It’s seldom that the description of a piece embeds itself verbatim in my memory, but this was the case with the cleverly penned tagline for BLOOM! Dance Collective’s piece CITY: “a political pamphlet entwined with movement.” Over the next three weeks, the acclaimed Budapest and London-based collective will be touring limited runs of its Rudolf Laban award winner to New York and Pennsylvania. Tomorrow night, they bring CITY to Abrons Art Center, followed by performances in Philadelphia (May 3–4), presented by Thirdbird at Arts Bank, and in Pittsburgh as part of the newMoves Festival (May 10–13) at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. On the eve of their NYC premiere, BLOOM! members Moreno Solinas and Igor Urzelai discuss the piece, upcoming projects, and the defamiliarizing effects of comedic spectacle.
CITY will be held at Abrons Art Center Friday, April 27, and Saturday, April 28, at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and are available through the Abrons box office by calling 212-352-2101 or visiting www.abronsartscenter.org.
Mashinka Firunts: A characteristic commonly ascribed to your work is the successful simultaneous negotiation of politicized content and elements of hyper-comedic slapstick, which is a slippery tightrope to tread for many artists. What are some of the ways in which you navigate that territory?
Igor Urzelai: I think we address important issues in CITY, issues that are familiar to most individuals in contemporary society. However, as we are constantly reminded about the seriousness of many matters in our everyday lives, we often end up getting used to these issues and tend to forget about them; or not being very responsive to them. That is why when we are invited to laugh about an issue sometimes we react in a more effective way, it can bring up mixed feelings and invite us to think. But humour is essential to cope with what is hard to us as individuals and in society and when laughing about something that matters to us we are also laughing at ourselves, which can be very constructive.
Moreno Solinas: Humour is central to our work because it is a valuable tool to connect with the audience. It is a delicate territory though, and it needs to be well measured and timed in order to be effective. Our work deals with universal issues, which would be easy to overdramatise. Treating them with sense of humour allows us to defend them whilst having perspective over them.
MF: CITY is described as a ‘political pamphlet’ centering on social inequality and the ways in which systems of power function in urban contexts. What are the strategies you employ to address these issues through vocabularies of movement?
IU: Movement is rarely exempt of meaning though, and at BLOOM! we like embracing that. Also we make use of as many theatrical elements available to shape our ideas. Dance is our background and our field of choice as artists, but often an idea comes from a visual image or from a text; none of these elements has primacy over another, but rather they support each other to help us deliver our ideas and our choreography as clearly as possible to the viewer.
MS: In BLOOM!’s work movement is always regarded as a medium which carries meaning. As humans we constantly communicate with each other through our bodies: the distance between people can tell you whether they are individuals or whether they are forming a group; someone’s focus emphasises the direction of his/her actions; gestures and facial expressions carry meaning too. This seems to me our ground to build choreography.
In CITY there are also references to iconic images of dictatorship and abuse, which our audiences might have encountered in other forms such as cinema, visual arts and popular culture in general. On top of this, we used text to sharpen our message and to be able to reflect upon our work within the work itself.
MF: Your press materials emphasize that CITY is at once a work of dance and theater. How do you see these genres converging in the piece?
MS: The five co-choreographers of CITY share a background in contemporary dance, therefore dance is the prevalent language we use. Igor was also trained in dramatic arts and this – combined with the interest of all of us in delivering a clear message – brought text into the work. We also pay special attention to the way we perform the work: it is important that our actions are not mechanic – unless they are meant to be so for the purpose of a specific scene; as performers we always look for a connection between intentions and actions.
IU: It is often very hard to find the line between dance and theatre, and often impossible. Both contemporary dance and contemporary theatre feed each other constantly, often moving towards each other as art forms and jumping that line from both sides. It’s a blurry place with a long history that we now call physical theatre. When it comes to BLOOM! I like thinking that all performance elements have room in the studio whether they be dance, theatre, music, etc. and the final result we come up with is choreography because that is what we know, it’s our field of expertise. I think that mastering and being able to apply as many other theatrical elements is important in our work.
MF: BLOOM! is self-described as a collective. How would you articulate your approach to collaborative production and the way that individual versus collective processes of authorship operate in the creation of your pieces?
MS: Working collaboratively is a very rich territory for creation: we start from the belief that many minds working on a piece are better than one single mind. There are always plenty of ideas and as we all have different strengths the final result is refined on many layers through the work of each component. On the other hand collaboration can be very challenging: the process is often slow, which can be frustrating for some artists, and in some cases it can be hard to reach an agreement. You need the right combination of characters and a shared taste for this kind of process to work successfully; and it is very satisfying to get to a final result which we all feel strongly about.
IU: When an idea or concept is proposed in the studio with BLOOM!, then the idea becomes part of the collective mind. That means that everyone involved is welcome to develop this idea/concept and this way we often get to places that you couldn’t predict beforehand. Individual authorship is different, it’s harder to surprise yourself, whereas in a collective context ideas are constantly challenged.
MF: You’re currently working on The End is Near. Your (wonderfully witty) description for the piece identifies it as an attempt “to deconstruct the multiple facets of the hero” and to navigate “between countries, between languages and between egos.” What are the claims you’ll be making about individual talent and notions of the artist-genius in the work, and how do they refer back to your collective practice?
IU: For The End Is Near we were a bigger group in the studio. That meant we had more possibilities and more to deal with. Egos are often what can make the collaborative process tricky, and there are times that we do have to deal with them. When working in a group is also important to try and not to lose our individualities, but that happens every day in and out of the studio anyway. That is probably one of the constants in this piece.
We all had different understandings of what ‘hero’ meant very much affected by our backgrounds, and it was very interesting to find a place for all of them. In the piece we wanted to highlight the individual and make it important for reasons that we wouldn’t normally think of as ‘heroic’, this way questioning binary values often given for granted in our society and that don’t let us see beyond them.