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Talking with Liz Santoro & Pierre Godard

By Matthew Lyons

Feb 26, 2016

On the US premiere of their latest work, For Claude Shannon , Liz Santoro and Pierre Godard spoke with Curator Matthew Lyons. Having worked together for the last five years, Santoro and Godard continue their investigations taken up in the previous work, Relative Collider , on the relays between movement and text, the neurophysics of attention and presence, and the transfer of information or communication in performance.

Matthew Lyons: How did you begin developing this new work, coming off of the previous work, Relative Collider?

Pierre Godard: The first impetus for the new piece was to reverse the process that took place in Relative Collider, using movement structures to compose a text and then injecting variability in the text material, yet with a very similar desire to find new contact points between the two mediums. We were interested, on a performative level, in the ephemerality of the text in Relative Collider and asked ourselves if we could use some textual structures to compose a choreographic sequence that would embed a high level of variability. Which raised a lot of new questions and problems – about interfaces, translation, the necessity to learn something new each time to escape the empowerment vs. implementation aporia. We also wanted to get a bit deeper into our metaphoric usage of the concept of entropy, our intuition that it could serve as a fresher replacement for dramaturgy to guide composition, and in a way, I imagine, become less metaphoric about it and craft some new tools.

ML: And these new tools serve something about the communication between performers and audience, or even among performers themselves?

PG: They serve both. When I use the word “tool,” I’m mostly thinking of communication strategies and skills, as well as the capacity to process information in a somatic way, so that involves what’s at stake between the performers themselves as much as their relationship to the audience. Something quite unexpected happened in fact and we only realized it when the piece found its final form. By reversing the process in order to go from text structures to movement, we also reversed the modality for the interaction of the performers with the audience. If Relative Collider seemed to push towards the emergence of individualities from a common weft, For Claude Shannon very much leads to the synthesis of a group entity from singular presences. The dancers have developed a very high sensitivity to check in with each other, in a visual or auditory manner. As we work, we talk a lot about tuning-in or tuning-out, and about interferences, like with an old transistor radio, where an imperceptible move on the knob can take you from a clear frequency to a mostly noisy place, and then maybe back to another clear frequency. There’s an infinity of nuances in the level of clarity or noise that we can try to reach. In a way it has to do with improvising something extremely written and going past the apparent contradiction of that, crafting the singularity of every movement in relation to oneself and one another. Ultimately, I think the performers can start to communicate with the audience as a unique body once they’ve established a deep enough communication among themselves, letting go of most of the score’s constraints and building a larger capacity to emit and receive signals. In other words, trying to still be connected together and with the audience, but without a predetermined (though changing every night) program.

ML: Each time the piece is performed, the dancers learn a new sequence of movement (based on the syntactic structure of a sentence by theorist Claude Shannon) for the two hours just prior to the audience being let into the room. Opening night was the third public performance of the piece so far. How has repetition been affecting the work?

Liz Santoro: Up until the premier performance, all of us didn't know if it was actually possible to do this in front of an audience. Or at least what would happen when our nervous systems were dealing with the 100+ other bodies in the space watching us. We speak often of what we call the "abyss," or precipice where your body completely blanks out and loses the score. As Cynthia once astutely pointed out, if you lose the score it's not that it's gone, it's that it was replaced by something else–another thought, sensation, information. The fact that we built the structure of the actual piece (not speaking of the score structure here) such that the four performers are completely interdependent throughout the 50 minutes and that we are inviting this communication with the audience, means that we are always at the mercy of our physical capacity to regulate all this input. However, as we go into the third performance it is true we are better at learning the score than we were just before the premier. The muscle of integrating the structure is stronger. Yet paradoxically this can make the piece harder. I found just in the past two days that my "dancer body" can start to overpower because the physical integration is more efficient but what I lose is sensitivity to the others, to the audience, to my attention to the present moment, the present nanosecond, that I have access to constantly when I cannot "own" even one movement of an arm or one straightening of a knee.

ML: Can you clarify that last thought?

LS: Yes. When a movement is fully integrated into the body it can remain there for a very long time, even forever. There are choreographies I learned as an adolescent during my ballet training that are still my body that I am not even aware of–for example, I can happen upon a video of a ballet I have no recollection of learning 20 years ago and I can suddenly reproduce the movement out of seemingly no where. As our integration "muscles" get stronger with the structure used in this piece our bodies are able to grab onto and hold onto the score more quickly which allows the body to more quickly find efficiency in the day's movement score. However, the challenge this efficiency elicits is that we can potentially zip through the score slightly faster but the "abyss" has not gone anywhere. It's always there no matter how efficient we become. Essentially, we can't fly too close to the sun.

ML: In the second half of the piece one really sees the dancers processing fast choices as the tempo gradually increases. How was that shaped?

LS: When the tempo increases we are riding this wave of the speed that can make the score execution easier, then harder, then easier and so on. We found that there are moments when the speed increase actually helps us and moments when it pushes back against us. Over time Pierre has begun to be able to note at what BPMs these tendencies occur but ultimately these waves are specific to the particular score and the group's dynamic on that day. Once we reach a speed where the score is no longer tenable, which is different for each of us and different for each score, the option to go at half-time or at quarter-time opens up, as well as continuing to try to push the speed. At this point we are no longer able to all be on the same "word," or movement molecule, due to the introduction of choice. But also by this point the body has had to adapt to figuring out how to execute the score at different tempos, which introduces a necessary plasticity in the physical form. From the start of the piece the four dancers have been using as much of their attention to execute the score as they have been to tune-in with one another. In this moment you are speaking of, a transmission between the four bodies begins to occur of how each body is able to continue with the score. The choices Teresa's body begins to make influences Cynthia's which then feeds back to Teresa and to Marco and Liz, and so on and so on. There is a joke between the four dancers that while our bodies have a level of freedom by the time this transmission is happening, we are producing movement we would never, ever, ever do otherwise and we are slightly mortified by what our bodies generate. At the same time, it's exciting when you realize your insistence is successful simply because you are unable to recognize yourself.

Photo: For Claude Shannon at The Kitchen. ©Julieta Cervantes

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