Manon Santkin & Mette Ingvartsen
RUSH or 20 years of work
A conversation between Manon Santkin and Mette Ingvartsen
Manon: Why a solo? Why now?
Mette: It’s in the context of having collaborated for more than 20 years that we’ve decided to make Rush, a solo performance that retraces movement materials from different group pieces you’ve performed in within my work. When I came to this idea, it was partly because I was looking for a way to make a living retrospective (instead of something dead and static like a photobook), but also partly because of the way you have always worked so strongly with your imagination, and how this has contributed to the development of the pieces we’ve made together.
Can you say something about how you work with imagination in general, and how we have specifically focused on that within Rush?
Manon: For me imagination is a direct extension of the capacities of the body. You find it at both ends of the possibility to ‘enact’: what makes action possible, and what gets transformed by action. As a performer, when asked to produce and reproduce specific actions/movements over and over again, show after show, you have to put yourself in relation with a whole architecture of imaginary references – invisible points in space, fictional textures around you, invented prompts that will cause a reaction, etc. – and bring all that with you to each new time and place. Talking about it now, I realise that to me this is the heart of what dancing is about: being in relation. And that relation can be with things that are materially present or immaterially present. The work of the performer is maybe to make them present. To give a concrete example, could you imagine there was a song playing, a song you like, and start moving to the beat? (Of course you could.) Well, you see, there isn’t that much difference between dancing to music that’s there and something that’s only in your head.
So when I try to evoke the missing scenography that was once on stage, or all my colleagues who performed alongside me in the original pieces, I’m doing just that: trying to make them present.
By the way, at one time weren’t you thinking a potential title for this piece could be ‘20 acts of imagination’? Can you talk a bit about that?
Mette: That’s right. I liked the idea that we would do 20 acts of imagination, instead of 20 extracts from 20 pieces made in 20 years. It felt too didactic to simply document all the pieces, but thinking about imagination felt like a good way into it. I think we ended up making a selection of scenes that comes from our common interest in and search for imagination, more than from a compulsion to precisely document the last 20 years of work.
I also like to think about imagination as a power, the power to imagine the world as we would like to see it, because without that we are lost or stuck in the world as it is. At the moment that gives you a pretty bleak perspective, and really I’m an optimist: I have always believed in the capacity for change and transformation, both on the level of the body and the level of society. So imagination feels important both on the micro level of making a solo performance for one body that can transform and change in front of our eyes, and on the macro level of thinking about larger social and political questions, like for instance environmental disaster, which is one of the topics that Rush brings back from The Artificial Nature Project.
Manon: Could you name the different pieces we make reference to in Rush?
Mette: Well, first there are the explicit quotations from Manual Focus, to come (extended), Why We Love Action, The Artificial Nature Project, and 7 Pleasures, but there’s also a series of more hidden references. For instance the peeing scene, for me, also refers to 21 pornographies, where I was literally peeing on stage in the context of imagining war crimes and soldiers pissing on their enemies. In Rush there is a moment where you, Manon, imagine a catastrophic landscape where ashes are falling through the air and you describe death and destruction. That scene refers to the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of The Artificial Nature Project, but the approach of ‘painting’ a dark landscape is also something I was busy with for Speculations. In that work I discovered how to work with language as a choreographic material, an approach I have reused in several solos since then, including Rush.
Can you talk a bit about that, Manon? How the way we use language in Rush helps to make things that aren’t there appear…
Manon: Language is quite marvellous in that sense. But not on its own. You point your finger to an empty space and say ‘there is a green telephone’ and suddenly the green telephone is there. If you speak with tears in your voice, suddenly this green phone must be part of something sad; you don’t know what that will be yet, but you share a bit of the pain. So you see, it’s not only the words that speak, that ‘mean’ something, it comes from multiple sources: it’s the word, it’s the effort of the mouth that forms the word, it’s the gesture that the body makes while the mouth speaks that word, it’s the volume at which it is uttered, it’s where the eyes are looking at that moment, it’s the intensity of the light when you hear it, it’s the resonance of the room, it’s what comes next in response, etc.
In Rush, language is definitely an ally in making the invisible appear to the audience, so that what I imagine can start to exist as a shared experience that evening. Our desire is to make this retrospective journey as lively as possible, even though most of the actual ‘stuff’ isn’t there. Somehow the audience is taken by the hand and led to do the actual work of imagining by themselves. And I have to say, it is quite a thrilling challenge to perform: to come into a quasi-bare room and to try to revive the mood of a stage filled with confetti, conjure people fighting or dancing together, recreate the feeling of a soundtrack and the pace of a scene – and to do it alone, in whatever way you can.
But how is it for you, now that the piece has been composed and you see the various bits and pieces of different performances put side by side, like pearls on a string. Are there elements that strike you or things you are discovering about your own work?
Mette: The piece is indeed made out of many little extracts from previous pieces, as well as some new materials that we invented specifically for Rush, because the group choreographies were too inflexible to be staged for only one body. The performances we refer to are all quite different in terms of content, and we decided to embrace that and work on the idea of contrast. This means that the structure now goes from dealing with nudity, sexuality and joy, to dealing with pain, suffering, fighting, crying, screaming, dying, before returning again to pleasure and ecstasy.
The other day someone came to our rehearsal to see our first run-through and was very impressed by your capacity as a performer to constantly shift from one type of expression to another throughout the entire piece. She said that it was ‘almost mad’ – the extent to which you were able to transform your body between one piece of material and another. That made me connect Rush to a wider interest I have in ways of representing the ‘mad’, a link I hadn’t made myself until she said it.
At the moment I’m interested in our ability as humans to manage strong affective states, and how our bodies nowadays need to become more and more resilient to emotional pressure to thrive, because the world around us is becoming more and more devastating. Rush definitely didn’t start as a piece about that, but I think that’s what appears when your body moves through all these strong affective materials: the capacity of the body to deal with all these kinds of emotional states and use them to reshape and recompose itself like a chameleon.
Can you maybe speak about that, what it does to your body to traverse all these different states within one and the same piece?
Manon: To me the contrasting elements reinforce one another. I like what they do to each other. The soft caress is all the more sensual when it comes after a violent, stormy struggle. The deserted emptiness is all the more silent after an explosive outrage. There is something poetic in their coexistence, in how they follow one another in a continuum of different intensities. It is also interesting to me to be and present a body that goes through different things. A body that speaks but is also an image, a body that attracts and that repels, a joyful body, a body in pain, a body that is at times the protagonist and at times the supporter of other elements.
But strangely enough, I also find quite a sense of continuity throughout the works. Certain elements that return. Nudity in itself is an element that’s common to many pieces but also acts as a contrasting element in relation to the various topics it is associated with. It is as if one nudity turns into another and none are quite the same thing. And to be that body which traverses and is traversed by different situations is something worth portraying. A body that ‘lives through’, a body that ‘deals with’, a body that is not homogenous.
Something striking in the solo is that it actually doesn’t stage a dancing body so much, but rather a body that communicates through its materiality and expressive journey. A flesh that acts and is acted upon.
I wonder how that relates to WILD (yet another title we were thinking about) and this notion of ‘rewilding’ existing materials. Can you speak about what that means to you?
Mette: When we started working on Rush we were talking about how we could understand artistic practice as an ecosystem of ideas, practices, relations to the world, and relations between bodies, things, affects and feelings. We spoke about how going back to the simplest studio work, and to all the information that is stored within our bodies after 20 years of working together, could be the starting point for a new performance.
I think the process we developed for Rush, of crossing different scenes, strategies and approaches, creates a kind of cross-fertilisation between the pieces and that’s a way of trying to ‘protect’ the artistic practice by keeping it alive through reactivation. But of course our interest was also in examining how this approach could give rise to a new form of creation.
Manon: Indeed, isn’t there always a bit of rewriting involved when retelling a story?