Occasions is a format you are working on and have been presenting for several years. Could you tell about the starting point of this project and the continuous development during the past years?
In 2012 I began working on what I would come to name hosted occasions by 2014. They have no clear starting point but are perhaps more of an emergence out of a digestive process of all my varied experiences in relation to dance and performance. Club culture, contemporary dance, experimental theater, improvisation, experimental music and noise, philosophy and sociology have all been influences on the development of this format. As much as my studies of classical ballet at the age of 11. In 2012 I got very interested in the composition of gardens, seeing them as complex and beautiful examples of Foucault’s articulation of heterotopic space. The notion of heterotopia – worlds within worlds and the multiplicity of modalities of relation within them producing often discordant, confusing, disturbing but also maybe transformative effects – resonated with my lived experience of contemporary life. I wanted to make dances that could be heterotopic.
Gardens became the main reference point for my understanding of the occasion as an artistic format. The garden is hospitable to differing forms of engagement simultaneously, while retaining a readability as a garden. The design and layout of the garden suggests but does not determine forms of engagement. The garden seems to encourage a sense of slowing down and lingering. It evokes the quality of strolling, of leisure, of enjoyment, of reflection. The occasions share the quiet ambition with the garden to be the kind of situation that invites bodily engagement of varying kinds and degrees and with no single privileged perspective or point of view from which to experience it.
The French salons of the 17th century (but far less mannered and much more embodied) held to amuse, entertain, and to develop knowledge of guests through conversations, have also been reference for the development of the occasions. This development follows an important shift in my way of thinking about myself as a performer to thinking of myself as a host. I started to work with storytelling and other spoken content off script, freely spoken, offering stimulus to evoke and encourage socializing among guests. As the host figure, I felt compelled to create a multisensorial space for my guests. I began to gather content, my “set” so to speak, of dances, music, stories, and smells to address my guests with topics of my interest and put them into the space to be reflected upon and discussed.
Occasions invites us to a space, in which all our senses are addressed. We encounter plants, smells, sounds. How do you work with the sensorial aspects in your work, also regarding your notion of choreography?
I work with an expanded sense of the choreographic. I come from a lineage in dance history and in political theory that resists the representational. With the occasions I did not want to make a work “about” alternative forms of sociability, rather I wanted to make work that enacted and made salient different forms of sociability. This became concretely for me a question of format, and creating a format in which I could put into practice my theoretical, philosophical and ethical concerns in regards to modern theatrical and visual art presentation formats. Different from the exhibition and theater formats that create spaces of distanced observation and analysis, the occasions work towards creating the conditions for a heightened awareness of one’s own bodily situatedness (where are you? with whom or what do I inhabit this situation and how?) by addressing all the senses. Attention to the light, the placement of furniture elements, the visual and textural qualities of the installation, the music, the smells and how they are diffused in the space, the offer of food and drink and what they propose to the palate and the attitudes and physicalities of the dances are key to generating the vibe. I see all these aspects as intertwined parts of the choreography of the occasions, that includes a dramaturgy of gently drawing out the participation of the guests.
You describe Occasions as a 21st century ritual, creating a social space, a shared experience. How do you look at the role of performing arts during a global pandemic, that demanded us to physically distance ourselves from each other, and socially isolate?
I’d like to avoid overly optimistic claims about the role of art in contemporary society and not lose sight of how our human lives and other lives are caught up (in discrepant ways) in the complex webs of ecology, politics, and economy. But I think art can be a space of experimentation and practice towards new ways of being together. The performing arts, because it tends to require presence and the gathering of subjectivities, has a potential of generating relevant approaches to how we humans are embedded in our biosocial surroundings, modeling formats for alternative expression of sociality between living and nonliving things. I think it can be a site to develop new kinds of conceptual and bodily tools to navigate the present from within the strange entanglements human societies create. The current necessity for “social distancing” and the new heightened awareness of how vulnerable we are to each other, requires us to develop new approaches to sociality that nonetheless address proximity and intimacy and find ways of generating meaning, intensity, and lasting memories. It is imperative that we find new ways to gather in a real space and time to take the new conditions of our lives into account. I think the performing arts can be a laboratory to address these challenges.
This interview was conducted around July-August 2021.
Photo: Ilona Burtsoff