Maria Hassabi unveils PREMIERE at the Kitchen

Maria Hassabi talks about her latest work, PREMIERE, which is a co-production by the Kitchen and Performa 13

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Time Out New York: Do you have props in this new piece?
Maria Hassabi:
No.

Time Out New York: Are you changing the space around in the Kitchen?
Maria Hassabi:
We can’t talk about that. [Laughs] But it is back in the theater, because for me PREMIERE is a theatrical moment, so you’re sitting. Originally, I wanted to keep this closeness of the audience that we made within SHOW, but then I let go of this idea when I started working. The Kitchen is the smallest theater we are going to perform this in. I’m asking for really big stages. It happened like that just because the first residency was at Kaaitheater, which is a much bigger space, so right away I started seeing it there. Now this one is totally made for the Kitchen, and then I’ll have to adapt it for the next ones.

Time Out New York: How did you work with your cast individually to make their solos?
Maria Hassabi:
What I like to do with each performer is to really choreograph and direct every gaze, every noise that they’re making. Then, there are all the extras that come in performance that you cannot control—there’s adrenaline. Sustaining movements in space. The reactions that happen in the studio and those that happen in front of the audience are very different. And that’s my love with doing still, slow works: It’s to see how even though I take care of every detail, there is still so much movement that comes with the shakes, the trembles, the tears—that only happens in front of the audience. It’s movement that’s beyond my choreography, beyond any direction. So to get to that, I want and need to direct them in a very specific way. I want everything to be taken care of. Also, that helps the performer to stay involved in the work. If they know exactly where their fingers are going, for example, it keeps them very contained to what they’re doing and very busy in the moment. I want to find a task that keeps us present within the moment. That’s the idea of the tasks. Now, how much time do I have to go into such detail, which is my love of making work—making these details. It’s not with everybody that I’m going to be able to do that. Maybe I will. I don’t know. As of now, I’m like, You have to maybe let go. I’ve embraced this process the way it is.

Time Out New York: Do you have to work as hard with Robert and Hristoula, whom you’ve collaborated with before?
Maria Hassabi:
I do. That’s the way I understand. People think it’s aesthetics; for me, it’s trying to understand what it is we’re doing. It’s language for me. So I don’t react to it unless everything is worked out. I always tell them it’s like speaking—we choose our words carefully and then we speak them out with clear articulation.

Time Out New York: But it’s punctuation too—the pauses.
Maria Hassabi:
Yes. And I want each word to be heard clearly. It’s not going, “Hiii.” It’s, “Hi. How are you?” And then it’s like, “How are you?” It takes a little bit of time to put the color in there. And with this idea of working with each one of them, you put it together, and it doesn’t totally work with the punctuation we found. So I’m not sure how close I’m going to get to what I dreamt of, of my true desire for this work, but we do have more shows. I think at some moment it’s going to get to where I want it to get. And, anyway, PREMIERE is not supposed to be finished. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: Did you always intend on being in the piece?
Maria Hassabi:
No, not in the beginning. I changed my mind partly when Paige couldn’t come; there were only three people onstage, and I wanted five from the beginning, so I had to keep on putting myself in to at least have form. And then I was in the piece. Also, money.

Time Out New York: How do you work on that nuance on yourself?
Maria Hassabi:
Video. Everything happens here. All the work.

Time Out New York: How long have you been living in this loft?
Maria Hassabi:
I made Gloria here. But I made Forest Near Chelsea upstairs.  And then I made the other two pieces Dead Is Dead and Still Smoking on 29th Street. So as you can see, it’s also my storage. Chandeliers. There are mike stands over there; [Points to a wall] this is the paint from Gloria.

Time Out New York: So let’s go back: You are working individually with everyone. What’s it like when you put them in a room together?
Maria Hassabi:
Crazy. Crazy. Like in France, I kept saying, “You guys, it looks terrible, but I trust it!” [Laughs] And then it became the joke: terrible in a good way or terrible in a bad way? It was so much, and you know how I like to pare everything down and to know where to look, but it was impossible. I call myself a director as well as a choreographer, because it’s not just movement for me.

Time Out New York: How do you direct them? What are their relationships to each other? Do they see each other? Do they feel each other?
Maria Hassabi:
They feel each other. They are totally connected with each other. It’s the space; there are thousands of cues. It’s like composition from high school. [Laughs] I can’t believe I’m making work with so many cues, but it’s the only way to get to it, to keep it empty as possible. Because each solo has its own trajectory, its own continuity. If each solo does it all at the same time, you cannot look. You don’t have time to see the people. And I want to have time to look at each one of them.

Time Out New York: How do you see pieces as a whole? How has that changed over time?
Maria Hassabi:
I have no idea how I see them. I think I’m so connected to them that I can’t completely detach myself in order to really see. I just wear my blinders, and I keep on going for what I’m interested in.

Time Out New York: Has there been a moment where you felt like you’ve succeeded in what you were trying to do?
Maria Hassabi:
Intermission and other pieces as well, but I always forget the other ones. I love SoloShow. I think it was really the moment when I unfolded everything that I wanted. Everything happened there. And it was a departure point for me in a way. But then I love Robert and Maria, I love SHOW as well. I love Counter-relief even. But because Intermission was the newest piece, and it was such an intense experience as well performing eight hours a day.…

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