“What brings this slap stick element is the insistence on the same trajectory, but through getting stuck, rewinding, a particular humor arises.”

A written conversation between Sheena McGrandles and Kerstin Schroth.

FIGURED was premiered in 2018 and is part of a series of pieces on radical temporalities and illogical intimacies. Could you elaborate more about the thinking and starting points behind this series that consists of several other pieces?

My interest in temporalities came out of reflecting on works that I was seeing around me during 2016–2017, as an audience I felt I was in a series of youtube videos, 3 mins of this, 4 mins of that. I was observing how our relations to technology in terms of knowledge production (youtube tutorials) and how we spend time with things and ideas was becoming more dispersed and faster. In my work BOUNTY which unfolded over 4 hours performed at Tanznacht Berlin 2016 with Claire Vivianne Sobottke, I started to work with slow movement as a main quality of choreography. It became a way to slow down but to start to analyze movement which opened up a new aspect of my research on the spaces and situations that appear between movement. I was curious how the performance of times allowed hidden and ambiguous scenarios to emerge. This brought me to the work FIGURED with Annegret Schalke which is based on a 10 second sequence across a wall which I hyper edit and break down. I was interested to adopt and learn video editing techniques on the body as a further analysis, how to fast forward, rewind, get stuck, etc. Every step could be broken down into multiple frames, which meant we needed to create a choreographic notation to be able to count on 3 different levels of movement. This is one of my most technical works so far and insists on its limitations but through this I feel a lot of humor arises from the constant variations of back and forth and appearing/disappearing behind the wall. In February of this year I premiered FLUSH a trio with Annegret Schalke and Ewa Dziarnowska, which brings together the slow and the hyper edited body. In FLUSH I was interested to work with Gertrude Stein’s understanding of landscape plays as a way to look at temporally, meaning making and relations. I brought in newer elements with text and song in which I learnt how to create an analogue vocal looper, and worked with generating text from found internet / social media material. This created a particular poetic artificiality that focused on the dailyness of movement which fluctuated between the mundane and spectacle.

The chipboard wall is a recurring element in your stage work. In FIGURED, you build almost a slapstick and at the same time also a poetic relation between the bodies and the wall. Could you speak about this a bit more?

Each work in the series consist of a wall, BOUNTY, in the shape of a corner, FIGURED, a long flat wall, and FLUSH, a wall that is constructed of different elements that disintegrates into moving landscape. I am trying to track my interest in walls, I wonder if its connected to growing up in Northern Ireland where communities are still divided by walls, and or my passion for DIY stores and raw materials. Either way they have become the basis for all my works over the last years, becoming backdrop, chorographical devise, canvas, landscape etc. I am fascinated by the simplicity, everydayness of the material and at the same time how their texture can become elevated and complex through the space of the theatre and light. They are the main choreographic input, every step, glance and gesture is built around and with them, over the course of the years we have developed and intimate and understanding relation. Regarding FIGURED, I was very conscious about the space of appearance and disappearance, and how that in itself can be quite funny, when some appears or disappears. Although in FIGURED I was not busy with making each appearance more funnier than the last, I think it’s more about, oh here they come again! What brings this slap stick element is the insistence on the same trajectory, but through getting stuck, rewinding, a particular humor arises. It is what lies in between each gesture where the poetics happen, a constant second look, a re-doing exposing what was there before but only that it looked so different from the time before. The wall then becomes all sorts of contexts, from street corner, to cruising, to chase, to an attack, an affair.. it brings a multiplicity of meanings and situations, never resting in one narration or understanding.

What was your experience of time during the lockdown in Berlin?

I have had a very particular lockdown experience, as my wife gave birth to our son in June. It was an intense time reflecting on what it means to bring a child into the world in the middle of the pandemic, wondering what the future looks like and if we can at all think about a future in the far off sense. Until recently I have been consumed with supporting this new life and tried to create bubbles with identified family in the city. I am in a privileged situation where I have a home that is safe and currently have funding. In the meantime I have been with others trying to work towards setting up emotional support practices within the scene, and also rethinking about how some of the art spaces I am involved in collectively can be more of a resource to the community. I try to reimagine what the field of dance can look like without touring and how to build more sustainable structures to continue what we do. I have never been more in the moment, as tomorrows plans can always look different, and giving my mum work out classes over FaceTime have been my biggest anchor in these times.

Interview conducted in July/August 2020.

FIGURED is going to be presented as part of Moving in November: Traces from November during 2021.

Photo: Studienstiftung/Nikolaus Brade