The Exchange is a proposed long-term collaboration between Sydney-based performance artist and occasional demon wrangler Justin Shoulder and young Italian company Dewey Dell, an offshoot of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio.
The two parties will meet for the first time at the Arts House in May where they will present two current projects each. Program 1 runs Saturday 19 to Tuesday 22 May. Program 2 runs Thursday 24 May to Sun 27 May. The next phase will be a projected tour of Italy in 2013 where the two groups will begin devising a collaborative work.
Time Out got the cross-cultural dialogue underway, soliciting the following email exchange between Justin and Teodora Castellucci of Dewey Dell.
Justin: In my own work I usually start with images, doing drawings especially of faces. I do collages from collections of animal images, landscapes, text, fashion, human bodies. I think about my desires and my fears and from them manifest the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body and sex of fantastic creatures.
For you and Dewey Dell, what do you collect that feeds your work?
Teodora: To feed our work it is important for us to listen and find new musical pieces, to observe traditional dances from different countries, to draw as much as possible without thinking of a real purpose, to stay informed about the possibilities of various materials with which you can build costumes.
A great inspiration for us is often the mere sight of some natural phenomena, which then we try to translate into dance, into performance. It is very important to succeed, once acquired a technique or method, in detaching from what you feel "safe" to pursue new ways and new fields of research.
JS: Thinking about choreography, I treat it as the language my fantastic creatures speak. I ask myself: how can I authentically represent these beings I'm trying to bring to life? I try to imagine where the creature lives, what they eat, what they desire, what they fear. When I understand their intentions I can channel their gestures. These become the dance.
How do you go about generating the choreography for your work?
TC: Our way of thinking and designing the choreography is very similar to yours. For Dewey Dell, costumes have a very particular importance, not only do they determine the character of the figure they represent, but they also have a strong influence on movements and expressions. Therefore, the gestures that are made, often in relation to music, model themselves upon the character invented.
JS: Sound collages are a big part of my practice as well. I have been collaborating for most of my shows with composer Nick Wales. We have a great dialogue where we farm for ideas in his studio in sessions of play. The action of playing is such a huge part of the success of this relationship, often generating the most exciting results.
Do you value the process of play? How do you keep surprising yourselves?
TC: We always try to introduce elements that apparently have no immediate connection with the primary idea leading the creation, but that are representative on a deeply subjective level. Thus, for example, in "Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti", a work which deals with a ship, it was important for us to have a relationship with the Greek classic iconography or with the Italian carnival of Venice. This is not because we simply like to introduce bizarre elements within a coherent structure, but for the fact that these "grotesque" characters for us fell perfectly within our idea of a day on a ship in the sea. Feeling free during the act of creation, released from any causes for concern, is important in order to be surprised and intrigued by situations that arise out of control.
Looking at your work, we often have the feeling that you are playing with a strong comic side, as a sort of weird humour. We too have retained this kind of comedy, more or less consciously, sometimes highlighted, sometimes concealed, a black humour that is present, but always in a subtle way. How do you manage this within the idea of the figure that you present?
JS: I am very drawn to clowns, tricksters and fools. I like the freedom of the jester who can poke fun of royalty while in the company of royalty.
These beings can invert worlds to amplify human behaviour. Sometimes humour is used to comprehend horror, in a way laughing becomes cleansing. My creatures aren't comic to themselves, but for humans the logic of the creatures may appear absurd.
TC: Reading the texts that accompany your works, the word "demon" often appears. How important could a demon be today? We have always been interested in the process of mythological invention, do you think that myths are still necessary to better understand some facts that are absurd also today? What does it means for you to invent a ceremony?
JS: For me demons are physical manifestations of contemporary situations and behaviours. I see demons in the everyday. Amalgamating these ideas in the figure of a demon is a mirror for illumination.
The process of mythological invention for me provides a way to maintain a sense of magic and mystery to living. Mythology for me provides a link to a metaphysical understanding of the world and of spirit. Theatrical ceremony for me is a way of calling upon these mythological creatures.
In Program 1 (May 19-22) Justin Shoulder and collaborators will present 'V', while Dewey Dell will present 'Cinquanta Urlanti Quaranta Ruggenti Sessanta Stridenti'. Program 2 (May 24-27) features 'The River Eats' by Justin Shoulder and 'Grave' by Dewey Dell.