Ileanna’s answer to the question:
What song are you currently most likely to play as soon as you get in the studio?
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.
At 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