The interdisciplinary project CROSSWAYS IN CONTEMPORARY MUSIC continues! Following a comprehensive article in 3 parts (I, II & III) on the subject of new music and choreography & dance, now is the time to let individual choreographers, dancers, composers and musicians have their say in a series of interviews, starting with BRIGITTE WILFING and JORGE SÁNCHEZ-CHIONG.
Choreographer BRIGITTE WILFING and composer JORGE SÁNCHEZ-CHIONG are united by their interest in artistic research and uncharted territory, which they enter anew, again and again, in pieces at the transition zones of dance, new music and audio-visual media. With their transdisciplinary project, ANDOTHER STAGE, they lay the ground for this, in part, through years of preparatory work. In addition to the different backgrounds of their fellow performers, cultural-historical and philosophical approaches flow into their pieces. Their latest work “growing sideways”, which will be premiered as part of WIEN MODERN on November 13, 2021, is about disorientation and the need to realign oneself. What would happen if Western-influenced society did not orient itself exclusively forward, but sought directions of growth other than the vertical, straight lines?
In their previous works “Work” (2014) and “land of the flats” (2019), radical approaches, for example in the handling of the instruments or the positions of the performers, resulted in a democratization process within the team. In “growing sideways”, virtuosity is now also allowed to shine through. In an interview with Ruth Ranacher, BRIGITTE WILFING and JORGE SÁNCHEZ-CHIONG talk about why transdisciplinary work, in the first place, means a lot of translation work, what “Shared Universes” are all about, and why one should artistically try out precisely those things that one had actually long since ruled out.
You just came from rehearsals of your new piece “growing sideways”. In a video lecture Brigitte talks about how the lab situation is so important for your work.
Brigitte Wilfing: The lab situation differs from rehearsals in that it is less goal-oriented, that is, it does not aim for an output in a specific format. It serves to exchange our aesthetic positions on the topic at hand and to learn to communicate with each other, even if we have been working together for many years. Each work demands a different way of working. This is what we have to approach together. In “growing sideways” we defined looking sideways as a dispositive. Looking over the shoulder is our new normal. As a dancer, it is close to me to turn to the somatic, the phenomenological consequences and physical boundaries. What does this gaze do to me, to my movement and orientation? Thomas Wagensommerer, who comes from digital art, on the other hand, thought of a video game in which you navigate your Avatar backwards. Is it then the question of looking up where one was a moment ago, or of blind steering? Is one moving at all in the present or is time going backwards? This exchange is horizon-expanding and usually has consequences for the rehearsal process that follows.
Since 2018, you have been developing “Shared Universes”, a kind of collective authorship as practiced in comics or science fiction. In the press release for “growing sideways”, the site is described as the new front. Have you designed a new coordinate system? Would that be understood as front becoming back, and left becoming right?
Brigitte Wilfing: It’s not so much about a new coordinate system, but about losing one’s orientation and reorienting oneself. As a choreographer, I don’t want to immediately provide new coordinates for re-orientation. We are interested in the moment when we become confused in the action and no longer know where the front is. This irritation makes us fragile and leads us to lose our balance much more easily, to stumble over cables lying in front of us or to run into the edge of the table. These uncertainties last for a very short time, but reveal the complexity and intelligence of our body. Everything – the motor, the cognitive – works together to re-stabilize and re-orient within the fraction of a second. I love seeing performers think on stage. That’s what happens in these moments. Looking sideways also overrides our usual way of accomplishing things, making everything harder and more awkward.
AS A COMPOSER, IN A CONSTELLATION LIKE THAT, YOU’RE NOT PRIMARILY A SERVICE PROVIDER
And what does that mean for the musicians in particular?
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: It’s a complete change. You have to explore the disorientation for a long time. Not only on a sonic and musical level, but also motorically and sensually. It changes the way of making music. This sideways look also makes many ways of playing impossible and brings us to new ideas that are beyond the usual research on extended techniques, which can be one of the most relevant aspects of contemporary music. But from my point of view, they have been researched in such an inflationary way that they are just commonplaces. In other words, this work is a journey of research and discovery, also for what could be understood as “state of the art,” not only in a transdisciplinary sense but also in a musical sense.
Could you please give an example?
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: With “Work” we practiced this from the ground up. For a long time in the development phase there was no music at all, just two instruments and an approach to how the electronics could be used. We worked out the choreographic composition in a joint set-up over several weeks. As a composer in such a constellation, you are first and foremost not a service provider. The way we do composition and choreography is very different from the common understanding of it. That’s also perhaps our biggest distinguishing feature.
NO ONE COMPROMISES
In “Work” there was the idea that neither the composition nor the choreography should dominate.
Brigitte Wilfing: There was just a theme. In “Work” it was the work itself. How you attack instruments to play them, but also to prepare and repair them. I like to look at hands doing something they’re good at, and the musical gesture fascinates me. So I asked: can this gesture be extended so that it can also be read as dance? How can repairing an instrument become as much a part of the sound and movement picture as rehearsed instrumental playing? And how do we design a space in which attention is directed equally to the sound, to the movement, and to the material itself? In principle, there is always a lot of conceptual groundwork, but what is choreographic in each piece, I only find out in the process. I don’t come with an idea of a dance. I first have to observe the gestures, translate them into my aesthetic and linguistic world, and only then do I find out how to extend them into dance. Incidentally, we work with the conviction that something doesn’t work unless it suits both of us. No one compromises.
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: The result must always fit into the discourse world of the other person.
Brigitte Wilfing: And so we have to work our way down until it fits both sides.
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: From the point of view of a musician, “Work” is made of the stuff that goes unnoticed in everyday playing of instruments – of seemingly trivial things and functional movements that lead to sound. Not infrequently unaltered, sometimes stylized, but never distorted. For me as a composer, this is an invitation to delve into a choreographic world that is very unusual and directly influences all ways of making music in a significant way – if one absolutely wants to draw a line between the arts here, which seems superfluous to me. The relationship between sound and gesture was revealed and explored in “Work”. It was not the representative that was thematized here, nor was anything represented. This allowed the most complex musical entities to coexist with the simplest approaches, vivid, accessible, and at the same time, mysterious.
When Brigitte says that it is important for her that the aesthetics of movement are not separated from the aesthetics of sound, what is your interest in sound production?
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: Discovery! I have been working transdisciplinarily for a quarter of a century, in projects and productions in which processes, exchanges, experimentation and not fulfilling pre-formulated expectations are central. In this context, the only useful rule of thumb is that no rule of thumb should exist. Of course, you continue research and your repertoire of tools and experience grows from project to project – but you can use all that, or just as easily discard it, or put it in a whole new light. For me, the purpose of artistic activity is to make discoveries that can change my interests or even shake them from the ground up.
You write orchestral works and solo pieces ranging from classical instrumentation to electric bass to turntables. How do you manage to keep yourself so fresh and fit in the face of the unknown that you can say to yourself, ‘Go for it!’?
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: I mainly move in a scene called New Music with a capital “N” and my biggest problem with it is that the origin of the idea of progress behind this promising path has simply become obsolete and irrelevant, already a while ago. But on the other hand, this scene can be a good meeting place and suitable developing ground for fresh, contemporary approaches, tendencies and aesthetics that I found elsewhere – be it in clubs, basements, new media, collectives, trends that often don’t even have an official name, and of which I became a part. And then it can happen that I position, for example, DJs or noise music performers as soloists in front of a symphony orchestra, but not in order to “ennoble” or culturally justify the playing of the soloists by the orchestra – all abstruse thoughts! It simply stems from the fact that I move in these worlds and these kinds of encounters excite me.
You rarely do anything alone in such a process, and it is certainly important that you can rely on each other. Your fellow players in “growing sideways” are the pianist Alfredo Ovalles and the percussionist David Panzl. Both are credited with “performance”.
Brigitte Wilfing: Originally I wanted to put “dance” everywhere. If this had been a work for a dance festival, I would have, because then I know that even a small shift or deconstruction of a musical gesture can be read as dance. With a music festival, on the other hand, I wasn’t sure if that wouldn’t evoke a false expectation. My heart would have liked to write “dance” and I’ll fix that.
But the instruments will be played in an unusual way, won’t they?
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: Well, not as unusual as last time.
Do you mean like on “Land of the Flats”?
Brigitte Wilfing: Exactly. The performers were lying on the floor and had to play their instruments lying down. But how do you play your instrument lying down or in a way that it wasn’t built for? So the musicians were challenged to approach their instruments almost as if they had never played it before. This situation inevitably led to other ways of playing and listening and challenged our approach to virtuosity.
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: This time we are going more to the extreme, both on the musical and choreographic level. It will be very clear who comes from which profession. The body language, which is the vocabulary, is common. The execution will be very different. That brings the composition of the team, which ranges from a ballet dancer to me, who was not very fond of movement in his childhood. But the point is to create a world in which people move in a certain way, each one as he or she can.
THIS WAY OF WORKING IS ONLY POSSIBLE WITH MUSICIANS WHO HAVE THE INTEREST TO BE NAKED – THAT IS, WITHOUT AN INSTRUMENT – ON STAGE
That means specifically for this piece, this vocabulary or movement repertoire has been developed?
Brigitte Wilfing: Yes, that applies to all pieces. There is always a choreographic device in our works. This time it is the sideways view from which we do our things, i.e. dancing, playing with the instrument, cleaning up, rebuilding. It is important to me not to build on a uniformity, on a homogeneous “corps de ballet”, but to work out how this disposition shows itself in the respective bodies, with their different backgrounds and experiences, what limitations it creates and what it opens up. Each performer, with her or his background should really be underlined, that’s very important to me choreographically.
How do you go about this? Could you elaborate a bit more on that?
Brigitte Wilfing: It’s always different. In “growing sideways” I already developed a dance in advance that was a very specific implementation of this disposition. But then I decided not to show it in the rehearsals because I didn’t want to imitate it. But this preliminary work was important in order to be able to support the performers with much clearer instructions for action to develop their own realization. This means that there is a lot of individual work in which I scan and highlight the peculiarities. The consequence of this is that no one is replaceable. This way of working is only possible with musicians who have the interest to be naked – meaning without an instrument – on stage. This also includes, for example, packing the training clothes to do a warm-up with us. And above all, courage to expose yourself to things that are not your own expertise. That can also be quite unpleasant.
BY THE TERM “SHARED UNIVERSE” WE ALSO MEAN THAT THE ARTISTIC DIRECTION ROTATES REGULARLY
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: Transdisciplinary work is very popular. Perhaps the greatest difficulty here – apart from the misunderstanding of what is meant by transdisciplinary work – is the daily routine itself. I’m not just talking about habits and expectations towards work processes, but about the completely different ways of working. Dancers rehearse many times more than musicians, their pieces are created in the rehearsal process. If you want to work together, this is often an obstacle. That’s why we started the “Shared Universes” with our ensemble andother stage, where everyone can contribute from his or her discipline, as he or she needs to.
Brigitte Wilfing: By the term “Shared Universe” we also mean that the artistic direction rotates regularly. As a result, our roles and responsibilities shift regularly, but what we are really concerned with is that there is always another medium at the center and that it can unfold, and also that the relationship between the media is always constituted anew. In this way we create micro-universes within a shared universe and learn deeply about the way we think and work and the different ways in which our media work. Experience shows us that only through intensive exchange can we learn to understand the language of the other medium and the other artist – and that only then can something transform, shift, in our own medium and in our own thinking, which is the essence of transdisciplinarity. Translations from one medium to another are actually only then possible.
I just imagine that you reserve certain blocks of time and in them, you join forces and rehearse, make, discuss.
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong & Brigitte Wilfing: Exactly!
Brigitte Wilfing: That also applies to the approach to a piece. We dancers, as I mentioned before, are used to a piece being created on the spot in the rehearsal process. In contemporary dance, there may be a movement suggestion or a certain quality at the beginning, and that’s what we have to approach.
Accordingly, contemporary dance would also be completely free. This is something that new music also claims for itself.
Jorge Sánchez-Chiong: Claims, yes [laughs]. Hardly anything is so far from that.
Brigitte Wilfing: [laughs] New music is already old, at least what we understand by it.
Thank you very much for the interview!
„growing sideways“ 13. + 14. November 2021, Studio Molière
Crossways in Contemporary Music: Choreography & Dance, Parts I, II & III
Crossways in Contemporary Music: Nature
Translated from the German original by Arianna Fleur Alfreds