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
interviews performance&dance

Knit Sandy: Knitting for Hurricane Relief

Kristin Hatleberg is a dancer and educator living in New York City, whose recent efforts include organizing a knitting circle for Sandy relief, (SandyReliefKnittingBee on Facebook).

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Kristin, how did you get started with the project of knitting?

Kristin: The idea came to me quite simply, and I blurted it out to the right person! My boyfriend and I were making dinner and I said, “You know, I should just start a knitting bee to give everyone a way to help out. I’ve got the yarn—why not?” And that was it, within that evening the idea was public, space was donated, and we were going through with doing it. It started in the week right after the hurricane, because I kept having conversations with people about how they were frustrated at their inability to help out. Lots of people I knew were getting turned away from volunteer centers because they didn’t have long enough windows of time to volunteer. And I thought if only there were a way for everyone to sit down together and process what’s happened, and to do something with all the concern in the air….it felt surreal to return to work and “normal life” when just a mile or two away, within the city limits, things were shattered. Then I remembered I had this huge pile of yarn back at my mother’s house that I knew I was never going to use. Then, I was handed a free meeting space that was connected to a huge network of people. So it all came together on its own, really.

Who joined you in the effort?

Kristin: So many people have made this effort come to life! The managers at Saltlands Studio, Jim Smith and Jackie Werner, were my biggest support and motivators in getting the group off the ground. Jim Smith has helped me organize and facilitate all the planning stages. My two crafting consultants who I relied on heavily for all the initial blanket design decisions were my mom, Lois Hatleberg, and Renee Kurz. I couldn’t have done this without everyone! Lori McCaskill gave me administrative support, big time. Isabella Bruno of Bruno Design created a flyer and our Facebook page so that we were able to reach the knitting communities. Because as soon as I started this I realized I only knew maybe two other knitters in the whole city…so we really did have to reach out.

And the response has been amazing. People from all over the country sought us out, asking to be able to mail in squares and contribute. So we said sure! At the beginning of our knitting bee we already had over eighty finished squares waiting to be sewn into blankets. That was amazing to watch take shape, seeing all the packages come in and getting emails from people who rsvp’d for the event saying they already had two squares done to bring, etc. And at our knitting bee Sarah Louden and Lauren Balthrop both volunteered their homes as meeting sites so we could continue the initiative together. That’s really why Knit Sandy has taken off and been able to do as much as it has so far—because everyone’s response has been so energetic and willing, it’s all just been able to come together.

 

Knitting for Sandy in NYC

What have your experiences been in organizing the knitting circle? 

Kristin: It takes a lot of thinking ahead! That, and listening to everyone’s responses, following through on what I hear. The most incredible thing, other than actually getting our homemade blankets to people who need them, has been the conversations I’ve had. It’s humbling to hear how meaningful a little human touch can be.

What is your perspective for now and the relief? Winter is here, do you see things have moved on with the relief efforts?

Kristin: I’m not sure I know in which sense you’re asking….have things moved on? Yes, in the sense that it seems all the hard work is paying off and the disaster areas are moving from response mode to recovery and rebuilding. No, in the sense that I don’t think people can yet move on. So many people who didn’t suffer major personal damage still care and still want to reach out to those who were more affected. Knit Sandy is still getting at least one message a day from someone new, asking how they can help. People still want to talk about what has happened and what is happening. People I’m in communication with through Knit Sandy are still waiting for their insurance to sort out and let them take action, begin to rebuild. Other people I know through Knit Sandy are still waiting for the basic comforts to be stable, still living off generators and without proper amenities. People are still without their work offices, without their children’s schools. And so, so many people were affected economically. It’s too early to move on, every one is still coping in that sense. It’s still in everyone’s minds.

How is your dancing going these days, what projects are you doing and planning to do? 

Kristin: Great! I’ve been doing research work for the past six months, developing an approach to working that feels both immediately effective and bigger in scope, to weave all my interests in dance into one joint focus. It’s been fun. I wrote a dance, called “The Read-Aloud Dance,” out of the notes and writing done in our first major research phase (nine dancers involved). And I’ll probably write some more. It feels balancing to combine the two modes, dance and writing. For now I’m clumping all the dance research under the name “Anima” and working on a few different manifestations, mainly practice rituals that can deepen into performances and film. My friend Cecilia Fontanesi did an Anima performance with this research in the fall. This month I’m on pause with that, because of Knit Sandy and my other dancing. I’m dancing with Dai Jian, and we’ll be doing a gallery-style performance January 17th in Ran Tea House in Williamsburg. Also I’m dancing with Sari! I stepped in for her in a duet she’s making, we’ll dance it at the FLIC Fest in Fort Greene on Feb 1st. Lots going on, always….

Kristin Hatleberg in a dance studio.

Kristin: Do I get to ask you questions too? How is everything going? What are you working on right now, in your research work and also on the stage?

Thank you, Kristin, that is so sweet of you. Btw, I am waiting to see you and Sari Nordman on stage at FLICfest in February. Myself, I am basically just back from performing at La Mama, another project with Yara Arts. It was wonderful! This year, I will be doing something in the city, video-dancing too, and hopefully also outdoors somewhere. Always ready for new projects. My research, I am swamped with my book-project trying to get a draft by summer, which is somewhat unrealistic.

(Photos of Kristin Hatleberg Marielise Goulene)

Categories
performance&dance

Promoting FLICfest: Independent Choreography Kickstarter

Promoting new Choreography for FLICfest: A Festival of Independent Choreography, in Brooklyn in February 2013
Dancer-Choreographer Sari Nordman is making a new dance work for FLICfest: A Festival of Independent Choreography to be performed in Brooklyn in February, 2013. Sari holds an M.F.A. degree in modern dance from NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, and has worked with prominent choreographers in modern dance, including Douglas Dunn, Naomi Goldberg Haas, Dean Moss, Robin Rapoport, Susan Rethorst and Melinda Ring, and artist Ming Wong, among others. Sari is a recent recipient of American Scandinavian Society’s cultural grant. Sari has worked as a choreographer for several platforms in New York City. In her free time, she is an enthusiastic photographer. 
To be able to fund her new choreographic work A Dadaesque Collage of Chauvinist Wisdom, which will be performed as part of the FLICfest at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn in February, 2013, Sari needs donations. She is part of the Kickstarter fundraiser for the FLICfest, which is open for just another two days. They are less than $1500 away from their goal, and with your support they can make it. Donations will help Sari to fund her project. (This is a US tax-deductible donation).
You can see the project by following this link
 
Photo: Sari Nordman, 2009
Categories
performance&dance

Marron Atrium in MoMA shaked with performance

{Artwork hanging on the wall of Marron Atrium during Sarah Michelson’s choreography “Devotion, study #3”}

Atrium is to be violated, says one of the choreographers. There is nothing there, and the museum space with its white walls is so institutional. Does the empty atrium distance the museum’s audience? It is often showing the architectural without art. But it can be the performance space for all kinds of works.

Some sweet day was a three-week (October 15-November 4, 2012) program of dance performances by contemporary choreographers in the MoMA’s Marron Atrium. New York’s Museum of Modern Art was showing works from several mature choreographers, who gained international status, and who experiment with concepts, performance art and contemporary art. American experimental choreographer Dean Moss has worked together with visual artist Laylah Ali. Their work “Voluntaries”, which explores the legacy of John Brown, was performed during the first week. The Judson Theater founding members Steve Paxton and Deborah Hay were invited as pioneers of performance. Presenting for Paxton, who included two of his works from 1960s, in art museums is not a big deal. However, it can be different for contemporary choreographers like Jérôme Bel. The French choreographer described in the October 20 panel discussion how his work “The Show Must Go On(2001) might encounter the museum space. 

The piece has been made for theater so I was very surprised to perform it in the museum. People who come here, come more to see Picasso, and don’t even know that I’m here, so the work is experimental. You have to be generous, as there are people who don’t come to see ‘you’. Then, in the theater the audience is in the darkness, and here you see them.

inka
{Audience arrives into Marron Atrium half an hour before the performance. The space gets very crowded few minutes after. photos:firstindigo&lifestyle}

Deborah Hay told in the discussion held on November 3rd that for her the audience is the ‘unknown’. With the dancers, she explores the potentiality. The dancers are returning to the body. Hay encourages them to stay with the ‘question’. She finds the language and its linearity fascinating.

– I use the linearity to create non-linearity for the individual who performs my work.

British choreographer Sarah Michelson described in the same conversation, that museum space evoked new ideas. She had to close the main staircase from the audience to keep the space clear. She chose to use security guards, who were used as brief part of the piece. They brought in the dancer into the atrium, as well as escorted her out. This association created humor, and linked the dance performance into other parts of the museum.

inka
{Dancers Nicole Mannarino and James Tyson performing Sarah Michelson’s “Devotion, Study #3”. The choreographer herself as DJ during the performance, (below)}

http://www.moma.org

 

 

Categories
art education&management interviews performance&dance scandinavian women in art

Minna Tervamäki and a new contemporary ballet

Minna Tervamäki, a former principal dancer from the Finnish National Ballet, is heading to a full-fledged freelance career as a choreographer and producer. This dancer étoile discusses about her current work as a multiple entrepreneur in the field of contemporary ballet. Her new premiere together with Compañía Kaari Martin and Kare Länsivuori opens at the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The idea for interviewing you goes back to 2005, when you were rehearsing for your choreographic premiere “Something Else?”. This work was designed for three women dancers yourself including. You received very positive response when you hosted and produced your own evening presenting different choreographers. Would you describe how that influenced your later decisions to pursue your own productions?

Minna: That was a turning moment. I had been sketching to my desk drawer (metaphorically) for years, but I lacked the courage, which was needed to do it. All of a sudden, I just decided to take a full dance evening into production by myself, literally producing it too. Now, after I have more experience I’m only wondering how could I do it then, where did I get the courage after all to take care of the big production without previous experience. Then again, that is what usually happens, we grow together with our task, with the projects. And I had an amazing group of people to work with me who were so helpful. I had also decided that I wanted to express my artistic view to include the lobby of the Opera House. The Alminsali stage cafe and lobby were designed with certain colors and with candles. During intermission there was a saxophone player tuning, and on the walls we had an exhibition of the photography that displayed the performance works. The entire evening was carefully thought through. What I had in mind was to include women dancers and artists, who were strong and charismatic.

I feel that everything I have done; doing choreography, directing and so forth, has so greatly influenced my own dancing, it has been a positive experience. It has helped me to get oriented to other kinds of processes in my life. Right now, I look at the new productions as a whole, not just from my own perspective. Every work has given me ingredients for my own choreography and direction.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: At the moment you are preparing for a new premiere, which opens in Helsinki on October 17. What are you staging for the evening?

Minna: This evening will be my second collaboration with the Finnish flamenco company Compañía Kaari Martin. It is an evening by Tervamäki-Martin. Kaari will be dancing her amazing contemporary flamenco solo “Korppi ja kello” (“The Raven”). I will include first, my solo “SE2”, which is based on the idea that was born in 2005. “SE2” means “Something Else 2”, so the idea has developed further from the piece that I originally created.  What remains the same each time as a main theme of my solo, is that I use my huge and massive skirt structure as part of the dance. The skirt is a design made of an iron and crinoline, and it influences the movement, and how my body appears on the stage.

Janne Mikkilä
{Kaari Martin, Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori in their new premiere. Photo: Janne Mikkilä}

The main program of our evening is my new duet that I composed for myself and ballet dancer Kare Länsivuori. The duet is called “Koti/Home”. Our three works will premiere together at the Savoy theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012. In March 2013, I will premiere a new work called “Yksiö/Studio”, which is a continuation of the theme introduced in “Koti/Home”. It will be performed at the Aleksander Theatre in Helsinki.

The themes in my current projects Koti/Home and Yksiö/Studio are about building structures of our lives.  The works question how can we do this together and alone?  How do we define ourselves in our relationships, and are we alone? What is the role of the community in all of this? The everyday life skips over the sometimes rough and edgy parts.  These issues are also hidden behind the facades. In my mind, our society is too individualistic, and it leaves us alone too often with our struggles and questions.

My colleague Kare Länsivuori and I both want to create works that are touching the lives of our own generation and our age groups. We want to invite new, younger adult audiences to view the contemporary ballet, which has timely and challenging topics, and great storytelling. Then we use diverse venues for these performances.

Koti/Home is investigating an important topic of what it means to be in a relationship, and what constructs the every-day life in it. The duet between Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori builds up characters, who are mimicking the contemporary life. It also questions how to keep up the facade that we have to built to protect our private lives.  Like each of us today, professionals that have high public pressure lives need to built facades to protect their private life.  When changes happen, what is evident is that one survives when life is not structured around the success only.

“Yksiö/Studio” will handle a theme of modern loneliness, and the division between the private and the public. The work investigates the life in the city, where the neighbors are physically near each other, and yet people are often total strangers to each other. There is an unwritten law that people do not interfere in each others’ lives, and will stay more or less distant. The set-design in the choreography will include two apartments, and the stage will be divided into two spatial areas. There will be a wall between these areas: audience sees this contrast between the two dwellers, two dancers, each in their own apartment. However, the dancers don’t see each other.  Also the dancers will be improvising some of the material, which is adding an comical element for the work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I am so thrilled by your collaboration with the Compañía Kaari Martin. Tell me about this collaboration, how do ballet and your dancing meet flamenco and its movements? It sounds truly innovative, and I believe it is not really performed much in the world?

Minna: Yes, Kaari is a representative of a contemporary flamenco. And I am thinking about the contemporary ballet from the similar point of view.  I think that our techniques are based on our traditions very strongly, and we have found our own styles and interpretations inside of these traditions. Personally, I have worked with so many choreographers that their methods have obviously influenced my own movement interpretation. When I started to collaborate with Kaari Martin, I immediately noticed her amazing movement vocabulary that she created with her hands, how she was expressing with her hands. At times, it looked as if she was having the ‘swan hands’; she has a ballet training background, and she is using it. In Spain, for instance, the most well-known flamenco-dancers have a strong ballet training.  When I work together with Kaari, I am probably most impressed by her musicality, the exactness that comes with the musical rhythm, and how she lives in the musical moment. She is definitely as much a musician as she is a dancer.  I wanted to bring this same concept to the ballet world, because we too often focus on the technicality of the dancing. In the end, I believe, that all the dance genres are intermingling and creating fusions in the course of the time, as dancers deploy similar methods and the ways to move.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you come from being a well-known principal dancer in a major opera house, the Finnish National Ballet Company, you have a prominent career behind you. Yet, you are facing changes right now, as you are pursuing a free lancer career. I am convinced that the changes you are going through have been coming to you gradually. Where do you see yourself today, and what are the current questions that you have today in your career?

Minna: IT IS EXACTLY HOW YOU SAY IT, THE CHANGE HAS BEEN GRADUAL. IN FACT I AM PROUD OF IT, AS I FEEL I HAVE MYSELF CHOREOGRAPHED THE CHANGE. I STARTED TO CREATE DIFFERENT PRODUCTIONS QUITE EARLY, OR JUST IN TIME. THE EXPERIENCES WITH THE PROJECTS OUTSIDE THE OPERA HOUSE HAVE BEEN SO VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT. ALSO I HAVE COLLABORATED CLOSELY WITH OTHER CHOREOGRAPHERS WITH DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS, WHICH IMMENSELY HELPED ME TO GAIN COURAGE TO WORK WITH MY OWN PROJECTS.

In addition, I started my own firm in 2005, which includes creating dance productions, and lecturing for the business venues, companies and non-profit organizations. I tailor dance performances to these as well, and of course, teach dance courses and workshops. I decided to get training in some relaxation techniques, because I believe that the techniques that work with images and mind are a comprehensive way to take our inner and mental resources into full utilization. Almost by accident, there was suddenly a class called “Minna Tervamäki methods”, which gradually works with our body-placement, making our bodies stronger and more sustainable.

I have tried to be so open as a person that I have basically mixed everything that I have learned during my career. This includes Pilates, ingredients from different yoga traditions, from diverse dance styles,  gyrokinesis and Susan Klein technique. I have learned methods from many physiotherapists, since I have had injuries during my long career. My knowledge includes how to recover from those.  I gained a lot from my training in New York in the past years.

As we all know, the biggest question in our freelancer field is the money. I have so many ideas and creativity, but as everybody in the industry knows, nothing can really happen without thinking seriously how to fund the project. I think that it is more and more the challenge of today; when there are more freelancers and enterpreneurs out there, the money gets tighter too.  What I also reflect sometimes in my mind, is the audience: where does the audience come from? Even when there are so many amazing projects out there, the local audiences here in the greater Helsinki area are still quite limited. We are not a world metropolis like New York.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your plans and dreams for the future?

Minna: I feel that I am living a wonderful time in my life. My body is still in top condition, and I can enjoy dancing. At the same time, I am finally in the phase of my life, when I have a freedom to choose my own working rhythm, meaning when to work, and who should I collaborate with. I can basically structure my own calendar, after 28 years in a big ballet institution, this is absolutely a welcomed change.  At this moment, I am exited to have my first speaking role as well, I will be the narrator in Kenneth Greve’s new ballet “The Snow Queen”.

Esa Kyyrö
{Minna Tervamäki  as Dying Swan, The Finnish National Ballet. Photo: Esa Kyyrö}

Artist webpages:

Minna Tervamäki: (www.minnatervamaki.com/)

Compañía Kaari Martin: (www.companiakaarimartin.fi)

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
music performance&dance women in art

Susanna Leinonen’s ‘Disturbed Silence’

There is a silence, which is about noise. There is a silence, which leaves only little possibility to run away from its scrutinizing notice. Could it be like the first silence on the earth, or something that one finds in deserted places and in the wilderness? An almost “absolute silence of the world’s dawning. In such suspension, before every utterance on earth, there is a cloud, an almost immobile air” (Luce Irigaray 2001, 3).

Can one find a place in silence? Aristotle’s Physics (IV) states: The proof of place is in transformation of elements in place. So if the place is found in silence, something must occur, or change. Silence must be disturbed so the existence of a place is proofed.

When I approach someone’s creative work, I ask myself a few questions. First, I think that many times the core elements in creation are similar. Second, there are couple of things that need to be considered:

  • What is the collegial bases
  • What are the experiences, similarities/differences gained
  • How is the knowledge, and the fields of expertise shared

As an art maker, I often end up writing about the art from the perspective of experience, craft and the knowledge. How does the work speak to me as audience member is equally important. This has value not only as a platform where different approaches and experiences can meet, but it offers space to a more in-depth discovery. When I look at a dance work, for example, I pay attention to the following:

  1. How the event is “full” /what are the elements?
  2. How do I experience it?
  3. How are the movements familiar/strange to me?
  4. After seeing a performance, how do I memorize its moments, which parts do I feel as pleasant or repulsive, and with fear or joy?

As each art work also has a distinctive global origin, the aesthetics and movement structures, affects relating to crafting, selecting contents and editing vary. The reflection and interpretation is then a next step. For example, dance works are based on dance, but often music, lighting design, and costume accompany the movement.

In what follows, I reflect Susanna Leinonen’s choreography ‘Disturbed Silence’. The work had its premiere in 2004 at the Stoa Cultural Centre in Helsinki. Susanna Leinonen Company was founded by Finnish choreographer Susanna Leinonen in 2001. Today the company is at the cutting edge of Finnish dance. Besides choreographing for her own dance company, Leinonen collaborates with other companies. Her works have appeared in 18 countries. In 2012-2014, Susanna Leinonen Company is in residence at the Stoa Cultural Center of Eastern Helsinki. The vision is to bring broader audiences closer to contemporary dance and to help it to know the genre better. Stoa will also be a platform for international groups and visiting artists.

Experiencing ‘Disturbed Silence’ in the audience

Lighting designer Mikki Kunttu has created effective blackouts with the use of complete darkness. His strong diagonals descend from high angles. The use of effects like removal of the usual sidelights, so that the dancers have no gaps where to hide or disappear, organizes the palette. Dancers have to stay still,  move, and be still again. Lights turn on breaking in, then they are off again. Suddenly, white lights infuse on the black carpet creating holes in the surface. There is a white tulle suspended in the back together with an extra assembly of lights. This is adding more depth and width on stage building an ambiance of a depth space. Lights are resting on the dancers. Music disturbs their entire being, and electrifies the stage as a stretched screen. Movements are full of little nuances and gestures. The artistic whole is refined and there is no visible chaos or disorder.

Kunttu’s style reminisce archaeology of space creating contrasting images and extensions to the space. The lighting is cutting, framing and penetrating space making the bodies either loom or fade away. The black box stage becomes visually something else. His lighting design shapes a new kind of architecture for dance, pushing back elaborate set designs. Lighting becomes the stage, an environment and a mood, in which the bodies are sculptured as full and ghostlike.

 

As it comes to musical composition by Kasperi Laine, the packed sounds change the mood unexpectedly promising about an intensity of a water pipe, which breaks open. A scene comes to a sudden closing as if being subsequent to freezing water. The brutal sounds disturb an illusion of microscopically significant silences, as each of the five dancers make their decision to move, to curve, to stand, to stare, or optionally being deserted from others with long lasting silences. The dancers re-enter in coalition to breathe together for a short momentum. ‘Disturbed Silence’ almost possess the dancing bodies with stiff tones. The blazer-jacket costumes designed by Erika Turunen look like extensions to movements and angles. When they are pulled out of the waist they erect the dancers’ bodies in contractions.

The music composition feels like it is creating a long corridor in the darkness. The sounds “come-in” unexpectedly behind the doors in the corridor. The sound is pressing the air around the dancers, promising of something, then it disappears again. What I testify visually is that dancers also time to time break away from their essential human figures. This becomes evident when they leave standing or any kind of clean “posture-like-posture” . The movements play with the skeletal of the body. Their bodies twist and tease the sacral into new alternative displacements. The air around movement contractions seems to get packed closer to their veins, making breathing look exhausted.

Susanna Leinonen’s choreography is aesthetically minimalistic. In the undercurrent she is weaving friction with the bodies that twist in odd walks and in the bursting stills. The rhythm of the piece comes with the dancing bodies and with the music that almost mimics the actions.The entire design shows how the process of weaving has become complete. The parts come together to make a whole.

When I reflect ‘Disturbed Silence’, I realize that contemporary dance art portrays its time in a powerful way. Dance can carry embodiments of contemporary experiences, speak about urbanization, chaos, alienation from nature, and about the lack of human caring. Choreography is not only “presenting” ideas but, it can show them in a powerful way through the dancing bodies.  Contemporary dance can be part of global culture. Many local and national companies have become global. As Susanna Leinonen Company is touring, its program approaches global audience that is varying. Contemporary dance becomes global culture creating content like fashion, visual arts, design, theater, film, music, and architecture. All these fields are close to dance. Then, creating content in a global space makes dance become closer with technologies. Dances do not exactly follow the patterns of making contents for mobile phones, but they carry contents, which do not “naturally” grow in our traditional conception of dance; videos and digital technologies, etc., are part of the scene.

{photos: Heikki Tuuli.}

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more information about the company, vistit www.susannaleinonen.com

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References:

Irigaray, Luce. To Be Two. Routledge: New York, 2001.

Time for Aristotle. Physics IV. 10-14. Oxford Aristotle Studies. Oxford University press, 2005.

Categories
design interviews performance&dance sustainability

Robin Rapoport: From Alexander technique to design sensing

How to describe living the artistic life? How to live a life surrounded by one’s own art? Making art is so intimately linked into one’s sensing of the world that there isn’t simple answers. In the current research of art, we try to map different kinds of knowledge embedded in the artistic processes. ‘Living’ with the arts is like ‘dwelling’, which in fact implies an old meaning for a house. The doors in the house keep opening and closing as a trespass to new fragments of interiors. The repetitious movement of stepping in and out of the interiors gives even the doorhandles almost allegorical significance.

Robin Rapoport’s designs at her Conneticut home and studio.

Robin Rapoport is a sculptor and designer who has been choreographing for her dance company Headless Horse. As a dancer in Robin’s company, the creative process made me reconsider dancing together with the sculptural.  Robin has been looking for a living and forming entity in the sculpture, which could be realized through the dancer’s body and her movements. Another layer came from the Alexander technique, which would bring those two materials even closer together. I asked Robin about this entire connection, wanting to know how the Alexander technique has changed her.


RR: So funny you should ask that. The other day I was speaking with a magazine publisher of home design who wanted her editor to meet me and I said I have a class for Alexander Technique, but will skip it in order to meet her. I reflected that most people do one thing like designing, and here I spend so much time on another activity perhaps losing accounts because I’m not as available. But if you understand Mr. Alexander’s work it is crucial to one’s sense of clarity. The more I go, the more I discover holding in my body that I need to release, and as an artist I am curious where this will all lead. I know I’m changing so much already. The way I stand, my breathing, and so I am not so hyper. I can make better decisions with a calmer mind. We are for the most part so disconnected from ourselves and from the proper use of the self, which enters into all arenas of movement. I am very concerned with health and maintaining it. I do not want to stiffen up but remain easy and fluid. And I think to be an artist is to think outside of the box, to think ahead, to be perhaps more aware of the dangers our planet presents to us on a daily basis. This Alexander Technique is what I do to combat that.

ORGANIC FORMS

Robin Rapoport’s sculptures and sculptural furniture display an array of different approaches to organic forms, which could be labeled, as somewhere between Scandinavian and African, they are modern, natural and primitive at the same time.The sculpture and furniture feels animated and living. In some cases it is almost talking to you, and these pieces are shaping the space. The design presence is not too loud, but the pieces make statements and offer alternative points of view to look at the space. A piece of furniture is standing on its own legs, when it is a floor lamp, for instance. And if it is a bookshelf it can even include eyeballs. You might as well know what I mean: When you talk to plants, you talk to trees. And this design is so ’whimsy’ that you might as well talk to it.

When Robin takes on the art of creating a house with her interior design, she likes to enhance the warmth of the interior walls. The walls already have imaginative touch in them. Cardboard covered walls with a touch of asymmetrical designs gives them a hint of geometry, and overall, they have ethereal lightness in them. This meditative approach, which she also calls as an art of ‘dwelling’ continues in the wooden sculptures. The sculptures both gather and form the space around them, and they have their own individualistic character. Robin’s interest to form is fluid. Materials appear with fluidity; they are towards rough or process-like, rather, than simply solid or static structures.

Robin Rapoport, eyeball shelves

THE HUMAN BODY

The Dance Company is close to being like a living sculpture, where human body is constantly taking new shapes and testing the space where it moves. The dancing bodies with sculptural elements on stage together with them, is another Rapoport’s take on the theme. Along with the abstract, animated and organic forms are these narratives, which have several underlying layers. These stories unfold themselves in a course of a fairytale, or as a series of otherwise magical happenings.

Dance, short film, sculpture, and light design evolve from the same source creating narratives without suffocating punctuality. Robin’s events evolve around the form and texture. Sometimes a piece of plexiglass gives an idea to a story that becomes a gesture in the dance performance, or it is part of the furniture created, and the objects found, all made for the home. Home is an evolving space, which is the dwelling. And living one’s home is part of the artistic process. Basically home is living together with art, and art keeps changing, as the interiors get different stories and layers.

Robin has created her home in the woods of Greenwich, CT, together with her husband Edward L. Milstein, who himself is a painter of geometric color. Both share a passion for the arts, design and architecture. These three-colliding elements are coexisting in their home, where exterior is also mixing with the interior. A visitor who comes to their spatial industrial loft-like house and art gallery encounters the presence of the woodland nature. The house is evidently coexisting with its environment, as the landscape is not too worked, but remains the same type of organic fluidity with the rest of the things around. They collaborated with the Robert Young architects to create their ’Art Barn’. In the summer the house has a wire screen wrapped around it which is covered with wisteria, and so becomes a green jewel box in the woods emerging from a winter cinder block form of grey. It is amazing how a ’green screen’ that is like a living skin over most of the surface make the concrete-block look different. The greenery also adds thermal insulation.

LIGHT DESIGNS

As of today, Robin has developed Light Designs. She is creating fixtures that come from the sculptural roots of using wood, copper and paper. Interesting ceiling lamps are the ones like an octopus or simply ‘branchy’ wired designs, which are light weighted structures for the ceiling. Ceiling lamp can contain one long rectangular design that has two branchy-designs attached to it, or it can be a smaller sculptural design having one wire inside them.

{photos:courtesy of robinrapoporthome.com}

I asked Robin few more questions. I wanted to know how living in the woods inspires her. I also asked, where will her designs be in the future, and where will her passion be.

RR: I think there is nothing more beautiful and magical and instructive as Nature and so I stay here, somewhat hidden and enclosed and perhaps somewhat lonely at times as well but this is where my work unfolds. When I travel to New York it is to study the Alexander Technique but then I come home to walk the property where I have lived for 24 years. Every year I add or shift plants and every following year I can take pleasure in watching them bloom. Outside and inside are distinct yet connected, as are we with both an exterior and interior persona? With so much suffering and tragedy in the world I feel blessed to have this place as a personal sanctuary and which makes me acknowledge every day a higher being which I can attribute the beauty all around me to.

I hope my Light Fixtures can add beauty to a room. They are crafted by hand so each is unique. I am happy to personalize them for customers meaning that I could change the paper color and or wood color. How fascinating is it in Nature that a plant on the outside can be a dull grey with spikes and when it blooms the most delicate of leaves and colors emerge. And this color is for our eyes to appreciate like cinema except you can touch it.

My next passion is to have a home furnishing boutique where I would sell my designs for tablecloths and ceramics, as well as have my design services. I love to set the table, and I find very little of interest in the tabletop design right now. So much of what is out there is about simplicity and “whiteness”, but perhaps just too much simplicity. We have lost great craftsmen (women). With the current economy people are afraid to stock inventory that is not trendy. But I am uninspired by what is now trendy. I just find it bland and so will make my own.

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{ROBIN RAPOPORT’S WEBSITES: Robin Rapoport Home and Robin Rapoport:Dance, Sculpture, Film}

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Robin Rapoport established Headless Horse in 2002 in New York City. The dance company has performed in live show, in festivals and in her short dance films. Her ‘Thief’ appeared in Palm Springs International Film Festival, and in the Jumping Frames Film Festival in Hong Kong.

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{/More pictures for the Greenwich, CT house are seen at http://ryarch.com/art-barn}

Categories
performance&dance

Performing at AUNTS-event in December 17, 2011

Great experience collaborating with AUNTS in Brooklyn…This video highlights some of the atmosphere:I would sum up that the content is not only artistic and fun, but at least its about community and identity.