Danae Theodoridou- interview fromstagetopage

Posted on September 25, 2016

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Could you briefly introduce yourselves?

My name is Danae Theodoridou, I am a performance maker and researcher. I am Greek born, but I have been based abroad for the past nine years (five in London and now four in Brussels). I am working in performance making, artistic research and arts education. This means that my professional activities are divided between creating live works for the stage, curating practice-based research events that explore methodologies of artistic work, teaching theatre and theory, and working with choreographers and performance makers as a mentor.

 

What do you want to question with your current project?

Some while ago, I read a book with the title ‘Speculative Everything’ which proposed that in current times, we are no longer able to imagine. This is due to the fact that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism has become the only option and capitalism has in fact triumphed. Due to the current social conditions (which are exclusively capitalist and neoliberal) we don’t have any other alternative, anymore. So, we cannot imagine anything that doesn’t comply with these dominant theories. Even if something else appears which is outside of these dominant theories, we dismiss it as fantasy. I was struck by reading this, in a negative sense of course, and decided to work with this in my current projects (which are actually part of a larger research project comprising of a total of three works). In this work, I am questioning our inability to imagine and dealing with the notion of ‘social imaginaries’, trying to open up space for imagining social and political alternatives through art.

 

Is questioning actually the process?

It is, but it is not only the questioning as such: simply posing questions means that you expect some answers. What interests me more is the process of mobilising questions, of working in a state of questioning; this is how I try to work.

 

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

No. I can never predict that nor am I interested in it. I also find this concern limiting for the work.  I am interested in the principle of working with potentiality as Rudi Laermans puts it: putting things on stage in order to open space for the audience to think, to evoke all the other things that are not on stage. I am not interested in passing on any type of messages.

 

Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

Tricky question. It seems to suggest that we know what an audience may look for. Maybe earlier forms of art were working with passing on messages and maybe this has educated certain audiences to look for them. I don’t think contemporary art is interested in that. I hope it is not. Personally, I am interested in developing other kinds of perceptions that have nothing to do with messages.

 

What does it mean to produce work?

The notion of production has two sides: one is making, producing, putting something on stage. And as Ivana Müller, the Croatian choreographer, told me once: ‘when we make a work, we colonize the stage’. I like the political connotation of that statement. You take an empty space and colonize it. You lead this process and this is indeed a power position. Having this power, it is interesting for me to explore how I can test the stage and its relation to the audience. The other side of production is the actual production: securing finances, payments, studio spaces; maybe this is the connection to the word production that comes to me first. And it is not a very pleasant one.

 

What is your strategy?

My ‘strategy’ depends on each project’s needs, but I do have some habits. I usually start with a title (I do have an obsession with titles!) and then from this choice the work develops. Research is involved every time, of different formats depending on the project’s main aspects. Sometimes it is more theoretical research, as is for my current project, in which I am researching on the notion of ‘social imaginaries’. The three works I am developing now in this frame are: ‘One Small Step for a Man: Hello, Goodbye’ (the first part of the title is the sentence Neil Armstrong said when stepping on the moon for the first time); ‘Earth in 100 years’, a one-to-one performance, and ‘Something Dreamy’, a performance lecture that combines theoretical elements with elements from the two above mentioned performances.

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Are you interested in the individual?

The word ‘individual’ has a negative connotation in my mind. I am negatively positioned towards it due to today’s extreme individualism in society. I find very problematic the neoliberal imperatives of people being responsible for their health, education, art etc, which imply that there is nothing to protect you or to take care of you, I find this extremely sad and dangerous. I believe that all this has isolated people and has caused huge social problems. Having said that, I am also very skeptical towards notions such as ‘open democracy’. I believe in individual responsibility and the distribution of roles. As for the artistic process, I find that in the happiest and most effective cases the individuals ‘disappear’ without loosing their personality. I am interested in a process where all agents involved (makers, performers, set designers etc) manage to create a common practice (beyond their individual ones), which is shared and sets into motion the work.

 

Do you have a specific method?

Yes, this process of commoning that I described above. Of course I use several methods, depending on the project. I often use the circulation of roles during a process: we all perform, we all sit out, we rotate and we pass from different positions so that we are not attached to one perspective. We also use several other methods -common in devised works- within the process. But my main concern is that we are all involved in the making of the work.

 

Do you consider yourself funny?

The others seem to consider me funnier than I think I am- I consider myself more serious I guess. My humour appears more in my work, it is one of the main ingredients in all my projects, and it seems to develop more and more there.

 

Are the texts you use improvised?

Often the work’s scripts are using quotes and other sources, stealing parts or whole texts. We also write our own texts in different ways, according to each project. In ‘50’00’’- Short Stories’, for example, an earlier work of mine, everyone wrote texts, the act of co-writing was a big part of this project. Sometimes it is my own writing, as well as parts quoted by other artists and texts developed from performers’ improvisations.

 

Are you an artist?

My answer would change according to when you ask me. Today I will say yes, I think. Lately I have been presenting my work more, therefore I have been much more occupied with it in practical terms and there are more people who address me as an artist in my everyday life recently, this is why I would say that I am one. But I do have different professional roles, artist, researcher, writer, teacher, and I try to balance among them, not always as smoothly as I would like maybe. In one of my recent crises regarding my professional identity, a close collaborator told me that she finds it quite pointless to look about a singular identity today and that the question of ‘who am I?’ should be replaced with ‘what do I do?’ in practical terms. One day I do this, the next day I do that, etc… What matters for me is more the ethics and main principles involved in whatever it is that I do…

 

Are you a good artist?

I refuse to reply to this question- I am against evaluating statements. I guess that if one thinks that s/he is a bad artist and has nothing to offer or to share, one stops making work. So I guess it is more others (the audience of a work maybe?) that could reply better to this question than myself.

 

Do you like your work?

Most of the times, not always.

 

Do others like your work?

A friend who is a theatre director once said: “I find it really unnecessary to stress before a show about whether others will like it. The result is always the same: some people will like it, some people will not.”

 

Are you happy with how you do things?

Lately I am more happy, after years of struggling. I can now – much better than in the past- practice more effectively time management: knowing how to spend time, on what and for how long. I was close to a burn out in the past. I now do a more careful selection of the practices I get involved in. I try not to disperse myself too much, to not get to the point where I am not able to follow things with clarity anymore.

 

Are you using the principle of improvisation?

Yes, while setting some concrete parameters: movement, text or time limitations. I use these constraints in order to free the unpredictable, the unexpected actions in a work and to get inspired.

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Is your work set or improvised?

It depends on the project, but things are usually set to a large extent. I did an experiment with my latest work. At first the piece was improvised onstage. I invested a lot of time (almost a year) to this project and it was a big risk each time it was performed. The few times it actually worked, it was exactly what I wanted. But that was not very often the case. And then, during a feedback session, we found out that the set parts we used were actually most open for the audience, while the ones open to improvisation were actually received as more problematic or difficult to access for the spectators. So finally I decided to work with set material only, hopefully opening up more effectively to the potentiality of the work.

 

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

No, and when I do, they are soon overturned, almost always.

 

Do you have a daily practice?

During the rehearsal period, I do a kind of ‘notes meditation’ before starting the rehearsal: for 10-15 minutes, I go through my notes and create a mental space for what is happening, what has happened. By doing that I produce a mental space in my head for the rehearsal that is about to begin.

 

Have you also been the performer in your work?

Usually not, I avoid it, it is very difficult to be inside and outside at the same time. I have done some solos but I prefer it when other people are also there. I do perform in case someone needs to be replaced for a show and I love performing in other peoples’ works too.

 

How do you archive your work?

Usually via photos and videos but I am bit reluctant to these, I try to create alternatives. I didn’t want to have a video for ‘One Small Step for a Man: Hello, Goodbye’ for example. In order to document and communicate this work, I created a big dossier, including a self-interview where I discuss the project with myself. It seems to have worked quite well with people, I think.

 

Do you believe in less is more?

Yes, I am definitely a minimalist.

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Are you using technology in your work?

Rarely.

 

How do you treat the body in your work?

You mean the body on stage? I am not a choreographer, I work with performing bodies and by saying performing bodies I don’t exclude the mind. I see bodies on stage as spaces and the same goes for spectators too. Then there is also the way I work with these body-spaces in the space where the work is presented. In ‘One Small Step for a Man: Hello, Goodbye’ everyone sits around a table for example. Such organisational aspects of space are of great interest to my work. But I would not say that my what I do is primarily physical, in the way this is usually understood in the performing arts.

 

How do you treat in your work the following elements of a performance?

Time?

One of my constant collaborators: projects based on time, time even being physically present on stage (in the form of a timer put on stage, counting the event), as was the case in ‘50’00’’- Short Stories’. I see art-making mostly as a (re)structuring of time.

 

Space?

Lately I realized that I am not as careful with space as I could. It will appear more in the future works.

 

Lights?

I have not used lights much, until now. I prefer general lighting where everything (including the audience) is visible. In fact, I am more obsessed with the absence of light. It is often the case that we will use a blackout as a constitutive element of a scene, a time in which things happen in darkness (absolute darkness- securing that all exit signs are also covered).

 

Set?

The space is created commonly by all of us in my projects. I have not yet had any collaboration with a set designer. I am more interested in concepts than aesthetics, I would say, and this is not necessarily always a good thing. My forthcoming group piece (provisionally entitled ‘The Unlimited Dream Company’) will have much stronger visual elements though.

 

Costume?

I never use costumes designed for a piece. The performers wear their own clothes. Here I would like to add quotation marks though, since one time ‘performing in your own clothes’ rapidly turned into performers bringing suitcases of clothes, working on combining the clothes with each other, taking five days to finally come to a decision on the costumes.

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Do you feel you have sometimes failed?

Of course, every time I have failed specific instances. It’s a constant alteration of failures and successes.

 

How has that affected you?

Deep sadness, insecurity and vulnerability, but also important, inspiring shifts in the way I operate later.

  

When you started your company, were you dissatisfied with the kind of dance/theater that was on offer at the time?

I consciously chose not to have a company, because I am reluctant towards formations that establish/ institutionalize themselves in any way. It is my dream to have very good collaborators, but not to form a company.

 

Is your work Greek?

I have never been occupied with this question. No, I wouldn’t characterise my work as Greek. I consider my work more as international and this includes Greece too. At the moment my projects are mainly created and produced abroad, while I work with Greek performers in two languages, English and Greek. There are several reasons for this. When I worked with performers from abroad, I experienced certain gaps in working with text and language- gaps which I underestimated.  This may have been due to the different languages, the different art-forms of dance and theatre we are attached to, our different education. Interestingly enough, in Brussels dance performance is more my artistic environment, as experimental artworks are connected more with dance. I happen to know more choreographers and dancers than actors or theatre makers, whereas the organisations that support my work mainly relate to dance too. And although I left Greece because of my discontent with its heavily traditional theatrical background, it is in Belgium that I realized that what I do is in fact much more ‘theatrical’ than I thought and this is why I need actors to perform my work. And we have very good actors in Greece.

The other reason is more psychological, and has to do with the tension of being an immigrant. My two homes are Greece and Belgium. Working with Greek performers means that I have to come here and they also have to come there often. So in a way this choice connects my two homes and helps the painful disconnection that I feel between my two homes. Plus I feel that the money I have for my productions in Belgium, may be of help to people that really need it here, since the working conditions for artists are unfortunately still quite bad in Greece. So it’s a win-win situation.

 

Is there a Greek dance scene? Can you identify certain characteristics?

Yes of course there is since there are choreographers here, who are making work. I could find this question a bit nationalistic though. I don’t see what the issue of national identity has to offer today. One could speak about the particularity of artists living and working in a particular social context, as is the Greek context for example, regardless of whether they are Greek or not. Within this frame, there are maybe some common characteristics. I have to say that I don’t follow the local scene that closely lately because of being abroad but I could maybe recognize certain tendencies: a particular focus on a theme (for example ‘loneliness’ or the ‘crisis’) that is illustrated on stage, a focus on dance technique with more narrative than conceptual concerns, etc. And although lately things are changing fast, unfortunately research tools and processes are still largely invisible or even non-existent, both in dance and theatre…

 

What do you wish for?

Many things. My wishes at the moment are more social and political than personal or artistic: a wish for Europe to find a way to return to some of the values it fought for, which are now forgotten or seriously dysfunctional.

Thank you. 

  www.danaetheodoridou.com

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