Interview with Julyen HamiltonCategories Articles
Galina Borissova spoke with Julyen Hamilton,
an outstanding British dancer, poet, lecturer and musician who will open the third edition of the festival “Etud and friends” with his performance “Magnolia and Strangers” together with the Bulgarian artist Denitsa Dikova – June 16th | 20:00 h. | Ðerida Dance Center
“I like just to make and make and make; never trying to be ‘new’; never needing to repeat myself and never worried about doing the same thing again”
(The soft sharpness of the poetic imagination)
questions: Galina Borissova
translation: Demna Dimitrova
June 13th 2018
There is difference between dance and choreography. Dance is autonomous and choreography requires selection and composition. Could you tell us more about your philosophy about those 2 things?
— Both dance and choreography are actions; both involve decision making with, for and from the body. The body/mind is ALWAYS making decisions while dancing… whether the material has been pre-set or is being composed instantly. One could say that while moving the body is always choreographing even though it might not wish to notice or record or remember and repeat the dancing it is making. Do we value the movements which are made with decisions over time as well as that which is made in the instant? You see, even the instant has history, so even that which is made in the ‘now’ is a series of decisions made within the context of time. I also look at it this way: the creative act is always spontaneous in the very second of its action. We are always improvising by the very nature of action and decision. And all decisions are in time and thus have roots in their history. It’s just that some of them have their roots made more conscious and some less so. I go with the simple and old definition of choreography as ‘the arrangement and organization of that which moves onstage.’ This can thus mean the body / the décor / the singers / orchestra etc. It implies that the moving body or the moving object has an inherent dynamic power simply because it is moving as opposed to being static. And this power and the language of wielding this power is choreographic. Now how one arrives at the decisions for this can be varied. I myself study in depth placement of object and body in space…and then the movement of the same; I call this the studies of ‘place’ and of ‘space’. The special awareness includes pathway (along the floor) and trajectory (through the air).I have spent many years fascinated and developing awarenesses about these languages, the way they function and the emotional and theatrical powers which they can express. This means I can make instant decisions regarding them while in performance, whilst improvising onstage in the moment of performance. At other moments I have made decisions before the per-formances and ‘set’ these decisions ready to be learnt and repeated basically the same for each performance. I have no particular strategy for making choreographic decisions. My parameters are simply to arrive at the best material I can: the material which expresses and shares best what I am sensing, what the piece wishes to express and which (to a certain extent) can be received by an audience. Does it move you? Does it make you laugh, cry, have insight, notice, perceive… any-thing about the life we are living? Those are the questions for me.
You have been part of the radical movements in 70’s in England. What do you think about post-modern time?
— I will deal with the 2nd question: the radical time in the 1970s came out of the experience of the post-war 1950s which exploded into the 60s and when new powers were being experienced by the youth, both economically and socially. The old regime which had lead up to the WW2 and then through it, was being swept away and new forces and questions (many of which were being al-ready asked in the pre-war decades) were being put out there. We had questions and made pieces about sexuality, about male and female and the roles of each not only in society but also in the dances themselves.The men discontinuing to wish to simply be the lifters of women. The women not wishing to be seen only as images of thinned down, period free ‘beauties’. We had questions of space and boundary and the place from which things were seen and experienced which lead to different spaces being used as performance spaces. Some of this was due to not being granted the chance to show our dances in many of the theatres…and sometimes because the theatre space was not the situation which best suited what we were saying or commenting upon. Also many of the gallery spaces (The Arnolfini in Bristol; the Serpentine Gallery in London, the White chapel also in London, The Fire Station in Oxford; The Tate in London) were being run by people who had apparently more of an understanding of the ‘new’ body-space which our work felt related to. You see there was a great layer of questioning about the taboo of the body (and still is today!!!) but painting, sculpture and visual art had a clearer history concerning this so they understood something of what we’re doing. The naked body for instance is one thing static and another thing when moving. For instance in the strip-clubs in London nakedness was allowed legally but only when the models were still…as soon as they moved, the naked body was illegal. I love the clarity which this law exposes…the power of movement itself, the recognition that something (especially the human body) has another power when moving than when simply static! So clearly made evi-dent here! Existential power and kinetic power are not the same especially when they involve the human body. I took part in many of these pieces also those by Sally Potter who later has been thrilling us with her now famous work in cinema. (‘Orlando’ for example). We allowed each other to question not only the content of dance and its sexual roles but also the way we performed before the public. Were we going to entertain them? were we going to just invite them to see what we were doing and take as they wished…more like spectators at a gallery? Were we going to perform to the space above them / to the 4th wall / through that wall / in the round / in urban environments / in gallery situations rather than in the classic theatrical ones? Of course the work of Joan Littlewood and Peter Brook inspired us a great deal….there were even very experimental plays on the prime time television each Wednesday!!! In this environment we felt ‘yes – other things were possible, we just went ahead (with no money) and did them. I was in a whole number of companies and groups doing all sorts of different work: it was a wonderful time – poor, supportive, marginal, exciting, exhausting, enriching, challenging; it is still with me every time I perform.
Many people pretend to have autonomy and authorship but they just make another version of what has been done before. Or they pretensiously name it Conceptual dance/art. Do you have any insights?
— There are so many ways of making and survivling and finding ones way in the jungles of creative life. So many different concerns and traps. I like just to make and make and make; never trying to be ‘new’; never needing to repeat myself and never worried about doing the same thing again. In a way I feel we often make the same piece again and again… and yet it is never the same if we really love it and let it have its identity. To busy oneself with worries about originality and suchlike is not really the point – just go into the work and love the material and listen to it. Make… and then make the next piece… move and move and dance and dance and drop the worries and the concepts around your neck. If you’re going to think then think deeply way below these elements and their superficial traps. If you’re going to touch on ‘originality’ then go deeply in the word and what it means to you, the origins, and then work out and up from there. Original and ‘different’ and ‘new’ are all totally different notions.
What is your opinion of the new generation? You do teach a lot, travel a lot and collaborate with other artists?
— There is a great new young generation and apart from their varied and excellent technical range which is stunning and so colorful, the thing which touches me the most is how they support and love each other. How they seem so much less worried about competition. I have seen in many countries how they really listen and watch and ask each other what they’re doing. In the hip-hop, one of the basic actions is just to watch and maybe say, ‘Respect’… whether that is your particular style or aesthetic liking seems of less importance that to respect the work and dexterity and ex-pression put in by the dancer you are watching! I find this wonderful!!
What about copy/paste duplicates?
— In some ways all art has an element of copy and paste. It is a way of serving and continuing and developing an ongoing history and connection through time. The danger of course with copy and paste is that it lacks transformation. Yes the action has change in its mechanism as the material; being copied to a new place is ‘different’ because of its new surroundings. But that difference is seldom one of transformation. When one steals, takes other material the act of theft means that you hold it for a while and in that holding it gains a slight patina of you, the thief, and that is important. It colors it alters it’s smell and surface….this is transformation. And it the theft is done from the heart’s need…so much the better…and if it is added to, developed, then even better still. Durrell said….yes take and take…but then gives back with interest, like money from the bank.
Hang out technique from the late 90’s. Do you think the idea of being cool, careless and hanging out on stage has faded out of popularity already?
— No – never heard of it. Weren’t the 90s that time when Baudrillard said, ‘couldn’t we just skip straight forwards and into the 21st century?’! There were a time, when the stage décor and props could go into one plastic bag. It could be because of lack of money. Or just simplification and reac-tion to the classical performing art/stage projects. But for some more spectacular or glamorous effects some artists prefer to use more things on stage.
In general, how do you determine if the stage should be kept empty or not? We know it depends on the idea for the performance, but can you tell us more how you make your own decisions?
— It depends upon the situation and of course the piece being made. Now I travel often with a Ryan Air décor….something which can be taken on a plane for no extra cost. At another point, when my company had a van, we filled it with all we could and took advantage of that. For a number of years I took nothing and found all the decor on site for each piece; the objects would be very carefully chosen and had the patina of having been already local to the place of performance. I have never had money to spend large amounts on décor….but I could spend money that way if it was giv-en…..but maybe I’d rather give it to the people dancing as they are so often giving so very much and receiving so comparatively little. I tend towards a poor theatre as I feel that is deeply all that is needed. Of course if it done as a gimmick then that’s not the point. Again the question is: does it serve the piece and the feelings and emotions and character of the piece being made? That’s the interesting challenge….and in that way money or large sets are not the point. If they arise and are made then still the question as do they touch us, move us, help expressing the worlds being ‘cre-ated’ and shared in the performance. I audition each element which goes onstage. If there are 2 of them I check if 1 of them can be enough. If they are the right color, shape, weight, texture…. and can they transform in the imagination…are they in thus way dynamic (or are they stuck in one im-age of themselves) I need the objects to move and change identity as the imagination of the piece changes…..its dance….things have to move, not just in space but in their own’skins’ and beings and animas. I love to work with objects they go so well with the dancing body, they speak so elo-quently and like music if used well they enhance and are enhanced in relationship with the dancing body.
You and Deniza Dikova are presenting “Magnolia and strangers” in Sofia. What should we expect from this performance?
— MAGNOLIA and STRANGERS’ is a duet of and about: beauty and strangeness; the familiarity of both in our world. As humans we make both and experience both….and yet has such a different relationship with each; as if we need each. In the piece we work with coordination and cohabitation in the space; the same activity and at time, different activities, different distances, different lan-guages….strange to each other and yet always there, possible to be appreciated for their beauty. There are simply and complex actions in the piece; the dancing is both evident and highly complex in its developed language of expression and special clarity. There are actions and objects which talk through a more graphic special language. There is sound and music which serve the piece in the sonic sphere; it is mostly placed below the level of the bodies dancing, behind them rather than ‘in front where it might rule their behavior. There is speech and the written word… Bulgarian and English… and of course poetry… which as ever, includes that which can only be housed by the soft sharpness of the poetic imagination!