European project explores the edges of identity

Last year, fourteen countries of the central and eastern belt of the European Union joined the project Identity.Move!. Artists from Croatia, Germany, Greece and Lithuania took part in The Lab, a sub-part of the project designed for research on identity. In Prague, they spent a month working on their contributions for the grand finale scheduled to take place in the Czech capital in March 2015.

The theaters Alfred ve Dvoře, Ponec and Studio Alta offered their premises to six young artists participating in the European project Identity.Move! One duo, from Croatia, was hosted by Alfred ve Dvoře.

“I am Sonja Pregrad, I am from Croatia. I am a performer, dancer and choreographer.”

Sonja lives in both Zagreb and Berlin. She created a dance magazine called TASK. Her projects are mainly her own creations. Her new piece about dance in the future will premiere soon in Berlin. However, we didn’t only speak about the future. We also spoke about her past projects.

“This year I have done choreography for skype that was presented in Zagreb in collaboration with my colleague Marjana Krajač. It’s a theatre performance but the whole performance is though skype. I am the performer but I am not in the theater, I am in an atelier. The choreography is about these two spaces which are separated but connected through the media and how they communicate and look at each other.”

The piece shows what happens when skype is frozen, when three-dimensional space is reduced to two dimensions, when you can only hear the sound but you cannot see for a while… the experiences we all have, but we are not used to encountering them in the theater space.

In Prague, Sonja worked with Nives Sertić whom she already met in another project in 2011 when they were filming dance to explore the interconnectedness between a body and a camera, each becoming at some point a subject and an object.

“I am Nives Sertiç, I am multimedia and interdisciplinary artist.”

Pavlos Kountouriotis and Nives Sertić,  photo: Pavlos Kountouriotis / Official web of the Identity.Move! project
Nives does visual art and new theater. She also gives classes at the University of Zagreb. According to her, an artist is an initiator who has a role in the society similar to a mediator or researcher rather than just an ‘illustrator’. In accordance with this approach, Nives Sertiç conducted research in a multimedia archive in Zagreb.

“I am finishing the interdisciplinary project about past, recent and future time about the Multimedia center archive that I have been doing for three years now.“

Sonja: „The multimedia archive is a big archive of contemporary art in Zagreb.“

Nives: „Since the 1970, it was the only multimedia space in Croatia to stage and present the expanded cinema and combinations of media.”

After twenty years of discontinuous operation, the content of the archive is now being decrypted and analysed by historians of art as well as by students. For Nives, it was certainly a good preparation for the research on identity which she has done in Prague.

“Your identity is always a part of your projects. You cannot escape that. In the archive project, exploring of the archive is not only about the center itself, but also about our memory linked to our identity and how it is or is not distributed among people. In this case it’s not, so someone has to come there and redistribute it to people.“

Common interests brought Sonja and Nives together in the Identity.Move! project. They both explore how different media look at each other.

Photo: Pavlos Kountouriotis / Official web of the Identity.Move! project
Nives: “This part of the project is a research platform that lasts a month and we came here with the idea about…”

Sonja: “Two media looking at each other and the two of us looking at each other. Then, it opened up to what we bring in as our interest or background in this research area. We started with some exercises of two media, like dancing and recording the movement and the recording of the recording of the movement.”

Then, they developed their research separately, to come back again for the final compilation.

Nives: “I went to the botanical garden and Sonja went to her nature, which is the stage, no, I am joking, she worked on her part. After a while, we came together and started discussing. First, it was a bit strange, but then the topic started to open up.”

Sonja: “What opened up are the questions about who is looking at whom in the nature, are we looking at the nature or is the nature looking at us? Are we framing nature or is nature framing us? But then also, what is the nature as theatre and theatre as nature. We both went to the botanical garden where all the nature is staged and prepared to be consumed. We decided we will stage ourselves with this staged nature. So we dressed up as tourists and we took some very touristic photos. However, with time, we got excited about this nature, because there were beautiful fish and flowers… Later, when we looked at the pictures, we saw there were less and less fake pictures and more pictures with the real excitement about the nature.”

Ingrida Gerbutavičiūtė and Agnija Šeiko,  photo: Official web of the Identity.Move! project
In an another research project, taking place in Studio Alta, Agnija Šeiko and Ingrida Gerbutavičiūtė make everyone wait in a queue in front of the entrance door. Many are to observe a paralel between this situation and a queueing to buy bananas, a common situation under the communist regime.

The door opens and people enter one by one and are allowed to sit next to a long table if they accept to drink a vodka shot with Agnija. Before discovering the project, let’s discover its authors.

“I am Agnija Šeiko, choreographer. I run a dance theatre in Klaipéda, Lithuania, called Padi Dapi Fish. We are also working with an artistic group called Fish Eye and we are associated artists in this project.”

Why so much fish, you may ask?

“Fish, because it’s a harbor city. We used the fish eye as a metaphor to an open view. When we established the dance theater we kept the fish as a nickname for us.”

Agnija is author of about 20 choreography works performed in Lithuania and abroad.

“My name is Ingrida Gerbutavičiūtė, I am also from Lithuania. I am a dance critic and dance dramaturg. I am also a head of the Dance and Movement Department in Lithuanian Theatre and Music Academy.” Ingrida also organizes a Lithuanian dance festival in Berlin, where she lives.

Identity is a topic familiar to both artists.

Agnija Šeiko,  photo: Official web of the Identity.Move! project
Agnija: “I have been working on the topic for already four or five years. At that time, it was five years since Lithuania entered the EU so the question was how the identity changed. In general, I think this identity topic is very wide. You can touch upon it in every single work.” Ingrida: “I live in Germany and sort of also in Lithuania, so I am living in between these two countries. I think, artistically it’s a very interesting topic. Can we touch it? Can we come closer to it? Can we describe it? It’s a never-ending story.”

Did their stay in Prague help anyhow to find answers to these questions? Ingrida says “yes and no” and explains it’s mainly because of the large scope of the project which is far from being finished:

“We are looking at the woman’s identity and comparing it with the post-Soviet time. How was woman’s life at that time, what was important for her? We are also looking at the identity of woman after the Velvet Revolution.”

Photo: Official web of the Identity.Move! project
In the Czech Republic, Agnija and Ingrida interviewed women who were in their thirties during the Velver Revolution. The artists vision is to compare two different contexts, Lithuanian and Czech, also from the point of view of values. During their play, they also quoted some pre-89 advice for women about how to behave towards their husbands…just a short glance to give you an idea…

“Paragraph number five: learn to solve the riddles of your husband’s wishes and requests. Learn to solve wishes and requests of your husband’s wishes and requests. Learn to solve the riddles and requests of your husband’s wishes and requests.”

Last but not least was the duo Ben J. Riepe and Pavlos Kountouriotis, the German and the Greek who rehearsed at the theatre Ponec in Prague. They were the only two who didn’t know each other before the Identity.Move! project began. Choreographer Ben Riepe explains:

Ben Riepe,  photo: Official web of the Identity.Move! project
“It was a lot about our own identity to get to know each other. We get to know each other by explaining how we work, what we do. We both come from such a different field, I am a practitioner, I work as a choreograher since many years, I have my own company and Pavlos is actually a theoretist. When he works, his approach is much more theory based. When we were talking, it was the whole time theory against practice.”

In order to learn the most from each other, they worked separately but borrowing each other’s methodology. Ben tried the conceptual theory-based approach and created a format of “meeting with the artist” for his show.

“I am going to tell you the questions that I asked Monika and the answers she gave to me and the other way round in order to introduce the other one to you. So this is Monika Pošívalová and she is 70 years old.“

Ben introduced Czech actress Monika Pošívalová known mostly for her films from the 1960 and 1970. At the end, there was also some singing and dancing…

Photo: Pavlos Kountouriotis / Official web of the Identity.Move! project
His peer, Pavlos Kountouriotis is a performance theoretician. He is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln and he has a very different understating of the notion of research.

“My understanding of research is very different to Ben’s understanding of research. When I say the word research, it means THE work and it means even more hard work than delivering the final document. Then, aesthetically, we are way apart. Usually I am more conceptual and Ben is more aesthetic, although his work today and my work today was completely the other way round.”

How did Pavlos experienced the other approach?

“It feels liberating, it feels easy. My style of work is extremely frustrating because for several months you have nothing as you are still studying, and reading, and working… I use the psychoanalytic method, because I am training as a psychoanalyst so I am always questioning my desires.”

Pavlos Kountouriotis,  photo: Official web of the Identity.Move! project
His research is about discovering what other people have done on a particular topic and then filling in the blanks. His PhD was on self-inflicted pain in performance. In Prague, he showed a video of himself as a turning dervish while having long metal necklaces’- like decorations pending from his eyebrows which he painfully removed at the end of the performance. His objective is to understand why the self-inflicted pain in performance happens.

“A big part of it for me is the idea of empowerment. With the advent of modernity, the body is disciplined. The body has lost its capacity to decide for itself. It is usually the government that tells us what to do. With that, our capacity to feel pain has been robbed. We usually take an aspirin when we feel pain. Previously, people wanted to feel pain because it could take them closer to god or to the truth.”

By transgression Pavlos questions the boundaries of the majority of people in favor of those who are on the edge, like the Roma in the Czech Republic, he remarks. In March 2015, Pavlos is going to come back to Prague to present, in collaboration with Ben and together with other artists, Sonja, Nives, Ingrida and Agnija, the results of their research. For now, the shape of their final piece is the biggest unknown of the Identity.Move! project, raising expectations even more.