An article originally published on The Red Line
Johanna Nuutinen and I set each other questions to reflect on the process of working together on ANON: The Act of Waiting, in 2018. Our collaboration was made possible through funding awarded by South East Dance, via the Collaborate programme supported by the Jerwood Foundation.
(Johanna Nuutinen writes:)
ANON premiered on 22.11.2018 in Helsinki at Teater Viirus. Our team consisted of 6 artists: visual designer Joonas Tikkanen, sound designer Tuuli Kyttälä, performers Jenna Broas and Oskari Nyyssölä, I as the choreographer and Miranda Laurence as the dramaturg (supported by a Collaborate award from South East Dance). Jarkko Lehmus offered his help when I was working on the physical themes and tasks in the very beginning of the process.
Miranda and I chose to open up the process by setting each other a set of questions.
J: What did you learn in this process?
M: Your choreographic thinking was very different from that of choreographers I have worked with in the past. You focused very strongly on the detail of movement and how this could bring about an emotional experience in the spectator. Especially after I was able to be in the studio in person, I learned a lot about how you were crafting a movement quality through minutiae, and how this created the tone of the piece beyond simply what it looked like.
I always learn so much when working together with artists; every session, rehearsal, conversation feeds my curiosity and inspires me. I’ve really enjoyed working cross-culturally on this project as well – I have learned about the dance making sector in Finland; your experiences in your performing career with the Finnish National Ballet also informed your process and your vision and taught me a lot about different ways of working and the expectations we have of dance work, and dance performers.
M: What new ideas did you want to explore for your own choreographic practice, in the making of ANON?
J: I wanted to use choreographic tools that activate the performers rather than only using my own body to form the pathway through the piece.
I also set a goal for the whole team to create a piece that would have its premiere in a stage setting with the audience surrounding the performance area, but that could also be modified to be performed in museum and gallery spaces. Where the stage production has the duration of 55 minutes, my question was, can this production work as a durational performance as a part of a contemporary art exhibition. By surrendering to the delay of the motion and expanding each movement section me and the rest of the creative team have become interested in exploring this work in a durational performance context as well.
J: What did you find challenging?
M: At times, it felt like you had such a clear vision of what you were trying to achieve and the way in which you would go about it, that I wasn’t sure what I was able to bring to that process! I was used to working with more stated uncertainty. Some of the issues you were dealing with, such as how to best enable the dancers to achieve your vision of movement quality, wasn’t necessarily something I felt best equipped to help you with, as I do not come from a background of dance technique training. So at times, I did wonder how I was helping in the process.
I was also always aware of my advantage as a native speaker of the language we were using to communicate with – your English is excellent, but at times I felt like it might have been a hindrance to you to have to think about all your concepts and communicate them in a second language so that I could understand what was going on in the process (also during the rehearsals where the normal mode was to work in Finnish).
J: How did you cope with the fact that most of the work was done via Skype?
M: We had Skype sessions over the first six months, after which point I came to Finland for four days of rehearsals in the studio. I hadn’t realised before then quite how much difference it would make to be there in person and watch the work, and be able to respond to it live. However, I think that we made the best use we could of the Skype sessions, as it gave you some space to talk about the processes away from the rehearsal room. The videos you sent me of the work in progress gave me an opportunity to watch the work differently than how I was able to in the rehearsal studio ‘live’, which took away some things, but I think added other advantages.
Our skype conversations after my visit to Finland felt more successful and I think that was partly because we were able to get to know each other better during my stay and just generally during the course of working together. I use Skype with other artists quite a bit, but it has normally been as part of an ongoing mix of meeting in person, and seeing work live in the studio.
M: What contribution did you anticipate that I might bring in the dramaturg role? (What were you curious about when thinking of working with me?)
J: I was looking for a challenge: communication that makes me question the content of the work from new angles. The questions a dramaturg presents force me to articulate my own ideas and thoughts more precisely. These conversations have been for the benefit of the work, for the benefit of the performers and ultimate for the benefit of the audience, as well as my own development as an artist.
M: Which parts of your process do you feel I engaged with most, and did this make a difference to the way you worked?
J: During the Skype sessions I feel the arc of the whole piece was something we were able to get deeper into. We discussed the causal connections within the work and how we want to affect the performer and through the performers the audience. What kind of different states of being do we want to take the audience through? How do we invite them to be a part of this journey? What kind of a state of being do we want to leave them in?
I loved how you directed your questions also to the performers when you were in the studio with us. I enjoy working on a level where the performers’s physical capacity is so strong that we are able to work on a more delicate levels – to tune where they direct their inner focus and gaze and how they receive the other person in the space or the surfaces around them? What is the fantasy that the performer creates around themselves? The questions you directed to the performers encouraged them to awaken their inner voice. The dialogue made them aware that every thought they go through is visible and carries content.
M: How important was a consideration of audience in this work and in the process?
J: Very important. The work is created to be experienced. From the performers’s point of view and from the audience’s point of view. The audience became the community which gathered together to wait. To experience the time embodied by the performers.
Each of the timings, actions and qualities of the motions need to be questioned from at least two angles: how does this affect the performer and how does the performer’s experience affect the audience?
J: What was different compared to other projects you have been collaborating on?
M: As I mentioned before, your choreographic vision is very unlike anything I had previously worked with. I found it very inspiring to see how you wanted to work so closely and uncompromisingly with movement. The quality you wanted to achieve came from a mixture of the dancers internalising emotions and somatic experiences, together with tightly-controlled choreography. Your vision for the final work felt very strong from the beginning, particularly as the first decision about the piece was about the set (and how it would interact with the lighting design).
I was interested in the way you collaborated with your sound designer Tuuli Kyttälä. She was present during much of the rehearsal period, and was contributing quite a lot to the creative ideas overall. This is less usual in my experience for a UK production. From the little I know of dance creation in Finland, I think sound designers (and lighting designers) are often in a much more creative collaboration with dance makers, than is often the case in the UK.
I am used to working in the abstract, and often I pay attention to narrative structure, thinking about how a structure can affect the audience’s emotional response to the content. With ANON I realised that perhaps the main goal was to engender an emotional response from the audience that came from their experience of the movement, perhaps their kinaesthetic response to it, over and above any of the other elements of the work (although sound, set, lighting and structure were of course important too).
J: What did you find fascinating?
M: I think I probably answered this question already! I am inspired by your single-minded choreographic vision, the strong ethic you have about enabling and encouraging the performers to get into the right mindset for creating the movements and movement quality you want to see. I was fascinated by the way the piece was emerging as a kinaesthetic experience – I was not able to see the premiere in Helsinki this November, but I hope I will get a chance to see the work sometime in the future.
M: What would you ask a dramaturg to bring to your next process?
J: I desire to be challenged so I always welcome questions and constructive dialogue within the team I collaborate with and later on with the audience. I will for sure continue to seek funding and opportunities to bring a dramaturg into the next processes as well.
I enjoy if at some point of the process I can leave the performers in the studio with the dramaturg for one day and step aside myself. This action usually gives space to breath for the performers and it creates a situation where they can strengthen their ownership of the piece. When I return to the studio the causal connections might have become more clear and the performers in collaboration with the dramaturg might have found content which I didn’t see earlier. I’m able to do this of course only if the dramaturg has been able to attend the process already from the very first rehearsals onwards.
I do hope dramaturgy will be strongly part of the development of the dance field in Finland now and in the future. South East Dance Collaborate Artist program has been an excellent sample by offering support also for the works of foreign artists who team up with dramaturges based in Britain. Together we are stronger.
Credits for ANON:
Choreographer: Johanna Nuutinen.
Performers: Jenna Broas, Oskari Nyyssölä
Light and visual concept design: Joonas Tikkanen
Sound design: Tuuli Kyttälä
Costume design: Erika Turunen
Dramaturg: Miranda Laurence