When the virus forced The Netherlands to hold its breath, choreographer Elisa Zuppini had just started her residency at Dansmakers Amsterdam and ICK in the frame of the New Adventures program. In this series, for four weeks, theatre and studio are used by selected makers as laboratories for their artistic research. The residency is concluded with an open presentation. Elisa could keep on working, but the events inevitably had an impact on her process. She shares with us some thoughts and observations about this isolated experience.
On the 2nd of March I started my residency. I was going to work on a solo and it had been a long time since I spent time alone in the studio, this was exciting. The project is called Synthetic Disjunctions and departs from the idea of the body as a multiplicity in different times and spaces. I was interested in how to develop this concept in the creation of a new piece but also, more in general, in how to gain a new posture in making work. However, during the firsts days of the residency there was already some alarming news about the Coronavirus. A few days later, it was declared a pandemic.
Residency in lockdown
I am Italian and I have many friends and relatives who live there. Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the virus and I was feeling in a different state of emergency than the people around me. The days between the Italian and the Dutch lockdown have been strange for me. In one country, there was extreme alert, in the other nothing seemed to happen. Some people in Amsterdam looked at me like I was an alien when expressing my concerns about the virus. I kept going to the studio, but it was difficult to concentrate, mainly for that state of indeterminacy and of gap in the collective sense of the moment.
During the second week of the residency, the situation of the coronavirus had become more serious. The Netherlands also went into lockdown. With Dansmakers and ICK, we decided that it was possible for me to continue the residency. I was working alone in the studio of Dansmakers which is literally 5 minutes away from my house.
In the building of Dansmakers there was only Els (financial director at Dansmakers) and me. I could use the big stage because all performances had been canceled. That is a big space to use for a solo, but I truly love big spaces because of how my body feels in relation to the architecture. Els was alone as well in the office. Every now and then, we had a little chat, 2 meters away from each other. Els told me that she was worried about the destiny of dance because according to her, dance might be the last thing people are going to need during and after quarantine.
The drop of collective time
In general, I was feeling more calm and focused since we entered in lockdown. The fact that the country had recognized the collective threat and allowed people to stop and be home, gave me some peace. Surely the concerns were and are many, but I was also fascinated by that sense of drop of collective time. The sense of time that suddenly falls and deconstructs – expands. It was like if the future froze and forced us into the present.
This shifted notion of time felt extremely powerful and inspiring as a potential understanding of what time means beyond the machinery of capitalist routine. How my body feels when this machine has come to a stop. In this sense, this unprecedented situation was bringing a special focus to the experience of creating, in the meaning of artistic research. Also, it gave me the opportunity to truly explore some of the concepts I was talking about.
Synthetic Disjunctions works from the idea of the body being multiple, as the conjunctions and disjunctions of the multiple perceptions and experiences that we have of ourselves. Here is a short excerpt from my research description:
‘Every day we live in a number of microworlds and events which destabilize the idea of the self as unitarian and singular. In all those microworlds of past, present, and future times, my body is a texture in space. This body has a consistency, leaves traces and imprints, senses itself as an alive materiality in becoming. By entering a state of what I call the ‘drop’- of sensing the body in the present moment and its weight – a sense of indeterminacy is produced, in which the body lingers in a perpetuated sense of potentiality.’
Synthetic in the title indicates a sense of hybrid sensations and consistencies. My body follows a path that seems to be imprinted in my memory, while also leaving traces and sculpting the space. In Synthetic disjunctions I shift constantly between inside and outside, different textures and aesthetics, sculpting and relating to a sense of otherness within. All these perceptions constitute me as a human being. They become my partner, co-leading the way I move and perform.
The potential of artistic research
In the studio, I was busy practicing through that amplified perception of myself as a multiple being, disjuncted and fractured while simultaneously supported by a precarious sense of totality. The condition of isolation was surprisingly inspiring for the process.
‘While dropping in time and space, a multiplicities suspends, with nowhere to go if not to sense themselves and re-orient.’
The presentation at the end of the residency was obviously canceled, unfortunately. But taking away the goal of presenting while living the conditions of the measurements helped me to practice and stay in the ‘drop’. That space of non-expectation, where I can sense the potential of time and from where I can reorient in new unexpected ways. Besides all the concerns for this new world condition, I experienced more than ever the meaning and potential of artistic research, as a place to navigate through endless discoveries and through the experience of movement (and stillness). To find focus in the precarity of the moment triggered a series of internal living infinities and I discovered that movement and stillness coexist.