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

Maria Hassabi presents PREMIERE at the Kitchen

Maria Hassabi presents PREMIERE at the Kitchen Photograph: Marialena Marouda

Maria Hassabi talks about her new work PREMIERE, which she will perform at the Kitchen, alongside Biba Bell, Hristoula Harakas, Robert Steijn and Andros Zins-Browne. The work is a co-production by the Kitchen and Performa 13.

What constitutes a premiere? How is it more expansive than merely the first time a curtain is raised on a new dance? In the aptly titled PREMIERE, choreographer Maria Hassabi explores the idea of an anticipated event; for her, a dance is never truly born until the audience is present. In the evening-length work—the latest in her series of slow-moving pieces that crystallize and celebrate the exquisiteness of live performance—she highlights four stellar performers, along with Hassabi herself: Biba Bell, Hristoula Harakas, Robert Steijn and Andros Zins-Browne. PREMIERE is a co-production by The Kitchen and Performa

Time Out New York: What were your ideas for PREMIERE?
Maria Hassabi:
I don’t know if you’ve noticed from my past work, but I’ve been playing with these titles. It’s almost like a dyslexic person: a show, what is a show? Premiere. What is a premiere? So I was in my own understanding of the terms and going in hand with the values that I believe in. When I look into the word premiere, more than anything—away from this highly anticipated event and all of these things—it is really the moment that a work of art is validated. I work in the studio for a long time. Friends can come over and watch it, but it’s only when a premiere happens that it’s really a work of art. Not because it’s better. It’s the moment that it validates itself. So that’s what I’m playing with the most and that was my interest. Then I had this desire to work with these people, without thinking, They all live in different countries, their schedules are crazy—everybody’s so busy and blah, blah, blah, and how am I going to do this? But I wanted to deliberately mirror my life—I’m never in one place; I split between living in Europe and New York, which is very difficult to sustain any continuity in life. It was a crazy idea, but it’s mirroring my life. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: How do you cope with that existence? I’m sure you’re all over the place.
Maria Hassabi:
This team is kind of like that. We have two more residencies altogether, but for a show usually, in terms of New York preparation, you work the last few months intensely with everybody, which is not the case with PREMIERE. I work intensely with one person, intensely with another person.

Time Out New York: Why did you choose each performer?
Maria Hassabi:
Andros is a New Yorker that moved to Brussels ten years ago. He’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I knew of him and saw him when he was still in New York, but I really met him when I started working with Jimmy Robert in 2011. Jimmy is a visual artist, and they’re friends. Andros was the one who recommended me to Jimmy. Then I saw him perform a few times. The performance that really moved me was a show that he did with Tino Sehgal last year at dOCUMENTA. There are all these performers in the space, and somehow he came very close to me and the way he was, I was so touched. He didn’t make me feel like he’s a performer and I am the audience; his approach was so integrated in a very neutral way. I wanted to bring Robert back into my work, because I love him, and we’ve spent so much time traveling with Robert and Maria the last three years, that he’s been family to me. With going again to do a big show—like a big show with more than two or three people—I wanted to keep this quality that he brings when I’m with him and when we’re onstage together. It’s more grounding.

Time Out New York: How does he do that?
Maria Hassabi:
Because he’s grounded. Not only as a performer, but as a person as well. [Laughs] And then Hristoula. [Smiles] I can never imagine making work without her. Unless she’s pregnant.

Time Out New York: That is such a strong bond. But Robert too. In your work, you are making dances, but also deep, deep connections with people.
Maria Hassabi:
I have goose bumps, because I feel that way. There’s Biba Bell. Biba worked with me on The Ladies, and I really loved that. She came in the process very late; she was not at our first residency at [Brussels’] Kaaitheater in June. It was supposed to be Paige Martin originally. Paige was like, “If I have someone to recommend to you, I would go for Biba.” And she was actually the person I had in mind; for the piece I made in Venice this summer, I had asked Paige and Biba, and then I couldn’t afford it, so I dropped Biba, because Paige was already gonna be in PREMIERE. Then when Paige could not do PREMIERE anymore and had to cancel coming with us to the residency last minute and all of these things, I asked Biba. She joined us in France later.

Time Out New York: When did you first notice Biba as a performer who could fit into your very specific world?
Maria Hassabi:
The funny thing, I think it was when we were rehearsing The Ladies, actually. The Ladies is this piece where they walk around the city. We would rehearse it here. I haven’t really seen her perform. I was away for Walter Dundervill’s work, and I heard that she was amazing in that. I’ve been missing a lot of the New York shows, you know? When we were doing The Ladies, it was still very specific what I was asking from the people I was working with, and the way she approached it, I sort of couldn’t take my eyes from her. And I had told Hristoula already from then on, “Wow, this girl, I want her to be with us.” But I didn’t know when.

Time Out New York: When you were working with the dancers individually, did you give them specific tasks?
Maria Hassabi:
They did have specific tasks at the very beginning, which is similar to how I explore movement—usually, it’s really silly. Lying down. Kneeling. Standing up. Walking. But then when we were in Brussels—I don’t know if you know this, but always in my work, I end up finding a specific task that we end up exploring. That’s the hardest part in my process is to find: Okay, what is the task for this work? So it was in Brussels with everybody together that we found it and decided, This is the task we’re going to go for. So that was discovered together in the theater.

Time Out New York: What is the task?
Maria Hassabi:
I can’t tell you. [Laughs] It’s very simple, but I can’t.

Time Out New York: What have past tasks been in your work?
Maria Hassabi:
For the piece I just did for the Venice Biennale this summer, the task was completely related to the title. It was called Intermission—again playing with those words—and also the space. I decided to do the whole work on risers. So it happened in a huge gymnasium. When I went there in February to see the space, right away I decided I was going to do the whole work on the risers. They’re much bigger risers than we have at the Kitchen. So the task was inherent in everything I was going to make going down the stairs and across going up the stairs. With SHOW, with Hristoula, it was about this closeness, but we would never touch; at the same time, we’re rotating all the time. Because we do know we’re going to have the people around us, the idea of SHOW is that it needs the audience, otherwise there’s no show. So it was about exaggerating that idea. And the closeness that I tried to keep between us, that we tried to keep between us, was the closeness I wanted with you guys. And at the same time, the two-dimensionality, so you get to see us all the time. So there’s never a front.

Time Out New York: So that’s the task.
Maria Hassabi:
Yes. With Robert and Maria, it’s looking at each other in the eyes. With SoloShow, it was the copying of all these images that I found of iconic women, and how you transfer from one image to the next within the physicality of tension, muscles, bones? And it goes further and further. It’s easier when there are props. Like with the carpet piece. Or with the piece that I did with Jimmy in February, I already knew that I was going to work with his material.

Time Out New York: What was that?
Maria Hassabi:
The work was Counter-relief, and it consists of a specific number of wooden planks of different sizes. A three-minute Super-8 film and a text. So I had these three different elements to work with. And Jimmy. It becomes for itself what it is. It’s enough of a limitation.

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