“Audience, performance and media, that is a delicate equation. Everybody has to walk into that with an open mind”

14.06.2019 by Isabel Cebrián

Keywords: dance, Dance and New Media Lab, Etopia Center for Art and Technology, interview, John Collingswood, Manon Duquesnay, recap

Choreographer and dancer Manon Duquesnay has been the first of the residents to participate in the 2019 edition of Dance and New Media Lab in Etopia Center for Art and Technology (Zaragoza). For a few weeks in March and April, she worked on her solo project ‘Ode to you’ along with Philosophy student Arantza Enriquez and Electronic Engineering student Claudia Gonzalo from The University of Zaragoza. She also collaborated with video artist John Collingswood, co-organizer of the Dance Hack in Oulu, that came from Finland with the support of Oulu’s project for the European Capital of Culture 2026. In the lead up to her ‘work-in-progress’ presentation in Etopia last April, we interviewed Manon and John to learn more about the artistic collaboration, cultural exchange and the challenge of working with new media in the performing arts.

One of the main goals of the Dance and New Media Lab is to blend together different disciplines. You have been working with a philosopher (Arantza) and an engineer (Claudia). What was their contribution to the solo like?

Manon: The solo ‘Ode to you’ is about bipolarity in relation with the artistic temperament. I have had experience with it, not personally but with people living with this characteristic. Then I started to read and research about bipolarity and found out that there are a lot of links and material on this topic and artistic creation. I had already being reading a lot, but I had not find my sources. So with both Arantza and Claudia had an email exchange and send them some material, and then with Arantza we have a very regular meeting since I got here, and basically we have been talking a lot.

Arantza has a huge library in her head, or in her home, and she has given a lot of more perspective into this topic, not only in the relationship between bipolarity and artistic temperament, but in the whole topic of madness. Is something that many philosophers have being taking up for centuries and she gave me a much broader spectrum and also asked me some questions that were pinpointing like “What are you doing?”, “what does it means to you?”, and “why are you sharing it?”, so I can include those answers in the evolution of this piece.

So the process with Arantza worked quite well, then. What happened with the engineering team? Did you feel that you were speaking different languages?

Manon: With Claudia, we have been meeting regularly, she has showed me what she has being researching and creating as part of her final work for her degree and then I have being trying to understand the possibilities of the devices and how they can amplify or bring something to the performance. But since she is working with very different timing, fixing and finding solutions for her device at home, we have not worked “live” but in different stages. Tonight will be the first time in which we will try for real what we had imagined… and probably it’s going to need more training.

Manon, you started working on your solo by yourself, and John was involved in the project via email after a certain time, and you finally met in Etopia for a few days. Can you tell me more about this collaboration?

Manon: I think that it has been good timing for working with Arantza, the philosophy student, and Claudia, the engineering student, but they come from different fields so it has been me who has the most experience in getting the artistic view on it, and I think this was a perfect moment to bring to life what I wanted to do on stage, with John’s experience. I also like the way John says what he means, with a lot of openness to find a solution.

John: It has been really easy to work with you. I did not feel that I came in to help you to adapt your work for this presentation, but I tried to bring my experience with some other previous works adapting, and the collaboration fitted pretty nicely.

Bringing new technology and media into your piece is a way to reinforce the ideas that you want to express. John, how you believe that this multimedia adds to the piece?

John: When I came to the piece, Manon had being collecting videos that connected with the theme of the piece. Those landscapes and images show how bipolar persons experience their emotions more extremely. What I tried to do is try to find balance between different things. That is really important when you have video in the stage and a performance at the same time: the audience needs to find them balanced and not being too much drawn to the screen; they need to understand quickly the image and then go deeper in the intricacy of the live performance of the dancer on stage.

Also, we had to find the structure of what Manon is doing, because is an improvisation, very somatical. She is trying to bring emotions to the body and too many queues on the video distracts her, so I have being trying to find that balance between the experience of the audience and Manon’s relationship with the body and the feelings. Audience, performance and media, that is a delicate equation. As a video artist, I realized that creating video projections for artists and dancers was boxing them into something fixed, so I approached different ways in which the video or sound could respond to the dance, and enable things to be more improvised from the technical side as well.

From your experience supporting artists, what is the most challenging part of working with dance and new media?

John: My philosophy is that technology and movement should be developed in the same place at the same time, because engineers and dancers speak different languages and everybody should be in the same room to understand each other languages and being able to communicate and understand each other integrally… but that rarely happens.

So the next option is work with people that are open-minded and not very precious about the things they have been creating, to collaborate fully they need to bring something ready-made to the mix. They have to be flexible and respond to other collaborators and make everybody feel part of it and create a piece that has honesty and integrity.

And what is the most successful and rewarding part of this kind of multidisciplinary collaboration?

Manon: Something about coming with ideas, imaginations and see them becoming real, concrete, realizing something that you had wondered if it was possible and then suddenly see that happening… Maybe not exactly as you had imagined it but sometimes better because you didn’t  know all the possibilities of the other field or media.

John: And there is also the feeling of bringing something to the team and constantly learning something, constantly learning, and you realize that this crossover is very fruitful to work with people that do not have your same background or coming to another country to work as part of a team and being in a different environment and not having the same cultural signifiers makes you learn a lot and is really rewarding.