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the suspended moment of energy & stillness

keith gallasch: interview, matthew day, intermission


Matthew Day, Intermission Matthew Day, Intermission
photo James Brown
THE FIRST TWO PARTS OF AN EVOLVING TRILOGY BY SELF-CHOREOGRAPHING DANCER MATTHEW DAY WILL SOON BE JOINED BY THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED THIRD WORK, INTERMISSION, AT THE PACT THEATRE IN SYDNEY. THOUSANDS AND CANNIBAL WERE AT ONCE CONTEMPLATIVE AND VISCERAL, MINIMALIST AND COMPLEX. I SPOKE WITH DAY ABOUT THE NEW WORK AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH ITS PARTNERS.

What was your motivation when you started out on the trilogy?

In Thousands (2010; see RT100 I was interested in stillness because I wanted to go back to something very simple, to what I was thinking of as the ‘degree zero’ of choreography because it was my first solo and I’d been reading Andre Lepecki and his writings on Nijinsky’s use of stillness. I was also interested in considering my position in dance history. So [it was] something about being still to allow other things to enter the space, for the audience to read the work in their own way—and also for other references to land on the body. Some of these I specifically choreographed into the work. There are Nijinsky references and then other things it’s up to the audience to project. But certainly it was about stillness or slow movement.

Steve Paxton is another reference and Vanessa Beecroft’s work—those models standing in galleries for long periods of time. It’s a bit different from Paxton but I thought, isn’t this interesting how there’s an unconscious choreography going on in the body.

When you say “unconscious choreography,” do you mean in the everyday or in stillness in dance?

My next project will be looking at the everyday. But I think in this series, the trilogy, they’re constructed theatrical settings. What I found looking at stillness was this vibration that’s happening without me producing it. What I’m doing is trying to be still. I try to think of this as the surface of the choreography or my intentional or conscious choreography as a score about stillness and how I do that.

That stillness is, I think, still evident in Cannibal (2011; see RT 102) although you’re moving in quite a large circuit. It’s still slow and there’s a sense of vibration.

The vibration that came up from underneath the stillness is what I consider the unconscious choreography, just in the sense that I’m not actively producing it.

Is that because, for instance, in the starting position of Thousands, you’re putting your body in a fairly stressful position?

The whole thing is stressful but I’m not interested in stress.

Is it more about intensity then?

Intensity. My objective with the piece is not to show any effort and to be as calm as I can be and not to fatigue. And the work should never look like I can’t continue. I’m not interested in failure or fatigue in that sense.

So they’re not endurance works?

They’re more about duration and what can happen if we just look at one thing for a long time and how something can change and how that reading of the same thing can change further if we sit with it for a long time. And I think this also came about by watching dance, where I feel like the dancers have just had a big shot of adrenaline backstage, run onto the stage and just go like move, move, move, go, go, go, counting to the count. Not that all dance does this any more. So it was really me challenging myself to make a choreographic work and not just dance, because that’s what I’d been trained to do and that’s what I love doing. So I got really excited about this vibrational quality.

It’s interesting that you made an observation about the stillness of Cannibal because while I was working on this, I started to think about the difference between the works. In Thousands I feel like I’m working very fast on a conscious level to refresh my attention and my perception. It’s happening very slowly and, to keep it alive, I need to work very fast, whereas with Cannibal, because there’s quite a lot of movement I drop into a much calmer place internally. Maybe that’s what you’re talking about.

The third part of the trilogy, what’s that springing from?

On the last day of Cannibal I had two performances to do and I’d done 10 shows altogether and it’s quite stressful to do twice in one day—or so I thought. But on the very last performance on the last day, I said to myself before I started, “Just take as much time as you need. This one’s for you. Find out what you can about the work. Do it and get what you can because this is the last chance you’ll have for a while.” And, while I was performing I started to discover a wave in the vibration. It’s just a very simple thing about the weight shifting between the right and the left foot, the transference of weight across the body and across space—the eternal wave that’s present underneath that. Waves are a pretty basic physical property and I just started to realise that it was present. It’s a feeling. So that kind of indentified that this would be the next thing. This is the future. The works each revealed themselves in different ways.

Thousands and Cannibal are both very sculptural, but Thousands is almost on a fixed point while Cannibal has a circuit and the works correlate with very different stage design and deployment of sound. In what way have you approached Intermission?

It’s a really good distinction you’re making—the movement’s relationship to pathways in space. I feel like maybe what I do is, I think about a wave—and it’s very naive the way I work. I just say okay, you’re going to do waves in the body for 10 minutes and see what happens and then I do it and I think this bit was interesting, or this happened. So I’ll do it again and maybe notice it again and just keep working. I’m realising this is not the way everyone works. I just do the piece when I rehearse. I just do the thing for about as long as I can. I do it for 30, 40 minutes and, okay, that’s what the thing is today. And then I slowly shape it over time.

I work with duration, which is the way I need to because it’s very hard for me to work on, say, a section. I think maybe the way a lot of people work is on sections: ‘I’m interested in this leg thing or this image here’ and maybe they look at ways of composing the order of these things. But when it comes to really making choreography and composing the thing, it happens as I’m doing it in the time that I’m doing it—performing the wave and seeing how it talks to me.

And in that process do you discover the space that you will occupy?

Yes. At first I start working just physically on, say, a wave and don’t worry too much where it goes in space. Then there’s a point where the pathway becomes the important thing that then determines the movement. So there’s this back and forth relationship. For example, I’ve had two main development periods and in the first I didn’t really think about the spatial map until the last couple of days and then started playing with something, mainly because I was having a showing. Then I had the Culture Lab residency [at Melbourne City Council’s Arts House] for two weeks and I kept that map and I said, okay, this is the map, how can I explore this as much as possible. Now I’m about to go back into the PACT Theatre [in Sydney where Day performed Thousands and Cannibal] and I’m actually going to question the pathway in space because I know more about the wave by articulating a pathway. Now it’s time to find out, to do it in reverse. There’s this constant negotiation between the pathway in space and the movement itself. In some ways they’re quite separate things.

There’s a design element that seems quite integral to your work. When do you start thinking about how you’ll create that space beyond the body?

Quite early I think but I don’t make decisions till quite late. With Thousands it was very pragmatic: I’ll make a piece with one spotlight and a backing track. That’s about touring the work; it’s about sustainability; it’s about keeping things simple; it’s about wanting the work to exist on its own terms choreographically. But these are also design principles: It’s also about minimalism. When I first did Thousands, it was in Northcote Town Hall, which has a massive gold velvet curtain. So I think of Thousands as a gold piece even though when it was shown at PACT, where you saw it, it was against a black wall. I wear gold sneakers. When it was at Dance Massive, it ended up looking quite orange.

So, what’s the future of the trilogy in terms of design. Cannibal is very white—floor, walls, outfit, your hair.

I’m trying to get white curtains made for Cannibal. So, they are in a sense an inversion of the usual black curtains of a space. Then the idea is that I can just request white tarket and chuck the white curtains in a normal touring suitcase. If that’s possible, then the future of Cannibal is quite open. And the thing is in Europe there are lots of white spaces anyway. As for the future of the trilogy, I’m going to present Thousands again in Melbourne in October and Cannibal in November and, hopefully, Intermission at Dance Massive in 2013. So this will be the first time that they’ll all be done within a five-month period and I think that’ll teach me a bit more about what it’s like to perform them back to back. The idea would be that they would be programmed across three nights. It’s impossible to do them all in one night and I don’t think it’s desirable either. They can tour as a trilogy across three nights so that each work has its own independence.

Why the title “Intermission”?

Intermission is about always being in the middle: never being here or there, never arriving completely, always being in a state of in-betweenness or becoming. It also problematises the idea of linearity. What is the order of these works? Even though we started out talking about how one work seeds the next, I found out things about Thousands by performing Cannibal. The works start to speak to each other in different ways. There are structural things I’ve discovered in Intermission that I’m going to retroactively apply to the other works. So they start to have this non-linear discussion with each other, which I find exciting.

The reason I liked the title was that I had this idea. We go and see a show and I was thinking of one of these big old amazing pros arch theatres. Everyone’s in there for the first half of the concert or ballet. And then everyone leaves. They’re outside drinking champagne or whatever in the foyer. And I just had this sense of what happens in the theatre in that intermission when no one is there. I like this idea of the life of the theatre without an audience, this in-between moment. What is the energy of this space at this moment? That’s what I’m interested in, that invisibility, the silent thing that you don’t actually see. That suspended moment of energy and stillness.


Matthew Day, Intermission, PACT Theatre, Sydney, June 19-30; http://www.pact.net.au/

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 3

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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