Stace Gill and Maria Nilsson Waller (Flora Fauna Project, Ireland)
Yasmeen Godder (Choreographer, Tel Aviv, Israel)
Monica Gillette ( Choreographer and Dramaturge, Germany)
human, dance, Parkinson’s disease, scientists, dancers, emotions, structure, space, community, collaborate, learning, participation,
Stace Gill: We're delighted to give ROOM to choreographer, performer, and artistic director of Yasmeen Godder Company, Yasmeen Godder. And today we're also joined by one of Yasmeen's collaborators, choreographer and dramaturg, Monica Gillette. Thank you for joining us. Thank you.
Yasmeen Godder: Hi, thanks for having us.
Maria Nilsson Waller: Pleasure. We are gonna dive straight in. Yeah, we're just gonna get stuck in here. So Yasmeen, in 2016, yourself and Monica Gillette collaborated for a project working with scientists, professional dancers, and people living with Parkinson's disease [called "Störung/Hafraah"]. Can you tell us, was this the first time that you opened your studio to untrained dancers? And how has this impacted, inspired, and informed your work since then?
Yasmeen: So I will just start by saying that this moment the door opened and the group of people dealing with Parkinson's disease entered my studio was a revolutionary moment for me. Also, I can say that now, you know, five years after. We've always said that, you know, any workshop, any class was open for anyone who was curious. So there was never this limitation. On the other hand, there was never a very clear invitation and a very direct kind of openness, as a company, as a place to a particular group of people dealing specifically with something that has to do with some kind of a physical, neurological challenge, I guess. I was always very curious about a lot of things. And one of the things that I loved always about dance, is that I felt that whatever it I was curious about could actually enter. There was no limitation in thinking about, what is it? Whatever theme or subject or medium I was curious about, I always felt there was an entrance into the field of choreography. And that's why I was so drawn to it. Because as you know, starting off as an artist, I was drawn to many things like visual arts, for example. But I didn't feel that the dance field was limiting me. And so I could handle choosing the path of a choreographer knowing that I could always funnel whatever it is that I'm interested in. And I guess this-- so in a way, there was this moment of like, I guess a little bit of a shock of being like, wow, this is new, this is challenging, this is bringing up a lot for us, this is refreshing. At the same time, it was like, "Yeah, but of course this could happen. Like why not?" You know, this is why I am so drawn to this field-- that it has that ability to be open on one hand, and on the other hand, like, really, somehow present a mirror to you in a very direct way, and kind of I guess, challenge or have you deal with things in a very immediate and real kind of way. So I guess that was that, you know, and I can talk more about it, but maybe Monica wants to say something as well.
Stace: Maybe say something about the structure and the initial proposal that you brought to Yasmeen. How did you propose this to Yasmeen and how did you create this space together? If you could give us some practical things here as well about, what was the proposal and what was the structure? And how did you create the space when you actually finally got there together in the room with everybody?
Monica Gillette: There was a step. I mean, there's a few steps beforehand that might be good to mention. But once one step in particular was in a pilot project that happened before our project, which was called “Brain Dance.” And I developed that in collaboration with another choreographer, Mia Habib, who's in Norway. But really, I bring it up because I was working as a dancer in the State Theatre at Theatre Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany at the time and there was a kind of a pivotal moment for me where they asked me to be involved in the design of a collaborative research project. So already that invitation coming from the theatre where they didn't ask me to, let's say, only give dance classes to people from the community, but they said, can you help design a research project from a dancer's perspective, from an embodied perspective? And that initial invitation, I think, was kind of a pivotal moment because they were asking: bring your skills to the table to think about, like, the structure that we should live inside of. And this was a collaboration between Theatre Freiburg and University Freiburg and they invited Mia and I to create this structure for the pilot project. And something we landed on was the idea of having kind of like parallel tracks going on. So while we're creating dance classes for people living with Parkinson's, we also had a space for artistic research for ourselves, where we could be processing and questioning on a physical level simultaneous, but also separate from the classes-- so a residency that isn't obliged to create work, but it's somehow processing on a on a physical level, on an artistic frame of what's coming up for us inside of creating these dance classes, as well as meeting scientists of many different disciplines inside of it. So kind of operating on a theoretical level. And then we also created a track where we would meet the public, like meet the audience. So we had these four tracks of like meeting scientists, artistic research, developing classes for people with Parkinson's, and then also already having open houses where we had to already present our questions, or share our questions of our research, with the public. So not necessarily any answers; we didn't claim to have any answers, but to say, this is our research and this is what it means to have had to kind of engage your movement research and your artistic research on a societal and transdisciplinary level. And so that was about five months.
Simultaneous to us going through that, I was just coming out of a creation process with Yasmeen as a dancer in a piece, and there was a kind of a confluence of events. While we were preparing and thinking about what this experiment could be, she and I were in the studio each day and in creation, and recognizing that we had a shared spirit around what we were asking and what we were curious about. I was also quite attracted to how Yasmeen and her partner Itsik were always changing roles with each other and existing inside of different roles with each other in their creative work. And I thought, well, what would happen if I kind of like start to engage with Yasmeen also in this way of like, what if we do these roles with each other this time? And what if we do these roles now? So with each project, we kind of also reinvented our relationship with each other and how we collaborate. So inside of this, we decided to also invite Yasmeen and the company with the same structure and to say, let's go for a bigger collaboration, a German-Israeli collaboration, and let's expand that original structure-- bring in young researchers, also give the chance for Yasmeen to, let's say, employ her dancers inside of this other way to be together, other way to question, other way to dance. So also to challenge our question of what is a dance company, and how to live inside of that on a research level? So that's kind of how it was birthed, let's say, that's how that's how we took the step inside of that.
Maria: And can I just ask, following all of that. So there's a lot of different people in the room, there's a lot of different skills and sort of expertise. How do you create a working environment that is somehow equal that everyone can join in? Like, how do you bring everyone together? Is there any tools that you have picked up along the way?
Monica: Well, I think inside of the structure of the "Störung/Hafraah" project, the one that we're referring to right now, each of us or each, let's say, country-- Yasmeen approached it in one way for the company and we approached it a little bit differently, because we had different needs. Each locality has different needs. But Yasmeen maybe you want to first share how you all approached it or what your thoughts are?
Yasmeen: Yeah. Well, I want to start by talking about the fact that there was the winter school. Two meetings where all the collaborators--well not everybody, not the people living with Parkinson's disease, but the artists and the young scientists-- met for a week of like brainstorming and learning from each other and kind of sharing a week of research. And then we also had kind of two, well, we ended up doing two-- how do you call it? Like symposiums? I guess. No-- the conferences. I'll just share that. What was very interesting in in my group was that, basically, I was working with five other artists who... I guess three of them were, yeah, three out of the five were actually working in the company at the time and two others were collaborating artists, and each one took on their own research track and collaborated with the younger scientists. So together, we had this monthly meeting with each one of the duo's and we used, during this winter school that where we met in Freiburg, we actually created a bank of words that connected to all the different populations that were in this project together. So there were things like "unison" and "identity." And Monica remind me more-- "synchronicity" which I feel like it's still a word that I'm dealing with today.
[Everybody is an expert]
Yasmeen: Embodiment. So these were words that we did this kind of work together to bring them up. And then basically each scientist-choreographer pair would work with one of them and create a workshop around them. So there was a way of meeting around similar themes, but each person bringing their expertise. That was one aspect of it. The other aspect was something that was basic in our structure, or like, one of the key ways of approaching it, is that everyone in the room has an expertise in something. Also, the people dealing or living with Parkinson's disease, each one with their own way of experiencing it, is an expert in their bodies, and has the expertise of their experience. And so in a way, coming with this philosophy into the space and understanding that there's this dual learning process that's happening between all the different people with their experiences helped to allow or give space for everyone to share their knowledge and to also create situations or structures. Let's say, for example, with the scientists, they often worked on doing these experiments on us. This is what we discovered: that when you bring a scientist into a workshop, they'll use the moment to give out questionnaires and try out things, and somehow that really connected to artistic processes, you know. It really allowed us to have these moments where we were actually inspired by how do you design space. And by looking at these, let's say, these small experiments is also structures-- choreographic structures. And this started to inform all of us.
In addition to that, I'll just add that each one of the artists who was leading the classes for people living with Parkinson's was bringing their background of dance, whatever it is. So there was one man who comes from capoeira, so he brought a lot of that information into the classes. And then there was a woman who came from folk dancing and so she brought that into the classes. So there was not one format. There wasn't like one continuous format of teaching, not this one way of thinking about what's the right movement class for this population. And in that way, it challenged all of the-- I guess many of the-- stereotypes also, of what is right for people dealing with Parkinson's and what is wrong. You know, for example, walking back is considered dangerous or not allowed. But in a way, doing these circular dances with Shuli Enosh-- she was one of the artists who was leading [and] one of my company members for many years; she was doing the folk dancing, and we were holding each other and walking back and we're like, oh my god, we're walking back, oh, my god, you know, like, these things, were suddenly... you realize that first of all-- it empowered each one of the performers to be able to bring their own history of connecting to their bodies that was not necessarily connected to, let's say, my practice, or what I brought into the company, or how we warm up, it was their different practices. And this, you know, very pluralistic kind of approach to movement was also very effective for the people coming in for the classes, because it was, you know, for a whole month to be able to work with one practice of movement, and then to shift, was very right for people dealing with Parkinson's, as on one hand, it's very helpful to have repetition and continuity. On the other hand, it can also be a bit too repetitive, and you need changes and shifts to bring the body new kinds of impulses.
So there was so much about the structure that taught us about what we have, as performers, but also taught us about science and taught us about what it is to live with Parkinson's, and how each one of these could kind of cross pollinate and enrich, in a way, what we know or what we don't know. I'll just say that, you know, as Monica mentioned, the fact that I structurally have a company-- I mean, it's not like a regular, ongoing year-long company, but it's a project based company and I do tend to work with certain performers over a very long time--but to come together even before the project started, and we did two weeks ahead of time, where we just gathered, and we learned together about the disease, and we invited different people to talk to us about it. And just to think that, okay, here's a dance company, here's a group of, you know, dancers, performers sitting together. And we're, we're becoming a learning group, you know, where there isn't a leader, there isn't this one leader with the information, which would have been me, I guess, as the choreographer, as the artistic director. But I'm there, like everyone else, learning about this new information and trying to digest it and to kind of, learn from each other and how we perceive it. And one of the members of the project-- her mom was dealing with Parkinson's-- she brought in her personal experience of dealing with it.
I just want to add another detail that was a real learning experience for me. You know, when we first started out, we're like, okay, let's invite people. So let's invite I guess, scientists, and people dealing with Parkinson's disease, and people who may be teaching or leading classes for people dealing with Parkinson's disease. And we started making phone calls and people were so happy to come and talk to us. I mean, and to volunteer themselves to share the information that again, you know, being the dance company, that's like, you know, you're always like, financially, you're struggling and you're like, oh my god, everything is costing money-- just like taking, you know, bringing all the dancers to, you know, to the airport, or like buying all the, you know, insurance or having like, you know, some coffee in the space, whatever, you know? Like everything costs. And yet you're making phone calls to all these people who are, you know, again, experts in their fields, whether it was a scientist from the Weissman Institute to a doctor to a woman dealing with Parkinson's for many years to a teacher of dance for Parkinson's, and they were all so excited to come and share the information with us. And there was something so special about it to say wow, this studio is because suddenly becoming like a school. Like, we are defining the curriculum, we are deciding what is, you know-- and we're inviting people to teach us. So even before we met these different communities proposed in "Störung/Hafraah," there was already just the spirit of it changed everything, you know. And, again, it's these moments where you realize that, how often I think for myself, I realized that you can really enter this loop of how things should be or how things should work. How you should-- how to structure a dance organization? I mean, I don't want to think of myself as that, but how do you structure how you go about making work, developing relationships with collaborators, etc.? And here just by this proposal, so many new-- yeah, again, I go back to the door, but doors, open. There are ways of thinking about how to go about doing things, and how much there is a willingness for people to share and to be together in other ways. So yeah, it's all coming back right now. It's bubbling in me.
[ Hirearchies ]
Stace: We're talking to a few other people, obviously and what's striking me is that the models for working and the way that everybody is working, everyone that we're talking to-- it's like the perfect structural example of how we could live as a society. I was talking about all of these things. I mean, myself and Maria are talking about these things every day. We're discussing how are we dealing with all of the people that we're working with, no matter who they are, no matter what their role is. And then the dream world that you've just described, is like this opportunity for people to tap into their natural intelligence. Like what you were saying, everybody's body is coming with an intelligence. It doesn't matter whether you're a scientist, it doesn't matter who you are in that room--you are in your body. And if you are a body, then you're loaded with all of this intelligence. And to start tapping into that in a room with other people is incredibly intimate, first of all.
Stace: And it creates something very important that I think is trust, as well. And then more can be revealed, and then more can be learned. When you don't have a hierarchy, then you've got equality, and then you've got a perfect community.
Yasmeen: I mean, maybe one thing to add on the hierarchy level is that language became important on some levels, in the sense that I think dance became an equalizer between the scientists and the doctors and how they would identify patients. So off the bat, the word "patient" was banned from our project. And even though it kept slipping out, because of habit, this became really important for acknowledging the people that are living with Parkinson's that they are whole human beings that are our collaborators in this project, bringing their expertise, and certainly not patients inside of this context. I think that, in a way, at the beginning of this project, dance and our role as dancers inside the project was serving as mediators for two communities that exist on a very hierarchical level that doesn't always necessarily serve either of them. [Laughs] Like, isn't to the best of a condition for either of them, you know. The people that are kind of looking at doctors to play the god role to find the cure, which is certainly necessary, but it's like putting a type of pedestal or kind of distance. And the doctors and the researchers that are kind of, in this examining role or observing, objectifying--not objectifying-- but looking at their subjects with a distance. I think that, through this process, humanity was brought into the room that kind of shook everyone's approach to how to be together in all of our roles. And I think that this had an enormous impact on everyone to kind of feel empowered through the situation. And we had one young researcher, a neuroscientist, who said, where I used to see data, now I see people. That's still one quote that stays with me. Maybe one of the biggest successes we could identify in the project, is like, okay, now we see people, not certain titles or roles.