One of the first tasks that we were working on was searching for a clear idea of form in whatever unfamiliar appearance that may come about, gradually finding our way towards more recognizable shapes, and lastly involving different historical ballet idioms. Through deconstruction, peripheral entrance into the movement and through searching and researching new variations of the familiar and unfamiliar, all forms started to open themselves up, offering us more as we went along and discovering their inner knowledge and meanings. This way of working suited me as I am a committed infinite searcher of distinctness: I like to make things clear, to be precise, to understand the essence of things, giving me a solid basis for research in the search for new solutions. Within this work I grasped that simplicity and clarity are the basis for complexity and decomposition.
The most difficult thing for me within that set of tasks were the technical principles of the ballet form. Ballet technique is something that I am familiar with, but as a contemporary dancer I do not use it very often. My body’s posture, and how it is organized and built, is challenging in a narrow form and a lot of figures that we explored and analysed required dedication and trust in the body itself. I thought that I would never be able to find lightness, pleasure and enjoyment without losing the precision and the clear idea of the form while executing it. In my mind that task was always connected with stiffness, pain and low breathing, and prior to this process I was unable to find a certain level of freedom in ballet. So I want to add this large breakthrough to my list of great things that I will take with me in consequence of this work. Arabesque, grand battement, passé, fifth position, penché, piqué, relevé, grand plié, changement and many more are forms that are now my own. Since these are the elements that we have used as a base for building a complex dance vocabulary, we went about them very analytically, taking enough time for the functional and aesthetic principles of each step while invigorating the vocabulary with a specific kind of choreographic discipline – which I have missed lately, I have to admit.
From day-to-day I was gradually sensing changes, not only in my body, but also in my comprehension. I quickly achieved a certain kind of stamina and strength, increasing my range of ability as well as my self-trust. I was encouraged to risk more, to play more and to worry less. The lightness that I was seeking prior to this work, and that I thought I would never reach, was now progressively and pragmatically incorporated into my physical practice as something familiar and close. This lightness and freedom were not only the result of disciplined work on specific technical elements but were also achieved using a very broad spectrum of specific choreographic methods and approaches.
Two principles: one coming from the outer idea of ‘form’ and the second from ‘starting the movement from the inside’, brought about my biggest discovery within the process. One of John Cage’s quotes, particularly, left a trace in my mind: “…Giving up control so that sounds can be sounds”. To let go and just to be is already enough, but is also something that I wanted (and needed) to adopt during this process. Although I was familiar with some somatic practices, here something totally different happened: when we started to research our way through the form, I was unable to comprehend how to execute the technicalities of ballet with allowing movement to freely happen. At first they seemed like two contradictory elements and principles, but as I was gradually starting to slow down, to wait, to breathe and observe, to empty my mind and to give my body a chance to respond before the old preconceptions could kick in, things became clear. Moments in which I would succeed within that structure were the moments of the greatest progress and growth.
Another aspect to this somatic inner stimulation came about during sessions in which we worked with an idea of sentience, which can be understood as something that has no need for focus or description but that allows itself to be an unnamed impulse, as well as a platform of observation. Two approaches that came out of working with sentience were very interesting to me: sometimes the motivation for the movement was really coming from inside, from the inner state of the body, but very often the motivation came from an outside experience, from the different sounds around me, from listening to the space, the people, and the outer world. These external sounds activated movement, but then while moving I was noticing the internal state of my being and my body, observing again the inner impulses. A true self-reflection occurred, but without definition or reasoning or appellation.
Working with sentience and adjacent inner/outer approaches was for me the most liberating and playful part of the process. I found myself in places that I have never been before. In some moments it felt as though my body was not mine, or that I was observing someone else’s movement. It seems to me that these kinds of moments, contextually, are truly significant for a dancer. They encourage us to keep moving, to continue to explore and to search for new, fresh and unexpected situations, which can only be achieved when we allow things to happen in that unnamed space.
The third significant theme that we were exploring during this process is space architecture and its stimuli. Every space has its own specific characteristics as each space is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Shapes, materials, objects, composition, temperature, sounds, scents as well as the functionality, purpose and history of the specific location can serve as the motivators of movement – architecture of the bodies within the architecture of the space. I was imagining geometric structures we were forming and re-forming. Working with different variations of form-elements and towards a final affirmative exhaustion of these materials were necessary procedures that led to a gradual deconstruction and transparency, coming from committed sentience and from the decision to let things appear where mutual attention and listening are necessary. The most challenging things for me were, again, to allow the situation to reveal itself, to extend moments of quietude, to accept that sometimes less is (really) more, to listen to others that are moving with me and work in relation to everything that surrounds us, but also to take responsibility for myself, to be decisive, and finally that every movement and action are equally important.
In a continuation to this ever-evolving dance structure, dance-and-music, choreography-and-composition were all equal parts of the final performance even though the choreography was being built and developed autonomously from the music. In that sense John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for a Prepared Piano was actually the sixth dancer. Since I am also a professional musician (playing the viola) I prefer to treat music as a separate entity that is not subordinate to anyone or anything. I deal with the musicality of my dance in-progress, even when the accent is not on the music. John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes is a complex musical work that requires a certain type of treatment. Nevertheless, I had the need to refer to it as often as I referred to the bodies in space, and to approach it with the same awareness as I approached the other dancers, environments or even myself. Performing the whole structure every day brought new differences on numerous levels, and that was the most precious thing of this clearly-structured, committedly-open and uncompromising ever-fluctuating choreography: it always felt like we were on a slippery and weaving landmass, where we never knew if we would be able to traverse it successfully. The level of trust that arrived through this work from all sides was therefore enormous and profound.
I was amazed by how much I learned about myself after six consecutive premiere performances of this challenging work. I realized so many precious facts about the configurations of my body and mind, how they are different every day, how to work with what I have in that certain moment and how to reconcile the idea that I am being watched with continuous exploration, research and curiosity without losing myself to exhibition. The most beautiful moments for me were the ones when I got totally lost in new situations and actions as they reminded me that I am alive, dancing a dance in one moment that only a second later will be gone.
Written by: Nastasja Štefanić
New work of CHOREOGRAPHIC FANTASY No. 3, that premiered in May 2018 in Zagreb Dance Center, accumulated numerous written traces. Created under the working title Open Processes, it subscribed itself to dance as a process, re-establishing some of the tenets of historical modernism. Performed in a dance studio to “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano” by John Cage, it confronted various elements of inner and outer architecture, questioning and affirming the very idea of a dance studio and its symbols. In a continuation of many talks during and after the premiere of the work, dancer Nastasja Štefanić went on to capture some thematic moments and performative questions. Written by: Nastasja Štefanić