Seven duets and two solos (2018)

What does it mean to dance with another person?
What does it mean to dance with oneself?

In 2018, while teaching at the University of Leiden, I spent several afternoons filming the dancers Natalie Heller and Marianthi Michailidou as they improvised together in the studio. These are not “performances”, but sequences of curiosity and exploration, conducted within freely chosen, constantly shifting frameworks. And while I film them, I try to dance with them - that is, to respond not only to the images I may be making with my camera, but also to the movements that I feel emerging spontaneously within my own body as I film. In this way, Natalie and Marianthi’s dialogue becomes a three-way conversation between their bodies and my body – or four-way, if you include the camera. In doing so, we aim to explore to what extent we can make the viewer not only see how we move, but also sense the inner process from which our movements emerge – a process that is deeply relational, even as it is hidden from our outward eyes. 

The starting point of this installation is the most paradoxical of all the videos we made, in which Natalie dances alone, with her eyes closed, while her own image dances with her, reflected in a mirror. This work functions as the secret center around which all the other images revolve. Mirroring Natalie’s refusal to look, this video is itself placed within the installation in such a way that the visitor will find it extremely difficult – but not impossible – to see.

The work, then, is composed of nine videos, projected on nine screens of different sizes, and reflected in nine mirrors of different forms and ages. Each video loop, of whatever length, records a complete improvisation, moving from one point of rest to another. There is no music except for the sounds our bodies, our clothing, the squeaky floorboards and (on cold days) the central heating system make. The result is an immersive yet fragmented space, in which the viewer finds themselves surrounded by up to 20 images of Natalie and Marianthi’s dancing bodies at any one time.

The screens and mirrors used are sourced locally for each exhibition, and are chosen for their variety and their imperfection. A myriad different constellations are thus possible, depending on space, time, and local resources. Each different configuration is an opportunity to explore and expose new possibilities in the material. Similarly, the loops are not “synchronized” according to some secret plan, but left to find their own happenstance combinations, that rhyme or do not rhyme with one another.

The result is a fractal ballet of unfinished images, accompanied by a symphony of footsteps, breaths, and rustlings, which asks us both what we can know of these bodies on the screens, and what we may sense when, in their company, we let our awareness drop down inside our own.

Installation for 9 video channels and 9 mirrors.

Video loops (various durations), colour, 16:9, mono.
Camera and editing: Peter Snowdon
Dance: Natalie Heller, Marianthi Michailidou
Sound design: Laurent Martin / Digital Empire
Production: Gourna Films, in association with the Centre Vidéo de Bruxelles and the GSARA, and with the support of the Visual Ethnography Programme, Leiden University.

This work was produced in the context of the Artists’ Residence “Conversation #3” hosted by CVB/GSARA in 2018, and premiered as part of the closing exhibition: Laure Cottin Stefanelli and Peter Snowdon, INNER SENSE – Bodies at Work, at the Galerie de l’Ecole de Recherche Graphique, Bruxelles, 14 December 2018 - 17 January 2019.

A conversation with Natalie and Maria can be found in the book L’Entre-corps.