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Friday, 27 February 2015

Zdenka Brungot Svíteková (SK)_interview by Oroslya Bálint (KÖM)

Touch is food for the body

The dance performance designed for tΛt∫ led by Zdenka Brungot Svíteková (SK) is exploring the language, the qualities and the meanings of touch live, researched and created with an international ensemble. The piece was performed on the first Performing V4 Biennial of VARP-PA Residents in Prague, on the 28th of February, in Studio ALTA. We talked to Zdenka about the different qualities of touch – as a medium, as a tool, as a language and as “food for the body and mind”.

What was your inspiration to work on the topic of touch?
The inspiration goes back to 2012 to an older creation, Animal Carnival, I was working on with my long term colleague Barbora Látalová (CZ). The piece was aimed at young audiences and we were researching different creatures in different environments. As part of the working process we started to discuss the relationship to our own bodies, sensations and perceptions; the way we perceive them on our own bodies and how this is connected to our profession as dancers. That is where the working title of this piece, Sex, Lies & Video, comes from. But while discussing where we would like to go with this work, we moved further away from the sexual and the sensual aspect, and focused on the topic of touch as a connection to ourselves and as a channel of communication with others. 

How did you choose your collaborators for this performance?
As I mentioned, I was working on Animal Carnival with my colleague Barbora. Pedro Prazeres (PT/FR) was also part of the first stages of this research. Then he moved away from the city so we continued the project with Barbora. Together we designed the first concept and applied for the VARP-PA residency. Pedro was part of the original collaborators we had in mind for the project so when we were selected for the residency I contacted Pedro again. Through him, three other performers joined the project: K. Cansu Ergin (TUR), Carlos Osatinsky (ARG/D) and Fernando Pelliccioli (ARG/I/D). 

Language can be a boundary between artists of different nations. Are there still cultural differences in the non-verbal language of dance?
I recall my own experiences from South Korea, where I stayed last November. I was surrounded by artists, dancers and musicians, in a completely foreign environment, where I didn't understand the spoken, neither the written language. But somehow that drew me into a different state of perceiving and being with others, which did not rely on words, logos or intellect. To be able to communicate I connected to something else inside myself and that was very peculiar. In that moment, I felt extremely close and extremely similar to everybody involved, while all the artist were coming from different countries and cultures (Japan, USA, Cambodia, Korea, Taiwan, Morocco). Although we used words to discuss ideas and concepts, the communication was going on a totally different level. Something similar happened when we were researching designed for tΛt∫. We went to sensations which were common to all of us, and cultural differences were not so relevant. When we tried to name things, sometimes we were lacking words. From a more distant perspective, I understood that sometimes you are in a state where you don't wish to verbalize, or where words have no meaning, no substance, because they just fail to describe the (subjective) reality going on. I have taken this work to other places too; I have tried it in South Korea and also in Poland, where cultural differences were not present either. Although, I believe if we would go somewhere else, where people are not very familiar or at ease with touching each other, there would indeed be differences. 

Did you use contact improvisation during the creative process?
When I tried to present the project to some people at the earlier stages, a lot of them came up with the question, „Oh, so you will work with contact improvisation?” – and my answer was “no.” What is common for contact improvisation is that you use your body to touch the other body, but that might be the only resemblance with what we did. Or maybe not just that… It would be interesting to discuss this question with contact improvisers.

Do you create the performance on the spot or is there a script that you follow?
The piece has a very simple and yet defined score. We work solo or in couples and there is a time frame defining the length of each part. So in that sense the piece is very set, but every time we perform it, we recreate it. Because we never know what couples will be formed, how we come together, how the first part of the score unfolds, how it will influence the way we separate. Still the score is very clear in all the three parts. The first one focuses more on touch and vibration in a physical contact, the other two parts introduce resonance and bring the touch into a more open context of relating to the environment. The second and the third part are also the ones where the physical exchange between the touching bodies from the first part gets processed. 

Do you regard the audience as a part of the space as well?
Yes, they are part of the space because we invite and encourage them to choose a place from where they wish to watch the performance. They are part of the space, we wished to erase the boundaries between stage and audience; all the space is considered stage and people have the freedom to find their own comfort, also to change their place if needed meanwhile the piece unfolds. This spatial setting is an interesting one, inviting the audience to question their own notion of intimacy, closeness and freedom, as they are part of the whole process

What does the act of touching mean to you as a dancer?
For me, as a dancer and as a human being, touch is a vital sense and a very important way to connect to others. I am always amazed, how much I can learn about the other body through touch; you can feel the texture, the tensions, the co-ordinations, the intentions for movement or how the movement travels through the body – to the floor, or to the next person. Touch is a beautiful way of relating to someone, of understanding a body in motion. Following the writings of Laurence Louppe, tactility is a sense contemporary dance developed the most. Touch is informing me about my body as well; where my body parts are, what is their form, their shape, how are the spaces and the volumes in between. Touch reminds me of my own body's boundaries. I use touch a lot also when teaching or when working with other dancers. It always amazes me what happens after a body has been touched. How much it comes to life, becomes aware of itself… As if the body and the person have grown. All becomes more exact, more materialized. As a dancer, I would say that touch helps me to better embody myself and not only in the physical reality. It is an amazing tool we have been given. 

Are you a tactile person off-stage as well?
I believe it is important that we touch each other. We relate to each other through touch; it is like food for the body, it is part of the nutrition so the body stays alive, present and vital. It reminds me of something we were discussing in the beginning of the project when the title was still Sex, Lies & Video. It appeared to us, that if we speak about touch, how it is usually perceived within the society, the first thing that comes into people’s mind is sexuality. But it has so much more in it than the erotic aspect. 

How is touch evolving in our time?
I would say we touch more and more. Screens, phones, keyboards, electric appliances, pets … when it comes to human touch, it is a bit hard for me to speak about it in general, although I am tempted to state that in our cultures, touch could be more present and more varied. I come in contact mainly with colleagues or students willing to participate in a learning situation. I have never had any negative reactions to touch, but I know it might be a sensitive issue. So when I share my work with more ‘laic’ audiences, I consider how far, or how fast I can bring touch into the work. But I still do it. Since we started to work on the project, I watch touch more closely in everyday life. Through observations or personal encounters I notice how people touch and what it communicates. The range is so wide. From no sensitivity to openness or communicating whatsoever to a close fusion. Putting a cream on my face, a handshake or a simple hug are great examples how varied touch can be. When speaking about physical touch, I have a memory of Kirstie Simson’s teaching and the idea of “hands that do not want anything”. What a revolutionary concept!


What did the possibility mean to you to participate in the VARP-PA program? 

This program became a catalyst which helped to make this work possible. With the results of VARP-PA program for 2014 announced we applied for another residency in Latvia as part of e-Motional rethinking dance program. These two programs combined helped us to finance the project and the people taking part in it. We chose to have the VARP-PA residency towards the end of the whole process. It was a fantastic opportunity for a time to process, digest and envisage future. I am very grateful, the program was a fine opportunity, which gave us freedom and opened new encounters.

Who you would recommend the program to? 
To anyone who needs time, place and support to research and to shape their body of work. 

Which other countries or foreign artists do you regularly work with within the V4?
Based in the Czech Republic, I am active within the Czech dance community, but I work a lot with foreigners as well. My work experience from the V4 countries include Slovakia (of course), the Czech Republic, and recently, as I was part of the VARP-PA program and other performing possibilities, I had experience with Polish dance communities and audiences too. I never worked with anyone from Hungary yet, but I hope this will change. 

Have you ever performed in Prague before? 
I have been working in Prague regularly since 2005, so I know the scene quite well. 

How was your experience participating in the Biennial? 
I was very honored to be part of the Biennial and happy that our project was selected, because it was an opportunity to continue to work on the piece. Due to its format and yet firmly anchored in the score, designed for tΛt∫ can be looked at as a ‘continuous project altered daily’. The Biennial offered a fantastic occasion to pursue the work as a group, to share it with colleagues, the large audience, promoters and curators. Hopefully the participation in the Biennial may open new possibilities for connecting, foster new meetings, exchanges and open other ways of collaboration. But first of all, it is a human meeting; the Biennial is a place to be and to exchange. 

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