean Churchill danced with Sarah Rudner in the '70s and '80s, and would teach us these impossible 'brain teasers' where the bottom half of your body would do something completely out of sync with your top half. Aileen Passloff was also there, and she had us bark like a dog at the top of our pirouette in her 8:45AM ballet class.
robbinschildsRobbinschilds Performace Spacerobbinschilds dance teamrobbinschilds dancingRobbinschilds
Layla and Sonya revisit the original Triskelion Arts space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — soon to be condos.

We were heavily influenced by Merce Cunningham and we used to travel down to the city to see his company perform at New York City Center. We also came down to see Bill T. Jones' Still/Here at BAM, which was a seminal work of that moment.

‘Generally speaking, our creative lineage leaned heavily to a very po-mo breed of experimental choreography, and this lay the groundwork for our practice and passions for years to come.’


After college we joined forces with three other women from Bard and created a collective called Kick/Stand Dance. The five of us each made our own choreographic work, and we put on showcase evenings and danced in each other's pieces. It was a lot of fun back then. We rented spaces all around the city, and many of us danced for other more seasoned choreographers. In 2000 we opened our own collective studio in Williamsburg called Triskelion Arts, and this became our HQ for rehearsals and performances. We rented to other artists and scraped along.
A 2011 performance of Second Hand by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Portrait of Merce Cunningham by Annie Leibovitz. BOTTOM ROW: A 1995 performance of Still/Here by the Bill T. Jones – Arnie Zane Dance Company. Portrait of Bill T. Jones by Liz O. Baylen.

In 2003 the two of us put on a split-bill evening of our works and found great pleasure in making that show feel like one cohesive experience for the audience. From then on we started making work as a duo called robbinschilds.

‘There's no ownership of ideas within robbinschilds. Someone brings something into the space, and that little kernel gets batted back and forth and morphs and gets added to, and then edited, and then exaggerated and invariably becomes something completely different than where we originally began.’

 

This form of co-creation has taken many forms. At this point the initial kernel may very well be something that has no tie to an art project… perhaps a broader life question or query… but the volleying back and forth and open sharing of impulse and response remains. That flame of open curiosity and receptiveness has become deeply meaningful over the years.

Robbinschilds Yellow and Blue


‘We recently collaborated with designer Rachel Comey. We created a series of movement scores for a photo shoot, and in exchange she costumed our last piece, Hex. It was a really fun back and forth process.’

 

Rachel is vocal about her political views, which we admire. She did some important work mobilizing folks in the fashion industry to support The Women’s March in January.

A still featuring Layla and Sonya from a robbinschilds collaboration with designer Rachel Comey.

We’ve had a great deal of fun costuming our pieces over the years. In the creation of the work, the look of the costume is often easily revealed as the inspiration is derived directly from an internal theme of the work. At times there’s a tongue in cheek historic reference — in the video segment of our piece Sonya and Layla go Camping, we are paying homage to the wonderful looks from the Jacques Rivette film Celine and Julie go Boating.

‘For C.L.U.E., the monochromatic costumes were part of an overall structure we had conceptualized at the very beginning stage of the project. The concept of Roy G. Biv was a driving force of the work.’

 

yellow and blueRobbinschilds Clue WhiteRobbinschilds red greenrobbinschilds desert road
Stills from C.L.U.E. (color location ultimate experience) robbinschilds + A.L. Steiner.

‘Making performance work is an amazing, challenging, sometimes insanely uphill endeavor that has always felt completely worth it.’

 

It has been strenuous at times to balance the process of building a creative work over the course of a year or two along with parenting, and also making a living. Our neighborhoods are getting harder and harder to afford.
Sonya started pursuing a master's in Social Work at the same time as having her first child. Now a mother of two, she has been working as a therapist with young teenagers in Bushwick. Layla is about to start graduate school in the fall, also going for an MSW….robbinschilds part 2?! When we are 60 perhaps we'll open a joint practice in Boulder, Colorado and wear a lot of drapey Eileen Fisher separates. Wait… don’t we already wear lots of drapey separates?!
Robbinschilds happy houroystersrobbinschilds at happy hour with oysters
5 o’clock oysters, shishito peppers, and Aperol Spritz at Achilles Heel.

We both love to travel, and as robbinschilds we have gone to some pretty spectacular places for residencies. In Iceland, we filmed a good portion of our work I Came Here On My Own. During that trip, we marveled at all the geothermal hot springs, or as they call them, 'hot pots'. Each town we'd roll into had its own municipal springs. Although we lived mainly on cheese sandwiches stolen each day from the breakfast bar at our guest houses, life was pretty grand while soaking in those hot pots.

‘The ultimate robbinschilds compliment is to be described as funny. Humor is a life force to both of us. If humor is the first cardinal tenet of robbinschilds, indignation and outrage are not too far behind.’

 I came here alone
A behind the scenes photo by robbinschilds while shooting I Came Here On My Own in 2012.



WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO MORE OF?

Travel!

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO LESS OF?

Worry!

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO COOK?

Lamb ragu with penne or anything with a shallot and white wine!

WHAT LANGUAGES DO YOU SPEAK?

LAYLA: A touch of French. 
SONYA: A kiss of Spanish.

WHO'S YOUR HERO?

Michelle Obama

DREAM DINNER GUEST?

The one and only Alex Auder

FAVORITE ARTIST?

Claude Wampler, A.L Steiner, and Katherine Sullivan

CURSIVE OR PRINT?

robbinschilds has terrible handwriting: Helvetica

robbinschilds on the wall

WHAT DOES HEALTH MEAN TO YOU, AND HOW DO YOU STAY HEALTHY?

Layla's a walker. Sonya feels like she needs a walker. Both of us do well with regular fresh air.

WHO IS SPECIAL TO YOU?

Anyone we've ever loved, and many people we've never met, and anyone who's made something or done something that has moved us. Activists, writers, mothers, musicians, performers, kids, animals, nature... we're pretty tender hearted.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED IN THE LAST 10 YEARS, IN WAYS YOU EXPECTED OR DIDN'T?

LAYLA: As my five year old recently queried, ‘Mama, why is your skin so long?’ which I take to mean that I am showing some signs of wear and tear.


‘I never expected to actually feel older. In many ways, we are who we are, whatever the packaging. We live inside of an ever evolving container. So now I suppose I realize I had better take good care of this container, so the spirit inside can continue to thrive and live curiously, and do it in style.’

 

robbinschilds in the loft in brooklynRobbinschilds Dance TeamLayla volunteers for The Trevor Project, which provides crises intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth nationally. Sonya “champions any middle school student that gets up and makes it through the day with their emotional well-being intact. It's rough out there!”