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Blog for dancers, choreographers, critics, pedagogues

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25.1.2021, 17:11:14   |  Photo: Zuzana Žabková  |   Category: Dramaturgy, Space & context, Interdisciplinarity, Process of making

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Key words:
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I’ve talked with Becka McFadden - choreographer, dance maker, dancer, performer and writer about her piece Vertigo, which she was developing during the Coaching Residencies 2020 last summer. As I was curious how the work evolved after the intensive time of Couching and what resonated with her until now and how it continues in this unclear pandemic temporalities. I proposed to ask questions about this piece through the tarot reading.

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I’ve talked with Becka McFadden - choreographer, dance maker, dancer, performer and writer about her piece Vertigo, which she was developing during the Coaching Residencies 2020 last summer. As I was curious how the work evolved after the intensive time of Couching and what resonated with her until now and how it continues in this unclear pandemic temporalities. I proposed to ask questions about this piece through the tarot reading.

Z: As you’ve already started to talk about vertigo, what about tarot? I wanted to start with that. I don’t know if you have experiences with tarot.

B: A little bit, but let’s not assume I know everything.

Z: I’m also not a healer/tarot reader but I’ve been practicing for several years, with friends, you know. I’m learning with each reading. So for Tarot and each reading, you have to have a sort of a question. So maybe we can start like this way, if you have a question about your project that you want to ask - related to the project, the content or what will happen. It can be super simple. Maybe have a think and in the meantime we can mix the cards so that we connect you to the fortune and destiny and fate and all that [chuckles] and then the cards can receive it.

B: It’s interesting because I think the questions of process that I have feel like, kind of rich, good questions to ask. And then when I think about asking tarot cards for anything like that the questions I wanna ask are like really awful, self-serving questions [laughs].

Z: Well what I will do now, I call it a bit more of a ‘fast-food’ reading. It is three cards and within the three cards we can also include a subquestion or when something in the reading opens another question, we can draw one more card. Maybe now chose one that resonates or that is very present. The thing that is great about tarot is that it is also about fate but which is present now, in this moment. The way tarot is designed is full of symbols open to interpretation, you know.

B: Ok, so preferred oracle is the I Ching, so I am going to ask a question that I would ask the I Ching. “Is it going to happen?”

Z: Ok, so now take a part of the pile and chose three cards from there. 

So this card relates to the recent past, about what was going on until now. The second card is the ‘problem’ , the present.  And the last one is for the advice. I will do an interpretation which I can see. 

The question was whether it was going to happen. Here is a Knight of Swords, sword is one of the symbols of the minor arcana - cups, swords, wands and pentacles. Sword is an air element and it a symbol of the rationality and thinking realm, the pragmatic context. The knight in the card is very dynamic, the clouds and the trees too, you can see movement and wind. This is sort of describing the time until now, which was full of movement, with a more pragmatic and goal oriented way of doing things. The way I know the card is that it is also connected to a kind of an exclamation point, it’s supporting you in all this movement but also saying to you to be cautious so that you don’t overdo it. Telling to check a bit what it happening behind you. Have a pair of eyes on the back of your skull too, go with the wind and look at what is in front of you but still be present. It’s a bit of both. So that you don’t die, or you die but you know how to come back.

The middle card relates to the present and the now. It’s a very nice card - The Queen of Cups. Cups are somehow opposite to swords - they are much more related to the emotional work, relationships, sensitivity, care. The queen is sitting on a throne surrounded by all these cupids. It’s a playful moment, there is a river, her coat and the pattern on it is water related, cups are also vessels  for liquid, water. And water presents this fluid, wet and moist flow and that relates nicely to the previous card but it’s much more oriented to care work, sensitivity and listening, in the context of listening to others. Queen is also related to the symbol of mother, meaning you can be pregnant with all these surroundings. Everything is fertile and prosperous here, yellow and shiny. It’s a very supportive card. Where you are now is a lot about giving care to others and being emotionally connected.

As for advice - the last card is also very nice. It’s a six of cups. It’s showing children that are playing in front of a house. It’s also a very shiny moment, there is a lot of yellow.  

B: There is like a progression of yellow throughout the whole reading. 

Z: Exactly. And it’s increasing. And in the cups there are flowers growing. So we can see this growth, as if something was planted there and here it already grows.  This card also shows some nostalgia, a kind of coming back to teenage times or your childhood, your memories or friends. It could be showing that you will meet a friend from the past. The appearance of children can likewise be interpreted in many ways. Maybe it’s connected to playfulness, to bringing a came moment into the future. This could be connected to an encounter from someone in the past.  

B: It’s a very interesting juxtaposition.

Z: Yeah the first one is kind of like, you’re just moving ahead and on and on this one is kinda like a step backwards. And you connect to the past but bring it to the present. It can be connected to the project or to your personal life. It’s about connecting to something that was there, recreating something. The queen is holding it all together from the caretaking position and the last card is opening room for play again. 

We can open another card or we can leave it like that, what do you think?

B: Hm, maybe one will emerge from the thing.

Z: Maybe!

So where are you now, with the project?

B: Yeah, so this is really interesting. In the context of how I organised my life in order to be able to do the project I have definitely been prioritising this sort of pragmatic, goal-orientated way of thinking. And in a way that is what I was trying to get through at this residency and into the next phase, because so much of it was about finding the right context, like where is it going to happen, is it going to be programmed, am I going to be able to find the right team, get all of these things in place and then also, am I going to be able to get myself in the right place, am I gonna be able to get out of London all of those things. And that requires a lot of activity.  I think this sense of wanting to be in a place where things feel more sustainable and more human and connected, being able to sit in that space of creation in a way that I don’t feel like I have to go back here [points at a card] but that I can stay in this sort of space where I can continue discovery and exploring, and it keeps being fun for me and exciting for me and other people involved, is something that I really talk with Alice about a lot during the sessions. Especially because I was bringing a performer, a musician, a composer and thinking about how do I hold this space, how do I lead this team but simultaneously not loose my own sense of playfulness, my own sense of artistry, my own sense of passion for this and just become sort of an administrative functionary where I feel my own sense of creativity is subordinated to needing to run the show. And what’s interesting about the other project I’ve been working on is that that part has not been my responsibility at all. And I had this opportunity to really play, discover and to remember how much I enjoy that and that I am good at it and it’s fun. And that in itself is a gift and a contribution because that creates the material and the content of the work that the spectator can engage in. And I think that if I look at the project and its content and its particular methodology, there’s also - as there is for each of us in every project - this question of what am I as an artist and a human being working on in this project. And I would say that what I am seeing goes very much in the direction of what I am trying to cultivate in myself. Especially in regards to moving forward and other projects.

And I’ve been asking myself where to put some of my energy. In the past week I’ve been a bit, hm.. Together with the situation with Covid. And it’s an interesting with the residency paradigm - it’s like you have this very focused period of work. In the perfect world you’d go on holiday for a week, come back, and then go straight on into an intense move towards production. But instead we have these long lags and periods where we’re less structured and where I guess we’re sort of structuring ourselves. And I guess some of what I am looking for a this stage of the process is to find a rhythm the feels regular, and intentional and like it’s building, and it involves moving and it involves reading and writing and thinking and working with images, and collaborations but also working by myself, but that doesn’t have this sort of grind to it that takes the joy out.

Z: And do you think you have found this? Or are you close?

B: I think I am looking for it. I would say the closest I ever got to that was when I moved to Prague in the autumn of 2017 and I was living in this flat that had an enormous kitchen. And I consciously put no furniture in there and that was my studio. And I tended to start in the morning, do yoga and then I would dance for 2 hours and then I would write and make collages and I developed a lot of material that way. And I don’t really have that space anymore. I do have a space that I could work in but I find that I don’t and so some of what I try to address with myself - and in the research I do and what I was just looking at - is why that is, what is my resistance to setting up and occupying that space on my own. Whereas if I am given a task by a collaborator or a director I will use that space that way to address that at home. But I am somehow resistant to do it on my own. And I think it has to do with the other things I do, the things that I tend to earn money from that I feel anxious about and that makes me feel like I’d rather do those things.

Z: Yes that’s very much a thing - how to separate the safe work with this kind of work. And where you are living. And sometimes is a temporal not a spacial separation, but sometimes the spacial one is super important. Where you move to another place where there’s a blank space where you can start from or continue building.

B: Yeah, it’s helpful for me to have that somewhere else to go. And that’s something that I would like to figure out, in a more sustainable way. To have a space where I can commit to going to do a particular part of the work. To hold this particular space for that. There is the work for the project and there is the work one has to do for themselves to be able to do this particular work as well. And then there is the rest of the work that we have to do to make sure that everything else in our lives keeps ticking.

Z: Exactly, and then we have to somehow make this sustainable so that we are also able to work with others. To create a space or a map for ourselves so that the others can join. And so what about the work you’re doing now with the others?

B:  So we haven’t gotten back in the space together since the residency since the musician was also in the other project that I am doing so we’ve had our lives taken over by that. And we’re both kinda in the process of coming back around. I’ve since found a visual artist and video designer who is going to work with me on the projections and design elements so we have had some inspiring conversations. We’ll be looking at the space soon, especially while we still can. And yeah, I want to continue to finish the rest of the casting. And then I have some more conversations coming up to address all that. I find those situations  interesting. When I work with the designers I don’t feel the same sense of threat to my own capacity to play as I do when I think about bringing in performers.

Z: Do you know why?

B: I think it’s a couple of things. For so many years I was teaching and when I lead physical processes I don’t want to go back to a paradigm where I am the one who needs to know everything. 

Z: Ah, so you are somehow trying to change the hierarchies in the process. 

B: Yeah, I think it’s challenging. And maybe that’s something interesting to ask the cards. I’ve had this separate name for what I do since 2004 - […Fusion ]. It was really useful int he UK cos I was always doing things in higher education and it is quite difficult to be both a lecturer and an artist. And it was very useful to have.  Cos people in the arts mostly thing that people who work in the higher education have nothing worth to say, because it’s viewed as very esoteric and separate. So it was very useful for me to be able to do those things under a different names. And I find that here no one ever writes it, they just print my name. So I’ve been trying to decide if I want to continue using this.  Also because when I was doing these open workshops that Sesta helped me organise, a few people came and were interested in how it works as a collective. And I’ve realised and kinda known for a few years - it’s not a collective. It’s my company, they’re my ideas. I create all of them and I invite people to collaborate and I want them to bring their creative activity and I’m not going to to tell them what to do but I am ultimately responsible for the overall vision and for creating the vision in which they can work. Just like the experience I’ve had in this other project - if it was a total free for all it wouldn’t have been as good as an experience as it was. It was essential that the director pulled the frame. And I think that’s something that I’m facing up to also being true of me and asking myself that if I continue to use this name is that what it really is. And this question of where the line is. Which is also why this notion of care and playfulness is also interesting. I’m not interested in dominating the people. I want the opportunity to work with me to be an opportunity for them to deploy their creativity. But equally it’s not just that.

Z: You want to be the one, who is creating tasks, rules, …

B: Yes, and I am. This a way how to bounce those things. And I think it is tricky though, how one creates the processes. And I find it very important, because we are not taught how to do it. And there are so many examples of toxic processes. And In my desire to give space, I see it grow, so it is about a playful collaborative way. Alice Chauchat said something interesting about a dancer who said that they don’t work with the choreographer in order to dance to feel freedom, they work for transformation. And so when you are clear about what you are looking for with your performer is an opportunity to transform. It’s an opportunity to discover something about them selves. It’s not a therapy, it is not a space for self-expression. And I thought that’s quite useful. 

Z: Do you wanna open the other card, with the question how do you act in the position of the giver, leader or a creator? 

It is ace of swords, the beginning. Swords as symbol of intellectual process this brings us back to pragmatism and set rules, somehow what you design, what you plan. How confident are you about what are you doing? And how do you work on the methodology and building up of the scores? How do you bring transformation to the others? 

B: Once when I was presenting stuff during one of the coaching evening session, people would stay silent and I asked Alice and she said because you don’t seam unsure about anything, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have self doubt. 

This project started with an idea, or sensation a problem which I can’t really articulate in language. And there is an essence of content area, then I started reading and listening to music which is related to it and this was how I started to put together ideas. And from the collection of material and process it turns to certain ideas which can be worked on with people in space. That feels like important relationship, that there is a process and the need transforms to a collection. I collect intuitively, because my brain is much more into feeding connections. This is maybe why I love Anne Carson, it’s informed but it’s also idiosyncratic. My brain wants to dance around. Usually I lay on the floor and start to move around. For many years I was in denial how visual I work. Usually I collect lot of images and print outs and through them I create scores. And when I am able to turn them into task, this is when I know I can bring others into the process. 

Z: My last question. Where is Vertigo now? Because observing you being in process of digesting Vertigo as a movie, I would like to know, is the movie still there, or transformed into something else? 

B: I haven’t done much work on this since then. But if I come back to Couching time. I’m interested to perceive where we arrived with others through the montage. because we started the process with the body experience in architectural vertigo, being in the spaces which made us dizzy. And that juxtaposed with the story from the film. The work i did in the gallery was then misinterpretation and expressionistic renderings of the very concrete sections of the film. I like that as an idea hw to work further. I like that with each performer we go through specific scenes and I like this idea of body masks. It make me think if we have a piece of fabric and then it suddenly turns into the knot and this is a moment of the film and then it releases and disappears again. That it materialises and dematerialise. If we talk about composition, there will be lot of questions about duration. The film seams like it will bare a number of investigations and I have been collecting material from a variety of sources. And I wonder what other writers will do with the piece. And in this state I feel I want to stay with the work of the film and with the work of these spaces. Jakub sent me a text about Vertigo and see this as a way for him to work on his mask and performativity. And then each of us is working on this quest what it means to be unstable, what it means to be dizzy, in vertigo. I think to get too obviously personal its not helpful. I think it will be terribly important to engage with silence and breath. 

Z: When I saw you performing, I was experiencing flashes, there was a continuity of movement where I was observing a salt of the horror. You brought me into the state where I was experiencing different temporality and this particular time stretch made me feel dizzy. Also working with the genre as horror, where you expect to be scared or surprised, but I have to say I wasn’t scared, I was in the fluent state feeling a potential of fear coming. Why you are doing it? 

B: I do the work, because there is something I want to understand. And all the things related to this work are attempt to understand. And i suspect if they concern me, they likely concern others. The state you’ve just described is the state I’m hoping will emerge. I feel responsible to provide a structure to provide a material for my audience, but I also want to provide the room where they can find a space for themselves, because this is what I find the most important when I encounter a performance or an installation. Because what we do in performance is that we curate presence. Because in performance we can actually experience time and experience bodily mediated thinking and feeling that we can’t really access via any other means. 

Z: Thank you Becka  

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