Photo © 2009. Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

looking at the world and challenging our assumptions, definitions and creation of it through the lense of the body, movement, the arts and science.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Emily Weissman asks about The Medusa Project

The Medusa Project
from a live interview by Emily Weissman of Ann Moradian,* August 16, 2010

The attached photos are from a collaborative exploration of light textures and shadows for The Medusa Project:
Nannette Bertschy (photos)
Ann Moradian (movement)
Fred Moreau (lighting)

All photos ©Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

Emily Weissman: What’s the overall theme of Medusa?

AM: Historically, we've been given a story that is about the hero Perseus, who has to face and be-head this awful monster that petrifies anyone who looks at her. But a lot of information has been left out over time because the stories are told and re-told through the cultural filters of the times. And this story of the monstrous feminine has mostly been re-told within the context of a patriarchal culture. What we really have is not the story of Medusa but the story of Perseus and his confrontation with this monster. It begins with his birth and ends with his "happy ever after." What I would really like to do is to go back further and bring back some of the information that’s been buried, like "Who was Medusa?" "Where did she come from?" She wasn't always a monster, so "How did she come to be one?"

EW: Where did you get the idea for Medusa? Where did you get the inspiration?

AM: I was living in India after 09/11, watching what the US was doing from an outside perspective. At first there was a constructive response to the very real challenge of coexistence. And I watched as that corroded, decayed, transformed into a more destructive reaction - more like coercion than an real response or attempt at constructive cooperation.

And that concerned me enormously because (it seems to me) the challenge of coexistence in the world is a primordial challenge. Once you’re in this format of a material body, in this dimension (these dimensions) of time and space – as soon as you’re here in a material body – you are never alone, and you constantly have to deal with others. And it is not easy. I remember when I was really little thinking “If I was only by myself how simple it would be!” (You can imagine, with two older brothers!) But as you get older you realize "Well no, frankly, it wouldn’t actually work." But that feeling of how complicated everything gets when there’s even just one other person in the picture was very clear.

So there I was, watching from India as 'we' (the US) fell into a fear-based chain reaction - and missed the opportunity to create a new pattern. I remember looking at myself in the mirror at around that time, thinking about all of this, with my very curly and unruly hair, thinking of Medusa with her snaky hair who petrifies everyone. To be petrified - to be so afraid that we turn to stone. It made me wonder, "What on earth could be that scary?" And "What does it mean to turn to stone?" I was looking at myself in the mirror with this crazy hair thinking "God! What would it be like to be a woman who anytime anyone dared to approach her they would turn to stone?" She would have no contact, no touch, no connection. And I thought, "This poor woman!" [she laughs]

Photo ©Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

So there was a conjunction of an humanitarian question around fear and violence, and our reaction to 'the other,' - how we demonize others out of fear. This, along with a very personal empathy for the character. That was where the piece initially began – I mean the first seed of it – looking in the bathroom mirror.

EW: So how long have you been working on this piece?

AM: Since 2001. I started researching the myth then. As you go into the myth, you get deeper and deeper into all the connected myths. Athena is very instrumental in the destruction of Medusa, and I started wondering “Why was Athena out to get Medusa?” So I would research into that. Or “Who is Perseus really?” You pull up all these sub-stories. I love the fact that there are so many versions of the story. There’s not one set version. Which is in part why the piece is taking on a collage format as opposed to a linear, singular story format. It’s a collage, and in it we are playing freely with time. It is not all happening in one singular time frame, and it’s not all happening in one medium.

Like history and myths, the work challenges us to put the pieces together the best we can. So, for example there’s movement and dance vocabulary informing scenes, but there is also poetry and dialogue – things we think of as more theatrical. There is video imagery that comments on what is happening, or becomes the primary voice of the work, or creates the context. And there are these little 'vignettes' that might seem totally unrelated - contemporary little scenes - in contrast to the flow of mythic time that is also present.

It's been a long time in the making. I started the research, following all of these threads, and the piece began to come then. I resented it at first, actually. I had quit all of my artistic work at that time, and so I tried to shut it off. I didn't want the responsibility, because creating work is so difficult. There are all of these challenges and so much responsibility, and I thought, “I don’t want to do this again!” But, you know, these images kept coming. Insistent. They spoke powerfully to me and were persuasive. Finally I accepted that, if the piece wants to come, I'll let it come and I’ll just do the best I can, take it as far as I can. And trust that there will be help, others who see the beauty in this work and will help bring it to life.

EW: It seems like an enormous project and you certainly can’t do it alone, so who are the people working with you to make this become a reality?

AM: In the beginning it was very much alone – a personal process of research with my own questions driving me. I would chat with friends about some of the questions - that was really enlightening sometimes. I've talked with many, many people, tested the ideas, brainstormed, pondered, questioned together. But around 2009 I started brainstorming more intensively with Nannette Bertschy, a friend and a visual artist. She has also explored the myths and loves digging into them as much as I do. She has a very different point of view and way of thinking, and she would challenge and question things in a way that was constructive and strengthening. And that was the beginning of what has become a collaboration on this work.

I knew when I was starting this piece that I couldn't do it alone. I knew that I couldn't even conceive of the piece entirely on my own, because it is so enormous. Just a single archetype is so rich and complex that no one person could possibly understand an entire array of them and bring them to life.

Photo ©Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

Nanette and I began tangibly working on the piece together this past year (2010). That's expressed in the way of set designs, and a couple of costumes that shape the movement possibilities – what can be done or what can't be done. We've developed concepts into visual expression and then looked at those visual expressions – whether video, photography, light, sculpture or costume – and begun to translate those into theatrical realities.

We've just begun working with Fred Moreau recently too. He is a French lighting designer, and he's been working with us on lighting ideas. He also has a strong interest in mythology, and he seems to be enjoying the process of questioning and exploring the story and the possibilities too. What I am finding is that the lighting and visual play of things is a principal element in the work.

You know, at first I didn't even realize I needed to develop a “script!” This is new to me, as a choreographer. And it doesn't read like a traditional script in any way! Another friend named Kristina Landa, who comes from theatre and film, has come in to test out ideas and work on some of the scenes. She is a practicing shaman who has a deep affinity with many of the archetypes we are working with, and that is a big help. Her friend Louise Denyer, who is also an actress, has come in too, to test out scenes and characters. In the same way that talking with friends and exposing myself to different points of view is a way of brainstorming, testing out scenes and characters is also a way of brainstorming with theatrical concepts and character possibilities. And it is a way of constantly challenging my choices and assumptions, to verify their strength. This process gives me the information I need to make the call “This way, that way… oh no, not that, but - wow, I hadn’t thought of that possibility.” The principal collaborators are a few, but the work is being born from the collaboration and contribution of dozens and dozens of people.

I’m still looking for a composer to work with, and I haven’t even begun to focus on the video elements. I figured, let me get the first solid draft of the script done and then turn to the music and video.

EW: It’s a multi-media piece evidently, but if I was trying to describe this piece to someone who hadn’t seen a performance by you before, what might I link it to, to give them an idea? Perhaps a ballet, interpretive theater, or dance…where does it fit in?

AM: I don’t know if it fits in anywhere… In Europe there are theatrical works that don’t fit within a singular medium. It’s not purely dance… but it’s not just theater either. Physical Theatre is one term, but it doesn't embrace the visual aspects that are integral to this kind of work. It seems to me that it's as much a physical theater work as it is visualized poetry, as it is art that moves. I would call it something like “Moving Art Performance.” (Though someone I knew in the martial arts would have pushed for Moving Art Perflowance, because the "form" is not at all the focus here. Instead, it is a creation that is driven by the "flow"-ing of it, and its form comes from that.)

The script doesn’t read like a normal script at all. There’s very little text. As soon as text or language comes in, it restricts a huge number of people from accessing that aspect of the work. So I go through and I pull out all the unnecessary words I can. I see how much of it we can say with the action? How much we can say with a visual image or sound instead. Can we “say it” another way? This doesn't mean that the language doesn’t have value. Some things only words can express. Some things video really does best because it can be so intimate, or surreal. Some things the movement does best because you feel it in your body. Or you need to see the picture of the thing, or the relationship. Frankly, the fun-est thing about this work at the moment as a choreographer has been choreographing the interplay of the mediums – how they enter in, inter-relate, which one does what when. That’s what is the most interesting to me right now.

Photo ©Nannette Bertschy & Ann Moradian.

EW: And to wrap this up, what’s the audience that you’re trying to reach with this piece?

AM: I would like the work to reach as far as possible. It could be a challenging piece for some people, because it is not linear, it is not literal, it is not in a singular medium, and it does not rely on spoken expression or familiar dance patterns. A collage is a little like a puzzle where you have to make sense of the pieces for yourself somehow. I suppose the audience might need to be a little adventurous, as the performers must be. It is the kind of work that makes you ponder, think and feel - reflect, if you will.

I would love to see the work not only in theaters around the world, but variations of the work in art galleries and museums. And I would love to see it mounted and performed in universities. I'd like to see it become a vehicle to re-integrate the arts into our educational curriculum. I am fascinated by how the arts and society relate, how the arts affect us and how we affect the arts. I see the possibility here of using the work as a catalyst and springboard for critical thought. It can give us an opportunity to become more aware of the stories we tell, how we tell them, how they evolve, how they influence who we become and what we believe, and how who we are and what we believe influences the stories we tell. I'd love extend the work beyond the theatre, beyond art galleries and museums even, to work with different university departments - like sociology, psychology, anthropology, women’s studies, communications and media, for a start!

* For the complete interview, click here.


mptharp said...

This is all more complex than I thought when we have spoken about this in the past. I am intrigues by the paqrallel of Medusa as "The Other" in our way of dealing with enemnies-- we have to mnake then inhunman to be able to kill them. Isn't that what we constantly do in our wars?
m. P. Tharp

Ann Moradian said...

It seems that way, doesn't it!