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: How did you do that?
Maria Hassabi:
It was amazing. Biba was saying, “How could Paige do that? Paige has only patience performing for 20 minutes.” We had no problem. It was such an incredible experience. And this is going to sound super cheesy, but at the end of the day it made us all, in our own way, come to this moment of, I love live performance. There’s nothing more valuable to us than that. Being live. The structure of the work was a two-and-a-half-hour solo that we all learned; then each performer would come and start a half hour after the previous person so there were always three people for one hour. It was me, Hristoula, Paige. We took those half-hour breaks and went back in. On the first Friday when the pavilion was packed with people, we didn’t take breaks, to be honest with you. We just kept on going. We would go to the bathroom and come back in. But I never told them to do that. Because I wouldn’t see them. We would go for coffee in the morning, talk through notes and then we would see each other again at 7 o’clock at night. We were soldiers all the way. You owned your solo. Even though it was very specific and very choreographed and articulated, you were alone there. You were doing your solo. In a two-and-a-half-hour solo, you own the time.

Time Out New York: Is that one of the things you’re grappling with here, in terms of owning your solo?
Maria Hassabi:
Yes. But when you’re creating work for a space, like an exhibition space that is not a theater, it’s a very different way of approaching the work. The attention it requires from you as an audience member of the black box—as opposed to the audience of the white cube, let’s call it—is very different. The associations you create when you’re looking at a frame of one or two hours in a theater—It can be an eight-hour show in a theater, but it’s different. So, yeah, they are solos in this one, and I want them to be seriously engaged within their solos and own them all the way, but it’s within a strict composition.

Time Out New York: You’re thinking about structure a lot. Is that a shift?
Maria Hassabi:
No. It’s a shift to go back to the theater in this way with the audience seated. Just because of the last year. Because Counter-relief also had the audience everywhere.

Time Out New York: When did you start moving slowly in your work?
Maria Hassabi:
It started that summer after Still Smoking when I made my solo that I was going to present in Moscow for this Springdance dialogue thing. We had these questions from Simon Dove; we had to present ourselves. They were very typical questions, like “Why do you make work?” But I took them very seriously. [Laughs] Like a good student. That’s the moment that I was like, Why do I make work? What is this art form for me? What is art in general for me? It’s changed since 2006, and it keeps changing, but I think it was that moment when I really narrowed things down and my lab of images came to the surface much more and I wanted to find a way to uncover images and to support them within live performance without them looking like tableaux vivant. How do you support physicality without changing costumes, without changing the lights—you know, scenery. And just how do you support physicality? Slowly through that, it became more rigorous.

Time Out New York: Do you have a practice to get you into that state?
Maria Hassabi:
Yes, but everyone else takes more time. And I realize that when I teach workshops. Because otherwise right away it becomes very plastic. I hold a position, I stay, So when I teach, there are things that I tell people; and then when we started exploring at Kaaitheater, stillness and all of that, it was again going back to tableaux vivant, which was not making me happy at all. So then, once again, I realized a task is needed to keep us in the present moment away from just, I want to be here for a long time. More about how the task makes you be here.

Time Out New York: It’s never really still.
Maria Hassabi:
It’s never still. It’s never still. I like this idea that in dance, we break images. Dance breaks images. That’s what it does, because it’s moving. And then I’m breaking images in another way through stillness, because it’s never still. I’m presenting images, but I’m still breaking them because there are the trembles and the shakes and the tears.

Time Out New York: When did you discover that you were crying and shaking?
Maria Hassabi:
Live performance. I went with it, because you’re onstage! [Laughs] But in the beginning, I remember in Gloria already, I’m sitting on the wall in the very beginning, and it’s not a dramatic piece, you know? And then it’s like, how does that work? Because right away the audience is going to see that as something dramatic with those tears, but it’s not a dramatic piece. It’s reactions to the body.

Time Out New York: Are there times your body doesn’t react?
Maria Hassabi:
Reactions are always different. The tears come in different places every time, and there are moments that are more predictable than others. You know the typical thing that I’ve put in so many of my works: the leg shaking when you lift it up. That happens in the studio as well. But that’s pushing the physicality a little bit and the way the leg is held comes out from the hip in a strange place. That’s more like an artificial way of producing those shakes, and it happens every time. There are other places where you’re surprised all the time. I want that. Especially in this work, which is so embroidered. I don’t know if it’s going to be like that. By May, it’s going to be like that. 

Time Out New York: Where are you touring this?
Maria Hassabi:
We go to Bologna, Italy in April and then in May we’re in Brussels. Then we do Norway, Nottingham in the U.K., then River to River in New York.

Time Out New York: Do you know where you’ll perform it at River to River?
Maria Hassabi:
I have two places in mind.

Time Out New York: Did you like performing at River to River?
Maria Hassabi:
Loved it. I mean I love all these things. I love throwing ourselves in different places and trying the work and seeing the audience reactions. But something that was really special in River to River two years ago, or whenever that was, was the sun. I always make the lights in my work so bright and the sun was brighter than any light I’ve ever made. And let’s talk about movements that you didn’t know existed? Sweat. And all the people rushing right next to us and the ones that would stop. It was incredible. I also have this thing, when I do a premiere usually, my work is finished, but it’s not finished because the audience brings you so much information in understanding your work. Not because you tell me something in words, but that moment that we come together, I’m like, Oh, that’s an extra movement that somehow I didn’t realize in the studio. So it doesn’t get totally finished until after the premiere. That’s when it gets realized. But in making work that is called PREMIERE, I’m also dealing with that and embracing that in a way. It is this final product, but it’s actually not the final product. It’s the beginning of a product.

Time Out New York: Do you continue to edit?
Maria Hassabi:
I always do. If you see SHOW now, it’s totally different. Remember when we sit by the lights and then we continue? That part is out. After the lights, we walk around in darkness. I kept cutting. After the Kitchen, when we did it next time, we just didn’t need it. We rehearsed it and in the theater we cut it. Hristoula, in the show, was like, She’s not moving. She’s not going anywhere. [Laughs] I’m like, I hope she understands what I’m thinking right now. When we did it here, it was hilarious. It wasn’t the first time, but we really cut a whole section out in live performance.

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