Zeynep Gunduz interviews Hilde Elbers

13 November 2015

The Animated by Hilde Elbers & Lea Martini
Context article[1] by Zeynep Gündüz

How to really be human with you
The Animated is a duet that deals with our perception of time by investigating the relation between body and film. Our quest in The Animated was to create an altered perception of time with live performance as achieved by Austrian filmmaker Martin Arnold in film. In his work, Arnold selected certain scenes from a film, and, by means of repetition, he manipulated it into a 15-minute piece. Pulling the gestures out of their original contexts, Arnold added new meanings to the selected gestures that in turn became monstrous, sexual or very funny. In The Animated, we too repeat certain daily movements to expose layers of meaning, perception and interpretation of gestures that lay underneath the surface of something very daily, such as a hug. Repetition allows the movement to open up and pave way to underlying meanings to appear, which can be very beautiful. For example, if you repeat a hug for a very long time, you see that the ‘original’ meaning of a hug can shift to become something else, something unexpected.                                                                                                      .

In contrast to Arnold who experimented with footage from the 1950s, we wanted to explore how two contemporary female bodies -caught within the friction of being in control and letting go- could relate to each other with their own capacities, stories, strengths, and weaknesses. Incorporating such aspects in the act of repeating daily movements reveals a human imperfection, which is different than repetition in film.

Moving Futures Rotterdam foto Rob Hogeslag (7)

Photo Rob Hogeslag

We are the imperfect animation
In film there is a timelessness because repetition there is perfect and always the same. We cannot be perfect because we are never the same in each repetition. We sweat, we have emotions, and we have a relation to the material in the present real-life moment. In the piece, we acknowledge the emotional and physical state we are in while enduring our movements. This gives the performance a certain freedom or its humanity. In The Animated, we have certain choreographic landmarks, points where we know we need to arrive to. The movements are fixed, but our relation to the movement vocabulary is different each time. We have the freedom on how to react and the freedom to change the details of movements in a specific time and moment. So we never achieve exactly the same performance twice.

In repetition we are constantly transforming from one emotional state to the other. For example, there is a moment where we are sitting facing the audience and smiling. But this joyous moment gradually turns into a violent attack. To show this transformation from state to state is very important for us in the choreography. In life, there are no endings, no beginnings, no goals, there is constant transition, which we fear a lot. With this piece, we hope to show that transitions are beautiful in themselves and not something you can hold on to. Transition is the only unchanging thing.

Animating ourselves
The title refers to the way our choices in life are most often determined by external circumstances or structural implications and the desire to have space within those structures. This means that we are animated or that sometimes we animate ourselves. In the piece, the use of sound and light follow equivalent principles.

The light in The Animated supports the ideas of animation and perceiving time. The changes in light indicate time, suggesting a speeding up, slowing down, or reversal. For example we use blackouts to indicate the passing of time. In the scene, which we call the ‘spring burst’, the light reverses itself, suggesting the start of a new cycle of the relationship between two bodies on stage. Towards the end of the piece, Lea and I change positions, as if we could go back again through the same story again. But can we start all over again? For us, The Animated becomes a meeting place of two people in a story that is never ending and will always change and yet will always remain the same.

A rigid beat dominates the piece, which, for me, is the pulse of life and also the pulse of society. The beat is what makes our bodies move and to which we surrender. In the piece there are two moments when our physicality changes in relation to the sound. The first is the ‘glitch’, which is the moment when the system fails. In a movie, a glitch can cause weird sounds or movements. In our glitch moment we just hung in there, glitching. At another point, the beat stops. There is silence and we freeze. The silence helps to show how deeply we have been pulled into the beat. But the silence also expands our range of vision; it gives the audience the time to really look at the details of our bodies and to become aware of their act of watching us, which can be quite confronting.

Whatever state we go through, it’s an enjoyable one
With The Animated, we hope to give the audience the time to relate to the material in different ways: have different imaginations, different feelings, different attitudes towards the images and constellations that are passing by. We would like to bring the audience into an altered or meditative state of perception and remember the beat under their skin, in their body. We would like the audience to surrender and enjoy the ever-changing images offered before their eyes.

One thing that continues to interest me is the friction between control and surrender. But also the line in between the circle of extremes: the space where you become aware that polarity exists for a reason and to ask yourself how to stay present and be able to connect with others within it. This is what I will work on in my new work but in a very different way than the Animated. I work within contemporary performance because in contemporary performance audience and performer are really present together, as witnesses of each other. It is a place where we can express and give shape to things that are difficult to put into words or understand in a linear framing. And we can do this through the one medium that we all have in common, which is our body. We all live our lives through and within the materiality of our bodies.

Hilde Elbers works as a choreographer, dance teacher, dancer, counsellor and coach and is based in Amsterdam. She studied sports and sportteaching at Cios Sittard and contemporary dance at the Fontys academy for modern dance in Tilburg. She has been working in the Dutch and European dancescene, for companies as Constanza Macras/dorkypark, Conny Janssen Danst, Galilidance and T.R.A.S.H.

Lea Martini works as a choreographer, performer and facilitator for performance events. She works mainly collectively in different constellations and is based Berlin. After her studies at the ArtEZ Arnhem and at the school for New Dance Development in Amsterdam she co-founded the collectives Deter/Müller/Martini and White Horse who won the Zwaan 2011 with Trip en masse. Her latest project Tanzplage Berlin claims dance as a plague without limits and will premiere in spring 2016.

Zeynep Gündüz is a dance researcher, and dance history & theory teacher at the Amsterdam School of the Arts, and teaches philosophy of culture at Codarts. She also works as conceptual advisor and is board member of Vereniging voor Dansonderzoek. Zeynep completed her PhD research on dance and technology at the University of Amsterdam in 2012.

[1] This article is written on the basis of an interview held with Hilde Elbers on October 14th, 2015 in Amsterdam.