3, 4, 5/05 – 20:30
1h 15min

Cypriot-born, New York based, dancer and choreographer Maria Hassabi feels equally at home in the black box of the theatre and in the white cube of the gallery. She became known for producing fascinating work that draws its strength from the tension between the human subject and the artistic object – the dancer as a performer and as a physical entity. Hassabi’s latest performance raises questions about the notion of the ‘premiere’, that fragile moment when a closed creation process becomes a public product. The doors leading into the theatre open. Five dancers are exhibited in asymmetrical poses between two brightly lit walls. The sculptural bodies move with a confident inertia. From this starting position, PREMIERE gently evolves into a series of tableaux vivants without end. In the shared space and with minimalist dramaturgy, light and sound also become full-fledged actors. Maria Hassabi deftly composes an intense universe of microscopic events. Magnetic!

Biba Bell, Hristoula Harakas, Robert Steijn, Andros Zins-Browne & Maria Hassabi

Sound design
Alex Waterman

Lighting design
Zack Tinkelman & Maria Hassabi


Scott Lyall

Production assistants
Meghan Finn & Kate Ryan

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater

Caravan Production (Brussels)

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Kaaitheater (Brussels), The Kitchen, Performa as part of Performa 13 (New York City), steirischer herbst (Graz), Dance4 (Nottingham)

Supported by
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Extended Life Program.

Additional funding from
the MAP Fund, the Jerome Foundation, LMCC Manhattan Community Arts Fund & Mertz Gilmore Foundation’s Late-Stage Production Stipends

PREMIERE was developed through residencies at
Kaaitheater (Brussels), PAF (St Erme) & Mount Tremper Arts (New York)

This project is co-produced by
NXTSTP, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union

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Notes from a conversation: Maria Hassabi’s Premiere

In response to an invitation from Maria Hassabi, Kelly Kivland and Scott Lyall began an open conversation to compare notes on the reception of Premiere. The choice of conversation as a basis for this writing seemed appropriate because Premiere is a work in development, always changing and reappearing in new places – premiering. This said, in these notes, the correspondents have decided to reproduce only a fragment of their total conversation. What follows is an extract that begins to trace a link between Premiere and the philosophical concept of plasticity (and therefore refers to texts by the French philosopher, Catherine Malabou). These ideas first appeared as the dramaturgical approach Lyall developed with Hassabi during the rehearsals for Premiere. At that time, they enlivened a formal aspiration that existed (or even insisted) within the choreographic score. Premiere would be a work that was devoted, from its inception, to a mobile and highly pliable initial approach to plastic form. Malabou has almost singlehandedly recovered the philosophical notion of material plasticity. Describing it as “asleep in the reception of Hegel”, she defines it as the form of a material that can change, that can model and be modelled, can break apart and be destroyed. The challenge for the philosopher, and for many of her readers, is to gather these inconsistencies together as a compelling temporal form. Strictly speaking, plastic change does not record direct traces, is unperceivable in the present, and is inaccessible to our minds. It constitutes an immemorial alteration of matter where alteration, becoming other, has to do with how the material of our bodies produces thinking as a manifold of signs. This implies a TIME of formative change in our body that both generates and responds to ever-changing textual codes. For Hassabi, this would link a theme of plastic materiality to the always-shifting passage from choreography to a premiere.

Kelly Kivland One reason I am interested in speaking about plasticity is that I view Maria’s work over the last five years as being situated in a practice of increasing abstraction – exercised through the reduction, breaking down, and even sculpting of movement. In Premiere, her use of abstraction simultaneously deconstructs and recuperates a formal dimension, while the focused, slow movement presents the body as a strong affecting force. Audiences have time to stay focused on the details that move within the performances in each passing moment. In this, the work grows over time like an assemblage, yet its ‘affecting force’ remains, with attention to the direct subjective experience. In our daily lives, the increased infiltration of images has sped up our ability to consume their meanings. In contrast, through a slowing and breaking down of movement, physical gestures – which I consider to be a manifestation of form into images – can pass between performer and audience, and then be captured and held in our minds. This allows for identification, contemplation, and resonation. On the other hand, this experience of capturing images (from sculpture, film, photography, or pedestrian activity) is indistinguishable from the flow of movement. Maria insists on contrasting the slowness of her poses to the capturing of stills from a film. “Let’s say that if you pause a movie, then it’s paused”, she has said. “You’re not seeing any action, any breath. In live performance it might seem paused, but it never is. There is always movement (…).” This conviction, that change cannot entirely be detained, provides a source for the resonance one experiences in Premiere.

Scott Lyall As a dramaturge, I suggested Catherine Malabou to Maria because I felt Premiere could work with a concept like plasticity, which itself is still moving, still becoming or forming. Malabou is in the middle of her work on plasticity and, as she says, the word itself is very much ‘in the air’. Questions about the philosophical scope of this concept have still to be elaborated and linked to other worlds; the intellectual value of dance is not decided. But, because plasticity is offered as a concept about form, it is a concept that must aim at making sense of its formation. If form is also BEING, then what plasticity implies is a movement of discovery that won’t sacrifice this BEING, at least as a desire or an anticipated presence (and even if ‘to premiere’ is not the same as being present, because the latter is still impossible as a conscious state of mind). I am interested in your thoughts about capturing images. They suggest to me that dance could be an imaging apparatus, an idea that I have discussed with Maria on many occasions. For me, this implies a kind of underlying plastic that supports the passing images as they change and are perceived. And perhaps what’s at stake for a work like Premiere has to do with this experience of a flux of consciousness. Watching, it’s as if we see a consciousness developing, very slowly and precisely, coming in and out of view. Something about Premiere is really searching for its form. This is both expressed (as an effect of the performance, distributed and produced among the individual bodies) and felt (as an affection among the members of the audience). Of course, both expression and the affect it provokes, both moving and being moved, must occur on both ‘sides’). The flux of thought passes between the performances and the audience: Maria relates this movement to an anticipatory theatre, and it is this that has to ‘premiere’, again and again, with every performance of her work. In rehearsals, I could see the possibility of this work becoming conversant with plasticity, as the becoming of a form. This encouraged a kind of speculative identity onto the work. I thought I saw equivalences between Maria and Catherine Malabou, who work in different modes of expression and share a few direct terms. Malabou’s plasticity implies a way to think – and perceive – of images that share a similar rate of speed with Premiere. This is neither mechanical nor strictly organic; it is plastic, just movement and the image of this movement, as these things anticipate, or become, on the performance’s moving floor.

KK It is provocative to consider the potential of a form that emerges and has effects within the flux of conscious images. Premiere demands attention to every shape, every relationship, every shift in position and negotiation of space. Perhaps that is why the relationship between duration and movement is so critical: it enables a pause in which we consider questions of form, and the potential of the performers, as figures, compositions; and as imaging.

SL To me, Premiere moves in both transitions and breaks. Maria says her work must also destroy the flow of images. This is because the body often resists choreography. Legs or arms might tremble, or eyes fill with tears. (Not to mention how movements can make sounds on the floor). These instances of destruction have to be part of the work’s form. But images also break, because the spectator’s attention never settles on a single point within the whole. The eye is not continuous between the different individuals.

KK The work is almost anti-monumental in this way, in that it is formed through movement and marking. Perhaps this term is not entirely accurate, but it speaks to the question of a ‘politics of form’ that gains currency through gesture, and the primacy of fluid movement over a finally-achieved form.

SL Yes. And going back to your thoughts about the capture of images, I’d add that our consciousness is itself a duration that works, because it edits these partially-captured images. It is because of this editing that we can experience anything of the ever-changing material that supports the visual field. This recalls one of the crucial lessons from deconstruction: that presence and consciousness are never quite contemporaries. If plasticity is a word for the form of changing matter, then there is always a gap between plasticity and the theatre. The occurrence and feeling of this flux cannot be synthesised, so it cannot be ‘present’ without the image, without montage. (…) But then again, the theatre is an anticipatory form: it is possible that the material and the perception can OVERLAP. This is the zone in which Deleuze would have located – not ‘plasticity’ or a virtual dimension, as he called it, but the effects he identified with cinema close-ups. And so, what I have felt in working in the rehearsals, is that Premiere could only premiere in an anticipatory theatre, between movement and the fact that every image must be captured, modelled, and remembered; dissolved, and – yes! – sometimes even destroyed.

Kelly Kivland is assistant curator at Dia Art Foundation, New York. She commissioned the performance Counter-relief (Bard 2011), a collaboration between Maria Hassabi and artist Jimmy Robert.

Scott Lyall is an artist whose practice includes painting and sculpture. He collaborated with Maria Hassabi as a dramaturge for Premiere, as well as for SHOW, SoloShow, Solo, and GLORIA.

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Maria Hassabi is a New York-based director, choreographer and performer. Over the past ten years, Hassabi has developed a practice involved with the relation of the body to the image – defined by the sculptural physicality and extended duration inherent in her choreography. Her works are presented in theaters, museums, galleries and public-spaces. Throughout her career she’s had numerous ongoing collaborations with artists from various disciplines. Hassabi is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, 2009 Grants to Artists Award. In 2012, she received The President’s Award for Performing Arts from the LMCC, and in 2013 she represented The Cyprus Republic as part of Cyprus and Lithuanian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. Her evening length works include PREMIERE (2013), the 8-hour long live installation INTERMISSION (2013), Counter-Relief (Kaai 2013), SHOW (2011), Robert and Maria (2010), SoloShow (2009), Solo (2009), GLORIA (2007), Still Smoking (2006), Dead is Dead (2004) and LIGHTS (2001). She has also created several short-form pieces, art installations including CHANDELIERS (2012), and a short film, The Ladies (2012).

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