It deserves its own show: a conversation with Lexi Vajda and Elissa Hanson

 

The question that last week’s artist, Nancy, put to Lexi and Elissa was about how their current process was contributing to the trajectories of their individual and collective practices. Lexi answered:

“This is us really trying to discover ways of working that we haven’t experienced before, because we feel like we see and we have friction with the ways that we have been working in other contexts — specifically related to production and commodification of art, exploitation of dancers bodies, all of these things — and I think this is our serious go at figuring out how we want to fall in love with dance again in a way that doesn’t feel shrouded in all of that heaviness. And so it’s actually really pivotal for both of us . . .  Every rehearsal we’re like, ‘Yes, this is the way it needs to be!’”

 


Elissa and Lexi’s process began from a desire to create a space where they could “pour all of [their] selves.” Working on supporting each other, valuing their time together, and following any and all curiosities and desires, they have been fleshing out their process by asking questions like, “What is process that isn’t replicating something that we have experienced and don’t like, or what is process that we don’t know, and how do we find comfort in that and just being there together?”

They have been trying to remain as open as possible to new and different ideas, and also to avoid letting the fact of an impending show cause them to “fall into this ‘making a piece’” mindset where a pressure to produce something becomes more important than the process of doing so. Lexi explained that they have come to understand that “[their] time together is always generative; whether it always feels explicitly generative in a choreographic sense or not, it always feels ‘productive’ (to use the nasty P-word).”

But it has been productive in the choreographic sense. They are working with ideas like digital vs analog, guilty pleasure, catharsis, two- vs three-dimensionality (and beyond), the question of “What is felt space?”, deconstructing the elements of a show, and much more. They told me they don’t want to “block any sort of feeling out” of what they’re working on, and so they have ended up with a wide array of material, essentially using cataloging as a generative method. With this, lists have figured into their process in a significant way, and they listed some of them for me: “a list of guilty pleasure songs, a list of ways to support ourselves in the studio, a list of physical tasks, lists of recent inspirations (books, articles, lectures, theories, friends, people, celebrities), a list of ways to prepare.”

Through this process they have laid out comprehensive understandings of things that are important to them, giving them a firm base from which to build a piece, and also, it seemed to me, an ease in letting their curiosities run wild. Aiming to embrace even their strangest ideas, they are giving space to the small, the bizarre, the pathetic, the ridiculous, to the lo-fi, to frustration, to bad pop, to feeling better, to patience, to humour, to their individual and overlapping histories, to what they need in this moment of their lives. Elissa told me that another catalog they compiled was of “just absolute desires of what [they] think makes a good show,” and this one is, I think, best encapsulated by this bit of dialogue from our interview:

L: “There’s something humorous in the work because —“

E (directly to my recording device): “YOU CAN LAUGH.”

L: “— the way we’ve been working, and what has come out, has just ended up being ridiculous. Like we’re not trying to make ridiculous things, but with the ideas that have entered the room we’re just like, ‘Okay, okay let’s do it.’”

E: “Or, I want that, like why is no one willing to do that?”

L: “We’re going to squirt hair gel on the floor and then dance with it. And there’s this kind of obscene lighting, we’re working with bombastic coloured projection and techno music. There’s some drama.”

E: “There’s some serious garishness. What I feel like it is is, we have this ugly sort of deposit in our bodies, and we’re just letting it, without judgement, just climb out of us and be on the dance floor, and get to have its own show. And that’s it. Like no judgement. It deserves its own show. It does.”

L: “It does. It needs a place to live.”

E: “It’s definitely a dedication to a part of ourselves that just needs some space or something. You know? … It might be insane. I don’t know. I don’t feel… afraid?… of what we’re making, but I definitely feel dedicated to it. I feel dedicated to the fact that we’re just going to do it. And it’s going to happen.”

L: “I feel unapologetic about whatever we do, because I feel like it needs to come out.”

E: “I just always think that if you feel something in you, you can’t be the only one that feels it, so, you know, share it. And someone else will be like, Yeah.”

 

Some of this garishness involved a trip to the Party Bazaar. They went there without knowing exactly what they were looking for, but rather because they “just love that you go to that store to purchase items that are meant to give you a ‘good time,’ like, This is what you need for a party. This is fun. People will love this, this will make people have fun. But they’re kind of horrible . . . Like they are not working very hard but they are literally doing everything they can do.” ‘They’ being the tacky miniature disco balls that Lexi told me “were just there, waiting for us.”

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I loved hearing about the lightness Lexi and Elissa were obviously embracing in their process, perhaps precisely because much of the impetus for their seeking new ways of working was born from troubled relationships with the ever fraught tradition of western contemporary dance. Elissa explained one problematic thing she has often felt:

“I feel like I’ve literally been asked to contort in every single direction to keep as much of myself out of my dance practice as possible. And my body and mind and soul have suffered so much from that. The dance that I’ve always disliked the most [is that which] has nothing to do with the lived experience of a body [because] to me, that’s what dance is. It’s what the body, and lived experience, and what sensation and soma is, and it’s just crazy that this thing [the body] that is this thing [dance] has been missing from this thing [dance] because of what people think this thing should be.”

In response to things like this they have been prioritizing creating a space of care in their rehearsals. They do this in simple ways, like making time for discussion and playing their playlist of guilty pleasure songs while warming up, and also with more complex things like a somatic practice known as TRE, the principles of which are particularly applicable to their goals: Elissa explained that TRE is “a practice that allows you to have resiliency for whatever [a given] experience is, so it’s not even about everything being good, it’s about having the tools to be able to move through whatever, and just be able to go through the process. So there’s like a certain level of acceptance that comes with just being able to experience the [different] elements of yourself; that being like how your body is feeling, how you are feeling, what you are experiencing… Not accepting where you are at or how you are feeling but being able to just feel [those things]… And then, I don’t know — you can move through. And that’s all.”

Lexi told me that this ‘moving through’ is also “related to something that we’re both interested in with regards to performance. Something about being in a certain performance state and being in a certain readiness and presence… I think we’re building a score that makes that accessible to us so that we can really be there — or aiming to. I think that’s a desire that we both have when it comes to performativity, like how do we make this feel really honest.”

Creating, in performance, a space for their truest, most honest selves is something they want to extend to the audience as well. Lexi told me that aside from all the planning they are doing in creating the piece, what they want to be most attuned to when they perform is what is present in that room in that moment. She said, We’re performing a thing, but it really is about everybody who’s there.” They appreciate shows that are not exactly cut and dry. Elissa said she likes it when “things start to leak in between . . .  [when] real life is still present.” She said, “We don’t want [the audience] to forget that we’re humans, and we’re going to let them know that we’re not going to forget that they’re humans.” The relationship of the performance to the audience is also an instance where I think the sentiment is best explained through an excerpt of their dialogue:

L: “We would like to include [the audience].”

E: “Big time.”

L: “Big time.”

E: “We would like to share that space with them like no other.”

L: “Obviously.”

E: “Yeah.”

L: “Yeah. I want to make them feel like how I feel when I’m with you in our friendship.”

E: “Exactly. Yes.”

 

From what I could gather, their friendship is quite a spectacular thing, so I must say that that is something I would love to feel while watching a show.

The very last thing that was said before I stopped recording our conversation was spoken as an afterthought, only peripherally related to what we had been speaking about in that moment, and it was, “Where does the value lie?” I had hardly noticed it at the time, but it stuck with me when I listened to the recording later, perhaps because, though we had discussed many things which we all considered to be of value, this question never got explicitly answered. Maybe the value is in something as ephemeral as the space Lexi and Elissa are working to create for the audience, or maybe it is somehow in the almost pathetically cheap objects they are using. Maybe it is in the feelings they are allowing themselves to move through, or in the lists they’ve been making that will remain as artifacts after the performance. Maybe it is in all of these things, or maybe it is elsewhere entirely. In any case, as Elissa said, “We’re just going to do it. And it’s going to happen.” Maybe the true value is in that.

 

Just a few more days til this exciting show! Tickets still available at https://squareup.com/store/shooting-gallery-performance.

More info about the show is available on the Facebook event page, and you can follow us on Instagram at @shootinggalleryperformance.

 

Thanks for reading,

Francesca Frewer, guest curator

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Third things: a conversation with Nancy Tam

 

What was the most recent dream you remember? was the question that last week’s artists, Zahra and Rianne, put to Nancy. Nancy described this nightmare:

 

“As an ornithophobic, and a nervous jaywalker, I had my ultimate nightmare sometime last year. In my nightmare, I was in Hong Kong with my husband Ira, and the other two members of A Wake of Vultures, Conor Wylie and Daniel O’Shea. For some reason, we needed to jaywalk and I couldn’t. The next thing I know, I am separated from the rest of the gang by fast moving cars between us. They were yelling for me to “JUST CROSS THE STREET, NAN!” That didn’t help. So, I looked to my right and there it was… an ostrich… and it was curious about me so it came to investigate. Slowly turning my head to face the three guys on the other side, the ostrich does, what seems like, a classic Jurassic Park move putting its head under mine and looking around. Scared to hell and back, I slowly turn my head to the left looking for a way out but then! … … … … … there were two copulating ducks!!!! … … … … … blocking my exit! HAHA, you think? Well, it’s all fun and games until you’re caught between an ostrich and two copulating ducks. I hope this doesn’t happen when we’re touring Walking at Night by Myself in Hong Kong in April.”

 


Nancy’s work for Shooting Gallery is a new segment of an existing piece called Walking at Night By Myself. The first version was presented last year at Music on Main, and she has been thinking about the ideas she is working with since long before then. Nancy told me that for her, things often start as just small, sometimes incomplete snippets of ideas, and she will think to herself, “I don’t know what that’s about but it intrigues me” — then just wait, and think on it, keeping it in her thoughts until the right moment arises to develop it. The room that that process allows for very thorough consideration is apparent in this piece, which is both complex and extremely specific.

Walking at Night By Myself uses the optical phenomenon of moiré, which Nancy explained as “an interference pattern that happens within the human brain when you observe two or more misaligned grids or repetitive patterns. The points of intersection form a third pattern that doesn’t exist in either one of them, but only in putting them together.”

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I find the visual representations amazing, but I was even more fascinated by the principle of this phenomenon: the emergence of things “not existing, but existing only under a certain relation,” as Nancy put it. There seemed to me to be a lot of potential for this idea to translate into different contexts. In what other ways could the interaction of two things give way to a third thing that does not and can not exist outside the relationship between two constituent elements?

Nancy told me that the phenomenon can also exist aurally, when “two sound waves are played simultaneously in close proximity, and they’re slightly de-tuned from each other…some of the partials get excited in a much more exaggerated way than others, and so you start to hear things that are not existing in the room or in each one of the tones, it’s just when they’re together.”

Sound itself is another example, because it is the result of the friction between agitated air particles, and so it exists only by virtue of the relationship between those particles in motion. And there is a further element of relationship because something, or someone, has to cause the air to move in order to create that friction.

But Nancy’s central interest in moiré is in the confusion inherent in the illusion. Moiré works because the eye cannot distinguish two separate patterns simultaneously, and so in this confusion it conflates the two — but that conflation, rather than being reductive, leads to the emergence of a new, third thing. In Walking at Night by Myself, the two performers are made to look so alike that it becomes difficult to tell them apart. Nancy uses this confusion as a vehicle to question the ways we see people:

“When do we recognize that people are different and when do they look the same? And why do they look the same and how do they look the same? Where and what are the third patterns that exist and emerge when two very similar people are standing together and being together and acting the same? And also how do we categorize these similarities?”

Nancy told me that she loves to use confusion as a device because she believes that “confusion is where curiosity is birthed.” Hearing her talk about the piece I can say that I was definitely curious. But she admitted that inciting curiosity is only half of the work:

“I really want the audience to then in the confusion be realizing the questions that I’m asking — like who am I looking at? — and to think more deeply about that. That’s the hard part: [for] a very formally driven show to engage with those questions in a nuanced way.”

She made very intentional choices to this end. It is deliberate that the performers are in skirts, that they are two asian women, that their faces — but not their heads entirely — are obscured. A clear groundwork is laid to lead audience members to those questions, but whether or not each person takes the further step of asking them, they are in for a spectacular show. Nancy was unabashed about this being one of the aims of the piece, and her approach to this is systematic.

To start with, the piece is built specifically for a proscenium audience perspective — the patterns only function when they are looked at straight on, the performers’ movements are all lateral — and it takes advantage of the controlled environment to construct a precise experience for the audience. Nancy compared it to standing in a gallery looking at a large painting, and the way that from that position (below, looking up), “you’re just awestruck, like the scale is amazing. It does crazy things to your body.” And so by capitalizing on what is inherent to the proscenium setup, showing something very confusing, and having the projection fill the entire space, Nancy said she is “conditioning [the audience] to be awestruck. That’s what this piece is about, it’s a spectacle. It’s about an effect and the embodied responses that are included in that.”

Walking at Night By Myself uses the mediums of projection, performance, and sound to create this experience for the audience. The piece began with the visuals, but Nancy told me that with each piece she creates, she starts first with a concept and then determines the medium she will work in based on that. Though she does work most frequently in sound and performance, and speaking about these mediums specifically led us to the subject of ephemerality. Nancy said something I really liked regarding the difficulty of documenting/recreating sound and performance work. She pointed out that it is not merely that certain things don’t translate onto film or audio recording — part of the difficulty is also due to the fact that listening to or watching a recording of something is so vastly different from experiencing a show in a theatre, where there is a whole audience present, and where one has dedicated the time to go and do only that. This made me think that the experience of seeing work live could also be considered a “third thing” that emerges through the relationship of the performance and the audience. I can’t wait to experience that “third thing” at Shooting Gallery in just a few weeks.

Tickets are on sale now for our shows on November 23 and 24! https://squareup.com/store/shooting-gallery-performance

Third things: a conversation with Nancy Tam

Thin the veil for a hot second: a conversation with Zahra Shahab and Rianne Svelnis

 

Since last week’s artist, Barbara, was experimenting with messy materials in her process, I asked Rianne and Zahra what their favourite messy material to work with was. Rianne said:

“My favourite messy material to work with is my . . .  body and mind on any given day.  Messy as fuck.  Like skin/flesh/bone/thought, sometimes organized feeling, sometimes messy feeling.”

 


In my conversation with the two of them, we spent a lot of time talking about process. I was pleased to hear that they were in a place of study and discovery, letting research drive their work, rather than a pressure to generate a product. At the moment they are focusing on tuning in, trying to continually uncover more about what they are working on, and asking, as Rianne put it, “How can we make it more of what it already is?”

I compiled a list of strategies they use in their process, which includes several that they didn’t necessarily intend as such but which struck me as great tools:

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Their piece is grounded (conceptually and literally) in the position of the body face down on the floor. They are engaging in patient and rigorous physical study, discovering movement possibilities in and from this position, giving value to (often minute) detail, and exploring what is inherent to the belly-to-the-floor orientation of the body. Some things that came up were the safety and security of the position, afforded by the protection it gives to the most vulnerable parts of the body (throat, viscera) as well as the term “private belly space.” I wondered if they thought of these ideas mostly in conceptual terms, or if they considered the piece to be of a personal nature. The answer was quite clear: Zahra responded, “I hope it’s personal . . . who else would I make a dance about?” and Rianne said, “How could you possibly make anything that’s not personal when it’s your body?”  

With these ideas as the base for their research, much of their focus is on the internal — both as in the inside of the body, and also internal as in focused on the performer’s experience. Zahra said they are working “from the inside out,” rather than starting from a preconceived idea of what the piece will be and then figuring out how to engineer it. This process demands a lot of patience: Zahra told me she challenges herself in “how long [she can] stay without making a decision, how long [she can] just stay and scratch it, and scratch it, pat it, pull it,” allowing what they are working with to gradually change and grow without trying to “hurry up and make a dance.” Rianne was frank about it being challenging, saying that for her, this way of working often requires the uncertain step of “suspending disbelief and just doing the thing in the body, without knowing if it’s the thing.” But by letting repetition support them through this place of not knowing, with practice new things inevitably arise. As Rianne described it, “you don’t know that you don’t know until you feel the satisfaction of knowing… And then it’s pleasurable to have gotten there, but not knowing is really uncomfortable.”

Their focus on the internal is not at the expense of giving attention to how the piece will be perceived from the outside. In fact, it seemed to me like their process was a means of bringing together the visible and the invisible. At the same time as they are focusing on sensation, and things that are not perceptible to a viewer in a straightforward sense, they are also making aesthetic choices, and using, as Rianne put it, “all the tricks in the book that [they] can.” And so by being mindful of both at the same time, they are able to use “the tools of sensitivity and focus [to] elevate illusion.”

When I asked them what they hoped the audience’s experience of their work would be, I understood that their most valued aims are toward the invisible, and that aesthetics are used as a vehicle to these ends. Rianne said that she thinks about the way that different parts of the brain become active as one witnesses a performance, and considers this a dance, the movement of activity from one part of the brain to the next. She also said, “one of my hopes is that as I do it and as I’m witnessing it, it takes me somewhere else in my body.” In this way they again give attention to the internal, even in the consideration of the external perspective. Zahra said she thinks that the innately weird experience of sitting in a dark theatre with a bunch of strangers and watching dance can allow a “shedding, for a second, of our otherness”; and that in making performance she hopes to create a “thinning of the veil.” Though she hesitated to speak in these terms that seemed somewhat grandiose, and so she quickly added, “Just for a hot second. Just thin the veil for a hot second.” 

It was clear that despite much hard work, rigour, and criticality, the two are not taking themselves too seriously. When I expressed my admiration for the patience they bring to their work, they laughed, and Rianne said, “we also just hang out.” Zahra added, “we just watch each other roll around and praise each other for rolling around.” It was obvious that their friendship is very significant to their collaboration, and it helps them meet in the middle on things, as they sometimes have differing approaches. While Rianne joked about wanting to wait “an entire moon cycle” to ponder each potential decision, Zahra described her process quite differently:

“It’s exciting because it’s like throwing knives, like I have this empty space and I need to make something out of it. And I kind of like the violence of it because it feels like it’s kind of scary — like if I choose this, then everything else is eliminated. But I’m also like, it’s what I am brought to in this very moment of my life, so I’m just going to throw it, and then it’s going to cut out this weird shape, and . . .”

The thread of Zahra’s sentence got lost and picked up elsewhere, so I never heard exactly what would happen with the “weird shape,” but I thought I understood the general sense of what she was saying. They had told me how ritual was fundamental to the piece, conceptually but also structurally. For them, rehearsing is a ritual — showing up to the studio, changing into their dance clothes, returning again and again to the floor, watching one another dance, and everything else that gets repeated again and again as they continually re-examine the substance of Bound Inch, all this is part of the work. As Zahra said, “Everything that we brought to this moment, every conversation, every experience that we’ve had, every little look we’ve exchanged with somebody is manifesting in that little moment.” And so these ritual repetitions are essential, to the point that even, as Rianne said, “the gaps between the dancing is the dance.” I appreciated the attention to those small moments after the end and before the next beginning. And remembering Zahra’s hesitation at sounding too grandiose, I thought it also served as a nice counter-point to the larger ideas — a reminder of the value of the “hot second” of the in-between.

Thin the veil for a hot second: a conversation with Zahra Shahab and Rianne Svelnis

“Let’s mess it completely up”: a conversation with Barbara Adler

 

Carrying over from our last artist, Ileanna, who is working with cooking in her piece, I asked Barbara for a favourite recipe. Her answer was this Grapefruit Pudding Cake:

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She said it’s “a bit of work but completely worth it in every way.” She also recommends adding bitters-infused whipped cream for an extra touch.

 


I met Barbara at the Gold Saucer studio on a Tuesday evening, just before she began setting up for Sawdust Collector, the weekly performance series she co-curates there. This felt quite fitting because, as she put it, “Sawdust Collector is all about making connections between things,” and I would soon learn that this is a theme that runs through all her work. Her work spans event making, which she sees as a practice in itself, literary performance, and music. She is very active in each of these disciplines. Barbara told me that even after doing an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies, she doesn’t think there is an answer to the question of what interdisciplinarity really is, but that personally, it’s very clear that engaging in many things at once is important to her practice. This shows up in her creative process, and also on a more broad level, in her views on art and on how to be in the world.

Reaching into disparate source materials is a big part of how she creates, and this is especially true for the piece she is working on for Shooting Gallery, which draws inspiration from such wide ranging subjects as fashion forecasting and decoy ducks used in duck hunting. I was curious to know how these will come together in the piece when it is performed, but also curious about what that process looks like for her. How does she do the bringing together? Barbara said that despite working in many mediums, she tends to “see the world most as a writer,” so her approach is to think in terms of metaphor, where difference is what provides the opportunity to make connection. She also said that she uses “metaphor as a way of doing work” because of the mental effort required to link disparate ideas, and this effort is a practice that for her extends beyond art making as well:

“I think being in better relationship is kind of a worthwhile goal as a human being . . . the practice of attention, and care, and respect that you (ideally) bring to the process of putting together connections between material[s] is, I think, something that you could practice as a human being, how you exist in the world. Which is not to say that I achieve this every time — but that attentiveness to where things come from, respect[ing] where things come from but then also see[ing] how they work together, is kind of a good way, I think, to be, as a human. To have respect for boundaries but also see commonality.”

I was interested in this sense of responsibility to materials that she described, and when I asked her more about it, she told me that part of her initial inspiration for this piece was a quote from Marxist theorist Alexander Kluge: “All things are enchanted people.” She explained:

“Every object has memories of people in it — that’s a really nice, present sort of surface metaphor, but [Kluge] is also talking about how commodity objects kind of congeal human labour and human experience.”

This idea allows objects much more complex histories than we might typically assume. She told me that another early inspiration for this piece was a bag of decoy ducks that she acquired, which came to her from the son of the original owner, in a bag that had never been opened by him. She spoke about attempting to deal with the history of these objects, how they came to her, and what it means for her to use them in a performance (which centres around a fictional narrative). This brought up the implications of telling stories that are not one’s own, and I found Barbara’s take on this particularly interesting:

“It’s really present in the air right now I think, people thinking about telling a story from a different culture or a different life experience, but I think I’m also interested in having more sensitivity about telling a story of someone who’s close to you. . . family is usually thought of as fair game or friends are thought of as fair game, or people you encounter in your everyday life are usually thought of as people you could talk about but . . . you’re still kind of setting something for someone that they didn’t necessarily have a choice in.”

Barbara pragmatically explained this complicated, probably impossible to resolve question without pretending to have an answer. But she is troubling these ideas, questioning the purposes of telling stories, of making the personal public, and truth vs fiction (among other things). She told me very honestly: “The truth in this particular story is I bought something from someone whose father had died, and now I’m making work about it and I have no connection to them. And that’s already like, it’s not the grossest form of appropriation, but it is.”

One approach she is taking in response to these questions is “paying attention and putting work into material, and trying to write in response to [these] objects.” She told me, “I don’t want to stop telling stories, but I think having a little anxiety about [it] is good maybe.”

Another one of Barbara’s approaches to making work (she was speaking specifically to writing here) is to be “as fine-grained as possible,” her aim with language being to “make the abstract sensible.” She also said, “I admire people who can leave things hanging for longer, I have kind of this tendency to want to touch it with words all the time.” (As someone who often has difficulty expressing things in words, I felt that there was something admirable in that drive towards specificity.) But Barbara also told me she finds it very enjoyable when work gives a certain level of uncertainty, which she described as “slipperiness.” She said:

“I like it when you don’t quite know what you’re looking at, I like it when you think you know and then are misdirected, I like having a question about whether the person speaking to me is totally earnest, or playing a trick, I like that kind of shiftiness, like things that don’t really resolve themselves. I think maybe that’s part of why I also like taking all these different kinds of materials and trying to put them together: because they don’t perfectly fit. So there’s always a shifting and a readjustment between all of them at any point.”

This shifting and readjustment lives in Barbara’s process until almost the very end, as she keeps things unfixed until quite close to showing a new work, and allows each element to change in response to the others changing. Speaking with Barbara I got a strong impression of constant and thorough questioning. She told me that one thing she has learned from working in many disciplines is the value of having a “curious stranger’s eye.” She also loves coming into new processes with the attitude, “let’s mess it completely up.” Sounds great to me.

Sawdust Collector runs every Tuesday at the Gold Saucer Studio starting at 9:30pm. https://www.facebook.com/sawdustcollector/

“Let’s mess it completely up”: a conversation with Barbara Adler

Being ready to accept blushing: a conversation with Ileanna Cheladyn

 

Ileanna’s answer to the question:

What song are you currently most likely to play as soon as you get in the studio?

was Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush”.

I put it on as I started going through my notes, and it struck me as having a quality to it that connected with a sense I got of what Ileanna is working on. Something which I find a bit hard to put into words, but which I would fumble towards with words like personal, like pleasurable, like generous, like honest, like gets you somewhere deep.

 


Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 12.33.43 AMAt one point we were speaking about preparation, and Ileanna said, “You take notes to prepare for when you’re going to do the thing, but really, for you, the notes will forever be what remains.” So, in that spirit, the above are the notes I took while she and I spoke. Below is another version of what talking to her was like.

 


Despite knowing each other peripherally for quite some time, last Friday was the first time Ileanna and I ever really had a one on one conversation. I was welcomed into her home, served a delicious meal, and given the pleasure of hearing about her thoughts on dance and other things, as well as her practice, which currently centres around recipes and cooking.

“I’m super interested in cooking but also really interested in ways of making dancing; because I don’t feel super interested in the ways of making dance that I was taught, I suppose, or the ways I was exposed to in dance school. And so I started thinking of recipes as a way of making dance, and finding choreography that way. Because they are generative through their structure, and I really appreciate that.”

There is a thread of temporality, which I found interesting, to the way Ileanna sees recipes. Using them as scores which can be meticulously followed, or (her usual cooking method) used as a loose guide, this generative nature relates to the future; but she is also interested in the traces they leave after the fact, as a certain kind of archive, often notated again and again with different adjustments made.

We also spoke a bit about the problems and complexities of our collective and personal dance histories, and the myriad things, aside from technique, that are inevitably inherited by students of western contemporary dance. She told me that after a long journey of studying different forms and at different institutions, she has come to treat training in dance as a means to “feel more alive.” And that while she’s still “really invested in all the structures and intricacies, et cetera et cetera, of dance . . .  it’s sort of being pushed out by [her] interests in just being human, and not trying to be a super-human, or an abstract human.” She is not interested in the body as metaphor:

“I just don’t want to be this abstract thing making shapes onstage, pretending that I’m not, you know, paying bills.”

In that spirit, she is approaching this piece with a welcoming of the anxiety she experiences being in front of big crowds. Asking herself, “what do I need to do in order to do this thing that I do in private (cooking), in front of a large audience?” she has come to invite awkwardness, silliness, shaking, blushing, and all the other things that for her come with performance nerves.

“Maybe because I get so uncomfortable with myself onstage, I just sort of imagine people taking pleasure in my discomfort in this way of like, I’m okay with them watching me get uncomfortable, probably blushing really hard and maybe shaking a little bit. But I do that so they don’t have to — maybe?” 

When I asked her how she works when she’s alone in the studio, she said: “What it usually comes down to is very very physical tasks. When I want to be dancing, or engage my body in any way, I’m like, ‘Oh, sagittal plane! Vertical plane! Push ups!’ These are things that are really successful for me to find a new state to then start working from. So it’s like perpetually warming up.”

Again we had arrived at a theme: that the preparation is ‘the thing.’

Regarding this perpetually warming up she also said:

“Maybe it’s this place of being ready to accept blushing, and shaking, in front of people. And [being] prepared to take that on. Because through the warming up process I can become aware of myself in a proprioceptive sense, to then start inviting the gaze.”

Ileanna told me that she works with improvisation “in part because I don’t know how to choreograph steps. Like I just don’t know how to do that. But I know how to choreograph feelings…? Yep. So improvisation comes in handy a lot for the end.” I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of choreographing feelings. Remembering her previously saying, regarding audiences, “Don’t give them what they want,”  I asked her what she thought about manipulation on the part of the performer. She said:

“I think we all have desires when we watch performance, and [so] people can have those, and I can’t control them — but maybe I just want to interrupt things.”

After I stopped recording and about an hour after our conversation had been straying further and further away from the ostensible purposes of our interview, I asked her something about what’s next for her, or what her plans are down the road, or some other impossible to answer question. She said, “I’m prone to abstract things, especially my future.” And I thought, what a delightful way to approach the unknown: abstractly.

 

Francesca Frewer, guest curator

Being ready to accept blushing: a conversation with Ileanna Cheladyn

Post Show Response

ShootingGallery_March2018_CARATENCH_(20_of_1)Luciana Freire d’Anunciação is a performance artist working across disciplines including video, installation, photography, movement and sound. Her work ‘Vocation/Vacation’ sets out to address work and leisure though playful interaction with the audience. Sourcing words from viewers feelings about their jobs and free time, the artist then asks the audience help to choose costume and music options before embarking on her movement improvisation. By beginning this conversation with the audience as they settle into the theatre with the house lights still up, the work is divided into two sections, a collaborative discussion, and then a more formal performance for which the house lights are dimmed and an audio track accompanies her dance.

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By allowing this access to the preparatory stage of the improvisation, viewers are invited directly into the creative act and are able to contextualize the subsequent movements using their own experiences and contributions. The points of inspiration are defined in collaboration with the viewer, making tangible the choreographic process happening in the moment. Freire’s movements oscillate between abstract and vaguely mimetic allowing for a variety of access points especially for those new to contemporary dance practices. She is a captivating performer and her improvisation easily slips into moments of humour, seriousness, introspection and sincere connection with her audience.

 

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Katherine Neil is a visual artist just beginning to explore performance, though you would never guess this from her stage presence and natural sense of timing. Her work ‘Signs of Explosion—Essentially Dependent, Necessarily Incomplete’ utilizes floral fabric, cotton batting and unfired clay to pull apart and reshape the trappings of femininity through time based manipulation. Following a lineage of female artists working with materials typically associated with craft or the decorative arts, Neil seems to be breaking down and reassembling not only the expectations of being a woman, but specifically a female artist. Wearing a modest long sleeve dress, she dissects a pillow of the same fabric, and then removing her dress, fills the garment with the pillow stuffing to create a kind of life sized headless doll. She then proceeds to fill the pillowcase with clay, clawed from a large block one handful at the time.

ShootingGallery_March2018_CARATENCH_(35_of_1)The performance ends with the artist sliding herself into the bottom of stuffed dress, inserting herself underneath the clay filled pillowcase, and eventually poking her feet out the neck hole. Coming to stillness, she lays serenely on her back, the clay filled pillow perched on her chest and cotton floating gently around her like pollen. After the physical effort of material manipulation, she comes to stillness and breathes deeply, slowly. The clay rises and lowers on her chest, something that she clearly has the strength to bear, but a burden nonetheless.

 

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Jessica Wilkie and Laura Avery are both accomplished dance artists and perform often in the work of local dance companies. Their new work ‘ISO’ is their second collaborative piece and demonstrates the breadth of their interest in performance practices utilizing text, vocalization, and pedestrian and dance based movement.

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Shown through vignettes separated by blackouts, many of the scenes are accompanied by Wilkie making a buzzing or humming noise; a drone that grows gradually louder as the performance progresses. This sound is at times out of place, for example, while they are looking through receipts, moving their hands in an eerie unison. At other times, it fits perfectly within the scene, as when Wilkie takes on the form of a vacuum cleaner which Avery pushes awkwardly around the stage.
In one scene we see Wilkie seated downstage, with Avery laying on the floor next to her, gently prodding at her partner’s legs with the dainty balls of her feet.

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Wilkie reads from Virginia Woolfe’s ‘The Waves’ with an intentionally ridiculous English accent. This reference to a sweeping and surreal survey of the intertwining lives of six friends may give us insight into the origins of these off-kilter scenes that the two artists are showing us. The bittersweet nostalgia of Woolfe’s prose always made me feel immensely sad about the fleeting quality of the quotidian, of childhood being over, and the absurdity of summing up a life in any possible way. During one transition, Wilkie obtains a pair of red satin gloves, but this addition of glamour makes no change to her blasé demeanor. A feather boa also makes it’s way to Wilkie’s neck during some blackout, again having seemingly no impact on the movements that she is executing. This creeping incongruity may hint at some secret ‘otherness’ that lays in wait and is somehow intertwined with these seemingly banal moments, only coming to fruition at the end of the piece when Wilkie has fully transformed into a human sized fly. Sporting a black bomber jacket she wears a mask with large sparkling insect eyes and sitting casually center stage, her droning gets louder and louder.
When her voice cannot increase in intensity, the buzz becomes amplified through the sound system, drowning out all else, and continuing even after the lights have faded to black.

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Daniel O’Shea is a theatre artist, film maker and lighting designer. His work, ‘are we not drawn onward to new era’ is a solo performance incorporating custom made lighting and audio fixtures which act as his set and scene partners. With the house lights still up, O’Shea addresses the audience. He begins his work by warning the viewers of triggering content, at which point an ominous voice interrupts him from nowhere, mocking his caution. As the voice speaks, we see a small picture of an eagle behind him lighting up with a single red eye, but seemingly unfazed by this supernatural interjection, he continues. He lays out two life paths, the first goes smoothly in an idyllic 1950’s tradition: job, girlfriend, house, promotion, marriage, kids, etc. and the second is riddled with loneliness, job precarity, and financial struggles, each unfortunate decision being compounded by the poor decisions of a character without the support or emotional stability to do better. The lights fade and O’Shea seats himself at the small table, donning a hoodie and a pair of black gloves wrapped with a mess of tiny wires. We see our unfortunate character surfing reddit, uploading conspiracy theory videos on youtube and chatting with other similarily minded individuals. His environment shifts through subtle lighting changes and the introduction of other characters; a tin foil head and two coat racks clad in trench coats and ray bands, all voiced by cassette players. We follow O’Shea’s character as he is recruited by a shady agency and becomes a pawn in a power struggle which ends with everyone being double-crossed. It is not entirely clear whether this whole drama is all in our unstable protagonists mind, though an audio collage near the end of the work hints at this.

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It may not be readily apparent to audience members that the set is being impressively controlled by O’Shea himself. Wires wrapped around his work gloves and looped through the inside of his hoodie allow him to trigger each lighting and sound cue by placing his fingertips on different points on the table in front of him and his own body. This intricate setup allows the performer the control over his environment that his character seems to be so desperately seeking.

This work treads some dangerous territory and O’Shea manages to address controversial subjects with careful consideration. Creating a work based in identity politics as a white man, he puts himself in the role of an angry and isolated individual identifying with the alt-right and ultimately turning to violence, while portraying the absurdity of romantic ideals of manliness. The piece ends as it began, with the lights up, and O’Shea as himself, describing talking a stranger off the train tracks. He reflects on his guilt at handing the man over to the police and posits that ‘in a different life, it could have been me.’ Our eagle interjects again here telling O’Shea that he isn’t like that other man, that he is one of the good ones. ‘Not all men,’ echoes the seductive voice of individual exceptionalism, ‘not all men.’

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Antonio Somera Jr. is a dance artist beginning to explore choreographic practices. His work ‘see me by the way that I feel’ was created in collaboration with Joshua Oncol and Joanna Reyes. The three performers, young, beautiful and Filipino, explore identity, self doubt and ultimately self-expression through text, movement and a drag inspired lip-sync number. The piece begins with Reyes telling the story of a prepubescent moment of self-consciousness. She delivers her at times humorous story with a gravitas that hints at something more traumatic that the incident being described. The men improvise movement loosely in time with her monologue, at times playing off of each other’s actions but primarily lost in their own introspection.

Later, the performers address the audience directly, one person at a time stepping away to don flamboyant articles of clothing. It is clear that there is some kind of game at play here, with the performers attempting to speak to the audience in unison while improvising the words. Having seen this piece several times, I know that this section is always different; asking or begging the audience for their input, deriding or complimenting individual’s fashion choices, and often devolving into some kind of unfortunate one sided romantic conversation. 240318_ShootingGallery_CARATENCH_(30_of_1)This text all seems to relate to questions of self worth, social interactions and public persona with the performers attempting to put themselves in a position of power, passing judgment on the audience that watches them. Receding into romance induced melancholy, Reyes recites the lyrics from No Doubt’s 1995 hit ‘Don’t Speak’. The dancers, both incredibly adept at a variety of movement techniques, break their contact dance flow with complicated waacking style flourishes of the arms, eliciting more giggles from audience members at this uncommon meshing of styles. The men maintain a serious demeanor and as movement builds there is more violence in their interaction, manipulating each other’s bodies until Somera is thrown to the ground again and again, Reyes shouting the last line of the song with unselfconscious anger and frustration. Reyes abruptly changes the scene by addressing the audience: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anyone else?….. Can I get an amen?’ ShootingGallery_March2018_CARATENCH_(114_of_1)And with a few cheers from the crowd, a disco track blast from the speakers and the performers break into choreographed number complete with confetti, a disco ball and pulling audience members on stage for a mini dance party. Like many elements of this work, this deus ex machina ending could read as immature in the hands of less skilled performers, but these young dancers approach each moment on stage with such sincerity, it is impossible not to be charmed. In a work that is about overcoming anxiety in order to express how you truly feel, it seems to be exactly what Somera has done.

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Words by Julianne Chapple
Images by Cara Tench
https://www.caratenchphotography.com/blank-mpvle

Post Show Response

Meet the Artists – Luciana Freire D’Anunciação

 

Vocation/Vacation is a dance piece based on a game structure in which artist and audience will engage in a brief conversation about the concept of work, pleasure, labor, vocation and vacation. These conversation will inform the way Luciana will perform her task: make a playful dance improvisation that will deconstruct and translate her own take of the words to her body movements. 

Gathering her interests in game theory, dance improvisation, language/speech/literature in performance, D’Anunciação will prepare a conversation structure and make available options of dance intentions, states, costumes and songs in order to build a score to be achieved. The idea is to create a challenge for herself and test her own capability to the specific labour of fine-tuning to time and space in order to embody language and improvise with dance movements. 

Trigged by the radical changes the current (and illegally elected) Brazilian government made on the labour laws, D’Anunciação reflects upon the value of work – and of course the value of her own chosen career as a artist. According the the new rules, workers need to complete 49 years of labour in order to have the right to retire, which means Luciana will only do it when she turns 83 years old! Those changes buzzed heated discussions in the country regarding work as a dignifying life purpose and the misjudgement around art making as a vagabond occupation, hence the interest in the words vocation – relates to occupation, work, divine call for a specific activity; while vacation relates to des-occupation, free time, suspension, leisure. Considering this topic is not an isolated phenomenon in the world currently, Luciana brings her own local political and cultural experience to a dialog with Canadian audience into a playful performance.

Meet the Artists – Luciana Freire D’Anunciação