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Retina discusses collaboration

This is not a body premieres next week at ccBe, Antwerp. Here Producer Natalie Gordon is in conversation with choreographer Filip Van Huffel, visual artist Brian Hartley and composers Dave Boyd and Axelle Kennes. For more info about the production read current production. For bookings on March 27th and 28th visit ccBe.

Natalie – So first up, what does collaboration mean for you in relation to this project?

Filip – Well for me the collaboration is with Axelle, Brian and Dave but also with six dancers and a massive screen, so there’s a lot of people and things to consider, its not just about my own thoughts, its also about everybody else’s thoughts and trying to fit them into the concept that I am working from.
Axelle – Filip, your basic idea and concept pushed me in a certain direction and after that I had the feeling that I could decide a lot for myself to create something, before coming together again.
Brian – I suppose for me its been over a longer period with Filip, and also responding to the music from Dave and Axelle, so for me its been a relationship with all the different people in a way.
Dave – For me collaboration is more about everyone owning the chaos all at once so that you can share the creative bone. You can bring your unfinished ideas to other people who can then make them into something else. That’s the great excitement of it because you don’t just finish something and hand it over, it’s a constant passing around of the idea and seeing what happens to it.
Filip – That’s what I find great about collaboration, it’s not about me telling people what to do, it’s about me inspiring other people and then hoping for the best. It’s a big risk because I give a lot of freedom to other people, so it could potentially all go wrong. But if I had a CD on the first day of rehearsal and just made a piece on that music I would be bored three weeks later.
Dave – I really like the idea that you can’t finish without everyone else, you need everybody, because you can’t do something because you need to see the dance, or need to see the images, so the risk that you were talking about Filip is also about the lovely interdependence you have on each other, so its very human. And nothing’s worth doing if there isn’t a bit of risk!

Natalie – So can you all just talk a little about your own process?

Dave – I work very instinctively so I tend to go with the first good idea I come up with and trust my gut about that, so my desire to use body sounds as part of the music that I talked to Filip about in October has stayed with me up to the finished score, but that’s the one idea that has remained constant. Everything else got mushed around as we worked. When people are not too precious about their ideas, you can come up with something, throw it away and rediscover it again and it’s not about making value judgements, just judgements about how you want the final piece to be, and so the process has been an intuitive spontaneous process.
Brian – I have been in and out of the rehearsal process in Nottingham and Antwerp, but being here for this last chunk has enabled me to make a lot of decisions more concrete, because I wanted the images to really fit with the timing of the music and structure of the dance, so those things had to be decided as the piece was evolving. The process was informed for me by the others too, Dave’s internal body sounds led me to photograph close ups of body parts, but then changing those images and fitting them to Axelle’s music meant that the images provide continuity across the first and second part of the piece.
Axelle – I think my process was very different to Dave’s because I made a composition that is quite set. I found it important to really start from the concept that I received from Filip, using the artists to shape the form and then with Filip looking at the time frame and energy line. In the end the piece was set but what I really liked is that we still changed details during the final rehearsals to make everything fit together.
Brian – I have worked in a similar process to Dave really, improvising as I respond to the art and music and movement, so its evolving as I think of it. Technology then allows me to be very reactive and I can change things and swop the order, so it’s quite an intuitive process also.
Filip – Its funny because in December for Axelle’s work I had a whole timeline, so I knew what the music looked like but I didn’t know what it was going to sound like! I knew where the tension was going to be and the speed and the dynamic, but with Dave it was much more like making it together. I think both have a value though and it is interesting to see both evolving into one performance.

Natalie – How do you feel that the final product relates to the original stimulus of Giacometti, Klein and Escher?

Filip – All the movement material is created from those three artists work, and then layered with reactions and responses to the music, the visuals, the space and the dancers. I used each artist differently, generally Escher as an inspiration for structure and the mathematical ideas for making movement and floor-work, Giacometti for sculpting bodies in space and Klein for density and colour within movement.
Brian – I think for me it was perhaps slightly different because the references came from my own genre, so my response to that was to make something which would not be a pastiche of those other artists work. Although some of the drawings that I made have a close relationship to the work of Giacometti’s drawings I was conscious of making something that was my own work.
Axelle – It was indeed a translation of the art of Giacometti, Klein and Escher that I worked into the different layers of the composition. I started mostly with Escher in the ground plan because of its mathematical evolution and then in every layer I composed there were links, for example with Giacometti in the scary, tense passages or with Klein in the noisy, colourful sections.
Dave – Escher was always a very obvious place to go to as the patterns lend themselves to percussion, but I find the pieces that I really liked were the pieces that had organic things going on in them, so that has come through in the music where I started with formal patterns of polyrhythms, and then in the process I mushed them up a bit. Also it was interesting to take music that I had made looking at particular pieces of art and Filip to put it with a Giacometti piece and for the movement that he had come up with in response to Giacometti with the music I had come up with as a response to Escher.
Brian – I had a similar experience in Nottingham where I made some drawings at a very early stage of the process that I have now placed in different aspects in both parts of the performance. So I have tried to free up the placing of one piece of work with one piece of movement to give it a different voice by putting it against something as a counterpoint, allowing material to be much more malleable and changeable.
Axelle – Its important to make connections between different parts of the performance because there are three very dominant ideas, yet you get one overall atmosphere that lasts from beginning to end. It’s like its all one breath.

Natalie – Do you feel that your own work is still recognisable as your own style or how much has it changed as result of the collaboration?

Dave – Absolutely yes, its very much my work and the collaboration if anything has made it more so. If somebody asks you to make a piece and you have to deliver a particular style of work that goes with their style of choreography, you deliver what has been asked of you, but in this process what was being asked of me was to deliver what I deliver, so actually this really represents my working as a musician and composer.
Brian – I had a certain idea of where we were going to go with the product but I didn’t know how to make that work, but by combining the element of time with the still art work of drawings, paintings and photography, it has telescoped all the things I have been interested in for a long time, and given me the opportunity to explore that way of working. The inclusion of photography although newer to my work, still responds to the way I make paintings, they are similar in their composition, form and surface so the result is recognisable as my own style, but has been pushed to go beyond my usual boundaries.
Axelle – Because of the way I work its really my work, but because I am learning my style is changing and evolving. It’s also the first time I have written a 30 minute work, so its really different to shorter pieces, so in this way its really different to what I did before, but in the other way my language is the same, so for me its recognisable but its also true that you do things that you otherwise would never do because of the collaboration.
Filip – Its interesting for me, because when I watch it now its what I do, its my work but its definitely influenced by all the other elements. Also when I make a piece I never want to repeat myself, I want to try to find new stimuli or new ways of working and then its always a bit of a gamble to see what is going to come out of it, all these elements are there and you put them in one big pot and shake it all about and the outcome is a bit of a mystery really.
Brian – That keeps it exciting because you have to make on-the-spot decisions, you can’t rely on knowing the outcome before it happens so you have to be very responsive, fresh and alive, because you haven’t set out with a grand master plan knowing exactly what the answers are, you are discovering the questions.

Natalie – Final question – how has technology affected your process?

Dave – I couldn’t have done it without it. For me technology is just part of the way I work now and I use the computer much the same way as I use any other recording equipment, but in terms of communicating, its been really vital, because it gives us a way to share the process and not be in the same room or in the same country!
Filip – Its very exciting getting a pod cast in the middle of rehearsal and your computer goes ping and you have new music for the show, its great!
Brian – Well I couldn’t have done it without technology because the work doesn’t really exist in any form besides than on screen, there are thousands of small drawings in notebooks and hundreds of photographs of body parts, but none of it really exists. Its not like I have made a painting, but this process has allowed me to continue to work as though I were painting but is much less tangible, it’s a thing that exists in space and time. But the technology means I can create the work in the studio effectively and then manipulate it.
Axelle – Technology has been important for me but not in the same way as Dave. All the music and ideas are in my head, I’ve got images of sound and I write it down and then communicate with my musicians through an atmosphere but in fact every bit of information that the musician needs is on the paper. The music didn’t grow out of the computer, but it was just important for the practical needs.
Filip – In terms of communication, we couldn’t have done the project without technology, but in terms of choreography technology isn’t really important to me, I feel that I have a lot of images in my head and its all about communicating more than anything else.
Brian – I think something in common with perhaps Dave’s and my work is that we talked a lot about technology being essential but at the same time Dave talked about the importance of the instruments and I can say the same about the drawings that I have made that is very human and I think its very important not to loose that sense, technology is just a tool. I think its really important for my work that it still has a sense of handcrafting, I don’t draw sketches on the screen, I make them on bits of paper with basic materials, one of my favourite pens is a piece of bamboo that I’ve had for 15 years, then I use the technology to shift the scale of them or shift the quality so that they can be seen in a different way. You can’t get your hands dirty with a computer and sometimes you just need to do that.
Filip – I remember one day that Fibonacci came up in rehearsals and we wanted to get some information but we were just in the studio, so in 2 minutes we were on line with a catalogue of ideas and information. That’s the great thing about technology, its just immediate, its available when you need it. With choreography these things can all help to stimulate your work, but it can’t make the actual steps human!

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