Tell us a bit about your background, where you are from, how you got in to dance.
I have been living in the UK now for the last 12 years but I am originally from Jerusalem, Israel. I also spent many years living in Tel Aviv which I loved!
I think I always loved dancing, and I always danced apparently – even though I started walking very late my parents often tell me that since I was 4 I just wanted to dance. Though I think that it got really serious for me when I was a teenager, and then really really serious in my mid 30s. I think that before that I couldn’t commit to it, only when I understood that this is the only thing I truly want to dedicate myself to could I claim my place and space and voice, and this is when I truly went for it.
I have to say that my relationship to dance was never a straight forward one. In my early twenties, after dancing and teaching for a while I realised that I need to do something for society; dance felt too self-observed, too self-centred, and I wanted to do something with my love to dance, I wanted to help people with this, and this is why I went to study dance movement therapy. However after my studies I soon realised that in fact I wanted to choreograph. Whilst I was studying an MA at Trinity – Laban, I had to create something for my final exam and it was there that I realised that this is it! Though from that moment until I actually really had the courage to pursue this a few years went by… courage, I realised, is something that changes with age…
My work and my background as a dance movement therapist informs very much my journey into choreography and my journey as a choreographer since then. In a sense, the social aspect of dance and choreography and more than that the emotional aspect of it are very intriguing for me. Not in the way of an emotional expression but rather in the way of how art and emotions combine into an artistry and aesthetics. I look at life as emotional journeys, I understand the world through my emotions first of all, and this of course feeds my work completely.
How did you create these works, Air Hunger and Free Falling? What processes did you use? Do you always go through a similar process?
For many years now I wanted to create a piece that somehow presents different anxieties I became familiar with while studying and working as a dance movement therapist. Some of the stories I heard in the therapy room (or studio) touched me very deeply, and I felt I needed to somehow share them. Of course not revealing any details but rather trying to create an experience that somehow provokes the feelings these people shared with me.
Air Hunger started by looking at anxiety attacks. It had been named like this because when there is an anxiety attack the body experiences lack of air – it is of course a psychological feeling rather than a physical one – and it is a real shock to the system because the person believes he/she is experiencing a heart attack and they feel they are going to die.
Free Falling initially started by exploring the fear of falling. Something, which I believe we can all experience sometimes, but when in a severe scenario this fear can prevent people from walking, from leaving their houses, every step they make feels as a risk which might end in a fall which will have no recover. This of course links to a psychological fear of failing.
My creative process starts with me offering a subject matter to the dancers. I introduce the subject matter by leading different improvisation tasks and exploration. It always starts with the body, with the physical. From these long improvisation tasks I start to pick the things, images, physical landscapes, dynamics and different group dynamics that are relevant, that touch me as a human and as an observer and that stir my imagination. I then start to delve deeply into them, I explore them further, and I combine them slowly together until I shape a structure and a meaning. It is a never ending story though, because as long as we perform the piece I keep changing it.
This means that I look for very specific dancers/performers. And besides having dancers that master their body and physicality (rather than mastering a technique) they also need to be quite unusual human beings. The rehearsal process is very exposing, the level of exhaustion – both physically and mentally – is often very challenging, which means that the group dynamic is so crucial. I need to feel that I can trust them and that they can trust each other and me. We all share quite a lot during the rehearsal –because I believe this creates a real bond between all of us; a bond that is very much needed during the performances as well.
My work is a delicate balance between improvisations and set material or set moments, though the improvisation tasks are very strict. This gives the dancers quite a lot of freedom, or a kind of freedom during the performances to make decisions and to hold a very interesting ownership of what they do.
I work collaboratively with all the artists involved, and through a long dialogue we find something that matches our aesthetics.
Where did the idea for the music come from? Why Sabio Janiak?
The music in this piece was very important to me and I needed a very special composer and person for that. Sabio was the perfect choice.
Sabio and I have been working together for quite a while. He accompanies my dance classes around London and I collaborated with him for the community project On Falling and Recovering.
I think that Sabio and I have something really quite similar in our approach. Sabio comes with quite a vast holistic background. He looks at music as a source of healing, there is something very fresh and intuitive about his music and these things really suit my way of working. This collaboration led to such a fascinating and emotional journey for both of us.
Tell us about your community work and the work you’re doing alongside this tour i.e. the site responsive performance in the foyer / building to open the show.
I always had a great passion to engage dance in the community. I didn’t want to distinguish my choreographic practice from the people. I want my work to be created with them, through them; I want the work to talk to them. I love of course the artistic side of dance but also its social and humanistic possibilities. How dance can help us meet others and ourselves from a raw and emotional place, how the moving body can help us communicate, take risks and embrace vulnerability, the sensitivity it can develop, the ability to listen; the ability to own an ownership over our body, and the sense of grounding and a centre it can help us develop.
Therefore alongside my work with professional dancers and with my company I also work with the community with those who might not have so much experience in dance but that just want to move.
I started by doing a very big community project about 3 years ago called Air Hunger. That was probably the first time I decided to really pursue community and professional work together. They didn’t perform together on that project but the topic I used in my community and professional work was the same. Then when I came to create Free Falling, the second piece in the Double Bill we are touring, I decided that I wanted to somehow try to find a way (my way) to combine the community into my professional work (this of course isn’t a new thing – though it is for me).
It started by researching with 30 non professional dancers over a period of six months in which we met once a month for a lengthy rehearsal in which we looked at the notion of falling and recovering. Though very soon the notion of falling became a need for help, a need for support. In July 2015 we invited an audience to see what we had created, this performance or shall I say interactive experience was so successful that we decided to extend the project into a much larger one. And when I say ‘we’ I mean the participants and myself. The project was then commissioned by The Place with 60 participants and was performed in July 2016. I have to say that the 3 performances, which were basically improvised, an interactive promenade for over 300 people in total, were quite outstanding and overwhelming. I haven’t experienced such a warm atmosphere in a performance before, people were hugging, people who didn’t know each other were hugging and kissing, old people, disabled people, babies, were all part of the interactive jam we created. The idea is to take this community project to venues where we will be performing Free Falling, where it will then be performed prior to the show.
Where next? Any future projects in the pipeline?
Oh yes – a big project that combines the professional company with the community. I wouldn’t like to reveal the topic right now, even though it is very present in my head, heart and research. I will also be starting to work on a solo.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about …in the middle with you?
This is the first piece I have choreographed in which I am not performing. It represents a big change in the way I work. I feel that not performing in the piece allowed me to fantasise more – to be braver – and to really identify with my work, message and aesthetics. It also really allowed me to fall in love once more with the act of choreographing.
2. What does ‘being in the middle’ mean to you?
‘The middle’ represents the everyday, the routine, a sense of repetition. This is a concept that in many ways scares me. It is a place that I tend to avoid and at the same time, a place I strive for. Dramas are there for us to deal with but the everyday is a place to survive… not to give in to. During the research process, I felt that we were there for each other; the dancers and me and later on other collaborators. The process was and is really demanding: physically, emotionally and mentally (as I believe a process should be – both in life and art). So we rely on each other in order to ‘survive’ it – in order to overcome the hard times. This why ‘with you’ is there as well. I don’t believe we can survive the mundane without others. …in the middle with you, for me, means that we can find the positive in the grey moments in life.
3. How much of the piece is based on the casts’ and your personal stories and why is that important to you?
This piece (like my other works) started in an autobiographical exploration. We explored personal stories, emotions and memories. However, when I started to structure the piece I was very keen to step away from individual literal stories. Or rather, I was looking for images that can abstract the personal and the private. It is a passion of mine to start from a personal place and then find the poetry in it, and create ambiguity and abstraction. I believe that the personal aspect is important only when it evokes a universal sense of humanity.
4. You also ask the audience ahead of the show to contribute to these stories (via your blog and social media), how do you incorporate the audience’s stories into this piece?
The stories of others always give me a lot of information about shared experience. In many ways, we are all very different but somehow we are getting affected by things, people, energies, emotions and stories in similar ways. When I’m reading other people’s stories, I try to analyse how they make me feel, look at similarities in sensations and emotions that people share. And then, when I come to choreograph and structure the piece, I have these experiences in mind. It give me a lot of indication of where I can take the piece to, what kind of an emotional journey I am working on in the choreography.
The piece had evolved so much – in many ways, it is almost a new piece. There is new text, different elements, different transitions, more detailed movement vocabulary. Different energies and different bond between the dancers on stage. Time did its’ magic on the piece – there’s more depth, more maturity.
Multi faceted, collaborative arts projects are notoriously difficult to manage. Sponsors’ interests can conflict, perspectives can differ with endless discussions about tone. But a recent world premiere – Hagit Yakira’s Air Hunger – at the studios of Yorkshire Dance has, perhaps definitively, put paid to this myth.
Within the framework of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, a modernistic, audience feedback loop, we are shown artistic innovation from Leeds University seamlessly integrating with Breakfast Creatives’ digital design thinking in a choreographic marvel from Ms Yakira. Ms Yakira digs deep into human relationships, their essence, their tensions, their emotional range. With an MA in European Theatre Dance, she has taught throughout Europe and is currently undertaking a PhD in choreography from Trinity Laban.
In December 2014 I went to Norway to teach an old piece I created many years ago for Takeshi and me. In that duet there is a moment we both have our eyes closed and in a disturbing, confusing, and in times indulging sequence of contact we hold each other noses. We struggle with each other and with having no air, trying to deal with what intimacy can sometimes create- a sense of comfort, suffocation and challenge.
While teaching this duet to the beautiful dancers in Norway I decided I have to create a piece about breath. At that time I didn’t know why, I couldn’t explain and I didn’t want to. For hours, during the dark nights of Norway, I was surfing in the Internet, listening to stories of people experiencing having no air, of struggling to breath. I listened to people’s instructions of how it’s best to breath. I read about panic attack, about drowning, about babies who were just born and started breathing, I read stories of old people who died when inhaling and others who died exhaling. These stories became like my heroin, my oxygen. I felt hungry, I wanted more. I felt breathless.
I came back from Norway and started to work on my new project – Air Hunger. For weeks I didn’t know why I am doing it and what to do with it, and then one day it hit me.
Since the last 10 years in London, all I did was escaping the need to suspend. No suspension in London. There isn’t time nor space for it. Once suspending the ‘process of becoming’ is in danger. So embodied it is, that even when leaving London, the sense of emergency takes over. It takes over so much that suspending becomes collapsing. Suspension is intense, it’s indulging, it opens the gaze, the torso, it stretches the chest, it requires to inhale, it requires to exhale, it challenges balance, trust, connectivity to the floor to ones’ body. Suspension allows interaction, which allows intimacy, which allows reflection, which allows breath.
For the last two months every Sunday I am forced to think about breath. It’s like learning from the beginning how to breath. Actually it is more – it is to make a decision whether one choses to breath. It’s a decision, and it requires courage. It requires training. It’s painful. There is an empty space, alas, empty! A sudden quiet that re challenge intimacy, connectivity, and simplicity.
Let me end with a story. I was sitting in café the other day and I could not NOT hear a conversation between two women. This is what I heard: ‘so you see, I go there at least once a week, it doesn’t matter if it’s cold or not, and I jump into the water and it’s freezing, fucking freezing. And I can’t breath for a few second, and then I have to think very carefully about my breath. Every inhale and every exhale count, cause if I do too much or too less I really feel the cold, and oh my god! It’s fucking cold. And I feel so alive in those moments; I don’t know what it is, all I do is thinking about my breath… ONLY thinking about how to breath. Go figure’.
And there I was, suspend, suspending, suspended…
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