Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Vertical Dramaturgy: Alexandre Hamel @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

Alexandre Hamil: Well.... you know Le Patin Libre? Ex figure skaters ditching the sparkles, starting an indie collective, looking for modernity with the medium of ice skating.

We did an almost suicidal self-produced series of shows in London in January 2013. It was a big success and we had loads of spectators, for something managed by five unknown skaters living in a squat and producing everything from Wetherspoon's pubs (stable internet, cheap food).

Sadler's Wells Theatre remarked that and offered us a creation residency in London in September 2013. We wanted to impress them so, beforehand, we did weeks of choreographic research based on pure glide.

They loved this research. They helped us start a new production which was eventually titled "Vertical Influences".

It's all about exploring the uniqueness of glide. Glide is the ability of a body to go through space even though it's immobile or not doing the usual human movements linked with going through space (walk, run, crawl...).

We're like surfers, skiers, skateboarders and all those bums:

that glide feeling is so, so, so, so blissful, it changes your life. This joy is very present in Vertical Influences

 Even though it's contemporary performing art and very avant-garde, we don't have this pseudo-serious and aloof attitude that characterised so much of contemporary dance in the last decades.

So we started only with glide, really. The rest, including dramaturgy, came later.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Because we like working like slaves, passing flyers, squeezing 6 people into one bedroom for a month, and loosing money!

Seriously, the Fringe is what we do all year. Up until Sadler's Wells and the co-producers of Vertical Influences came along (Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and NAC in Ottawa), we were always in the Fringe mode. Nobody wanted us because figure skating has a deserved bad reputation and nobody looks at YouTube links until their friends tell them to do it. 

Anyway, to show our work, we always took the risks ourselves: renting ice rinks, self-producing, passing flyers. This is very difficult because the other artists in town are all backed by big theatres and subsidized publicity campaigns.

For us, the Fringe is easier because suddenly, we equal with others. At the Fringe, everybody is in the same mush pit. Because we had it "fringe-style" rough since years, we're very very good at it!

Plus, there's a great ambiance, people are friendly and Murrayfield Ice Rink is an awesome building.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or

even think - of your production?
There's bliss and joy oozing from it. It's all about sharing this awesome glide feeling. So people have a great time. And they have a better time if they bring a jumper or a little duvet. Ice rinks are cooler than theatre.

For the second part of the show, to engulf people in this glide feeling, we move them from bleacher to chairs directly on the ice. We glide inches away from them at high speed. It's an experience...

They'll also understand who we are as a collective. We're a little family, living on the road together since a few years now. We share similar stories, coming from the troubling world of figure skating. We found joy in our common passion for glide and body expression. It's very simple and honest. People feel that, I think.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
When we started the project with Sadler's Wells, we were offered the best choreographers in the world, to work with us. It was amazing. But we said no. We didn't want to become "contemporary dance on ice" just like there are so much pastiches of everything done on ice in figure skating.

Instead, we chose to work with a dramaturg: Ruth Little. She's well known with her work with Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. She specializes in organic expression and non-textual dramaturgy. She was perfect for us.

She helped us understand ourselves better: the marks left on us by growing in the difficult world of figure skating and elite sports. The new balance we reached by sharing an artistic devotion with like-minded people. 

 She helped us see how much our naive choreographic experiences were all about that. We never wanted that. It just happened. Lots of all our experimental bits were about individuals fighting to be themselves within groups. And then, about groups finding harmony and joy as a whole.

So Vertical Influences is about that. The form is glide. The content is how individuals can find harmony through belonging in a group. And how challenging this might be. So we "talk" about bullying, violence, tension, courage, leadership.... but it's all abstract. And it ends with a choreographic firework of togetherness.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
Figure skating, of course. We were all trained as elite
competitive figure skaters.

Our movement virtuosity comes from there. We still do the spins and the triple jumps.

But, we want to be as far away as possible from the type of shows figure skating usually produces: pastiches, kick lines, sparkles.

So, we are now more influences by contemporary dance, urban dance and contemporary circus. We live in Montreal, in a little neighbourhood where most of Montreal's circus artists live because rents are cheap and the area is the coolest in town. This vibe influences us.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
For Vertical Influences:
First, our little family of skaters developed choreographic bits, on the ice.

Then, we launched the project with the dramaturg Ruth Little. We figure out the general structure and subtext of the creation.

After, we worked for about 6 months, on the ice, working out the choreography. One of our skater is also a composer. He composes the music during the nights between choreographic sessions in the day. Crazy dude.

Ruth Little joined us to help us structure things better, kicked our asses for more choreography, helped us advance toward a final show.

Then, Lucy Carter, a British lighting designer joined us for long sessions of lighting design that had to be done in the extremely cold nights of an indoor ice rink.

Finally, we made last little touch ups before the premieres in London.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
Everybody reads the piece slightly differently. But, I think there is a common understanding of the progress of a group from disharmony toward harmony.

In the last part of the piece, audience sits on the ice and they live intensely this harmony, inches away from us.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
A real dramaturgic effort is quite new for us. Ruth Little brought us a new depth, a new understanding of our own subtext. She helped us express more through abstraction than we did through our preceding more figurative work.

So, this new approach of creation where dramaturgy is central made us really happy with our choreography. We feel what we do is now more meaningful for us and for our audience. 

And, because Ruth Little developped that amazing organic approach, we feel the inner nature of our collective expresses itself through Vertical Influences. Instead of being little skating prodigies doing their thing we feel like humans sharing something.

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