A PERFORMANCE FOR SCREEN

Creative process

In-depth description of how we work with the camera / screen. 

REAL OR RECORDED, WHICH DO YOU PREFER?  

In Animalarium we use the screen as a medium to challenge the threshold of how we experience live and recorded. Our aim is to explore methods that allow Animalarium to have two or more show formats happening simultaneously within the same performance. The difference between these formats is not only that one is live and the other is recorded – but that the camera is placed in such a way that what it sees, records and streams is drastically different from what the audience experiences live in the room. It drastically reshapes the space and thus also the perception of the performing subjects and the context for how “choreography” is created. 

We explore how show formats, in the broadest sense, have different sets of ideas, narratives and histories that will propose or dictate “rules” around what is good or bad, right, or wrong, desired, or undesired. And want to highlight how the formats’ rules can shape the behaviour, thoughts, and emotions of the performing subject(s) and the audience. We do this by working with film cameras and live streaming. Our online streams have so far been shown in the performance room, in an adjoining room and/or online at the same time. Our interest has been to create a tension between the different formats (live and recorded) and their different rules around “To Be” or “To Show”. Exploring perceived binaries such as real / fake, authentic / artificial, wild / domesticated.

We look at our own field of contemporary dance, but also at sports, self-produced material for social media, reality TV and surveillance footage. With a particular focus on show formats where the primary performative subject / object are non-human animals, such as dressage, nature documentaries, Zoos, or den-cams.

THE CAMERA SHOW

In Animalarium the main show happens for the camera. The camera frame, our relationship to it, and how we communicate through it, is our main reference point. We carefully curate our actions, their duration, dynamics, and placements for the dramaturgy of the screen. Everything happening in the room is the dance performance, but it is for the camera we create the drama, the beauty, and pour all our effort in.

We often work with a static frontal camera, which films constantly without editing or zooming. The camera is placed close to the floor. From this angle the “close up” highlights of our shoes, feet, and shins and the “long shot” (when we have moved to the back) shows our whole body and faces. Inverting the traditional filmmaking hierarchy between which body parts get to have the most details and therefore the most emotive power.

The big screen, just like cinematic experience, makes what we do appear bigger and grander, amplifying the play between miniature and giant. There is a micro to macro drama space, and a small tremor of a shoe can create a whole narrative on its own. We constantly work with proximity and distance, playing with the real space and what our choices produce on the camera perspective. It is us, the performers directing from the inside, who create texture, depth and meaning by our actions.

The camera and the projection are placed so that we see the screen when facing the camera lens. We see ourselves, overtly look at ourselves and create with ourselves through the screen. This creative relationship with our recorded self’s is a way of externalizing the otherwise internalized gaze we as dancers (and women) often have on ourselves when performing. We create within a loop with ourselves as performing subjects (IRL) and as performing objects (on screen). 

How we create for the screen is more akin to dramaturgical rules from graphic novels, 2D animation, or silent film where the basic meaning of a “scene” should be understood from the outlines or positions of the bodies. We create the more nuanced “meaning” by playing with positions, repetition, dynamics, and the expectations and associations the music and costumes creates. 

Furthermore, we are also interested in the screen becoming more of a live painting, where the action can die down, we become even more object-like, extending stillness or repetition, creating a succession of atmospheric images. This is also us being un-entertaining, acting disobedient to what a camera (camera gaze wants), and like the sleepy animal in the Zoo, not at all living up to the human desire for action and drama. 

OUR BODIES AND THE SCREEN 

In Animalarium we do not walk, speak, pose, or behave as our human selves or intentionally “perform woman”. The feminine connotations visible in the performance are activated through the costumes, the shoes and sometimes the music. They are surface layers, but not something we are embodying or acting out. They are tool to critically examine the fragmented, zoomed in or cut up female body we see in mainstream popular culture such as in pornography, fashion photography, music videos, selfies, and such. To examine what happens when we look at certain strong imagery (bare legs, partial nudity, high heels ) but that the language and behaviour does not conform with these images. Objectifying imagery without its necessary behaviour/language? Animal behaviour performed or put-on human bodies?

ANIMAL MORPHOLOGY

Creative process

An account of how we work when researching and developing movement material and scores.  

In our research process we collect observations and interactions with various animals. It is an ongoing practise that happens as a part of our lives. Among others we have visited a stable and ridden horses as well as visited Gothenburg Horse Show, Vienna Zoo and London Zoo. We have also had a dog come to the studio with us.

Because the emphasis is how we experience the meeting or the relationship with another animal we rarely document these meetings. They are mostly left as experience and memories. But when working in the studio we do use other people’s documentation as a part of our process. Mainly we are interested in documentation through film, but we also look at text and images transmitting human knowledge about other animals’ culture, behaviour, and physics. We observe, discuss, and analyse what we see in terms of the other animal’s behaviour, movement, life situation and relationship to human narratives. We look at movement patterns, posture, dynamics, as well how to relate to the room and to each other through that animal’s perspective – but equally we also actively take in, feel, and try to experience the situation more abstractly, emphatically, and emotionally.

We look at “wild” animals and tamed or domesticated animals in some kind of show format. For example, we looked at documented wild bears in their natural habitat, semi tame bears living together with humans, tamed bears performing in a circus, as well as visit Zoos to look at incarcerated bears. We talk about what associations, memories, feelings, images come to us when trying to relate to this other animal. We both embrace this subjectivity and dissect it to learn more about how different animals’ figure in our personal narratives about ourselves and in man’s narrative of man and nature.

From all of this we develop score clusters and movement rules such as resting bear, wandering bear, problem solving bear, playful bear, itchy bear, hungry bear, etc that is contrasted with tame, incarcerated and / or performing show bear clusters such as waiting in the wings before entering stage, copying human behaviour, pacing in the Zoo, etc. 

We have built an improvisational practise that allows us to firmly work within very defined scores at the same time as we allow a trance-like state to emerge. A state that lets something unknown emerge out from the mishmash of memories, emotions, associations, etc. that the materials holds for us.  

Transformations – a return to a practise from childhood 

Creative process

An account of how our process is inspired by play.

At the core of our approach to making and presenting is a playful spontaneous creativity akin to how we played as children. It is the approach that underlines how we make, build, and transform our movement materials and scores. And it is recognisable in how we utilize costume and music in process and presentation. It stems from a desire to work with a pleasure driven yet highly creative and complex improvisation practise. And a recognition of what that childhood practise was capable of in terms of exploring identities using humour and ambiguity. 

There is also an aspect of homage and nostalgia towards us as children and towards the animals and characters we inhabited in these childhood games. We remember the feeling and almost trance-like state when “playing animal”.  How we through clothes, shoes, wigs, accessories, and make up created different others and tested different identities or stereotypes. 

What experience were we looking for, then, in playing that show and testing these stereotypes? Which animals were we then? Where they actual animals we knew or imagined.

How can we “inspirit” the animal in our human bodies, in the context of the live performance? How can we as human animals test our humanness and animalness by trying to experience ourselves as another animal? 

Another correlation we research is the unproblematic relationship we had as children to zoos, circus performances and stereotypical gender expressions. While 25-30 years later we experience this, as so many other aspects of life, different, more complex, and even problematic. Same with playing a sexy woman, dressage horse, circus bear, dressing up as “an Indian” and so forth. We confront the clash between creating these shows as a child, by revisiting the playfulness of it and the same time researching the seriousness of the proposed themes.

COSTUME AS MATERIAL FOR IMMATERIAL VALUE

Creative process

An account of how we work when researching and developing movement material from costume.  

We are, especially in our earlier work, informed by cross-dressing: re-shaping, padding, bulking up, etc. and create costumes, that fuse notions of women’s clothes and animal attributes. The selection of clothes we work with have an opulence, a campness and a naïve joyous sense of “too much” about them. 

The aesthetics of the costume, the texture of the material, the associations, the memories, and our personal history are all starting points for us to compose outfits. In the process we engage with them, abstract them, and change them by how we use them, and what they inspire us to do. Our aim is to mutate their original meaning and allow other, absurd, and strange hybrid creatures and qualities to become visible.