Categories
asian art interviews performance&dance women in art

Sam Kim: on choreography, residencies and intuition

What kinds of projects have you been working on recently?
 
I began a new work during a residency at The MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, New Hampshire) last fall.  I just started creating content loosely, on my own body, without any set parameters.  I found that I was still thinking a lot about a piece I made in 2007, “Cult,” a duet for myself and another woman, that still had a lot to offer.  I never want to name the “aboutness” of a dance because I don’t believe that’s what the form has to offer, but there is something about a fucked-up relationship between two women who have a relationship that’s too intimate, in that work.  I wanted to return to that land because I knew there was more to mine. 

I knew I didn’t want to make a solo, so I held an audition to find performers.  This was a strange move for me, if only evident to myself.  I think it’s not the downtown dance way of doing things, but I was really interested in seeing how the field had changed, in finding some gems without established reputations.  I was interested in being very dry and pragmatic with that part of the process.

Next came a residency in the spring at Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), which was a compact and intense work period with the three women I hired.  So, whatever I had started conceptually at MacDowell had snapped to in the form of a trio.  I’ve taken note that the way I work with myself is utterly divorced from the way I work with other performers, so in that sense, there’s still this other battery of ‘stuff’ that I’m only comfortable putting on myself for now.  I’m not sure where that material goes just yet.
 
Two weeks after the BAC residency I flew out to the Bay Area to be in residence at Djerassi Djerassi is situated on a mountain on a former cattle ranch in the Bay Area, though incredibly secluded and remote.  It seduces you into thinking you have the world to yourself.  That was conducive to making my art.
 
I was alone again so I continued to make material intuitively, working with a discrete set of objects as content instigators:  bed, mirrors, wine glasses and nylons (on legs and to cover the face) to build the choreography.  I responded to these objects as talismans as I moved through an improvisational score based on incanting.
 
What do you say about the themes you have been working on during the past year? 
 
I’m finally acknowledging to myself that I am fundamentally interested in women: women’s bodies in the form of dance.  Women are mysterious to me, maybe at their most compelling in relationship to each other.  I’m just drawn to strange and powerful and frightening relationships between women.  There are a slew of films that come to mind as touchstones in their treatments of strange relationships between women: “3 Women,” “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant,” Breillat’s “Bluebeard,” “Mulholland Drive.”
 
I’m also drawn to the nature of ritual–what it means to enact certain rites, to supplicate, to reveal something intimate that’s not intended for anyone else’s eyes. 
 
You are a conceptual choreographer, how did your thinking shift, in relation to your artistic development, how about your identity?
 
I’ve always understood, fundamentally, for me, that dances hang on form.  But as I grow older and my eye gets sharper, I actually put that more and more into practice as opposed to getting hung up on any specific content, or getting really militant about execution.  It’s all about proportion with the fundamental elements of choreography:  time, space and bodies.  And how I organize these things with and against one another, undermine the content, etc.  I value ideas first and foremost, and then rigor in the execution of those ideas.  I am not engaged with issues about idealized and beautiful bodies in dance.
 
Name your most important influences in the dance field?  How about other influences, and mentors?
 
When I was 19 or 20 I saw Pina Bausch’s work for the first time at BAM.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but it changed my life.  My sense of what was possible in dance and art just exploded in magnitude.  Merce CunninghamRoseAnne SpradlinTere O’Connor.  Visual art, fashion, music, literature.  Always film.
 
I don’t know if I rely so heavily on what I see in dance.  What seems to be more instructive and inspiring for me is to see how artists in other forms solve problems relative to their forms.

 

What visions do you have for the future, how do you see other activities (your board work and writing) in relation to your choreographic practice?
 
I am continuing to work on this new trio within the framework of two additional residencies in NYC (I’m not at liberty to say what they are at this time) that will take place over the next two years.  They are completely process-oriented, however, there will be showings.
 
As much as I resist it, writing about what I’m doing can help clarify to myself what I’m doing.  I can actually learn something.  Writing about making dances tortures me, but I secretly enjoy the torture, too, because it is a concomitant, compositional act to choreographing.  You organize information and you try to make the best choices to express what you want.  It makes me a better thinker, and hence, a better artist.
 
I’m no longer on the board of DTW since it’s now NYLA and a completely different organization altogether.  I’ve never had a feel for any kind of activity that can become the least bit bureaucratic.  I can be an insanely stubborn purist, so what feeds my choreography is entirely separate from any organizational activity.
 
Do you want to say something about the NYC dance scene?

It’s getting interesting.
 
Categories
asian art fine and contemporary art performance&dance

Chinese Watersleeves

Shuixiu is Chinese. The word can be translated literally to ‘water sleeves’. The sleeves are amazing part of the costume, or dress, which a Chinese stage performer wears. Not only are they made of fabric and is part of the costume, but the word refers to performer’s extraordinary skills to perform various movements with the sleeves.

Water sleeves are ‘double white-silk sleeves attached to the cuffs of a costume’. The long sleeves can express performers’ mood. Overall, the gesture variation that one can perform with the sleeves, are hundreds. These include movements of ‘quivering, throwing, wigwagging, casting, raising, swinging, tossing, whisking, rolling, folding, crossing and so on’.

Water sleeves can be used for many functions. For example, the sleeves wigwagging in front of face means a fun; one hand pulling another water sleeve sidewards indicates politeness or bowing; sadness and shyness are expressed by one hand pulling another water sleeve to cover the face; wiping tears and whisking dirt on costumes by water sleeves; raising and put up two persons’ water sleeves to embrace each other; water sleeves also indicates the music band when the singing performance starts (cultural-china.com).

Here is a Female Dancer, a sculpture from Metropolitan Museum’s collection. It depicts fine water sleeves being a fine example of dance in the Chinese sculpture. This model is earthenware with pigments, and it is from the Western Han dynasty (206 b.c.–9 a.d.), 2nd century b.c. China. More information about the sculpture on the museum website here.

Female Dancer, the Western Han dynasty (206 b.c.–9 a.d.), Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Categories
asian art fine and contemporary art interviews women in art

Artist Nozomi Rose: Dai Dai

Nozomi Rose is a rocking Japanese woman artist, who has a lot to say about the women’s role in the fine arts. From traditional Japanese Nihonga to Western artistic techniques, she uses fingernails to add dimension to the paintings. She was trained in painting at Cornell University and earned an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The focus for our discussion is on diversity of artistic practices. We listen to her plans from organizing a conference in New York City, where artists and scholars who have more than one practice get to present their work and share knowledge on how one discipline informs the other. She is publishing an e-book in Japanese on hybrid art teaching and learning for Tatsu-zine Publishing. Her exhibition ‘Dai Dai’ will open in New York at Japanese Embassy on October 2nd. This exhibition will feature her latest paintings of multiple techniques, along with her other works.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We had a discussion about patriarchal Japanese art-institution, could you explain that a bit?

NR: Haha. Are we really starting out our interview with this question? I was talking about the wife of Ikuo Hirayama, one of the most important Nihonga painters in Japan. Ikuo Hirayama is a Hiroshima-A bomb survivor, served as the President of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (a.k.a Geidai) twice, and a synonym for Nihonga, so I would say he is a Japanese version of Jackson Pollock. Well, sort of…Hirayama paints landscape and is known for Silk Road paintings. Everyone in Japanese art knows his name. His wife Michiko Hirayama entered the same university with Ikuo and was the top of their class. Ikuo was the second. Michiko, however, gave up on her painting career when they got married because their best man told her that having two painters in one household would not work. Michiko took the advice and stopped painting, and then, Ikuo truly climbed to the top of the field. It sounds similar to Lee Krasner now I think about it. There is a Japanese idiom “breaking one’s brush,” which typically means “stop writing stories,” but Japanese painters see that the words symbolize a female painter’s marriage with a male painter in Nihonga. Michiko’s episode is an urban folklore among Japanese painters worldwide. I heard this story for the first time when I was studying painting in Paris, France!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are using both western means of creating art and Japanese traditional Nihonga in your art, how naturally this came about to you as an artist and when?

NR: Oh, you mean, I use Nihonga paints with acrylic medium on canvas and you see it as unusual? That is a very good point. The fact is that, though, many Japanese painters trained in Nihonga use this method in New York. Also, Nihonga pigments are heavy because their particles are much larger than western pigments, so I can’t really use gum arabic for this, like you do in watercolor. I can’t mix it with oil painting medium because oil paints cure through oxidation, and oxidation changes the colors in Nihonga pigments. These are scientific sides of why and how it came to me. The technical diversity creates the differences in visual effects in western and Japanese paintings. I am curious to see how Nihonga paints react to various western painting mediums in my work. I might try it with oil paints at a later time. I have increasingly been attracted to casual ways of making paintings, so the color change may be okay for certain types of work that I will create in the near future.

You may be asking me about the conceptual side of the work. For me, using Nihonga paints is one way of “citing” Japan in my work, but this is not the main theme I promote in art. Personally, making art has more to do with erasing my own identity as Japanese rather than emphasizing it. I was told at an early stage of my artistic career that I should stay away from quoting Japanese art materials or Japanese visual languages for my own work because they can never make my art original. For example, I can never be unique by copying Ukiyo-e patterns as art because many people have seen those. I have never trained in Nihonga; learning Japanese traditional painting never attracted me. When I was still in Japan, I was studying oil painting; I liked Japanese oil painters such as Ryuzaburo Umehara who studied with Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I enjoyed seeing the world through the lens of Japanese artists influenced by the western aesthetics.

I also liked the works by westerners influenced by the Japanese aesthetics. This included Impressionists and conceptual artists like Daniel Buren, so I went to Paris in 1999. I even went to Monet’s house in Giverny, but you know…he had a strong collection of Japanese woodcut prints and that was the secret! It was a bit unfair that I had to travel all the way from Japan to France only to witness that Claude Monet was a big fan of Japanese art. Daniel Buren, on the other hand, might not be familiar with Japan although his work looks very Japanese, especially the installations with color stripes.

Do you know there was no art in Japan until Ernest Fenollosa came and made it happen with Okakura Tenshin, who established Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and was a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston? Okakura Tenshin was Fenollosa’s assistant and both of them worked for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. People who say that the Japanese Constitution was written by the United States would probably claim that Americans created Japanese art, but I am not a historian.

So my short answer is that it has always been on my mind. However, inserting something very Japanese directly into my own artwork, which I have long been resisted, came to me only when the Japan Tsunami Earthquake Disaster happened.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The collaboration between Fenollosa and Tenshin is very moving, and kind of tells us how the world of artists has always been connected.  Do you feel you are mediating between East and West with your art, or do you think that it is stereotypical to make this opposition?

NR: As a visual artist, color is my “language.” I would like color to mediate between east and west in my work, so my answer is yes and I feel there is no way for me to escape this. I am certainly interested in mediating between Japanese and American visual effects and aesthetics. Japanese art has borrowed elements from Indian and Chinese art, so it is the idea of East. I think the question is more about “how” I am doing it. I am watching how my art can mediate both east and west.

(Courtesy of A. Sortie, Inc. Nozomi Rose, ‘Happening’, 2012. oil on canvas. 8″ x 10″)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You participated in the Japan’s Earthquake and TsunamI 2011 art-project, could you tell me more about it?

NR: I was an organizer for Silent Art Auction and a curator for Charity Art Exhibition, but they were both student-driven projects. Our students learned a lot by carrying out those charity art events. I was just a tool for them to communicate with the College and Japan. Students who wanted to show and sell their art for their fundraisers, first on campus and then in a Chelsea art gallery, got together, and through myself, they were able to even have a commercial gallery owner donate his space for one day, for free.

We see those activities as our students’ educational experiences as well as healing processes. As a result, affected students successfully survived the crisis and graduated. I just presented on this theme with two other Professors, Kyoko Toyama in College Discovery/Counseling and Tomonori Nagano in Education and Language Acquisition, at the Opening Session at LaGuardia Community College: (For more details, look the website: http://www.lagcc.cuny.edu/Opening-Sessions/Workshops-II/)

Our College President Dr. Gail O. Mellow has been sympathetic about what Japanese students went through due to the unfortunate disaster, so she briefly came to our presentation. I felt her attendance symbolized a kind gesture by the College to the affected population in Japan.

The title of our paper is “Respecting Tradition and Creating a Community: Culturally Appropriate Response to the needs of Japanese Students and the College in the aftermath of Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami.” We previously presented the same research in a session under the same title at the 2011 Asian American Psychological Association Conference in Washington D. C.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then, I am always curious what an artist like you holds for their future. I guess it is about the dreams, what are your dreams and future plans?

NR: Wow, this is an interesting question. My dreams:

1) Sending 1000 young women from the disaster areas of Japan to New York City to study visual arts at LaGuardia Community College. This can be for three months or longer like two years. They do not need to be all Japanese citizens and I believe this is the right way for us to start spending more money on women’s education. This art project is after “Fairytale” by Ai Weiwei. Please let me know if you know anyone who would be interested in funding this project!

2) Creating a visiting East Asia artists and curators’ lecture series where people from various East Asia countries peacefully collaborate. After 3/11, my school suggested me to create an East Asia art course, so I wrote and proposed HUA191: the Art of Eastern Asia. It is now part of the College’s official course offerings. We are currently developing a new East Asia/ Japanese major, in collaboration with Queens College, so the new East Asia art course is becoming a permanent addition to the major. This is a bold step for diversity in the arts of Long Island City, Queens/ NYC. The next logical step would be an art lecture series with the same theme.

Future plans

1) To film “Dai Dai.” The title of my exhibition came from a film project that I started in 2010 entitled, “Orange.” Daidai is a Japanese word for one specific shade of orange, whose sound also connotes the concept of genealogy. The film content was mainly about my personal experience with the color orange, the largest earthquake in Japan, which was the Kobe earthquake before 3/11, and the sarin gas attack on Tokyo Subway system. I think production of a contemporary Japanese folklore was my initial purpose of this project. The tsunami earthquake was literally a life altering experience for me as an artist in part because it forced me to stop writing this script, but I recently decided to re-start it by re-structuring the entire work.

2) Swan Hill Art Biennale. I am helping the Swan Hill Museum of Contemporary Art in Himeji, Japan, to create an art biennale. Himeji literally means “Princess Road.” It currently promotes art made by women and I want to eventually include transgender women. For that, I think the conservative region needs a good woman’s medical center. We want a feminist art “museum-medical center,” so I will start talking to artists and doctors who may be interested in this type of project. This can sound very different from what I have done in the past, but I think the fundraisers for Japan last year were really about helping to raise funds for medical treatments.

3) Interdisciplinary Art Practices Conference in NYC. I am planning to organize a conference where artists and scholars who have more than one practice present their work and discuss how one discipline informs another one in their own practice.

4) E-Publication. I am writing an e-book for Tatsu-zine Publishing (http://tatsu-zine.com/) in Tokyo, Japan. This will probably be about Art-in-NY for non-majors and online art learning tools because this Japanese publisher specializes in e-books for computer programmers.

(Courtesy of A. Sortie, Inc. Nozomi Rose, ‘One Summer Dream’, 2012. oil on unstretched linen)

The artist’s website: http://nozomirose.com/

Information about the upcoming ‘Dai Dai’ -exhibition: Opening Reception: Thursday, Oct. 4th, 2012. 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m, Discussion with the artist: Friday, October 5th, 2012, at 1:00 p.m.

http://www.ny.us.emb-japan.go.jp/en/i2/special_2012-10-02–31_DaiDaiExibition.html Opening

  • (Daidai is a fruit)
Categories
asian art design

Art deco flavor

Art deco movement was much of an international phenomenon, also in Asia. An exhibition of Japanese art deco from 1920 until 1945 was recently in Japan Society, New York City. In this show, it became apparent that in Asia, the cultural influences were often taken from abroad. This tells us that we are all curious about how other cultures’ decorate, eat, live their lives, and even do sports. Japanese got interested in skiing, for example.  Many Japanese have been inspired by the Scandinavian ‘slow life’ and design. This vintage poster from the exhibition Deco Japan, is very inspirational both in color scheme and design.

 

Categories
art education&management asian art interviews performance&dance sustainability

Talk with Isira Makuloluwe (molecular biologist – come- choreographer)

Isira Makuloluwe is a choreographer living and working in London. He has  just finished a work called 1951 to the music of Czek ’60’s Avant-Garde composer Miloslav Istvan’s 1951 String Quartet for ProART Dance Company. It premiered on 27th July 2012. His first work to pre-existing ‘classical’ music and not made by his long-term composer Jennifer McConachie, it was a new page in the choreographer’s career, entering a phase where the interpretation of music through its theoretical construction and making movement from it has become of great importance to him. The fine line between choreographing to music and re-writing the music (without changing it) via the dancing body has become his focus.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Isira, please, do not laugh; I’m wearing my glasses when I type. Tell me, how can a Molecular Biologist be a choreographer? It taught you awareness. What else? You have been choreographing since 2000, and before that you studied dance with various great dance masters in Europe and United States. Manola Asensio, William Louther, then you finished your studies at Alvin Ailey American Dance Center?

Isira: Don’t worry about the glasses, they suit you and I’m astigmatic!
I actually loved dance since I was a child, listening to music and making up complex (at least I thought so at the time!) group choreographies. I was mainly mad about hip-hop. Movement originality also became one of my obsessions. My ballet teacher is married to my physics teacher and he was the one who roped me into dance. I was told that I was always talking about dance at school and therefore should pursue it – to the disdain of my Sri Lankan immigrant parents. There are many metaphors between molecular biology and dance – spirals, DNA, life and all of those wonderful things that have little to do with my choreographic work. I got a good sense of numeracy from laboratory work; an understanding of the scientific method and writing and the rest of the time was quite bored. I should have studied Asian languages, anthropology or the fine arts – where I belong. But at that time in England, it was all about ‘following your father’s footsteps’ so I pretended I wanted to be a doctor like him until one day I woke up dancing! Manola Asensio gave me a lot of information that was transmitted to her by Rudolph Nureyev (in particular the essence of the Bournonville Classical Technique that he got from Eric Brun). William Louther got me a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey School. He secretly believed in me over his majority black students (in front of whom he was all black power) since I worked harder than everybody in class (mainly because I had to catch up so much) and stayed behind to question him endlessly. He was a genius, sad, dejected and lonely. First black soloist of Martha Graham, and co-founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – though many in the organisation would deny it now. (If ever they do – ask them who made ‘Hermit Songs’ for Alvin Ailey and co-created Blues Suite with Dudley Williams as a favour to fill an evening for the emerging Mr Ailey – it was Bill Louther).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We dance artists are quite serious people. It is all about the human content, I guess. The body is so social, cultural, affectionate, natural and unnatural at the same time. Your company name Dancetheatremedia describes it to me in a way that dance, theatre and performance are mediating something with real potential between human behaviour and movement. The body is a mediating device, as far as I think of it.  How would you explain it?

Isira: I agree. Nowadays I feel that conventional dance doesn’t have a singular place as before and we have to mix media and develop a new form of dance or theatre art in order to survive culturally. No credible state funding body has any decent money for the arts and even less for dance, so why waste time making small dance pieces when the arts community has so much more to share with us and we with them? Risky maybe, but we need to take risks to make a better and more stable world. With this reasoning, the performing arts are a fatal frontier for the closed-minded still working within the field. There is also so much to do in the area of humanitarian work, education, and corporate entrepreneurship. In Dance or moreover in choreography there are good and bad models for leadership and management. Take the good ones (not necessarily the ones making the most money) and apply them in business. This is one form of mediation. The body has been a form of mediation since prostitution was part of political negotiation! Mediation through movement is an interesting concept. Are also we talking about dance and movement’s use in therapy?

THEORIES

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I also know that you have investigated concepts of reality, alterity and transformation, as well as memory in your works. Then, you have this interest in the language, communication and in games. Tell me about the games in your works? Games are abstractions. It feels that in some sense it is possible to manipulate your viewers, or to convey your perception of the world with your works?

Isira: I love sports like Track and Field, Rugby, Tennis, Soccer, Cricket, among others. Transforming or using games’ rules as a set of choreographic codes was something I worked on in the last decade. TOUCH was born from these ideas in 2007. Language (including dance) is ultimately our only weapon against ignorance and lack of understanding. The more languages we know the better. I speak a number of languages and it still freaks me out when I can’t understand a language in a far off land like China or India. Nonetheless, if you listen closely and long enough, intonations and body gestures can give away a language’s secrets and you can avoid a lot of trouble that way! Spoken words don’t exist without tones or a musical and physical expression of them.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much do you think choreography also means theoretical designs, or a link to concepts? What is your favourite shape, or colour, or puzzle that organizes your choreographies? Games have space and bodies?

Isira: I’m not sure what you mean about theoretical designs. I have MY OWN THEORIES for making MY OWN DANCES but I would never teach them to anyone else as an absolute truth. I’m one of those people who fail to understand the purpose of MA’s or BA’s in choreography since the term in itself dares to convince students (falsely) that what they learn in some universities is HOW to choreograph. Such a personal, beautifully secret, intimate thing cannot be theorized or taught. But if someone needs to make money from that lie, so be it! I’m not against PhD’s in the analysis of practice as a reason to summarize one’s methods and ideas. But nothing more than that. Answering this question reminds me of the numerous books circulating about famous choreographers with photocopied scribbles and sketches that only they can understand. I do find it a bit ridiculous how we deify choreographers when only their works hold some degree of insight into who they are. And in any case isn’t it more interesting to know the dancers who dance their works? I usually admired them more than choreographers – all those apart from William Forsythe who also is an amazing dancer. My favourite colours (at the moment) are aubergine or pink (but it changes with the year). My favourite shape is spiral, and my favourite puzzle is the unlocking of my childhood memories in my native Sri Lanka.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your idea of where your choreographic practice is at the moment?

Isira: It has shifted a lot since I started making dance. My choreographies are completely influenced by my work as a teacher. Since beginning teaching five years ago I think more about composition and musicality than specific ‘ideas’ that may attract an audience. Like a composer of music, I try to find melodies and asymmetries that character the general harmonics and colour of a new piece. A dancer (usually my wife who is also a vocalist and pianist) helps me a great deal in this research in the studio. I like musical terms since they define dance and how to dance my choreographies. Afterwards, I start by filming a short maquette, which becomes a bigger body of work. The editing process of the dance-video clip becomes important in making choices for the actual work- camera angles, cuts and musical choices as made here.

My practice is also shaped by the global economy and my refusal to deliver a recognizable brand with commercial interest. I can further answer this question by the following observations since describing my work past and present is for the critics and less interesting that showing it to you live!

In recent years I have seen a lot of branding occurring to please promoters and producers (who are the ultimate gate-keepers) and this has led to mediocrity infiltrating the elite ranks of choreography. It has increasingly become a mundane and superficial art form whereas not only a few years ago it was a diverse and engaging one. I feel that nowadays one repeats a ‘winning formula’ that ‘sells tickets’ instead of pushing boundaries. We prefer to tour companies of dead choreographers like Pina Bausch or Merce Cunningham (which fills theatres for nostalgia sake) than to invest in young and talented choreographers. Dance therefore seems to have moved to the graveyard lately. Are we so afraid to look into the unknown and search for the talented unknown as opposed to the tried and tested (which usually means deceased). In that case we must question what is art all over again.

For me, the last great choreographer who irreversibly changed our perception is William Forsythe, who radically changed ballet and contemporary dance while leaving an indelible influence on the art world in general- fortunately he’s still alive! But why no one aspires to reach those heights cannot simply be blamed on the economy- there are few examples of pioneering leadership in our field as most dive for safety in career positions instead of living out their obligations as ARTISTS – and that means taking risks to advance the art of dance.

Also, the ‘conceptual dance’ or ‘non-dance’ movement of the French from 2000-today, while bringing about a radical ‘new way’ of thinking about dance (all stolen blatantly from 1960’s Judson Church and performance art from the US and UK) has made a joke of the art form and made quality dance education almost redundant in Europe. It has become more important to create dancers without technique but cultivate interesting ‘personalities’ in the most important schools. The basics are no longer a priority; hence the dancer therefore graduates neither as an actor nor as a dancer. Who would want to hire a 20-year-old dancer with no technique or experience but possessing an interesting ‘personality’ is beyond me. My company mainly hires dancers over 30 as a rule with strong technique and human baggage. There are exceptions to this rule but they are exceptional human beings at a young age.

I continue to make work in the hope that its singularity will not diminish its market value under the present aesthetic and political conditions imposed by the gatekeepers.  Hence, I try my best to keep making work that interests me, listen to my instincts, not satisfy trends unless I like them, and compose dance with discipline and love for dance and the dancer. I can’t do more than that.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You teach youngsters, and are concerned about what is going on in today’s society, how would you describe this connection?

Isira: The young are the future and yet most countries put them in programmed boxes that limit their creative potential and thus their ability to CHOOSE their direction in life. This added to physical frustrations coming from lack of sports in education or moreover dance in education has (in my opinion) been a factor in the increase of delinquency and religious indoctrination of kids via fundamentalist groups and child crime organisations. In Sri Lanka we have all this nature yet the kids are educated to be big money-makers (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc) without any harmony or understanding of the blessing that our natural environment provides. The system teaches them, like in India to copy Western models, proven failures, for growth, position in society via clichéd careers, and acquisition of wealth without consideration for the poor. I’m slowly working towards a dance-based program to mobilise children to achieve this harmony via dance and the practice of ecological study and maintenance. Hopefully this will make better and more conscientious students and graduates in Sri Lanka.

LABILE

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I remember the solo Labile that you created for Finnish ballet principal dancer Minna Tervamäki. The solo for Minna premiered at the Finnish National Opera’s Alminsali on 9 December 2005. It was based on Minna’s own experiences from surviving the Tsunami in Thailand’s Khao Lak, in December 2004. You really wanted to translate her experiences of this trauma and event into an intimate choreographic work. The work was reviewed well in Finland, and it was also performed in 2006 at Monaco Dance Forum. You met at the Kuopio International Dance Festival. This is the same festival, where you won the prize for choreography with your French company, VIVID.danse in 2003.

I remember this huge pink plastic bag of bubble wrap that was on stage and Minna just was inside of it, coming out in an astonishing way. It was almost as if an alien was being born, the audience was not sure what was going to happen. And, after that the movements were so different, such virtuosity, with mathematical exactitude. The image was of total vulnerability despite the technicity of the dancing.

 

Isira: The title of the piece was ‘Labile’. Here are the definitions of the word: In chemical and physical terms: labile (adjective) readily undergoing change or breakdown; and in human terms: liable to change; unbalanced or adaptable; ‘an emotionally labile person’-being or thrown out of equilibrium (or balance).

The bubble-wrapped package delivered onstage was a fragile object: the pre-packaged ballerina who then explodes into action despite the pain, fatigue or emotional challenger. Her bursting open from it was a sort of escape from the false sense of protection and perfect image that the Opera House often propagates. My collaboration with Minna was in order to question the falsehood of the Opera Ballet Company per se, where one cannot question or show feelings, as if nothing happens in one’s life.A slave to the dance, slave to the politics of a big house like National Opera Ballet and slave to the choreographic system (evoked recently as a caricature in ’Black Swan’). I was interested in Minna the ’pretty ballerina’ and all the expectations that surrounded her. Her technique was perfect and I simply wanted to challenge it through my movement style like any choreographer would when faced with such a perfect athletic and dancing specimen as she.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: And, on the soundtrack Minna was repeating ’I’m almost there, but not quite yet’. The struggle of ballet-dancer with her mathematical precision and ideal for perfection of movements and the perfect image of the body.

Isira: I noticed she was often saying ’eiku’ in the studio (among other things). In Finnish this means ’no’. It was as if someone was telling her that whatever she was doing was never good enough. I found it amusing and used it as a backdrop for highly technical variations. How would it affect her psychologically? How does the ’negative’ push a dancer to excel? And why the hell do we need such negative thinking in ballet to achieve results? This was what I wanted to question. I felt the title embodied the female dancer’s inner strength and adaptability to manifest other realities than her own at that time – which in Minna’s case was having survived the 2004 Tsunami and returning to work as if all was OK.

{Photos:Dancetheatremedia Limited}

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Jan-Peter Kaiku, a critic from Helsinki-based Hufvudstadsbladet wrote in 11/12/2005 about LABILE. The review speaks about how we received the work. What I find so intriguing is that he compares you to William Forsythe. This does not happen so often. Kaiku wrote:

The solo handled a theme of performance in an improvisational and jagged way. Phrases are repeated only to be quickly turned on their heads. The piece’s minimalism, changing dynamics and powerful pointe work are reminiscent of William Forsythe’s reforms in classical ballet. The plastic packaging, the choice of music and the text provide humorous perspectives to the portrait of a dancer considering her many self-images and the scene situation. These questions create movement and change.

Isira: Any comparison to Forsythe is a great complement though my movement style is very different. I think the critic was comparing the sense of risk and deconstruction of theoretical ideas that perhaps the great man also deals with.

COLLABORATIONS AND IDENTITY

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your collaboration with other designers, which is of course so close to my own approach. Media?

Isira: I’m interested in all forms of multi-media though the goal is to purify and often throw everything out. More recently I’ve been more interested on set and lighting design for dance. The key for me is in the music and lighting. Often media and sets can upstage the dance and one loses a sense of meaning. If someone applauds the set and says nothing about the piece or its message, I have failed. Both have to work in harmony and the choreography should still remain the principal object of desire. Often setdesigners forget this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I love Jennifer McConachie’s music; she is a female composer working on diverse forms. You have collaborated since 2003.

Isira:  Jennifer is a genius. What I like about Jennifer’s work isthat she can easily cross from digital composition to acoustic-classical. It’s rare these days. She is Scottish but lives in Norway. I always insist on ‘open Nordic skies and changing light’ in her music. It opposes the energy and detail of my choreography,leaving breathing space for the dancers to make the piece their own and colour the dance. Recently I also collaborated with François Caffenne for Locked in Vertical, made for Phoenix Dance Theatre (Leeds. UK). This was also the beginning of a new and fruitful relationship between choreographer and composer.  Both know each other. My team is close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Harrys Picot is your lighting designer. Tell me more how you work together?

Isira: Harrys is also a long-time collaborator. His ability to get under the skin of any choreographer and tailor the lights, transitions and effects to their needs is a unique skill. When we met, he was chief lighting designer of the CNDC d’Angers in the 90’s and 2000’s, he adapted to many guest choreographers. I was astonished with his flexibility. After No Place Like Home for the Geneva Ballet in 2008, he was kept on by the Ballet to continue to make the lights for some future works, all due to his talent and flexibility.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are Sri Lankan, and lived in Europe most of your life, in London, and also few years in Paris, recently moved back to London? Are you a World-citizen or something else? How would you describeyour identity?

Isira: Interesting question and one that I ask myself almost daily. I guess you can call me a world citizen. But moreover I am a world dance citizen. Dance made me learn languages and engage in differentcommunities. Through dance I met my wife. If I had stopped dancing at any time my life would have been very, very different. I was born in Sri Lanka and each day a part of me yearns for the sounds and smells of my country. The smiles of the people are what I miss the most. Europe and the UK occupy a large part of me.  Europe is so diverse and yet so small. It’s a maze and still has the imprint of the World War II and Communism. I’m not astonished all these events happened; I see the need for nations to have borders and identities. Everything in European history has been moving toward union (or occupation in other words) but it always seems to fail. Let’s see what happens next!

(Isira Makuloluwe’s website: Dance Theatre Media)

(Isira Makuloluwe talks about his choreography Locked in Vertical)

Categories
asian art fashion sustainability

Fashioning ‘eco’ concepts

If fashion is now promoted with both ecological values and celebrity cultures, a question of who is wearing what and whose designs, includes a new kind of conceptual thinking.  Historically, fashion is the clothes that we are wearing. Then, a questions of social class plays an important role, since we are making the clothes our own by wearing them. Traditionally, women have been thought to be the ideal consumers of fashion, so fashion magazines have also created platforms where to discuss and make fashion as part of the women’s lives. In the circulation of fashion, clothes become fashionable again when the trends come back as new combination, and also next to new concepts and ideas. The historical, futuristic, and the near-past fashion are re-produced together with popular cultural icons. The cultural references of fashion keep also changing so that they are able to maintain the ‘hype’ status attached to classical designs. New technologies used in the fabrics, as well as green values are  important factors, which also reflect the moment. More importantly, ecological aspects that promote global awareness and respect the local traditions are now a necessity.

When in previous decades, the fashion products (and other products) did not take into consideration the ecological dimension of production, today’s processes are very different. The economics behind the change is pricing, as the prices in materials have been rising. Then, today’s consumers cannot be entirely responsible for paying the high cost, so the companies and designers have to be able to reduce the amount in production, and reconsider the materials, which they use.

When we are making our choices as consumers of fashion, more important to us than who is showing up in the shows is to be a conscious consumer. We should be asking, what is the ecological dimension behind the clothes that we buy. In addition, a cultural and geographical referent can become a conscious factor in our decision making; when in the making of the products this means emphasizing the local craftsmanship. One example of this type of local fashioning is a collective Contept Korea that has utilized an idea of Korean fashion culture in their global marketing. Designers who are participating in the collective aim at making Korean cultural image and national competitiveness as their goal. The Korean fashion, which has been promoted overseas has been sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture. With that governmental aspect, Concept Korea has been looking for new forums to promote Korean fashion and culture together, and to interact with new technologies. I participated in their showing in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York in February 2011.

One of the designers Lie Sang Bong (based in Paris), has been drawing inspiration from Korean folk painting, from the black and white graphic designs which have drops of bright color like red in them. He has also created fashion sculpture and a bauhaus-architecture inspired collection, which both show sculptural dimensionality in clothing. Then, a Korean woman designer Doho impresses with work that has a feminine and flowy touch (see picture from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February 2011). Concept Korea perhaps comes as a continuation of the collective creativity that started with Seoul being the World Design Capital in 2010.

In today’s economical climate, the design world is thinking alternative solutions. When European countries struggle with economical difficulties, a good news could be that the countries are re-thinking the carbon limits in the production processes.  Only a few decades ago, environmental problems were thought to be part of the policy making of the governments. Now the industrial processes are considering the environmental questions as part of their designing of products.

Designer Lie Sang Bong with his crew at NY fashion week.
Categories
asian art lifestyle

Asian art markets

Does copycatting rule the Asian markets, where much of the world’s small technological innovation is located? Mobile-phone industries, small pieces in massive volume are centrally part of the future of the east.  What I find problematic in America is that the ‘westerner’ thinks we have invented it all. Today’s Asia is very creative, the arts are sensationally inventive, international, and not hostile at all in terms of who gets to participate. But, is there still a question of freedom of speech (what one is allowed to say and where) stirring in the air? Perhaps societal problems can build a frame for creation, meaning that when one comes from the ‘margins’ the experiences enhance new creativity? Artists and designers have to make it work and gain new presence in the world? All good signs. This reminds me of Finland too. A small nation started striving to get visibility with its original designs approximately hundred years ago. Design and fashion have become visible in almost every corner of the bigger cities in Asia, then the performing arts are moving forward. The traditions are remarkably present in design, and there seems to be value towards local traditions also in the new works of art. Yet, impacts of globalism are present; slums in the city corners and prostitution. The discussion about the trafficking of people has become loud.