Sun 20-02-2005 : interview

Heine Avdal, Christoph De Boeck and Yukiko Shinozaki form ‘Deep Blue’, a small scale independant dance company operating in Brussels. Despite coming from different backgrounds, Avdal trained as a dancer in Norway, Shinozaki trained as a dancer and psychologist in Japan and the US, and De Boeck with a PhD. thesis on political theatre and a parallel activity as electronic composer, the three of them work together like they’ve never done anything else, even if they’ve only made two creations: “Terminal” (2001) and “closer” (2003). Both pieces share a strong conceptual interest in microscopic phenomena, physical and sound research and a fascination for appearance and disappearance. In “closer” they construct a scenographic environment in which the audience can wander around freely, individually listening to the live sound score on headphones, while the two dancers crawl around the space ghostlike, appearing and disappearing from sight.
In this interview, the three artists speak about their methods of collaboration and the ideas behind the work.

Heine: Christoph and I met in the postgraduate project of APT in Rotterdam, in 2001. We were both working on our own projects in our own media, but we quickly saw many similiarities in our concepts, so we decided to present our work together, and out of that we decided to continue to work together.

Christoph: The connection point was the switch between absence and presence. Heine was already working on the terminal-concept, conceived as some presences that could be measured or detected in an absent body; the body as a container that contains presences, or signals. I was working on sound as a ghost, which is also between presence and absence, and that fit togeher.

Heine: Yukiko then joined as assistant choreographer, following the rehearsals and joining in the discussions. We decided to work together from scratch, so not the choreographer starting to work and then adding other layers. Certainly for “closer” the three of us started together from scratch: meeting and talking, and then writing the application dossiers together.

Christoph: Heine and I came up with the starting idea at the same moment. When we saw a laboratory space in an old factory, we both had the idea of quarantine and the control room, in which the audience would be.

Yukiko: The next step was the proposal to work with the microsound concept. This came before the movement.

Christoph: We wanted to continue in the same track as “Terminal”, with some kind of presences in a body, but then it was the challenge to go deeper, on a more microscopic level. Actually, when you arrive on the level of genetics, it’s purely conceptual, because you cannot visualise it. In genetic laboratories, everyone is working on computer simulations. The lab is in the computer. Then we tried to make it physical by thinking how these dancers could create or visualise micoscopic logic. One of the first movement ideas was to show small tensions in the surface of the skin, to see if you could make choreography with that. There is a connection between “Terminal” and “closer”, conceptually, but the big difference is Yukiko’s movement and body language. Yukiko moves in a very special way, like an animal that can quickly appear and disappear and reappear, like a flickering presence, like 1 and 0 changing place very rapidly. It fits this idea of the genetic, what is happening on the deepest level of our body, the recombination of elements of code.

Are you as a composer involved in the creation of movement material?

Christoph: We do work out the concept together, but then we work independently. I would come to their rehearsals from time to time and find out what fits for me into certain concepts and where I can find certain connections with what I’m doing. I was creating music by myself, and then I would give them samples of my work, just a few seconds.

Heine: We listen to it, give comments – sometimes it’s just the name of a soundfile that works.

Christoph: I always give names to my sounds, like ‘Attack of the clones’ which finally became the name of a scene. Or ‘Orange residue’. That is part of the process because it creates an atmosphere.

Heine: I always like to hear what kind of process Christoph is involved in, how he processes the sound, what kind of tools he’s using, and then we try to render these methods on the body as well.

Christoph: For example, I was working on microsound, using a lot of granular synthesis, which means that a soundfile of a few milli-seconds is taken apart in thousands of grains and then resynthesised; that is a process related to fractals, like an infinite repetition of the same fragment in different combinations, rearranging and creating a megastructure by replicating microfragments. And that’s what they used as technique to make movement material.

Could you take the same kind of inspiration from how they were constructing the movement and the body presence, or are you too limited by technological processes and tools?

Christoph: That’s part of a creative process that happens on a subconscious level: what I see triggers certain sounds, atmospheres, states. Anyway, it does not all come from technique or digital technology; it is both ways, coming from general concepts about the body

Yukiko: I remember you describing the making of a sound which is like a duplicating cell. That was a strong image for me, visually or physically. He tries to transform an image into the music and we try to translate it into movement.

Christoph: There is a certain discourse that creates an atmosphere. When we talk about genes, we talk about zeroes and ones, and then Yukiko came up with movements that were so jerky, she called it an ‘on and off’ movement. In this scene, she disconnects the upper from the lower part of the body, the upper stays still while the legs go in all directions. So it’s about the way we work, we create a world and put it into words, and then they make movement and I make sounds. This discourse is in the back of your head. Not like a direct translation of a concept, because that does not work: it’s too rigid.

Yet, in the result, the presence of this discursive layer is put away because many people did not see or did not get the connection to the genetic issues, since it is not explicitly visible in the images.

Christoph: In the program notes I sketch the original background. But the effect on people has more to do with intimacy versus alienation, pulling and pushing; an environment in which you can walk around, something which you are part of and still distant from. Is there a certain meaning to that? Dance does not work that way.

Yukiko: We have a starting point which is clear, but also always changing. If it were so clear we wouldn’t have to make a piece about it.

Christoph: The genetic context is what we offer, it’s not the only way of connecting to the piece. Discourse is a tool, one out of many tools. Of course, if you work with discourse you have a dramaturgy, but that does not mean people have to understand that in a narrative way. This piece is about an atmosphere. We wanted to make a homogenous piece, a sphere, no line, no levels, no dynamics.

Yukiko: Coming back to collaboration: to have a good collaboration is to be deceived by the other. We pull each other in each others context, experience something we never have before, let ourselves go. For example, we expected a light design that was very monochrome, like in “Terminal”, but the designer deceived us by really going for bright colours. But we’re happy with that deviation.

Heine: We never have a discussion that is conflicting, we don’t play it emotionally. We disagree. We don’t start to fight or run away screaming. We are quite rational and do not get emotional about the process.

Christoph: You model a background against which you’re working; everybody knows that nobody is going to come up with a totally different idea. You sketch some vaguely defined drawing that is a tool to work with. There was lots of material that did not work and we also agreed on that. We have a gut feeling as to what other people stand for, on a general abstract level. Sometimes you may be a bit hesitant – like with the bamboo sticks, I had no idea what it was going to look like before it was hanging there. I was waiting to see it, but I knew that the concept fit.

Heine: We did not think very much about how we would work together; it just happened and each found a position from which to take a responsibility. There is no issue of authority.