Choreography can be folded and unfold

PARASOL Gespräche IV


PARASOL Gespräche IV

In the format PARASOL Talks, the persons involved in the artistic training project PARASOL – a dance group of Tanzquartier Wien – meet with Luca Büchler to provide insights into the creative process of two pieces that are being developed over the course of a year. The last interview in the current series is with choreographer Oleg Soulimenko, sharing his interest in the fold and his main challenge in the process of The weather is nice, let’s picnic. The interview was conducted on 10 November, in the middle of the rehearsal process.

Luca Büchler: When was the last time you took some time off?

Oleg Soulimenko: I don’t really remember. There must have been a lot of short breaks, especially lately. It has been a busy time between projects and family. Sometimes, when I get home and the kids aren’t around and I don’t have anything urgent to do, that’s my time off. At the end of August, I had to go to a huge, strange city in a country that is trying hard to isolate itself, to help my old sick mother and arrange an apartment for her there. I wanted to minimise contact and avoid any connection with the culture there. I was stuck in the apartment for five days, afraid even to take the subway. Somehow, I lost track of time. I lost where I was in time, where I lived and what culture I belonged to.

LB: You’re interested in Gilles Deleuze, right?

OS: I like his writing about the folds. Just before you came in, I was reading again and didn’t understand anything. Or, let’s say, not nothing, just a little bit of it. I read one line, and I didn’t see the connection to the following one, but I read one line, and that line opened my imagination. I get lost in Deleuze’s texts; it’s the same way we get lost in the folds of fabric if we get closer to it.

LB: You now mentioned fabrics. What’s the connection there?

OS: In developing the choreography, we chose to work with fabrics and textiles strongly related to folds. It’s easy to play with the folds of the material and be surprised by them. A pile with lots of fabric and folds is like Deleuze’s text about folds for me. By understanding one line, I lose track of understanding the previous line, similar to what sometimes happens with the folds of fabric.

LB: When did you start combining these ideas of Deleuze and working with fabrics?

OS: I guess it was when the PARASOLs were working with Krõõt Juurak and I visited the rehearsals. I usually have a more or less clear concept in mind and based on that I try to find performers. For the PARASOL project, Krõõt and I had to decide on the participants together, and we do pretty different performances and work on projects in different ways. The PARASOL performers come from different backgrounds with diverse interests, and from other practices and experiences with teamwork. So, I look at them as individuals with their own experiences. I was thinking about individual islands where artists step out of time and bring their history and knowledge, do what they would like to do, or maybe they never had time to do. In previous projects, I’ve worked with a lot of objects, and I got tired of carrying them around, but still, I couldn’t turn my back on working with objects, so I thought fabric would be a good solution because it’s not so heavy and it’s easy to carry around. You can still make a mess, though, which I sometimes need and like to do. I did a project recently with a dance company where we worked with many curtains. That time, an article about folds came to me, and I thought of the connections between textiles and folds. And I was interested in combining folds and fabrics with the islands as picnics.

LB: What is currently the most significant challenge for you?

OS: I usually work slowly. I need a lot of time, so doing the project for Hall G in fixed rehearsal hours with five individuals is a big challenge. How to combine different qualities and balance personal needs, such as giving everyone a voice and keeping track of the project.

LB: Can you share a little bit about the process?

OS: Today, we did a warm-up where I suggested exercises like the banana roll and some sort of animal movements on the floor, emphasising moving the body slowly and sensually, putting bodies in relationship to others. We then discussed yesterday’s run, and I gave detailed feedback. Our incredible set and costume designer, Ruth Erharter, brought a vast piece of new industrial plastic fabric, and we’ve been exploring it. The superb PARASOL performers are tuned in to working with fabrics and textiles, and they improvised and created exciting forms. Some fabrics make a sound, some don’t, some are very light, some are a little heavy, some are transparent, some are not, some have different colours inside-out, and some have obvious connotations, like a T-shirt or an oversized skirt. And then we came back to the idea of the picnic. At the very beginning of the rehearsals, we sketched out the picnic’s theme. So, it was also a gathering of new ideas to find an ending to our performance.

LB: You’re working with folds as metaphors of knowledge and memory.

OS: I like the idea of a time loop and repetition in relation to visual perception. The audience will be sitting on two sides, so they will see different things when we do a composition with fabrics. Sometimes, one part of the audience will see something that is hidden from the other and vice versa. This effect becomes part of the choreography, too. Of course, the process can never be repeated exactly. I once took part in a project as a dancer ‒ there were four of us, and we were moving curtains for 10 minutes, trying not to be seen. And I loved the movements of us behind the curtains and how we struggled to move the curtains in a visually appealing way. It was an outstanding choreography of bodies that were not supposed to be visible. And in the PARASOL project, at one point, we make partially visible what isnt’ supposed to be visible.

LB: You said before that you’re a slow worker. What does that mean?

OS: Details are crucial to me, and working with them takes a lot of time. But for this project, I told myself I shouldn’t get stuck on the details. I wanted to bring more lightness and ease and not fix everything exactly. Fabric cannot be completely controlled, anyway. I want to make clearly discernible compositions and to work with a certain focus – but without fixed movements. Still, I can’t avoid details; I get sucked in and probably stuck with my perception. The PARASOLs have now asked to work on the details and go deeper into the created choreography, which is a pleasant surprise.

LB: To what extent does the audience play a role? Do you think about them when you choreograph a piece, or what kind of position does the audience take?

OS: Of course, I imagine them, depending on the place where I will present my project. At the beginning of this project, we thought of interacting with the audience, but now we need to clarify how far we can go. We want to bring the spirit of a stage to the audience seats. At certain moments, we also try to create a stage area without actual borders. This means it’s unclear from where to watch, how to watch and where the beginning or probably end is. Under these circumstances, the audience need to work out for themselves how to perceive and react to the performance.

LB: Is that something new for you?

OS: I’ve done it before, but not in this way. It may not be easy, but I like this lightness and ease. It’s fresh and different in this situation.

LB: You have a lot of experience in producing a performance. What are you learning in this project?

OS: The PARASOLs are not young as artists, maybe young as human beings; each one has an individual performance experience. That’s something I really appreciate. And I’m learning how to communicate with them.