THE ALIENS: MASAKO MATSUSHITA’S FOCUS ON THE EUROPEAN CONTEMPORARY SCENE

by Katharina Pfeffer (EVS Volunteer / Vicolocorto) / (photo: Erik Nevin, by Umberto Dolcini)

Saturday 6th September 2014, the official opening day of the XI edition of Hangartfest presented “Aliens”, a project by Masako Matsushita that hosted artists from all over Europe.
The objective is to make visible the diversities in the contemporary dance, the performance, the stage, and the way to take the viewers for a walk in this apparently so far away universe.
“From my education to my professional job, traveling has been a necessity that brought me to relocate me from one part of the world to another, where I got to know people and artists different from one another, everyone with their own special world. This constant change of places, concourses, new realities and being an artist is an ingredient that brings together, makes one feel part and not part, stranger and intimate, alone and together, People and Aliens.”
There were three works proposed for this second step of the project, were artists with different professions research what is the use of the body in motion.
“Aliens” is a balancing act on the European panorama of the contemporary performing arts.

So this was the official transcription of what was going to await us – we were really curious!

When we arrived at Hangart at 8 pm, we were given the official Hangart T-Shirts and were now part of the staff – what a great feeling!

Vanessa helped the staff with setting up the last things before the performance started, while Shawita and I watched the people around us and also got to see a short video-performance by Curandi Katz.
When the performance started, we were guided into a room with some benches and a stage that was even to the floor. Everyone sat down, Masako Matsushita welcomed the audience and said a few words about the structure of the performance (there was a break in between every of the 3 performances). And then, it could start.
After the performances, there was the possibility to eat Piadina and talk to each other, but also to the artists. We used this opportunity and had some short interviews with the artists about their work.

SONATA IN 3 MOVEMENTS

The first performance was called “Sonata in 3 movements” and was choreographed by Cornelia Voglmayr and presented by the British musician Benjamin Hooper and the Italian dancer Elisa Vassena.
As we could read before, the Sonata was a study on the social conventions that developed in a series of orderly expectation in the context of a classical concert. The performance is an exploration of trying to unsettle / overthrow tight conventions and fixed structures.
Based on this research, the relation between music and motion becomes clear. Who is now the musician and who is the dancer? Can the movement compose the music instead of the opposite?

The performance started with the musician and his Viola lying on the ground. Suddenly, Elisa started clapping in the audience and went to the stage. Together, they started moving, playing the Viola, filling in the negative spaces that the other one left, and sharing the play (one had the instrument, the other one the bow).
After a few minutes, they had a break in the movement, where Elisa started to try to explain to Benjamin how to play his instrument. They managed to show this in a very funny way, joking and making it seem like a comedy. Benjamin tried to do what she told him, but with the Viola in his hands his movements were not like Elisa wanted them to be, so she gave up and they started moving together again. Sometime later, they had another break were they just laid on the floor talking to each other – the viewers didn’t know if they were really making a break because it was part of the performance or because they just needed one and felt like resting for a moment.
At the end of the performance, they didn’t wait for their applause but just suddenly disappeared from the stage.
In my opinion, they really implemented their plan of breaking with conventions and tight rules of the classical concerts and performances. There is no sudden clapping or breaks, and most surely nobody just disappears at the end of the performance – well done!

Interview with Elisa Vassena:

How did you get the idea of performing here? Were you asked to come?
Yes, we are actually friends with Masako, who was organizing the event, and she decided the program and put together some pieces, and I was in one of the ones that she chose to invite.

Do you have a goal with your artwork? What do you want to make the people think of?
Well, I mean this one that I just performed is not my choreography, but of course it’s a reflection on etiquette in concerts and theatres, so it’s an exploration of these rules that are behind every show and making a show, and I think the goal is to awaken a bit the audience. There is this really nice swapping role between me and the musician: Who is having which role, is it actually happening? Is it a real break? Are you actually watching and seeing the show?”

How was working with Benjamin, who is not a dancer but a musician?
It’s so interesting to see an untrained body, the responses that come are a lot more honest, because of course as a dancer you have a lot of training, and it takes a lot to take that down and find again your, well, honesty. And surprise yourself again, because you’re so used to your own tendency. I find it really inspiring to work with him.

Interview with Cornelia Voglmayr

Why did you choose the Viola?
Because the Violin is too expensive (laughs). And the Viola was because it was the instrument that he (Benjamin) had and he could use. Also it has two parts, you can play with it, with the bow and the Violin there are a lot of possibilities of combination.
And I wanted a proper classical instrument, to underline the breaking of conventions of a classical concert, so I wanted to have the setting kind of the same, but turn it upside down.
Can you be a bit more specific about the conventions that you wanted to break?
Well it started off with the conventions of a classical concert, the etiquette – people don’t clap in between the pieces, they know exactly what is going to happen.
Actually I got the idea from a friend. We went to a classical concert. I go to classical concerts quite a lot, and I went to this one with a friend, she really loved it, and she clapped after the first movement, and you know – people don’t do that, people know the pieces – and she was really enthusiastic, clapping out loud, and there was this huge concert hall, and everyone was shocked, like wow, such an embarrassing moment, and I thought: “Why is this actually so embarrassing? It’s beautiful that she is so excited about it.” And that was when I realized that the conventions in a classical concerts are always repeated, we clap, people sit down, at the and the artists bow – so I took that as an inspiration to start off with, and then I also got interested in how can we break all this conventions of movement, like the fact that music provokes movement. I wanted to turn it around, ask: How can movement also make music? And I also wanted to break this convention of musician and dancer, like how can we put that together. […] And I loved the fact that he (Benjamin) has to move in order to produce a certain sound, it was an investigation.

 

SIDE BY SIDE

After a short break, the second performance started. It was performed by two women, Harriet Parker-Beldeau from the UK and Sivan Rubinstein from Israel.
In the program the performance had a headline: “People want their freedom but are not sure what to do with it.” (Clive Hamilton, the Freedom Paradox). Furthermore, it explained what we were about to see:
Side by side is an ongoing research of questioning oneself about our concept of liberty, which the duo explores, investigating the silence of that very same. The two artists put in discussion the individual ownership and the concept of the freedom inside of their collaboration situated in “un angolo insolito”. So is the sense of freedom more accessible if you are limited or if you are unlimited?

The performance itself was very intense. They projected two movies on the wall, in which the two artists danced, moved, just tried to act with the space that they had. The movies were always shot in a very wide and unlimited surrounding.
At the same time, they were standing in front of the projections, moving very slowly and synchronously in a very limited spot on the stage.
You could feel a lot of tension in their slow movement, you always expected something to happen, but it never did, the tension stayed.
So the contrast between the wide and unlimited freedom in the videos and the limited and controlled movements on stage was very visible.

Interview with Sivan Rubinstein and Harriet Parker-Beldeau

What was your goal when creating your performance? What is your message?
Sivan
: The first thing was to keep the honesty and keep being true to the piece and to ourselves, and also to our way of working and sticking to it.
Harriet: I would say we didn’t have the direct intention that it has to be performed and shown, it was a research that turned into a performance.
Sivan: We can tell you what the piece is about.

Yes, that would be really nice!
Sivan
: The piece is about the Freedom Paradox, which is a big philosophy and question. It speaks about us as a human being – When we have the full freedom, we feel a little bit blocked and don’t pick up any option, but when we are very limited in our possibilities, we find our freedom, to explore ourselves, to create, to make, to keep doing. And in this paradox, we try to explore what is the right way to go, how we can control it. It’s a big problem that the young generation is having today, and they are saying that the biggest threat that we have is the media, because it’s showing us all of those possibilities all the time, but it’s coming above us and it takes us down. So we tried to take all those elements and explore it on ourselves and be true to it.

What was the video part about? Did you divide the piece into what you two did and what the video showed?
Harriet: The videos are a compilation of videos that we sent to each other. It was a task that we had, that was just to move in the space and record. The only structure was that it had to be in open space, so it was a way of communicating for us, because Sivan was in Tel Aviv and I was in Kent. So for months we wouldn’t see each other, so it was a way of expressing ourselves and what we were researching through the year. And for us this shows that unlimited freedom.
Sivan: Because it is truly improvisation, you can do whatever, you can also not move, you can sing if you want, there are no rules there, which speaks a lot about freedom. And then in the space (stage) we do the opposite, it is very limited, doesn’t have much movement, very synchronizing , so you can’t really do whatever you want to do right now.

How did you meet each other?
Sivan: We studied together, in London, in Laban.
Harriet: But we had a moment!!
Sivan: Do you want to hear about the moment?
Harriet: It is literally like that, we were improvising, and we found something, it was like a hug.
Sivan: It was a commission work for another choreographer, and then we had two more projects together that we were performing together and we kept touring with that, and then we decided we want to create something together.

And you communicate through videos when you don’t see each other?
Sivan: Well, lots of Whatsapp (Laughter) Write that down, lots of Whatsapp! Viber.
Harriet: Viber and Whatsapp are our best friends!
Sivan: Yeah, we had short sessions of working in London and Kent, we performed that piece in Denmark and in Leicester in the UK, but mostly we were apart, so we kept doing these videos, which weren’t supposed to be on the show. It was our own thing, but then we noticed we actually had something good there, which was a very vulnerable thing to do, because when you just put your iPhone and you do whatever you want to do, you are not sure you want to show it. But we did! We just went with that.

Are you going to perform your piece another time, somewhere else?
Sivan
: Yes! We are working mostly in London, Harriet is also working in Kent and I’m also working in Tel Aviv, and that’s the life of the freelancer, packing your suitcase and traveling around for the next project.

GATHERING FIRE 

Gathering fire was the last piece of the evening, and it was by and with Erik Nevin.
The explanation of the piece was:
Researching the enormous clearness, Erik initiates a travel full of ways of movements. In some parts like a master of Yoga, in some parts like a soldier vagabond, Erik is researching the belonging of significance. While creating personal rituals influenced by the New Age, philosophy, religion, and many different traditions regarding fire, Gathering Fire is a physical exploration of hearing, of how the instincts of our existence can appear, leading our actions and how they can become necessary in certain situations.

The show itself was very interactive. Erik asked us to come to the stage and sit in a circle around him. When everything was like he wanted it to be, he started turning, slowly at first, then faster. He was moving very abruptly, fast and energetic. At a certain point he started running, asking some people to stand up. He got more and more frantic in his running, until he screamed “Sit down”, and then slowly started to calm down, slowing his motions, until he was crawling in the floor, reaching the outskirts of the circle and sitting down between the audience.
Everyone seemed a little confused by what was going on, but when we interviewed him afterwards, his motives and actions became clearer.

Interview with Erik Nevin

So you created this art piece that you just performed?
Yes

Okay, and what did you think when creating it, what was your goal?
Well it started from a desire to create something where I was challenging my own natural habits a bit, but also I really wanted to explore how I could stand my ground as a person and as a dancer, so I firmed myself and somehow hold on to my believes, and what was necessary – physically, of me doing that. So that was the research, exploring physicality.

Can I ask, why did you ask us to sit on stage?
Because I like the circle, it’s a kind of holding the energy very well, and also for myself I didn’t see this piece as a traditional frontal performing thing, because in one way it is selfish, and in another way it is really much performing for others. And also I had this image of sitting around a fire.

And with the standing up and sitting down?
Yes, that is just a game that I enjoy, it is fun, and also I was looking at different situations and how they affect me, and dealing with the audience or telling people to do something, for me it affects me somehow, because usually I don’t tell people what to do so much.

So it is out of your comfort zone?
Not so much actually, I feel comfortable, but it forces me to engage a bit differently.

Because it was strange, you asked people to stand up, and then you walked around and got really angry and said “Please, sit down”
Yeah, because during this research, I became interested in listening to my intuition. When I ask people “stand up”, that is quite exiting, so I experience this exciting energy and movement, so I start running, but that’s very tiring, so the effect of that is that I get tired, but I wanted to keep going because I feel quite strong, so I developed a different kind of movement, and then I get very tired but trying to keep going and then it becomes this very bound movement.

And then you ask people to sit down to give yourself a break
Yes, to move on and give them a break.

So this piece is also a lot about improvisation?
Yeah, there is quite a lot of improvisation in there, but it’s still structured in its path. Because I became very interested in what was happening inside, and that could take me somewhere.

How did you start dancing? How did you come to this kind of performance?
How I started dancing…I started in my teenage years, and then I went on to study many different styles and classes, and then I went to London and started the course at Trinity Laban, 3 years, and then I stayed in London and worked a bit, and through different teachers and different works and people I have been exploring my own interests and how I create, so it’s just a journey.

Did you take part in this workshops that Hangart created with the students of this school?
Yes, I gave one class, and then I took part in the other classes as just a participant, because each of us gave one class.

And did you like the collaboration with the students?
Yes, it was nice to have different people, and you get challenged a bit, because sometimes you get so used to working with the same people with a similar background and similar knowledge, which can be great because you can go in a certain direction, but if you have people who are maybe studying in a different way or who have different experiences, you get different stimulations coming in, different thoughts and different reactions.

Did you enjoy performing here?
Yes, it was great, I had a great time, I wasn’t sure how many people were going to come, so it was nice to have a good crowd and different people, there was a nice vibe. Also we were really good taken care of by Hangart.

Thank you to all the artists who patiently answered all our questions! Your show was great!

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