Dance, as with most performance art forms, often relies heavily on strong collaborations; a synergy between movement and music, choreography and the body, lighting and sound.
This is a transcript from an interview that was first published on 26th of April 2018. This transcript has been edited slightly to help with clarity, the audio of this episode and more information can be found here.
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The interview started with a question how did you two meet and start collaborating?
Mirjam Sögner: We met back in 2014 in Vienna, we were both danceWEB-ers - which is a big scholarship program where you can take part in ImPulsTanz festival together with around 60 other international young dancers and makers who were spending a summer in Vienna. That's where our dialogue started. Renae shortly after moved to Berlin, and I invited her to be a part of my work the solo, LARA, which will also be performed at Dancehouse in May back to back with RESTORE which Renae is gonna talk about more later. She was helping me during a performance in Peterson, and we just continued our work together. [2:15]
Renae Shadler: And we also just really like each other. I think that is important in a collaboration. Now that it's 2018, we're both here in Melbourne working together intensively. Our working relationship began when we saw each other’s work at a saloon in DanceWEB, - these 60 young makers on the scholarship only have 15 minutes to show their work. It's very quick, but I was interested in the way Mirjam was moving and the way she was discussing her movement. It was embedded with the way she was thinking and her approach to living in the world, and I wanted to be around that. Mirjam was working with two visual artists who were making pieces for the ACCA, the Australian Center of Contemporary Art, she was choreographing, and I came on to work with them as text dramaturg and then I worked on RAISE Miriam’s solo and now we're making a duet together. It's been an amazing four years, both for friendship and ‘workship.’ [3:43]
Andrew: At the time of your meeting, what were your individual interests in terms of the elements and context you explored in your work?
Mirjam Sögner: 2014 was when I just started the whole movement research around the solo, LARA. I showed the first outcome in the saloon that Renae mentioned. What LARA and that movement research was dealing with, was the translation of digital movement patterns back on to my organic body. We took a lot from animated figures, email windows popping up when opened, and other screen related things, but my chief inspiration was how little figures from computer games would move through the course when you play a game. I would look closely at their errors and glitches, and the weird way they were trying to imitate our “natural movement.” Instead of correcting those errors, I would try to imitate them. And that creates this bizarre hybrid situation where it’s unclear within which reality the performer is operating. And that was a really detailed, rigorous movement research - just limiting myself to get this movement quality going. From there, a whole universe would open up. I would be able to make a piece out of a specific movement interest. That was what I was nerding out on back then.
Renae Shadler: [6:10] I had been to Europe a few times on various projects, and I was also working as an acting coach at Les Ballets C de la B on a project by Kaori Ito. I have a theatrical background… I trained at VCA in acting, and before that I did a year at AC Arts Adelaide in dance. I was in this cross-art form, doing a lot of participation work, also, because I was working in regional settings - people would approach me in Australia and say, “Hey, I've got this festival, can you make something for it? We want people to be engaged on the streets between this and this time on a Saturday morning.” I would be going out to Corangamite and doing that type of work with communities. It was exciting, and I got a lot out of it, but then I was also going over to Europe and working with physical theatre companies. I guess I was at a crosspoint in 2014, unsure of where I wanted to focus my energy. That interest is what led me to move to Europe permanently and really connect with Miriam. Then I had this moment of exploring and going into the body - I'm still discovering that and weaving it all together with my theatre and participation background. It's nice to be back in Australia with Mirjam working on this new version of ‘RESTORE the Solid’ that I'm presenting at Dance House. She’s helping me go further into the body, we’re just nerding out on that and my text and participation factors. It's all coming together very nicely. [8:00]
Andrew: You said your collaboration is based on a friendship. For you, what makes a good collaboration?
Renae Shadler: From the very beginning there was an interest in each other's work, but we just let it evolve slowly. Going to Pilsen for the Aerowaves festival with Mirjam and giving her feedback and assisting her in to dramaturgy roles and being in the studio together… it's the slow brewing that's really great. Something that Mirjam and I have which other collaborations I'm involved in don’t is a strong personal connection to the concept of the work. In Mirjam's recent solo raise that I worked on, which just premiered in Vienna at brut, it was very much her concept and I was her acting coach in helping her build the text. For ‘RESTORE’ I was Mirjam’s movement collaborator. The concept is really driven by me. We're very generous to each other's concepts and really embrace them fully. You're delving into the world of the other and helping the seeds grow – it’s given some helpful clarity. [9:44]
Mirjam Sögner: For me, artistic connection is an important aspect to maintaining a collaboration. We are very enthusiastic about our own practices. Renae and I are always pushing to make things happen. Just the fact that that there is another person that really wants to know and push the limits of an art form
is important to me. It creates a certain trust in each other's practice. I think knowing that we both kind of go for what's possible, like what Renae said. [11:00]
Andrew: Do you guys ever get annoyed with each other?
Mirjam Sögner: Not yet! But we still have six weeks ahead of us together in Australia, so we’ll wait and see!
Renae Shadler: Yeah, not at the moment. We have so much clarity with the concepts we make, we fully get behind them. For example, ‘RESTORE’ is about this perception of time acceleration in modern life, the very much Western world that Mirjam and I are a part of, which being also very linked to the future but then also nostalgia and images of the past we are close to. It’s how we deal with these different elements of time as we're living. It's nice that we're both really engaged in that idea of contemporary lifestyle. So, we would never get annoyed at one another - we might get annoyed at wanting something from the movement or the moment that we are at with the work, but that's in the work itself and not one another.
Andrew: How has collaborating changed your individual practices?
Renae Shadler: I’ve been dancing all my life, and the one thing I was really excited about when beginning to work with Mirjam was narrowing down into one very specific quality that we would work on again and again, and we would tease out all the different nuances she could find in this one quality, whereas I was moving quite quickly between projects before. It's quite interesting with ‘RESTORE’ because I started it during a residency in Iceland, and then I did a fringe version for Melbourne Fringe in 2016. But it never really got where it needed to go. It was about moving fast and time acceleration and skipping between things. But if I stayed with something and explored it, and brought in Mirjam's knowledge about the body, we could narrow it down and create something special. Through this collaboration, I've really learned to build something… I think it's an Australian practice to move on to the next thing quickly, because there isn't a big touring circuit. Whereas something that takes a long time to make and is a really good work, it can continue for years – there’s potential.
Mirjam Sögner: I think a big part of my role within ‘RESTORE’ is to look at what is already there, and like what Renae suggests, narrow it down and make it really strong, because my background is in I've contemporary dance, artistic research, and I’ve already done some choreographing within my BA
studies. I feel like my background helps me refine movement to its fullest potential. And I think when I met Renae at ImPulsTanz, I felt that was really a turning point. I introduced her to that discipline and she made it her own in her practice, not only as a dancer but a text-based artist as well.
Renae Shadler: I have a duet that I invited Mirjam into, and she saw that it was good, and we had a development at Tanzfabrik in Berlin last summer for the Open Spaces festival, and that was different – because Mirjam spoke on stage. And that was really exciting to go through because I have a strong voice pattern, so, we would do vocal warm ups and then take them into the body. We were beginning to cross over speaking and dancing and putting them together to form a unique performance that incorporated sounds and vocal training rather than just dance. In dance, sometimes you wish you could vocalize what the performance was about, so I’m going into the sounds and the movement and then thinking about how they go together and become accessible for an audience. Mirjam also spoke in her last solo when we went to Vienna together. [16:47]
Mirjam Sögner: I’m only just starting now. Renae has a lot of knowledge already regarding moving and talking, but I have no experience with speaking in a performance space. My work is so deeply rooted in the body, so sometimes I get a bit frustrated that I can’t articulate properly on stage, and sometimes the experience doesn’t transmit to the audience. This is where Renae’s expertise comes in and we get a great deal of work in the last work, RAISE, already mentioned, to implement text in to my work, and that was exciting. I was confused at first because it's new to me. I think it's the starting point.
Andrew: Is embodying spoken word more difficult?
Mirjam Sögner: Yeah. Just, I've been dancing for 10 years now and I’ve never spoken on stage - so there's a huge gap in expertise. Of course, I know how to be on a stage - I'm a performer, but it is still different with speaking. English isn’t my mother tongue, so being creative in my second language is difficult. I think I’m confronting it in the sense that I'm really used to seeing myself move on video, but I'm not used to see myself speaking yet. I think I just need to get more familiar with it, but there's still a lot to learn. My quality of moving is really somewhere else compared to speaking. [19:29]
Renae Shadler: We do use video a lot. As we're making work, I’m sure we aren’t the only ones, but we document on the computer and then watch it back using QuickTime to finesse something. Contemporary dance is about getting in to these different movement qualities. Sometimes choreographers who don’t work with that just remember the good bits, but I think with the rise of technology, the process of making work is really changing. “What’s alien that I do or don’t do? How do you see what I’m doing?” That's something I've learned from working together recently. Looking back at the footage and saying, “Okay, if I relax my elbows for that that phrase, there's a whole other realm of possibility that opens.” Becoming really detailed in where the tensions are, and how you are doing it, becomes important as well.
Mirjam Sögner: I'm talking about my practice most in the studio alone. There's no one outside giving me guidance or direction, so the computer becomes the collaborator. And without that, it's hard. I've recently worked on a project where I work mainly with a choreographer, but he would not give instructions, so a camera can be helpful.
Andrew: Obviously, movement and spoken word can be quite different performance realms. Are there messages that can be conveyed through movement that can't be spoken, and vice versa?
Mirjam Sögner: For me, I often like to think and be enthusiastic about movement. I'm interested in the space between things you can grasp. The movement qualities that I’m dealing with are hard to grasp and very specific, but it makes me happy. For me, that is a strength of moving. On a visceral level, there's a communication or understanding happening, which is very different to when you listen to a text. I think it addresses very different levels of our perception.
Renae Shadler: And it's also quite direct. Creating the fringe version of ‘RESTORE’ was like: movement section, text section, movement section, with just a little bit of bleeding in between, but they were very separate. When brought closer, you realize that sometimes the movement needs longer. With dance, it takes time for you to relax and find what interests you in it. Whereas, once you lay text on top, as English speakers, we just hold on to that. For example, we know stop means stop, and then people think more about what the stops in the movement they just saw were and about the stops that will come. That may be a silly example, but it gives you an idea of how we create meaning. Design is very prevalent in dance, and that also helps with these more physical worlds. It’s being very present and influencing how we're using movement and words. [24:32]
Mirjam Sögner: I find a lot of difficulties when you start combining text and body. To push what Renae said a little further, the text graphs, your perception quickly, it illustrates what the body does. And that's unfortunate, for me at least. Neither of us are interested in that. We are trying to carve out what the strengths both of these art forms have and what they can and cannot articulate, because they are so different. I think it's a big question we’ll incorporate in to our process, and what we want to dive in to next. It’s a relevant question to both of us, wondering how we can both exist on stage without weakening the other.
Andrew: In terms of both art forms generally, what can they say that other disciplines or spaces can’t?
Renae Shadler: I think the experience of people coming together to see a live performance - like a congregation and a ritual around that, is still something I find important for a community, like how the thespians and the Greeks came together to the amphitheater. It’s very dear to me. There is a digitalization of this world now, and it’s funny how people come together to see real bodies and get the digital – but there is something in this liveness which is totally addicting. And it’s a special world to be apart of.
Mirjam Sögner: What’s relevant for me right now is how to shift the digital space we experience on to a bigger level - to really look at the physical response of our organic physical being, not only to this but to how the world which has mostly been physical so far has been overtaken by alternative realities we create, and what kind of imprint that leaves on our body. I think movement patterns can reveal a lot about that. It’s relevant and interesting because of how the contemporary experience is so vastly changing.
Renae Shadler: That’s something I've been seeing a lot of performance work through. There is also an issue of what is accessible – now, we’re talking from an artist perspective, and getting in to the nitty gritty of how dance works. But there is also that thing about translation and communication. And I think contemporary dance is alienating for a lot of people. I was recently at Showcase Victoria, talking with regional presenters who have performing arts venues, and they had no idea how to get contemporary dance schools to come to a show. It was also about this movement, and the fact that everyone is generally walking around talking to each other – these aren’t new ways of being in the world. It's just that where we're using them to tap into ideas we'd like to share with people who sit down and watch it or participate in it. I would like to see the contemporary dance hierarchy become more accessible over time. Obviously so much could be said about that, and whilst I want to go off on this international regional thing which I'm totally championing at the moment, but we can leave that to another conversation. But it is interesting that Mirjam and I are working at Dancehouse but we're also going out to Plympton Inc. in Castlemaine and also in Adelaide. I come from Bunbury in Western Australia and Mirjam comes from Salzburg, Austria so we are pushing the accessibility of contemporary dance and getting out of just metropolitan cities. We're slowly getting there. [30:36]
Mirjam Sögner: When it comes it our work I think it is important to be very specific in our questions, so that the outcome speaks for itself. So that no matter how conceptual we get, what we put on stage can be grasped and experienced without the need for a long conversation beforehand or afterward. they can It’s important that you don't have to explain everything, but that can also be alienating. You can’t always put what you see in a box of certainty but it’s important that you are moved. [31:25]
Renae Shadler: Yeah, I think that is so important. ‘Crystal’ has this crocheted rug that my great aunt Jeanette made, and I’ll describe how each square of the rug took four hours to make. You see these colorful crocheted squares and you can see the audience beginning to count them, and then I do a dance with the rug and you almost see time performing. It’s interesting that very serious crochet-ers will turn up to watch the show. It’s another point of entry - it's a way of connecting with something, and then connecting that with movement. It’s something new. And there are a few moments like that in ‘LARA’ as well. I think it's interesting that you develop an awareness of the audience and the communication that you want to have, knowing when to take risks and overall to just enjoy the time that people are getting to spend sharing and giving ideas.
Andrew: So you’ve all got all these developments going on in May, but what’s next for you for the rest of the year?
Renae Shadler: We have six weeks together in Australia after the Dancehouse double bill of ‘RESTORE’ and ‘LARA.’ We are going to continue working on the duet Mirjam and I are working on, which has had a lot of positive feedback so far and comes from a concept that I've been developing for a while. So, I'm directing that piece and then we are going to Adelaide with that for another workshop and showing, and then it will have its European premiere at the Performing Arts Festival in Berlin in June, and then I’ll go off to work on another project in Finland for a month whilst Mirjam continues with ‘LARA.’
Mirjam Sögner: Yeah, so ‘LARA’ is going to open the Soul Dance Festival in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. And then June is an exciting time because I’ll get the phone call letting me know if I’ve got the funding for my next project or not.
Renae Shadler: Or maybe the duet could just go off and we’ll continue sharing time.
Mirjam Sögner: As always, time is uncertain.
Renae Shadler: And that uncertainty accelerates time!