Interviewing choreographers sometimes feel like a slow-motion table tennis game. I open the table with a question and we go back and forwards with answers and clarifications, often about the performances coming up, other times about the artistic process that underpins the choreographers’ practice. However, with Gisèle Vienne I have a very different experience. Something I can only compare to a guided meditation where I become increasingly aware of my voice, of my posture sitting on a chair. This is because awareness and hyper-sensitive are the core components explored in Crowd and they are intrinsically present on Gisèle Vienne, even over Skype.
Gisèle Vienne is an astonishingly compelling artist working at the intersection of dance, theatre, and visual arts. I can only describe her as a composer – she’s in charge of a composition not exclusive to movement. The term choreographer seems too small for the work she creates. She explains to me in a very enchanting voice. ‘I orchestrate lights, music, movement, objects, and colour. I am working with a stage and it encompasses everything. I feel like I am working with all the parameters of stage performance, pulling them apart would be artificial. I think stage performance is all of this and I can’t understand how to pull it apart.’
From the beginning of the creative process in the studio, Vienne brings forward the music, lights, and costumes to discover and write her piece. It seems nothing is created outside the rehearsal space, allowing her to lead the creative process from all angles all at the same time. She gives me a crystal clear example: ‘A glass is falling off a table, there is movement and there is light, there will be sound disturbing the scene and I see all of that as one single phrase.’ It’s refreshing to speak to someone with a bird’s eye view on making performance.
The performers in Crowd display an emotional high that transpires shape and movement, bringing forwards this quality involves a lot of work and different inputs. She confesses, ‘I do work very emotionally. I think investigating our emotional space is extremely interesting. Art can be absolutely fascinating to trigger our emotions. What we think and what we feel doesn’t necessarily match.’
Vienne tries to create space for intimacy with the audience by opening up space for our imagination and fantasies to take over. Throughout this conversation, I understand that Vienne is not trying to imitate life. In Crowd, she adds, ’they are coming in a strong and present state, hyper-sensitive. Strangely enough, the preparation for this state involves a lot of meditation and fascia-therapy movement. When someone is in a very sensitive and emotional space the audience can definitely relate to it.’ Vienne seems to be very generous and conscious of her audience. I believe this reflects an incredible vulnerability from the artists. ‘I am always glad to express vulnerability as a sign of strength. In religious culture, the vulnerability can also create a feeling of sublime,’ she replies.
Crowd can be seen as a direct reference to rock or religious culture in the images created on stage but the most important aspect of these images/scenes is the quality of the ‘presence’ the performers have on stage. Like a walking meditation where hypersensitivity makes the cast vulnerable. Vienne tells me that she puts a frame around them so they don’t get hurt in this vulnerable state, but instead they blossom.
To achieve this vulnerability the cast explores different levels of awareness in order to become truly present in the moment, aware of temperature, sound, light, space and movement. Vienne adds, ‘Live performance is more interesting nowadays because is dealing with reality.’ It’s in this state of hypersensitivity that she finds real improvisation, the cast is completely open to the unexpected. In Crowd there is always this question coming up, It looks overly written/set (scripted, rehearsed) but it is partly written, partly improvised and I think the most perfect composition comes from improvisation. If I throw some stones on the floor it would look great, but if I try to recreate that I can only get closer to the reality. The bodies in Crowd are thrown in space in the most natural way. Super awareness achieves a high level of perfected composition.’ By the end of our conversation, I feel energized and surprised by my perception of myself and my surroundings. I can’t wait to watch this performance.
Crowd by Gisèle Vienne at Victoria Theatre 1 & 2 June with SIFA.
This post is sponsored by Arts House Ltd.