This is a condensed, edited version of a Skype conversation I had with Ame Henderson.
Re: what we are saying - What brought about the question of 'can we be together without losing ourselves'? I play in an orchestra and I ask myself this all the time. I actually live this question at work.
It's probably not that far off from the roots of this. I’m trained in dance, and this project is the second of a series of projects that began with the question of the unison gesture and how it might be rethought. I didn’t know how people could dance together without harkening some connotations that were, for me personally, not so relevant and perhaps even dangerous. Yet I was fascinated by shared movement patterns as social gestures that are immediately recognizable and felt. Reworking these formal approaches as modes for moving and thinking collaboratively allowed us to seek new sensations and new resonances through doing the same thing at the same time. So in dance, like in the orchestra, there’s a classical tradition of people doing exactly the same thing at the same time. Probably the quickest reference is the ballet with the corps de ballet. But in contemporary dance, at least when I started these projects, I felt that unison was almost taboo, that it was difficult for people to employ unison unless it was somehow ironic or almost like a quote. So I was really interested in whether or not it was possible to work on a set of questions in collaboration with a group of artists that would allow us to re-approach unison. We made a project called relay that premiered in 2010 that addressed how unison appears in dance. Could we make a unison that was unplanned, where the moment, or the potential moment of being together, was something that would arrive through a group of individuals imagining how to be together. An improvisatory unison that didn’t require that we submit to any overarching group mind or directive or hierarchy or leadership initiative. So coming out of that were similar questions around speech and shared speech and investigating choral choreography where the goal was to find a way of speaking together, but without abandoning our individual interests, desires and imaginations. Obviously it’s a pretty faltering, (laughing) imperfect appearance as unison or choral speech, but it’s always intentioned with what it’s trying to achieve and what that requires or how that feels.
For me, there’s something very present in culture as it exists right now, which is a difficulty in understanding how to be with other people, but there’s also an imperative, a necessity for doing so. We’re all - this generation in the west - a product of a push for individual expression and success. And capitalism’s project is really about individual over group, so there’s an underlying tension in the question of how people organize. How do people appear together within the current socio-political-neo-liberal (chuckles) reality. I sense that humans have been trying to organize for as long as we’ve been around. The meaning that’s made when people work on things together... there’s a polyphony of possibilities of how that manifests - as activism, as labour, as family. The multitude of ways community presents itself. To me this is something that’s utterly relatable, as is the problem of it. How it feels to be trying, at the most micro and the most macro. Trying to participate in the democratic project, as flawed as it is. How it feels to try to participate in an activist project at the community level, a family structure, even in more habitual relationships, one-on-one relationships. These are things that are happening for all of us, on the daily. We wanted to make a performance where there is a kind of multi-directionality in how people come together, and this is never fixed and never really works...and because it never works, that’s why it works (laughs). It’s our small offering, a mode for continuing to think through and feel through what it means to believe that it’s worth it to be in group arrangements as a opposed to forging on by yourself. Which is a fallacy anyway, I mean, who is really alone? Or both - we’re both always alone and always trying to navigate relationality in every direction, in many proximities.
You’ve performed this piece a few times already and have future tour dates...
This is true, we premiered it in 2013 in Toronto at The Powerplant as part of the Harbourfront Centre World Stage season. We’ve since done a little bit of touring in Canada and a couple places overseas. The performance in Kitchener, and the work to bring it back together now, is the beginning of some Ontario touring that will continue this fall with performances in North Bay, Guelph, London, Kingston and Ottawa. It’s super exciting for us because we don’t often get to tour close to home. What about being in a conversation with people and structures and communities that are closer to us? So we’ve orchestrated this tour of smaller venues, and partnering with different types of organizations.
What have you learned from having repeated this work?
It’s constant (laughs). It’s a performance that the more you work on, the more there is the know about it, the more it feels like you don’t know how to do it. One of the things that has been super beautiful is we made it with eight performers, and we’ve subsequently taught it to several other collaborators. So there’s a roster of people who know the work, so when we bring it back together, it can be a different collection of people. So it’s always changing in that respect - the particular dynamics between the group of individuals that come together to do the show each time. And then there’s our reiteration of the show’s values. The performance is based on a score, much like in experimental music. There’s a set of time-based procedures that happen, events that take place in a particular sequence. The performance of these events can look different show to show. The scores gives us some way to feel where we are both individually and as a group as we move through, and it orders our experience and lends the whole show a shape. So relearning that score, teaching that score, trying to communicate to each other what its values are - this changes because we change. How do we interpret why we did something three years ago and then determine how to do it again, and how to do it again with a sense of honesty.