Stephanie Tsakona- Magma dance theatre, interview by fromstagetopage

Posted on September 9, 2013

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Could you briefly introduce yourselves?

Ι’m Stephanie Tsakona, dance teacher and choreographer and sometimes a performer. In 1996 I founded Magma dance-theater company, although I started choreographing in 1992.

What do you want to question with your current project?

The current works under the title of ‘Ideogram’, question human movement or stillness in relation to the visual and music context whilst leaving an open space for the audience to draw their own conclusions from the work.

Why?

The ultimate aim is to communicate with the audience. I’m interested in leaving an open space for each spectator to take from the work what they want , rather than me imposing something concrete and specific.

Is questioning actually the process?

My process is the following: there is a moment in which an idea comes, then the idea needs the appropriate time to develop, and this time is natural, organic a time span which I cannot control. When I feel the idea is complete , but also the composition between music, image and music, I present it.

Do you want your question to become the audience’s question?

Of course, I want my questions to become the audience’s questions. In the questions I present, I wish to include a message, a point of view on life , a rather metaphysical one. For instance the last ‘Ideogram’, was dealing with blind justice: There is a specific way in which our culture views justice,  I ‘m looking beyond the current views and laws in use, and there lies another ideal world. The one I’m looking for and I hope to drag along the audience with me into this ideal world.

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

I believe that audiences are  a little confused with contemporary dance, since there is no known narrative, as there is in ballet. One thing is certain, audiences are looking for aesthetics in dance. Now that dance works are more abstract, the message (if there is one) communicates directly to their subconscious.

What is the action you want to propose with this project?

I ‘m mainly interested in awakening the audience to this ideal world I mentioned before, against the norms that apply at the moment in our society. It might sound like a utopia but I truly believe this ideal world to be feasible. We can change our reality and enter a different plane of existence. For instance, justice, is structure, the current law system, but  also it is a human need deeper than the laws. Justice starts from each individual and extends to all of us collectively. As John Lennon says: imagine all the people living as one, imagine all the people living in peace. This song might sound like utopia but it is not impossible.

Do you have a specific method?

There are different methods I’ve used so far. In previous works I had a narrative for each work , while now I allow myself to be a channel that allows for something to be formed. Maybe this is the reason for which my latest works are short in duration? When I ‘m ready, I am sure of it, but the amount of time it takes for me to feel ready varies a lot. For my next piece I am already working on research reading, collecting materials, but only when the time is right, I will proceed with making the performance.

What does it mean to produce work?

 I produce means, I contribute functionally in my society.  I Communicate.

What is your strategy?

There is no strategy and I would not use that word. I allow myself to feel like an empty vessel. This vessel releases at some point, what it will.

Are you interested in the individual?

All of my works have the individual as a centre point. At the same time, I feel I am only a channel that receives an idea/an inspiration and I deliver it.

Are you interested in text or sound in your work?

Yes, in the forthcoming production , a dance-theatre piece, I will use text, spoken, in order to pass on information to the audience, some scientific facts one might not be aware of.

Are you an artist?

Yes.

Are you a  good artist?

Yes.

Do you like your work?

Yes.

Do others like your work?

 This I don’t really know, honestly. At times some people like it. Some people have seen my work years ago and they still remember it and it has affect their lives- this I really like and feel that is a success. Moreover as a dance teacher,  I feel that I offer a lot to my students. I try not to keep my students with me, for too long. I am a passage for them, and then I am really happy to see them develop, either as artists either on different paths.

Are you happy with how you do things?

Inside this question vanity lies: how much work have I delivered, is it enough? if I disappear from this world from this reality, is it enough? I do suffer from a kind of death anxiety, of some absolute cancellation of everything. On the other hand, I think that things are as they should be. I just try to release myself from my own obstacles and life seems to take me to places anyhow. The first time I choreographed, it wan’t something I pursued,  I didn’t even know if I could do it. Everyone was enthusiastic with the product and so it felt like I found my direction in dance. The second piece I ever made, was welcomed with the same enthusiasm and I felt like this choice of direction was confirmed. Maybe this is why I always feel that choreography is something beyond me….  Actually only when choreography became a really conscious choice, only then problems appeared. Certain people helped me a lot on the way, although I never tried to impose myself on the circumstances. Creating is always the happiest period , a very special one. When the work is performed and therefore exposed,  there is something really beautiful but also very painful. As any other human being, I do have the need for affirmation, which doesn’t always come.

How would you be happy?

(laughs) To be internationally famous, with full recognition globally. To be invited everywhere and I get to select which festivals I would go to. Seriously now,  I would be happy to find collaborators that I perfectly communicate with and enjoy togetherness and harmony in the work. My greatest joy and satisfaction is when the work manifests itself on the performance even better than when it appeared as vision in me, and this can only depend on one’s collaborators.

Are you teaching workshops?

Yes, I teach an experiential workshop: the psychosomatic activation through movement. We combine psychology and movement principles in order to harmonise the body, spirit, soul connection.

Are you using the principle of improvisation?

I use improvisation as a process, the performance is set material always, with one  exception the piece “Jetzt”.

Do you have a daily practice?

My daily practice involves reading books and searching for ways to open up my spirit to other dimensions. Reality is what we live , I look for different channels of thought.

What’s the difference between process and practice?

There is no difference, I look at different points of view on life and what interests me I keep, it is my process and it is my practice.

jetzt

jetzt

What do you think about solos?

Lately I have been creating solos, although it was not something I was after.  This period commenced in 2005, due to circumstances. I had lost touch with the dance world, due to an injury, a rather dark period, in which I experienced stillness for a year. This experience created a need to communicate, the work was titled “On psyche” (about soul) and this solo truly came from the depth of my soul, my deepest needs at the time I performed it. The second solo, danced by Yiannis Karounis, was a commission from a psychology meeting and a solo work seemed appropriate. Then came this first solo of the series of ‘Ideogram’ which was a response to the December Riots in Athens. The title “Ideogram” referred mostly to its short duration rather than its subject matter. I wanted the audience to find their own reading. Then came ‘Jetzt’ (‘now’ in German)  a solo performed by myself: an experiment on the departure from the socially accepted notions. I also feel this work like a dark place, possibly because  I m not certain, whether I succeed to do what I wanted.  I had to be in the now, in real time. I experienced this ‘real time’ as a dark place from the performers point of view. My aim was to discard any thoughts from my head and to be inside the now, the moment of present time. There is a conflict: you are exposed to the audience and as a performer you want to do your best to keep the audience’s interest, while you are also engaging at remaining completely empty. Most likely due to this conflict and agony, I feel maybe it didn’t succeed. The audience though said that my presence onstage was prominent, while most of my agony resulted from the fear that by trying to reach the state of zero existence, my presence will not be perceived, will be diminished.

Do you create scores?

No, I don’t create scores. During creation I allow things to develop in the moment, organically through rehearsing. Sometimes my collaborators have a problem with this process, since some prefer to have a specific task to deal with. In the new production, I allow this organic time as part of my own research, rather than with my collaborators during production. I always choose  to experiment and I have sometimes fallen flat on my face (whatever that means….)

How do you archive your work?

Only by video, although even arranging for a video shoot of the performance seems hard. Although a video is what remains from a work,  I am totally absorbed by the work, when nearer the premiere. For some works (for instance “on psyche”), if one would ask for this piece to be performed again, I would refuse, it is a piece I’m finished with. I am mostly interested in the ephemeral. This is the right word for my work.

Would you say your work is dance-theater?

No,  I have used the dance theatre category for my company, since it has certain legal and tax advantages.

Are you influenced by other art forms or sciences?

Yes, philosophy, metaphysical mainly. I have been influenced by Plutarch in the dance piece “On Psyche”. Plutarch wrote “On tranquility of mind” (“Περι ευθυμιας”), describing this state of internal balance. This was the aim of the dance piece, to find this internal balance onstage, first in the stillness and slowly developing and  lifting off like the prefix (ευ-)  of the word (ευθυμια) which also means gaiety.

I m also influenced by Epicurus, Epictitus and Parmenides the pre- socratic philosophers and from the different religions. I m interested in how different religions have shaped peoples way of thinking throughout history, as is the case for Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. I seek to find my own path through this knowledge. I don’t select any specific religion but the paths suggested by each religion can be a great source of inspiration.

Do you believe in less is more?

Yes and no, it depends on the state one is in.

How do you treat the body in your work?

The body is an empty vessel that receives inspiration. This my way of approaching the body, and in the forthcoming production this is exactly my point about the body.

Do you favour / create a technique?

I have created a series of exercises /tasks in order to clarify both the notions of space and time. I teach how a performer can alter (expand and contract) their presence onstage. This is what I practice as a performer onstage and as my process while making work.

Time?

3 types:

1. the ‘objective’ time , the time measured by our clocks and also exists as a pattern in nature- the sun rising and setting daily.

2. the ‘psychological’ time, the time a person needs in order to feel they completed something, for something to run its cycle internally

3. the now, the present moment

My teaching involves exercises in which the students are asked to identify and differentiate between these three types of time, since as a performer you are asked to be able to treat all of them:

a. The real time of a performance or a task- what is 5 minutes, how accurate is my perception of 5 minutes

b. the psychological time of being able to create and complete a task within these 5 minutes

c. the now is about being present at each and every moment of these 5 minutes.

Thought seems to be the enemy of the now/ the present moment, the mind thinks of anything at anytime, thinking becomes noise an obstacle of being absorbed in the now.

The now has to do with what we call presence onstage, of being 100% present and available in the present moment. During these exercises my students are asked to be able to distinguish the three types of time, despite the fact that the ultimate performance task is be to be able to access and unite these three types of time, at the same time.

Space?

3 types of space:

1. internal space , that of the body with skin as its limit.

2.external space , the environment with all of its features and objects and the audience members

3. the common space, the space in-between, for communication.

All of the above are also interlinked, again in separating in teaching them I’m just trying to clarify things.

Lights?

Ah yes lights, integral part of a performance, although I have made some works without lighting design. Lights offer the visual dimension, they create space, lights can become the set, the costume, the makeup.

Set?

I would  use set only if I have the appropriate collaborators and only if I wish to clarify things, otherwise I’d rather not use set in my work.

Costume?

The same goes for the costume. As Katsura Kan (Butoh master) said- our costume is our skin and our body, anything more than that, is added for purely symbolic purposes.

Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

I’m not sure…

How did it make you feel?

Exposed?

What do you wish for?

Love for all of humanity.

So why does your company, why do companies such as yours matter? 

Why should people keep company to each other? I think this is an equivalent question.

Do you find that before and after the financial crisis,  there has been a change in your work or the way you work?

Any difference in my work now, from the past reflects my own personal development. I have not been affected by the crisis directly,  I was in no better state before anyway. On the level of subject matter though, I am influenced by the political and social changes. Art is always a political act and I include my work in this, my work is also a political act. I don’t think that the spectators have been influenced either, nor how they see dance. I adapt to different circumstances, as Ι have always done in the past. I try to be in flow with what is there, this is my path, this is my way. Some may find this passive , while for me it is my way of life.

Thank you.

update

Stephanie Tsakona- magma dance theater – magmaco1@hotmail.com

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