Turning improvisation into a presentation with a compelling dramatic arch and executing a score with such alertness to the here and now that it feels fresh every time. That, in a nutshell, is the paradox explored in the show In Search of a Title by Elysia McMullen and Evangelos Biskas, who goes by the moniker “V”.
Having danced since childhood in their native Thessaloniki and Dublin, respectively, both moving back and forth between formalized dance training and urban forms, V and Elysia met when they were in the same year at Fontys Dance Academy in Tilburg. The two worked with some of the same choreographers, shifting from physically demanding work with Guilherme Miotto to the theatrical mayhem of Fernando Belfioro.
‘Exploring such different qualities of movement and expression has truly informed our work’, says Elysia. ‘The Fontys Academy encourages students to explore their individuality and to be creative. So alongside my course in Dance Arts in Context I have always been able to create my own work. And V has changed from Contemporary Urban to Choreography. We’ve worked together on several occasions and I think we click because we have a similar interest in instinctiveness and improvisation.’
‘For In Search of a Title we started from the question what is instinctive behavior, and where does it originate. Our research period was based heavily on improvisation, which we did with just the two of us, but also in front of an audience. And when it was just us in the studio, the choices we made differed from when there was an audience. Because other factors come in when people watch you; there’s adrenaline, for instance, which influences how you react.’
V adds: ‘The method became doing one hour of improvs together, getting into a flow, and then letting people in for the second hour and creating something out of that flow. The first hour was all about listening to the body and going for it without judgment. Unexpected and risky. The second hour is more moderated. You have options: you can use material from the first hour, the original instincts which the body remembers. Or you can listen to your instinct in that moment. It is similar to automatic writing, which we also did. Sometimes the body is moving before you’ve decided to move it.’
Elysia: ‘Then we brought in the two musicians, Ruben den Brok on keyboards and Isaac Poels on viola, and they had never worked together. But as musicians they are used to improvising. We wanted to see how we could make them more than just musicians; give them a bigger role by integrating them with what the two of us were doing onstage. Crossing the disciplines.’
V: ‘The effort was to turn two entities into one, to let the music respond to the movement and vice versa. Of course, the musicians aren’t used to using the body, but we wanted them to move with us. Luckily they were both very open and did movement exercises with us, and they let us try to play their instruments. Which was hard. (laughs) It was a good exchange and we found each other in being open and responsive. Musicians also use their instincts when they play together, there’s a similar sensitivity, which we managed to turn into a group sensitivity.’
Elysia: ‘We became a quartet through this kind of ping-pong effect between music and movement.’
V: ‘The question we get a lot is how much of the show is improvised and how much is choreographed. There is a structured score but within that, there is room to let things happen on the spot. Isaac, our viola player, said to me that in music there are two extremes, jazz and classical music. Classical music is about trying to play a score like it occurs in the moment, to make it sound spontaneous. And with jazz there’s a lot of improvisation which, when it’s done well, sounds like it was written down. We have tried to create the same kind of paradox.’