Stella Zannou-interview by from stage to page

Posted on November 25, 2015

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MVI_4359 (0.03.29.13)

photo: Stefi Boese

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I am Stella Zannou. I am a choreographer, a performer and a dance teacher. I live in Berlin it has been 6 years now, but I have lived and worked in Greece over many years in the past.

What do you want to question with your current project?

The last piece I made “Strange”, was presented in Berlin in June, and I plan to re-stage it this winter. Ten people got gradually involved in this production, which originally started off as a trio. As the rehearsal process continued, more performers joined the piece. “Strange” is a bit like a farce and deals with the creation process. It is the most sincere piece I have done so far. Everything that what was going through my mind while making this piece became the piece itself. There is text and talking. It is honest and I make fun of myself, of the people involved in the project, of contemporary dance and of contemporary art. I find this show quite funny, I laugh a lot, possibly because what its about, is actually true. It deals with the anxiety one goes through in order to create a ‘serious’ dance piece and how futile this really is. All artists have these thoughts, even if they don’t admit to it. I am never bored of this piece, I can watch it every day- it puts me in a good mood.

 Do you consider yourself funny?

Yes, I think I am, but I think that most people don’t know I am funny. This last production with its sense of humour was a surprise for most of the spectators. Some would ask me whether I have really choreographed this work! Some said they had no idea that this is how I think. There is a funny side in me, for sure.

Are you interested in text or sound in your work?

I cannot say that text is something I have mastered. At the same time, I understood that both as a performer and a choreographer I feel strong with using text. I know what I want and I feel I can lead things where I want them to be.

Is text improvised?

In “Strange”, I wrote the text within a day. The main points were written by myself and then the performer that used this text was free to add and change things if he wanted. He had this freedom from me, because I felt safe that what I wanted to say/state was very clear, to me and to him.

Is questioning actually the process?

I usually begin with a general idea and then develop the work during rehearsals in the studio. I rely primarily, if not exclusively on movement. The novel characteristic of this last production was that the piece evolved out of the problems I had. I started playing around with the notion of the discrepancies or the actual gap between what you had in mind (how you imagined this idea to be) and how things turn out (or how things don’t work as you expected). I decided to contain this ‘failure and accommodate it by making something out of it.

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

I never think of that. I guess it is something that happens anyway. I am always looking for ways to communicate my thoughts to the audience.

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

If one describes and ‘sells’ the piece as one with a message, spectators will look out and search for this message while watching it. If a choreographer is interested primarily in movement and presents a pure dance piece, the audience will look no further. I believe that if as a choreographer you want to ask questions with your work, you have to be clear and consistent with what you are talking about.

How do you start your research?

I have also created works without any prior research, it is not really my way of doing things. What works best for me, is to enter the studio and start rehearsing. I usually begin with a general subject or theme and then I am open to allowing things to change completely and for the process to take me to different places. When I was still in Greece, I had read books as part of my research: about time when creating ‘ΣΑΛΙκαιΓΚΑΡΙ’ and about power relationships for ‘Statesera”.

Are you interested in the individual?

Yes, very much so. The people I chose to work with, I select them as persons. Their individuality always has so much to offer.

 What does it mean to produce work?

Production is a process which stresses me out, even before it starts. It worries me on all levels, especially now that I have a child, organising things, scheduling, time…. I wonder how I will manage all of it, because I don’t have the luxury of working with someone else assisting, organising or producing. Once the rehearsals begin, I enter the studio and I have a great time, it is a very pleasant process. I guess I’m mostly stressed by the organisation and pre- production.

 

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photo: Walter Bickmann

Are you an artist?

I recently had an argument with some friends on what artist means, who is an artist, how to define it. It is a bit of a strange statement to make and as for the definition I can think of two possible interpretations: 1.  classification ‘artist’-for example as it is for tax purposes-in which a large number of people are considered artists 2.I cannot think of the second definition without adding the word good next to it and it applies to  a much smaller group of people.  In my understanding, to consider someone an artist at all, I  presuppose the high quality of their work. For me artist means good artist.

Are you a good artist?

I cannot answer this question. I am very consistent and reliable. I work a lot, I love a lot what I do , I invest a lot of myself in what I do. But I cannot answer this question. All of these characteristics are in me and in my work. I give a lot of myself in what I do, also as a performer. Whether there is artistic value in what I do, it is not for me to say, and honestly I don’t know who can.

Do you like your work?

Yes, I like my work and if for some reason I would need to stop, I would go crazy. Certain works I like a lot, some not as much. How much I like something is also influenced by my role in it. For instance I have created solos, in which I am also the performer. They are so difficult and demanding to perform- so although I like presenting the work, I am not pleased/content because of what I need to go through, its so hard.

Do others like your work?

There are some, that like my work.

 

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photo: Haris Akriviadis

Are you happy with how you do things?

Yes I am. Although I know I am not really good at promoting my work, but that’s another story, I have accepted it now as a fact. I can create, I can perform, if /whether the piece tours a lot, I leave it to chance. In the past this used to bother me a lot.

How would you be happy?

If I could find someone to help me promote my work…

Are you teaching workshops?

Yes, I teach a lot, I teach contemporary dance-technique and depending on the workshop I also mix technique with improvisation. I try to be creative with teaching technique and I additionally focus on group awareness, on how to move as a group, on how to keep alert with the space and everything that happens around you, on how to become an intelligent body, a ‘clever’ dancer. I like to help students open up to their full potential.

 Are you using the principle of improvisation?

Sometimes yes, but only in the very first stages of rehearsals. If I don’t know the dancers I am working with well, I use improvisation tasks in order to get to know them.

Is your work set or improvised?

Set.

Do you set precise goals? Do you have specific expectations?

I do, but the goal appears once I have clearly made the decision on what I will work on. In the very beginning of the process I might start leading the piece towards a place but still allow it to end up elsewhere. For example in “Strange” the first three rehearsals were something completely different than what the piece eventually became.

Do you have a daily practice?

I think that changing nappies is my daily practice at the moment. No I don’t practice daily at the moment. I used to be very conscientious as a dancer, I used to go to dance classes, running, stretching, cycling, I was always doing something physical.

What do you think about solos?

I have only choreographed solos, which I perform myself and it was an important step for me. I didn’t get much pleasure out of it. It was really difficult and awkward going into the studio on your own, striving to keep yourself inspired constantly, to stay coherent and concise and watch videos of yourself. In addition, this particular solo was very demanding physically. Overall this experience advanced my work, yet I find working with other people, much more fascinating.

 

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photo: Fenia Kotsopoulou

Do you create scores?

I have my own way of making notes but I am the only one that understands what they mean (even I don’t always manage).

How do you archive your work?

Only videos.

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

I do not have a company, I used to have one in Greece and I terminated it. I now work as an independent choreographer. When I create works, it is under my name Stella Zannou, although I mention next to it- Smack dance company I think I keep it for emotional reasons.

So, this work, it matters to me, it matters to exist and to create and I can’t live without it. Whether I believe I am offering something to art overall? If someone feels so much love and faith in what they do, it must relate to someone, something must refer to others, no way it is not only about the arts. If what you do, you do with all of yourself, your whole existence, other people definitely have something to gain from that, it can affect them in some way. It can move them.

Would you say your work is dance theatre?

I dislike labels, confining my work to specific types, so I would say no. Then again maybe some works are more ‘dance theatre’ and some are more clearly pure dance…

Are you influenced by other art forms or sciences?

Influences… anything can be an influence- something you read, something you see while walking down the street, which seems interesting or funny or it affects you. Essentially I’ d say my inspiration emanates from problems. If there were no problems I wonder whether I would know what to do. Problems lead the way, in what to do.

How do you treat the body in your work?

Gently. I really like dance and movement: looking for unfamiliar ways in which the body can move, searching for image generating movements, exploring range and limits of movement. This is a recognisable characteristic of my work, there is something unfamiliar and strange physically.

Do you favour / create a technique?

I have some ideas with which I create movements and then I get other ideas because the old ones keep on creating movements like the ones before.

Do you believe in less is more?

Yes and no. I apprehend this motto both as choreographer and as a performer, I sense it and I understand its value physically and choreographically. I have experienced it but I don’t believe it applies simply to everything- I don’t embrace it as an absolute truth.

How do you use the following elements of a stage performance:

Time?

Managing to get the spectator to loose track of time, is something I find fascinating. There have been times I have experienced this as an audience member, some rare magic moments that seem to last an eternity.

Space?

I have grown tired of the conventional stage. It no longer appeals to me presenting my work in theatres. I am now inclined to use alternative spaces and to look for the place, which is the one you want for the show you created.

Lights?

Hmm, Lights. I have a thing with lights, I admit to not really liking them. In fact they often disturb me as a spectator. If the costumes of the show are not simple and discrete, I don’t mind that much, but if the lighting design is overwhelming it sometimes bothers me. Both form the position of a spectator and a choreographer, I believe that lighting design is potent, in that it can render a scene magical or totally destroy it. I guess it really depends on the kind of aesthetics one chooses for their work.

Set?

I have used set design in some past works. When you don’t have a sufficient budget you prefer to pay the dancers better than construct a set. At the moment, I do not regard set design a priority in my work.

Costume?

The same goes for costumes. Clearly, they are an essential part of the creation, but you can find simple solutions, like using what you have. The works I created in Greece used to have both set and costumes. Recently, while in Berlin, my works are much simpler regarding the aesthetic choices.

 

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photo: Marilena Stafylidou

Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

No. There are certain works I like more than others, but according to the conditions of the creation, I do the best that I can each time, so I am satisfied with the outcome.

What do you wish for?

Apart from finding someone that will assist me in working on applications for funding and all the other production things that need to be done….

My wish is- if I may be allowed- to continue choreographing, continue doing what I am doing both physically/professionally and with regards to my child. My wish is to carry on.

Thank you.

 

 

Stella Zannou

smackdance@gmail.com

Stella Zannou show reel

smack dance

 

 

 

 

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