As part of the daring Queer New York International Arts Festival, three choreographers challenge conventions
By Gia Kourlas|
Marlene Monteiro Freitas Guintche June 11 This solo stems from a picture that Freitas drew of a singer at a concert; she called the figure Guintche, and as he became whole, he acquired autonomy and rebelled. In the 2011 collaboration (M)imosa, the choreographer, born in Cape Verde, memorably transformed herself into Prince—yes, she is amazing.
How did you get the initial idea for Guintche? I attended a jazz concert that included a beautifully dressed singer wearing a hat. At a certain point, this singer sat on a bench, and as he was listening to the other musicians playing, he remained static. This moment when he was listening, neither playing nor singing, deeply moved me. I suppose the lights must have played a role in the emotional impact. I said to myself that I should not forget such a moment, but the fact is that sometimes I do. It is so that I came to drawing. I drew the singer sitting at this bench to produce a memento or reminder of that specific moment. In terms of resemblance, not much in Guintche resembles the initial music player or the drawing. However, for me, this relationship still exists, because there is a line connecting concert, drawing and Guintche, and this line is intensity.
Do you transform yourself into someone or something else, as you did in (M)imosa, your 2011 collaboration with Trajal Harrell, François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea? While in (M)imosa I embody rather recognizable characters, of which the clearest example may be Prince, things go in a different way in Guintche, where the transformation is more abstract and open. The initial and long sequence of Guintche, when I twist, has been recognized in rather different ways: The audience projects onto it the most disparate images. While I do it, my body—particularly my hands and face—changes. For instance, I take medical gloves, put them in my mouth, then blow them out in a way that might resemble vomit or ectoplasm; and finally I fill them with air, which might convey the idea of cannibalism. So as I twist, which goes [on] for a long time, transformations go on and on.
What is the idea or meaning behind the title? Is it a name? In Creole, “Guintche” is a name of a bird; but it is also a prostitute. In the everyday use of language, it may also mean that one is often—or indeed too often and in a senseless way—hanging onto roles, job, attachments, etc. There is a sense of mobility attached to this name, a certain carelessness in relation to what is left behind and what comes next and, therefore, a certain focus on the present. In this sense, Guintche is a symbol of the act of drawing. To draw is to be on top of the trace, on top of the moment when something is taking shape; in my experience, it is more an act of tension than intention. Regardless of the subject or style—abstract, figurative—or intention, drawing is tracing, and this implies a certain involvement of energy and of the body, here and now. Guintche is a symbol for this.
How did you get started in dance? Although in Cape Verde we did not have dance schools, some friends and I created a dance group, and we took it rather seriously. We would watch videos about dance or videos with dance parts that friends might bring from abroad or video clips that would be on TV. We tried to copy something from them, most often with different music or with a different narrative and with specific ideas for costumes. It was only at the age of 18 that I first entered a dance school. I finished my dance studies in 2004, and one year later, I presented my first choreography to the public.
Generally speaking, what drives you creatively? I have been always very touched by cinema and music. In terms of dance, I could say that I love and I am often deeply moved when I see the work of Luís Guerra [de Laocoi] or Tânia Carvalho, both of them choreographers and performers. Together we are part of a cultural association, based in Lisbon, called Bomba Suicida. Sometimes while performing (M)imosa, I find myself thinking how lucky I am to be surrounded by such a precious group or artists I really admire. But there are many others, of course.
Do you have a singular way of working at this point? So far, creating new work has meant experiencing new work methods. In Guintche, drawing was a key issue. For Paraíso—colecção privada, we are using images and the mirror, among other things. For (M)imosa, as we were four people choreographing, we did it as we progressed; in retrospect, I believe the idea of a competition between different performers was a driving force of our work together—and that requires a great degree of collaboration, to be sure.
Silvia Costa La Quiescenza del seme June 12–14 Costa, based in Italy, has a name she goes by for her artistic work: Plumes dans la tête. She is also highly regarded for her work with experimental theater director Romeo Castellucci. Costa’s movement installation focuses on the moments that precede birth; as such, she performs inside a pool filled with liquid.
How did you begin this solo? It’s my first work, actually. I made it in 2007. My point of departure was a characteristic that plants have: They look like they have died, but on the contrary, on the inside, there is life. They wait for a good moment to rise again. For me, this characteristic of plants was also a metaphor about creation. When you create something, you have a long period of thinking, and the moment of birth is very quick. So it was a way to research not the birth in itself, but the long period of preparation that you need to arrive at a birth.
What does the title translate to? Quiescenza is sleep. It’s not hibernation, it is really [about being] asleep, because it’s a natural process that plants, in one moment, sleep. They look dead, but they are alive inside. So there is this invisible energy that keeps life going on. And they wait for a good moment to grow up again.
What were you connecting with, in terms of those ideas? I was looking at many images of plants, the shape of the seed—just for me, as inspiration. I was searching for a way to transport the body and this character of the quiescenza as a pathway to cancel the human way of moving. For me, it was a challenge to try to move in another way, in a vegetated way.
Do you perform inside a tank? Yes. This box, for me, is also a limit. Many times when I work, I need limitations and something that constrains the body. During the performance, I am in the box the whole time; it is like being a plant in a small space. My body is not free in the space; the movement that I do is something that the space that contains me allows.
Does the solo change each time you perform it? It is important to fall into the same state, so there is no improvisation at all. All of the small movements are really the same, and it’s important to keep this quality. Also, because it’s a reflection of my research, I spend a lot of time thinking before I go to a space to rehearse. In a way, when I arrive in a space, it’s just to check the idea. I can’t stay in an empty space without the idea already fixed. [Laughs] I’m afraid!
What was the process of creating the piece? I built the tank and worked inside it to try to understand how I could move in it. But before that, I didn’t do anything with the body; I just thought about what could appear and what the images were that I could create. I spent a long time thinking and imagining what the public would see so I could put my body inside with the background of images.
What are your questions about the body? The body has a lot of clichés of movement, no? For me, it was really a question of how to escape these clichés, not just as movement and choreography, but also really as a way to stay onstage. I would like to put myself in another state. Many times I have worked with wigs to cover my identity. I like that people don’t recognize me. It’s really about creating another world, another person; of course, I start from reality, but onstage I really want those things to sublimate in a way. How can I move in another way? How can I say that thing, but in a different way? I just make questions. Maybe I don’t want to find answers, but it’s also a way to propose a question to the audience. The audience is very important; I need the gaze of others.
Does the audience stand very close to the tank for Quiescenza? Yeah, quite. When I am in that box, the distance is not really far. But there is a distance that is created by the glass. It is like a lens in a way. The distance is not real, but it is like I’m falling in a dark hole.
What are you floating in? In one photo, the liquid is white and milky, right? Milk [represents] a pure food. The water that [pours into the tank] in one moment becomes white. I also use this water to cover the body. At the beginning, the box is empty, and you can see my body entirely. But then when the water [tank] fills, the body starts to be covered, and I can choose which part I want to show. Of course, you know that it is a body—you can recognize one part or another—but they are just abstract shapes. It’s a way to see things grow underground. The water is white at the beginning, but in another moment it becomes black. I would like, in this small space, to make a journey for the spectator; it is like a visual trip. The space remains the same, but it’s another way to move inside that. It’s a sort of sculpture.
What music do you use? I collaborate with Lorenzo Tomio, who is an Italian composer and musician. The idea for him also was something that was underground. Not a really clear sound—a memory of sound. A sound that has to arrive from far away.
Why do you work under the French phrase Plumes dans la tête? For me, it’s a light name in a way. “The feathers on the head”—it’s something that makes me remember the circus, the cabaret. Something really free in a way. I like the sound of the words together; it is really different from the work I make. It was fun to give it this name, but it’s not completely crazy: In a way, this feather can be the idea, the thoughts that you have in the head. There is also a small play of words. The plume dans la tête, it is really inside the head, but normally, you set the feather on the head; there is a joke in the name.
When did you start training? I’ve never really had dance training. I studied visual arts, and then I was interested in the performing arts more. I’m interested in this time in front of an audience. When Romeo [Castellucci] asked me to work with him, I was not searching to do acting. And doing this work made me question my research as an artist. I started to create something for the stage, not for the gallery. It happened like that.
Do you study acting now? No. I think I had a big chance to start working immediately. I was in [Castellucci’s] Hey Girl! [Laughs] This was my school.
David Wampach Auto + Batterie June 9, 10 Wampach presents two pieces. In Auto, the French choreographer is inspired by films, particularly Brian De Palma’s Carrie and John Waters’s Desperate Living. In Batterie—a meeting between a drummer and a dancer—he creates a musical battle.
How did you come to create these two pieces? Auto is a duet with a pianist; but the pianist cannot come, so I will do a new version, which is a solo instead of a duet. Normally, Auto is a one-hour piece based on the relationship between music and dance. Batterie is also a collaboration with a musician—a drummer—and this time the drummer can be in New York. The pieces are connected in a way. I first did Batterie because I was invited to a symposium, and I presented a lecture on my work based on the relationship between fine art and dance. They proposed to make it more like a happening, so I organized a meeting with a drummer that I didn’t know. I just wanted to have a simple set.
Could you describe the set? It is two squares, like 2 x 2 meters. We dialogue with our medium, which is music for him and dance for me. And the idea was really simple: We just talked about what kind of material we wanted to share or what kind of color we wanted to bring to this event. We did that for the first time in 2007, and since then I think I’ve performed it, like, 30 or 40 times.
Where was the symposium held? It was in Pau, which is in the southwest of France at the border with Spain. The drummer comes from that place. The idea for me was to continue with the idea of changing [the drummer] each time. I went to Tokyo and Tunisia and Australia, and each time I was changing until I got to the point when I became nostalgic about this first meeting. The next step was to return to the original drummer. I needed to go deeper with the collaboration. The thing about Batterie is that in French, the word has different meanings. It’s a name for the drum; it’s also the name of batterie in ballet, which means all this little movement. And there is the battery inside of a car. And the last one that I really like is that it [also refers to] all the tools for cooking.
Is the performance an improvisation? At the beginning it was, and now… I cannot say that it is improvisation anymore, but we have some scores, and the order of the sequences are kind of random. The music and the dance parts are totally written, but it’s more how I put the sequences together. We say that Batterie is two solos, but I really think of it as a duet. The main idea that I share in Auto is that I didn’t want a musician on the side, like I see a lot in dance pieces. I really wanted to go against that—so we have a way of sharing space, sharing time. I also leave him alone for five minutes, and he leaves me alone for five minutes, and then we go for a duet. We don’t look at each other. We are really [facing] front.
So how do the pieces relate? I was working on Auto, and I was wondering about this idea of collaboration between dance and music, and, of course, between the dancer and the musician. I don’t know why, but I had the idea of percussion on my mind. I thought to switch from drum to piano could be interesting. We always think of the piano with its great melody, but it’s clearly a percussive instrument, too. I also really wanted to work on it because when I was studying dance in Brussels at P.A.R.T.S., we had ballet class every morning—I was crying a lot. It was so painful to realize how we use the music just to follow our rhythm: How the ballet teacher was asking the musician to slow it down or to speed it up, and I felt really uncomfortable. First, because I was really bad at ballet, and it was super painful for me, and secondly, because of how we ask the musician to really follow the dance. So I had big emotions each time I was in ballet class.
What are your other ideas in the work? I had this idea of walking with high heels, but I don’t want to be like a transvestite. I studied theater before dance, and in [Greek] antiquity, men were playing all the characters. That is also present in Shakespeare and in Japanese theater. In Auto, I’m connecting with that more than gender studies. I had a lot of American movie references, like Brian De Palma’s Carrie. I don’t know if it was the music of different sequences or the blood, but I have color coming up a lot in the work. I said to the pianist, “Can we work on the idea of blood dropping?” Carrie was very present in the whole process.
What other movies or directors were you drawn to? John Waters, especially when I was starting to work on this transvestite figure—because I really see it as a character. It’s a kind of dark piece, but when we get to the end we also change it; in general, I don’t like to take myself too seriously in my work. I like to use irony and not to be pretentious—but just to be playful. My first experience [performing] was when I was doing my first show at ten in front of my family. It was also being a transvestite, actually. I haven’t done it since. [Laughs]
You started dancing late, at the age of 20. What drew you to dance? I had good marks at school, so when I was 18 and said that I wanted to study theater, my parents refused and said to choose something more valuable. The only thing I could think of was medicine. I was very interested in the body, and my main topics at school, between 16 and 18, were biology and physics. After a year, I said to my parents, “Let’s be honest: I was doing what you asked me to do, but I don’t want to continue.” I switched to theater, and from there I became more and more interested in dance. Two years later I switched to dance. So it was quite fast. From medicine I jumped to theater and from theater, I jumped to dance.
What are you working on now? I just finished a piece inspired by [Stravinsky’s] The Rite of Spring. I made a duet with a really amazing dancer from Israel. I want to do a movie also based on The Rite of Spring, but more like fiction. Let’s say I’m really influenced by rituals. For me, going to a theater is a ritual from both sides—as a spectator and as a dancer. I really feel it’s completely crazy to just be in front of a show or in front of an audience. We all know it’s fake, but we try to believe in it. At least in my case, I always think that I will feel what I felt when I was young. For my first show as a dancer or as a spectator, I was so alive. I was not analyzing anything, and my emotions were stronger then. I am looking to be a virgin [in watching performance]. It can still happen. Working on The Rite of Spring and on this idea of ritual and sacrifice is also something I did in Auto and Batterie. I like the idea of working on trance. Batterie is sort of like that. I’m trying to get in a trance, even though I think it’s not possible because it’s a show. But I like this idea of getting in a kind of shifted mind—like shamanism in a way.
You said there are times when you feel more alive, or become a performance virgin and can see through less-jaded eyes. When has that happened lately? It was not so long ago. In Paris, I saw a new piece directed by Joris Lacoste, and it was based on hypnotism. It totally worked on me. I remember everything; I was not falling asleep—I was totally aware. But it was so strong that I was crying without having any reason to. I haven’t cried at a show in 14 years. The first time I cried at a dance performance—and when I realized I had to change from theater to dance—was during a piece by Angelin Preljocaj. I’m not saying that it is the biggest emotion that we should have in the theater, but your body is in a state that you cannot control. I had so much space to dream.
Queer New York International Arts Festival is at Abrons Arts Center and other locations June 7–15.