Zombie means living and dead. Aporia means logical contradiction. Bringing these two words together for the first time signals Daniel Linehan‘s newest dance work, as an experiment in paradoxy – placing together contradictory ideas and opposing rhythms in dance and voice. This experiment also shatters dance conventions, at one point rejecting rehearsed dance movement onstage and making dancers do unexpected things.
Like an instruction manual-cum-anthology of poems, the programme to Daniel Linean’s Zombie Aporia laid out the text which accompanied each of the eight-movement studies that made up the show. There was something pleasingly clean about having these individual pieces offered to us on a bare stage, a computer fiddled with here and a change of clothing there. What movement there was, at one point conducted by dancer Thubault Lac, sat with his back to the audience, was loose yet jerky, with spins into stop-and-stares, and always with/against/inspired/justified by the voice.
Despite previous talk of a ‘roughness’ to Linehan’s work, there was a polished feeling in the evidence that it was tightly rehearsed, while there was also a juxtaposition between effortlessness and tension in the choreography. This contrast seemed more apparent than the paradoxes Linehan stated he was giving us in the work. One such moment was the use of the melody of the Sex Pistol’s Anarchy in the UK to declare the ‘coolness’ of arty liberalism, showing that theirs is a rebellion of acting responsibly. Throughout this song, sung by dancer Salka Ardal Rosengren, her voice was manipulated through a series of ever more violent shakes, administered to her by Lac. Rather than a paradox, the pop-reference, turned on its head, became philosophical in a different way to its original. Violent shakes came up again later in part seven, with the dancers moving towards the audience, singing “There is no reason to feel any friction” and shaking the tassels of some newly-acquired, rather comical coats.
There were gentle moments of surprise, which made you question if what you were seeing was really there. A convincingly ‘live’ projection from an invisible camera in Linehan’s head showed empty theatre seats. The nature of performance was consistently called into question, but not too heavily, allowing the work to also entertain and amuse. It could be said that this was a vocal show with some dance, rather than dance with voice, but this is what made it a very cerebrally interesting piece, yet somehow without feeling too much like hard work.
Interview with Daniel Linehan
We caught up with the choreographer ahead of the opening of Zombie Aporia at Sadler’s Wells Lilian Bayliss theatre tomorrow night, to try and work out what it’s all about.
What first drew you to contemporary dance?
When I was a child, I started out in theatre, acting in plays. But at some point, I knew I wanted to make my own work, my own performances, and I didn’t want to start with a pre-written text. I suppose I could have stayed in theatre and still done something like this, but I found that dance was a form that allowed me to make my own work in the way that I wanted to make it.
For those not familiar with your work can you describe your style, and any themes that run through your works?
I’m really driven by the idea of contradiction because I think that this is the most common thing that I encounter in the world. I’m really attuned to seeing paradoxes, not necessarily things that are absurd or that don’t make sense, but simply things that seem to be opposed to each other but which actually coincide.
Other choreographers have built a body of work that shares a certain vocabulary, or a certain way of considering the dancing body. My different works do not have this kind of thing in common, but there are other common traits that are visible in all of my works: repetition and sudden change, jump-cuts, structures that are like a list of items, a concern with meaning (not just in language, but also in gesture, physical expression, etc). I would say that my works are linked by a common choreographic structural elements, and by an open definition of what constitutes the body, but not by similar themes or similar movement vocabularies.
In your current show, Zombie Aporia, you test your dancers by playing an unknown dance video that the dancers must copy, which changes each night. What are you trying to create here?
This technique, in which the dancers must copy novel movement in the moment of the performance, puts the dancers in a heightened mental state, which involves some urgency and stress, but also excitement and a sense of play. The point is to put the dancers in a state in which their entire physicality and concentration must be completely engaged. In fact, the dancers are also singing in a complex, interlocking rhythm at the same moment, so the body, voice, and mind are all fully activated. I am not interested in dancers or anyone else who shows off all of the things that they know how to do. I am much more interested in the attempt to do something that we don’t know how to do: this is the only way that change is possible.
You’re not afraid to confront the personal and political in dance, how do you link these elements and your fascination with the nature of dance itself, which often occurs in your work?
It would be presumptuous of me to call my work political; I don’t think that it truly engages with the world in a political sense. But my work often conveys a desire for an engagement with the world outside of the enclosed space of the theater, and it also asks questions about how it is possible for the individual to be active and affect change in the face of an overwhelmingly complex global socioeconomic system that seems grossly unjust. But in this way, it is very personal rather than political, as it really expresses my own desires, doubts, and questions.
You aim to connect with your audience by bringing in ‘real world’ experiences, and Zombie Aporia came out of your interest in rock concerts. How do you evoke these everyday aspects using dance?
Zombie Aporia is very dissimilar to a rock concert, but I was interested in the physical energy of people who attend rock concerts. They have a full engagement of their body in a way that is totally different from common choreographic concerns such as design, pattern, composition. In the dance material in the performance, we try to channel this type of full physical engagement.
A device you use to provoke thought in your audiences is the juxtaposition of contradictory things. How does this work in Zombie Aporia?
Each section of Zombie Aporia takes two opposite elements and sets them on a collision course. We try to dance in one rhythm while we are singing in a completely different rhythm, we use physical manipulation of the body to distort the quality of the voice, we try to merge the written word and the spoken word. I was interested in creating new meanings by putting two things together which I had never seen put together before.
People talk about there being a ‘roughness’ to your work- do you agree with this?
There is definitely a do-it-yourself aesthetic in my work that probably is influenced by my years of dancing and watching performances in New York. Budgets were often low, so artists would make do with whatever means they had available, and I was often blown away by what they were able to achieve within their constraints. I still prefer work that has a level of risk and tension and “realness,” as opposed to smooth, flowing, polished dance.