9/05 – 18:00
8, 9, 10, 11, 12/05 – 20:30

Last year the Kunstenfestivaldesarts introduced Ioannis Mandafounis and Fabrice Mazliah to Belgian audiences with their powerful duo P.A.D. For their latest creation, ZERO, they have decided to work with Israeli-born May Zarhy. Their starting point is the body as tabula rasa: a body with no memory, no past, no future, which performs each movement as if for the first time; a tool with neither purpose nor function. ZERO presents itself as a sequence of confusing and fragmented scenes against an ambiguous background of recognizable sounds, some pre-recorded, some live. What you hear is not always what you see. Nor do the bodies react as expected. They are thrown back onto an isolated present, delivered up to constant interaction. The anticipated fluidity of movement is questioned. Gestures are deconstructed, disrupted, dislocated. But if “you are what you do”, then what identity is left for a body which has erased its past? ZERO explores the relation between memory and the body, its bearings and reflexes, with remarkable physical intelligence.

Concept & performance
Ioannis Mandafounis,
Fabrice Mazliah, May Zarhy

Johannes Helberger

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater

Association CIE projet 11 (Genève)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm (Frankfurt), Festival Automne
en Normandie (Rouen), Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis (Paris), PACT Zollverein (Essen)

Supported by
The Forsythe Company (Frankfurt)

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“If you try to put aside the wish to understand what you see, what is left to watch?

What could the experience be then?”

The not yet there meet the already gone

a dialogue between

Ioannis Mandafounis

Fabrice Mazliah

May Zarhy

Nicole Peisl

Elizabeth Waterhouse

Liz: The Kunstenfestivaldesarts marks the fourth time that ZERO will be performed, after premiering in November 2009 at the Festival Automne en Normandie in Rouen, France. Can you describe the initial stages of your collaboration?

Fabrice: The questions that we began with were quite fundamental. What makes a person? Are you what you do? What could a person or a body be with no past – without memory and accumulated knowledge? At first we tried many little experiments. We choreographed whole situations in the room, and then performed them without using movement – just in stillness – while imagining the actions were taking place in the room next door. We wanted to know what the experience would be of the audience watching people like this – watching someone clearly doing something, but not “moving” or “dancing” at all. Could they perceive those people having an experience?

May: This expanded into many different considerations of purpose and function. How do we embody a goal? What is it like to observe others as they act with purpose? Under what conditions does function or purpose breakdown? When is that theatrically interesting?

Ioannis: We were also thinking about zero – about nothing and absence. Obviously we could not be absent. We could attempt to experience nothing, but in the end we had to create something. We wanted to develop a work that was definite but unsettled. Something open to questions and possibilities. Something problematic. So our creative process was finding out how to do it. What forms or structures work by not-working in an interesting way?

Liz: So it sounds like you’re addressing absence as a method, not creating a choreographic metaphor. Your research was the problem of approaching the idea of zero, and you wish to share that research, rather than an answer, with the audience.

Ioannis: We also considered, as performers, what it would mean to be stuck in the moment – to have no memory of the past and no anticipation of the future.

May: I would describe this as being able to catch the present in your focus. It’s intention on a bodily level. Not passive intention, but intention that you immediately act upon.

Liz: What compositional tools did you use or develop?

Fabrice: Removal was a compositional idea. Also emptying, subtracting, forgetting and erasing. We worked by constructing situations or relationships between each other, the audience, the props and the space, rather than dealing with singular actions and gestures. We then layered and recontextualised our material. We decided to examine functionality and not look for dysfunctionality but the lack of normal functionality. Not breakdown from a particular function but working in an unexpected way. So the reasoning behind the situation is elusive – which creates a space for questioning, wondering or laughing.

Liz: Could you describe a scene in the piece? And share some ideas or questions affiliated with that material?

Ioannis: May and I are standing together onstage with our arms and legs somewhat intertwined. I am grabbing my own arm, although from the audience it looks like May’s arm. Thus I suggest a different feeling than what I feel.

Fabrice: Whose hand is whose? Where is the feeling? Do I feel more by touching her hand than my hand?

May: It’s somehow so unquestionable that when you touch yourself or your hand that you touch yourself. But we want to pose a question there.

Fabrice: It’s as if you don’t know what you are caressing. It is a thing. Perhaps you know something of it, but you don’t really know. Your hand could be a microphone. It could be a book. It could be anything. We were interested in the relation of subject and object; also considering limits, boundaries and separations between people and things.

Liz: You mentioned that you were inspired by philosophers Henri Bergson and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Does the scene you just described relate to Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of the right hand touching the left in Phenomenology of Perception?

May: Yes, our work was also inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s writing. We live in a certain way related to the specific body that we have – the specific body that we make. We cannot escape our bodies, for that’s what enables us to live and have experiences. What is special about this piece, however, is the way we choose to show or explore ideas. The choreographic form that makes the fiction is a tool and a mystery. That’s the specificity of the theatrical space. Our way of dealing with these subjects is always by use of theatrical tools.

Fabrice: As another example, May and Ioannis are entangled a second time halfway through the piece. This time they are both on the floor, almost in a ball, in a very close position. The situation is potentially intimate. From the audience’s perspective it’s unclear who is touching whom. What are they doing exactly? After watching for a while you probably figure out that this embrace, or this relationship is not actually happening. This realisation creates a strange rupture. The two performers are so close, yet they are so distanced from each other – even distanced from themselves. Simultaneously there is also a distance between the situation that we, as an audience, see and what the performers are in.

Liz: In my experience, ZERO provides an atmosphere of strangeness that I would characterise as pleasant. Part of this was the movement, but there were also really curious costumes and props. How did you select the costumes?

Fabrice: We wanted to be in-between – not to define clearly who we are. To find things that make people ask, “Why are they wearing that?”

May: We did not want to fit into any very defined aesthetic. So each element of the costumes somehow throws you into some kind of world, but it does not fit or remains different than the other parts – meaning the relation between shirt and trousers, or the relation between different people.

Liz: And the props?

May: We started using props early on. All the objects are clearly formed or designed in an intimate relation to a specific part of the human body. The objects are on the edge between props and costumes.

Fabrice: We were wondering – how much are we affected by the things that we do every day? By the things that we put on, to dress up? I believe that common objects define who you are. Your everyday movement relates to these objects. Putting on your bag, putting on your hat, it’s like dancing with the things. It’s choreographic. Inside the skin there are reminiscent traces of that which surrounds us. The body knows. In ZERO we explore an attachment to things that keeps fading.

Our initial tasks did not work in an empty space, with nothing. It helped to have elements that we could work with and that the audience could recognise – that they could imagine, project and reference what situations might be possible from these objects. In the end, we created a very strong theatrical space with a clearly defined materiality. By disrupting the auditory, visual and sensorial elements so that they did not correlate with one another, we wished to invite the spectators to question their own perception of the theatrical field.

May: The sound design made by Johannes Helberger was critical. In daily life we take for granted the sounds associated with action, for example the sound of a door as you or another opens it. In ZERO we interfered with causality; we played with such unquestioned relationships.

Liz: I was wondering if you could speak specifically about the rubbish bin.

Nicole: Is it a rubbish bin? Or is it a bucket? Or is it a container? Somehow it could stand for me as a container.

Fabrice: It had all these different possibilities. Is it containing the secret of the piece? It’s almost in the centre of the stage. What is it? Is it a statement? Shall we put something or myself in it? Can we throw it all in and start again?

Nicole: What intrigues me in the work is that it leaves space for questions. What do I notice? What changes in that which I look at, and what happens in me as a viewer? When do which questions arise for me as a person who is participating in this live work by merely watching it? When am I engaged in the details and satisfied with that, and when do I want to get a sense of the bigger picture? Is the bigger picture something that I see in front of me, or is the bigger picture something that I am part of?

Is ZERO working around something that is the beginning – a potential that is only to be completed by the observer? If one is interested, there is a possibility for dialogue between the observer and that which happens on stage. But what is even more striking is that space of dialogue within the observer. This place between intonations is also a space to notice one’s own aliveness.

One important aspect of how to show the idea of absence or removal is that you are constantly breaking scenes; you never develop them. This is for me where the quality of potential comes out.

Fabrice: The piece has no smooth transitions. It is a landscape of erratic and discontinuous situations. Ideas like “this is going to…” or “they are doing this and this is going to go there…” or “she’s doing this for him…” and “they are working on that…”, such statements don’t work in our piece. By creating scenes that escape recognition and prediction, the audience looks closer.

Nicole: ZERO places you in a position that suggests one thing but doesn’t fulfil the suggestion. You leave all these gaps and present many beginnings. So your dance, or your creative authorship as an audience member – that is exactly the dance, the part that I see the movement in. So I’m not just watching something that I like or dislike. But (laugh) I’m starting to become aware about how I feel.

Liz: For me ZERO has such strong associability and loaded content. Yet in its cohesion, through what is showed to you in one moment or what is developed over time, there is a rupture, or discontinuity, or strangeness, or suspense. I wish there was a word for the type of suspense that comes before humour, this space before laughter. It’s like a pleasurable discomfort. Arousal perhaps?

May: Humour definitely helped us find a certain freedom. It creates an opening so that one is less judgmental. One is still comparative, that’s why it’s funny; you’re comparing things to an earlier situation. In ZERO, humour may reside in the gap between the serious present that we perform and what the audience anticipates, through thinking back (past) and ahead (future).

Ioannis: The piece went through two complete drafts. In the second version we still did most of the same complicated tasks of removal. But then, just before or after, we would show what we did.

Liz: It sounds like magic. It’s not enough to just make something disappear. You have to show before and after. Here again is the paradox of nothing. Not nothing but approaching it: removing and reappearing.

Fabrice: We wanted to reach people, not so they would know exactly everything about what we do, but at least to share an experience together.

Ioannis: The people, the audience, become part of our collective for the hour of the performance.

Fabrice: We tried to open that door for them to be there. Sometimes, I think, people want something recognisable to appear before them, so that they can detach themselves. For us it’s important to offer something problematic in order to integrate the audience – to work with them.

This dialogue was constructed from a series of emails and spoken conversations between the makers and their colleagues, Nicole Peisl and Elizabeth Waterhouse, both of whom are members of The Forsythe Company. The editorial collaboration was lead by Elizabeth Waterhouse.

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Fabrice Mazliah (°1972) studied at the École de Danse of his native city of Geneva and went on to study at the Athens National Dance school and at the Rudra Béjart school studio in Lausanne. He has worked for the Harris Mandafounis Dance Company, the Dutch Dance Theatre, the Ballett Frankfurt and, since 2005, for The Forsythe Company. Apart from that, he created his own choreographies, including Remote Versions (2003) and Double B(l)ind (2004), for which he collaborated with Agnès Chekroun and Jone San Martin, and Home (2004), a collaboration with Roberta Mosca and Gilbert Mazliah. In 2007 Fabrice Mazliah created HUE (2007), a collaboration with seven Forsythe Company dancers.

Ioannis Mandafounis (°1981) was born in Athens and studied dance at the Conservatoire de Paris. He worked for the Göteborgs Operans Balett, the Harris Mandafounis Dance Company and the Dutch Dance Theatre II. In 2004 he founded the Lemurius Company, with Anastasis Gouliaris and Katerina Skiada. In the same year, he took part in the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympic Games. He joined The Forsythe Company in 2005 and has recently been working as a free-lance choreographer. In 2009, he presented the dance piece P.A.D. at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, together with Fabrice Mazliah.

In 2002 May Zarhy (°1984) moved to the Netherlands to study at the Rotterdam Dance Academy. In 2005 she assisted William Forsythe during the creation of 3 Atmospheric Studies. In 2007 May Zarhy participated in ex.e.r.ce 07 in Montpellier, directed by Mathilde Monnier and Xavier Le Roy. In 2007 she was artist-in-residence at PACT Zollverein (Essen). Today, she is living and working in her native city of Tel Aviv.

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