Meet the Curator: Antonio Somera Jr.

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Antonio Somera Jr. is a quirky character, robust space-eater, and a nimble cat-lover from Vancouver, Canada.  He enjoys participating in street dance and contemporary dance events and enjoys having a drink or two with friends.  As an dance artist, Antonio interprets works for local choreographers and companies such as, Julie Chapple/Future Leisure, Dancers Dancing, The Response Dance Company. and OURO Collective. Antonio is super excited to present this next Shooting Gallery Performance Series, and to share  these artists’ talents.

Here’s what Antonio has to say for this show:

“It’s going be an eclectic show, with many interdisciplinary pieces coming from dance, improv, visual artist, spoken word, and theatre! I wanted to bring different communities together in one space, and I believe these artists represent their own quite boldly.  Each artist I have selected has some sort of play and interactivity within their works. Whether it be interacting with the audience, f*cking up the space and objects, or playing with inner dialogue, these artists are pretty damn smart! and they are also awesome humans to chill with.  Expect to be weirded out and confused, and to experience a few chuckles here and there, but overall, it’ll be one hella fun night!”

 

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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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