This transcript is from an interview that was first published on 17th of August 2018. It is a warm interview that covers so much of Bruno’s work. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
Transcripts are a new initiative of Delving into Dance and over the following months we will be experimenting with the form of the transcripts, we welcome any feedback regarding the form and layout. These transcripts are paid for through the support of audiences and supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria. It would be wonderful to have your contribute to this initative. You can contribure here.
Started by asking Bruno, where did dance start? [1:23]
Bruno Isaković: It started when I was 17, I started going to evening classes. One girl invited me because actually, there you go for your podcast that was taking drugs in on parties, this trance parties. Croatian parties in the 90s, were pure liberation - just after the war, everybody was searching for new things. There was a very friendly, loving culture. We went out and kept on dancing till we dropped, and a girl that I met at this party said, “You need to go to this dance class! Come, come, come. I went, and the teacher was just drilling me constantly. She put me in a couple of her performances, and this is how dance started for me. And then I started to seek more professional jobs. I used dance to escape from Croatia, so I could study abroad. But I loved it because some waves took me away from all the things that I couldn't connect with in Croatia - I was always marginalized. And as a gay boy, growing up, I thought, “Fuck this, I'm just going to Holland.” I started at a dance academy. [3:05]
Andrew: When you started dancing, in terms of using your body as an escape, what was it like as a practice for you?
Bruno Isaković: I didn't know. I was very young. I didn't think of it as a practice or anything. Back then, I had a very superficial idea about dance… I was in love with the beautiful figures. I wanted to be a contemporary dancer but Batsheva or something. I don't have this idea of dance anymore. It was almost like thinking of an exotic Island. During my study, I slowly molded more into doing what I'm interested in. I was teaching a lot as well when I finished my proper dance technique classes. But then, my interest was washed away by a loss of interest, honestly. So yeah,
Andrew: Why did you lose interest?
Bruno Isaković: I lost interest because I wasn’t dancing properly enough. Like, just dancing beautifully. Abstract dance doesn't have meaning for me. It can be virtuosic, it can amaze me - when somebody is fantastic, and I really enjoy looking at it, but it doesn't motivate me to communicate in the back in the same fashion.
Andrew: So what motivates you now?
Bruno Isaković: What motivates me now is how we use our bodies, and how we perceive the body, and how we connect to the world, just by being aware of ourselves. For many of my performances, I explore the subject of body as a reflection of society.
Andrew: What is it you want to reflect back on society?
Bruno Isaković: Nothing. I create things that are reflected by themselves. I just need to make something weird enough that produces interest for observation. This is what motivates me… the performances that you see Denuded, super simple, and stupid when you describe them. For example, a person could just stand naked in front of you and breath. And you could make jokes, like “yeah, he’s a breather” but do you really connect with it? like the reflection of observing eyes having this connection and feedback loop is being created…. we're just creating something super simple and going back to the basics of what the body can do and what moves it. [6:38]
Andrew: So essentially, the audience is looking at your naked body in this performance, so is there a voyeuristic element potentially at play?
Bruno Isaković: But it is also not, because I am looking back. Not like the magazines from the 60s or 50s, it’s more like accepted tourism. I'm more the voyeur here because I'm observing them observing me. And this is then putting me in the power position. But we are both in the agreement.
Andrew: In my PhD, interviewing many different people, there is something that came up quite frequently around the desire of the audience – that the idea of the audience watching the body and sought to elicit desiring from the audience…
Bruno Isaković: I think every performance needs to be exhibitionist in some way. But it needs to have an actual background, why are you doing this. I am fulfilling some selfish needs in this performance, in this performance but I also feel that they also, it’s an agreement.
Andrew: I guess it's that contract. Isn't that buying a ticket with a certain expectation but then also you're breaking that expectation?
Bruno Isaković: Yeah. It'll be just like my own practice otherwise. You don't meditate in front of other people, you do it for yourself, right? Why would I dance if I didn't love the audience?
Andrew: Nudity is a feature in a lot of your work. Why is nudity so sexualized in dance?
Bruno Isaković: It is different in each culture, I remember this story where there was this San Francisco porn producer watched my performance. And then afterwards, he said that he needed 30 minutes to stop observing my body as a sex object. And then in Japan and Peru, there was no mention of sex. I think it really depends on culture to culture. In our western world where pornographic image is so widely presented, yes, of course, you connect nudity immediately to sexuality, but context is important - because nudity and nakedness is different. [10:11]
Andrew: What's your distinction between the two?
Bruno Isaković: English is not my mother language, so I don't know to describe it. When I’m undressing, I feel naked – when I’m nude, I don’t. It's more the process of undressing and the expectation of what is coming after, or why you are undressing, or who for. Every time I go perform, this is the most significant moment emotionally for me. It’s a way of disrobing myself.
Andrew: I think that's a common experience for people who go to nude beaches or naked events. It's ‘disrobing’ that is the shift between the accepted to the body being present.
Bruno Isaković: For me, I had a chance to experience ‘disrobing’ many times. One of my dancers reminded me of that… when we were doing a Denude group piece, consisting of 11 people, we played with the material. We had stories about nudity. We shared the same experience, because she is also a dancer - she studied in Austria. She was, like me, posing a lot for painters and sculptors as a model to earn her living for school. She said she doesn't have a problem being naked in front of them, but each time she came to the room, and they were all behind the panels waiting for her to undress, she didn't know how to turn. Is it awkward that she's or should she do it like this, and it is a really interesting process. But it's an interesting process for me. I was doing it a lot in Holland, posing for painters and sculptors – and I felt the same way. [12:37]
Andrew: I’ve read a fantastic review for your work ‘Disclosure.’ Was that a part of your work with these performers?
Bruno Isaković: Disclosure was inspired by the work Denuded. It's about the body and the physical tensions that connect us, and understanding the habitual tensions we have, and how breath functions in accordance to that, and how you can manipulate yourself with breath, and how we forget to breathe in our bellies, and all sorts of organic things that are lost during the buildup of our characters. So, I did Denuded as for solo for myself. And then I gave it to a girl in Croatia, and I also set it up with a Filipino boy in Hong Kong. And of course, every performance is different, because it’s a different vessel with different meanings. The ways his breath functions with his body tension, and with his culture, and with his insecurities and fears. Disclosure came afterwards – it came from the story that I was telling you about, the girl who had the experience of fundraising in front of painters and sculptors. I thought “Wow, this is such an interesting thing!” So, I was building up on moments from life that change who you are or define the course of your life. I’m sure we can all find moments that would have changed everything if they hadn’t of happened. And that for me, is dance. If I didn’t discover dance, I don’t know where I’d be. I’m scared to think of it, because I was going to technical school in Croatia, and my future wasn't looking bright in that sense. And then we started to connect with nudity and what it means to society. [15:02]
Andrew: So what are some of those questions or challenges that artwork can introduce to society or throw to an audience?
Bruno Isaković: A lot of my work is dealing with fragility of a performing person. I'm interested in that fragile openness. For me, that's not something to hide. It’s the tension I want to work with. This is what I found out through Disclosure - many people after the show told me they could see their insecurities represented. For example, they were also questioning how they were handling their own breasts. A girl said that she was always hiding her breasts, constantly collapsing and putting her shoulders down, because as she was going through puberty, they grew larger, and she hated it because everybody started to look at them. And then she would just close her shoulders to hide her breasts – so they were flat under a t-shirt. So, she developed this posture, building up a tension in her body. And that's a very interesting thing to discover - the body reflects society because she didn't hide herself of her own free will, she hid herself because others were looking - and for a very specific reason. That’s the thing, it's not a problem that you see, it's a problem with girls think that when it's revealed, what does it mean? [16:58]
Andrew: There's so many tensions around the body and how it’s idealised. I think dancers reflect on their own bodies more frequently. I've got a whole chapter in my thesis where I talk about the expectation around bodies, and how people professionally negotiate the expectations of the artistic director or the choreographer regarding appearance.
Bruno Isaković: I agree, especially in ensemble situation. It’s competitive. It’s not just about how you look but also how relaxed you are about how you.
Andrew: There is one example where somebody told me that they stand differently within the rehearsal room, because the artistic director said, “You need to stand more confidently, you need to take up more space!” And suddenly, they’ve got an insecurity about how they stand.
Bruno Isaković: [18:37] And this connects very well to what [name] said - I'm quoting him because it's really nice that he said, like today, “it's not a guilt to fulfill your desires” what was before a big guilt like you should be more Victorian and but today “You will have guilt if you don't fulfill your desires.” So, it's more like it's the opposite from what it was before.
Andrew: So, in many respects, does your work challenges some of those normative expectations?
Bruno Isaković: I’d say for the general population, yes, but it really depends on the context. In Croatia? Definitely. As a performance, ‘Denuded’ challenged a lot in Croatia – religion, patriarchy… it’s always been tough, we had war recently, so it is a kind of culture where you don't reveal your insecurities and your fragility.
Andrew: Obviously Croatia is famous for its nude beaches, I’ve been to quite a few. It was quite interesting how the visibility of the naked body and overt sexuality manifested itself.
Bruno Isaković: The idea of a nude beach, it's kind of like an agreement. “Who goes there? I don't want to go there. Everything happens there.” We don't want to know about it. Croatians are like that – it’s a wall. [21:40]
Andrew: Whereas in Australia, those beaches would be shut down because they would be considered “too obscene.” Not that we have a shortage of beaches either. So, in terms of ‘Denuded’ in different contexts, does the work for you change when it's presented in different spaces?
Bruno Isaković: Yeah. I get inspired by the local region of the areas I perform in. For example, in Japan, I felt such respect towards Buddhist culture. Because my mind & soul is so sustained in the breath and in the intention of the body. And it has a culture of minimalism and understanding of even what the slightest movement of a finger means. And later when talking with the audience of my performance, somebody compared it to an anthropology of human development. In San Francisco, it was unavoidable to not run into the sexual dimension of the work. In Peru, it was more mystical, it was more about the meaning of the spirit and how it interacts, and the breath became something spiritual – not in a religious sense, but something that was in line with their background and indigenous culture. In Serbia, it was so burdened with nationalism and religion. I was even going there in a sense of, as I was breathing, I was passing through the position of Jesus Christ with some gesticulations of my hands. I was inspired by the local region of where I was performing. [24:00]
Andrew: When people look at you perform, you'd have to be quite aware of how people are receiving it. Is it hard to ignore or get signal?
Bruno Isaković: Everything is there, so you don't want to ignore it. That's why I'm there. I want to get everything from you. Even if you don't like what you're seeing. That information will instruct me on what to do next. Like today, I had a workshop of ‘Denuded’ And we were discussing about what to do with that kind of insecurity. Because the person is trapped with a solo - he doesn’t have anything to look at. He can look at his watch, okay, but whatever. So, if you do have a connection with this person, who may feel uncomfortable connecting with you, or he looks away from you just because you looked at him, it’ll eventually bring a better understanding of him and why he looked away from you. It's interesting when this happens for me on the stage – it becomes a bit of a game. I was doing this for so long in the beginning, during my premiere it was close to a fiasco. It was silly of me, because everybody came - people who loved me, people who hated me, people who were just interested because it was a nude performance. It was really stressful for me. And then later it became more of a game when I left Croatia. This is interesting too - I did a group performance and we debuted it in Budapest and Italy. And the performance felt much looser. But for the Croatian premier, everyone is sort of stuck. Because everybody you know comes to watch you - your mother, your sister, your brother, boyfriend, people who hate you, people who love you. But then when we went to New York, they were destroying it - they were really doing the best performances ever. It made me realize there was still a lot of harm trapped in Croatia for me. This distance then purified all the garbage that was in my mind. Now I can perform in Croatia with no problems. Anonymity helps a lot, because the performance is really personal – I don’t want to look in to the audience and see the seats filled by my ex-boyfriend. It sounds silly, but it was my first nude performance. [27:47]
Andrew: How do you prepare mentally for that?
Bruno Isaković: I’ll usually drink a glass of wine. But, seriously, I just throw myself inside of the performance because every time is different and now I can observe the feedback loop I get from the audience. It’s got its own integrity.
Andrew: And do you think, in a broader sense, dance is a space to interrogate or challenge ideas? What do you want to achieve through dance?
Bruno Isaković: I think it can be, if you know what you are doing. There's a lot of hidden messages and symbolism still in the body that people need to digest, so dance for me is a tool that I love to communicate that with. I'm not occupied with delivering something that the general audience likes, what I'm interested in is at least moving one person in the audience. If one person feels motivated by it, or the performance resonates with him, in a sense that it will guide his thoughts, or fulfill him emotionally in some way – that is a great thing. [29:35]
Andrew: And I think even a negative response shows that they were not sitting there passively, even if they are responding in a visceral way. Do you find reviews helpful?
Bruno Isaković: I like to read reviews that have research put in to them, I love to read in reviews things that I didn't even knew about my performance. I don’t like “scripted” reviews – like when they describe every detail of the performance and what happened. What do we get from reviews like that? For me, it's more about somebody referring, reading and researching.
Andrew: Does it change your performance in any way?
Bruno Isaković: Sometimes. I loved a review from Tasmania - last time I was performing in Australia, at the Salamanca theatre. I loved the way this reviewer read the performance. It was lovely to read how she connected to the somatic experience, and what she saw and what motivated her to think more in-depth about it.
Andrew: In terms of running a workshop like you did today, how do you impart your experiences within a workshop setting?
Bruno Isaković: I share a lot of my private insecurities and things like that. I always have integrity and speak about my power and my fears. This is something that is built on trust. I don’t ask the same from them, but I get them to say how they are feeling with performance. For example, today, I got them naked in 10 minutes, because we started to talk, and then I undress, and we just continue talking about breath - we don't make a big deal out of it. Then we start to speak about the body, nudity, sexuality - and then amazing dialogues are open because they are in a safe environment. As I said, this performance is completely about fragility, and the tensions we create to hide that. [33:03]
Andrew: And what is that association between gender and sexuality? Your work deals heavily in the intersection between gender and sexuality and bodies. Dance is a very rich space exploration for that.
Bruno Isaković: When I was doing this performance workshop, I had two lawyers, one 50-something primary school teacher, two people from the street who are now doing theater and dance workshops, I had a lady working in a grocery store… and again, I describe nudity to these people came and the biggest challenge to get naked was dancers to actors, the biggest problem was to get undressed was them. It was amazing for me to discover this in a culture that is very much oppressed by religion and patriarchy. When I ran a workshop in Russia, it was the opposite. I felt insecure doing the workshop even. So, I switched it because I know I’m not going to get anywhere with them. It's going to be a torture for the both of us. I asked them, “would you ever?” and she said, “No, no, no, no, no.” In Russia, the environment is completely different. And sometimes you need to be smart, you need to know when to give up. [35:16]
Andrew: So for somebody who is not a performer, their body and experience must be so different.
Bruno Isaković: Their bodies are so different! The way they utilize their breath and the body tension, too. Of course, those parties are not fully aware of every movement they make, they don’t fully understand their bodies. But that is exactly where this beautiful fragility comes in place, because it's so suspended in body tension and breath that it gives them a safe zone. They don’t need to worry about missing steps, they just need to follow their own experience. It was amazing. Afterwards, they even made a Facebook group, and they're still meeting each other, messaging each other, and going to workshops together. They're still connected. [36:33]
Andrew: There is something about removing all those barriers to communication as well. Like the tensions and the ways that we can set ourselves up in opposition to other people – you’re removing these limitations and tensions.
Bruno Isaković: I had amazing experience with them, we all connected so well. And it was really something new for them. They felt proud of themselves, of what they could do – for coming so far. I really felt that it had inspired them and made them feel more open and relaxed.
Andrew: In terms of somebody listening to this and not being able to go to a workshop, how can they think about or look at their own body? Are there ways that people can access these feelings in their private lives?
Bruno Isaković: I’m not sure. My work is a really public thing. We all do things in private, and it's easy. I think you just need to get out of the closet, otherwise there is no point – you’re just hiding. Of course, there will be some people that need to take it step by step though.
Andrew: What are you working on now?
Bruno Isaković: I'm doing a new group performance, and it will be all about different kinds of shaking, and how shaking can be used to communicate between bodies and the sharing of vibrations. Shaking is very common in everyday life – when we nod to say yes, or shake our heads to say no, and when we fuck we do shaking movements as well. I'm going to have nine people going through an hour and a half of shaking transitions between them. This is my next project to be premiered.