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Heine Avdal en Yukiko Shinozaki / Fieldworks

Heine Avdal and Yukiko Shinozaki met when they were both members of Meg Stuart’s dance company Damaged Goods, from 1997 until 2001. Avdal, a Norwegian, studied dance at Oslo National College for the Arts (1991-1994) and at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels (1995-96). Shinozaki, from Japan, attended ballet school in Tokyo, and went on to study contemporary dance and psychology at Portland State University in Oregon, USA. In 1993, she moved to New York City, where she presented her own work and performed with other choreographers, until she relocated to Brussels to work with Stuart.

Since 2000, when they presented the duet Cast off Skin (2000), Avdal and Shinozaki have created some twenty productions together, all of which toured extensively internationally. They also created work independently, and collaborated with other artists, across artistic disciplines, including composer Rolf Wallin, visual artist Christelle Fillod, choreographer Un Yamada, and sound designer and technical wizard Fabrice Moinet. In 2003, they set up the production unit deepblue, fieldworks’ predecessor, with sound artist Christophe De Boeck.

From the very beginning, the choreographers explore transformations and slight shifts in the performer’s body and in its immediate surroundings, resulting in constant changes in the perspective of the viewer. Using intricate dramaturgies of movement, gesture, sound, light, objects, space, and time, the artists experiment with alternative modes of presentation, perception, interaction, and participation. They take a non-hierarchical approach to performance, which means that they consider all of its elements (from set, light, props, and sound to movement, performer and spectator) to be on an equal plane. Avdal and Shinozaki also explore an expanded understanding of performativity and of movement, which are not limited to the actions and body of the dancer, but instead extend to objects, technology, and space, as well as, for example, to the position of the spectator. The artists play with shifts between intricate details and the bigger picture: the micro and macro level. They are also concerned with what they refer to as “the presence of absence:” they investigate the technologies of performance, or what animates and reveals the diverse parts of a choreographic work but generally remains invisible to the spectator. Fieldworks’ evocative, unique, and often multi-sensorial work alters the way in which we, as spectators, relate to dance, and, in the process, radically re-figures the meaning and scope of what is considered ‘choreography’.

Over the years, this research has lead the choreographers to carefully dissect not only the space of the theatre and its established rules and conventions, in productions including some notes are (2006), you are here (2008), nothing’s for something (2012), and unannounced (2017), but also to move into a wide range of alternative spaces, from supermarkets and hotel rooms to museum lobbies and model homes.

The latter evolution resulted in a name change, in 2013, to fieldworks. This name is derived from a series of site-specific projects the artists began developing a few years earlier, including Field Works-hotel (2009), an intimate interactive performance in a hotel room, for one spectator at a time, and Field Works-office (2010), in which the performers animate and transform an office during business hours using subtle gestures and live drawing. The Field Works series was followed by the Borrowed Landscape project, which started in a model home in Yokohama, Japan, in 2011 and has since been re-worked for nearly 20 locations. Named after “shakkei,” the Japanese traditional garden design technique of integrating the surrounding existing landscape into the composition of a garden, these performances insert poetry into the spaces that define our personal and professional lives. The hybrid realities created in this way also invite us to take a step back and look again, to read and interact with familiar spaces differently, and to re-consider the notion of the everyday itself. 

In 2014, fieldworks continued its explorations of space in distant voices (2014), in which dancers manipulate a series of large white cubes in unexpected locations. The continuous positioning and repositioning of these cubes by multiple performers simultaneously highlights and alters the architectural qualities of the spaces in which the performance takes place, and transforms the spectator’s relationship to these spaces. This production resulted in the first instalment of carry on in 2015, in which the spectators-as-participants are invited to move through the location in question by the performers, who, one after the other, take them on a guided tour of the building, while they punctuate its space with subtle, uncanny actions and surprising interventions.

The first video fragment documents carry on Bergen (Norway) (2016), which was created for the defunct swimming pool Sentralbadet. As city officials continued to debate whether the building could be transformed into a theatre, the organisation BIT Teatergarasjen had been without a space for many years. Avdal and Shinozaki speak to this reality, and to the socio-political history and structure of this particular site, by starting the performance by sending the audience back out onto the streets of the city. In addition, only days before the show, the artists discovered that they would not be allowed to use the pool area itself. As a result, the performance ended up taking place outside of, around, under, and above the building’s main space: in the changing rooms and showers, corridors and basements. This situation further underscored the elusiveness of a stage for the independent performance scene in Bergen at the time. It also highlighted the uncanny transformations of spaces, and of common actions and gestures, characteristic of the company’s recent work. We see partial bodies and gestures; actions that are started but not completed, or that are alluded to, while they don’t actually happen. (We “hear” and see performers taking showers, while there is no water running). In this clip, we also see a tiny black cube disappear into a hole in the floor. Later, we see this object reappear as it is being passed around from one performer to the next. The cube evokes a clump of dirt, perhaps collected in the drains of the shower over the course of the years. But it also refers to a building block, a brick in the wall; as well as to the (missing) black box of the conventional theatre. This small black cube not only guides the spectator through the location in question (like the balls of red yarn, the series of postcards, and the small three dimensional white cardboard letters in other fieldworks pieces), it also (re-) appears in various guises and sizes in all subsequent editions of carry on as it continues to acquire new dimensions and meanings and to shift our perspective.

The name fieldworks reflects the almost ethnographic approach Avdal and Shinozaki bring to the locations they choose to examine in their site-specific work. They don’t just visit a space to perform and leave (as often happens on tour), but instead spend time with it. They take time to excavate the history, memory, structure, and quirks of the locations they use, to then add imaginative new elements to it, using gestures, objects, sounds, and other effects.

In the meantime, the artists have also continued to make work for the conventional (black box) theatre space, including nothing’s for something (2012), in which theatre curtains dance, and large white balloons and live sketching draw the outside in; and unannounced (2017), which explores the boundaries of the theatrical event, in space and in time. These works, in turn, use the strategies developed in the other spaces referred to above to further challenge the way in which the space of the theatre operates and shapes our behaviour, thinking, and expectations.

Another way in which fieldworks interrogates and expands the meaning and scope of dance is by examining the archive of performance. What kind of knowledge does dance produce? And how is this knowledge transmitted? What kind of information do our bodies process? And what kind of traces do techniques of the body and of the theatre leave on our bodies, on our environment, and on the ways in which we (are made to) move through it? Starting with terminal (2002), their work examines how dance, other technologies (physical and virtual), and other interfaces (including – besides the body – projection screens, sheets of paper, various kinds of displays, boxes, and other objects) instigate, manipulate, and store our gestures, moves, actions, and behaviour. fieldworks does this by experimenting with a large range of innovative high and low-tech tools and tricks, as well as with alternative modes and formats of writing and inscription. This fascinating thread is clearly present in the pieces documented in the following clips.

In you are here (2008), for instance, the audience must shift its attention between the live performance and the additional information provided on LED screens, sheets of A4 printer paper, and archival boxes housing elaborate miniature worlds. All of these “archives” reflect differently on the reality unfolding on the stage. In this performance, the audience is, after leaving the black box, confronted with yet another perspective on the performance, as it is played back on a screen in the lobby.

In the company’s most recent work, unannounced (2017), the artists use portable projectors to overwrite, re-imagine, and open up the space of the theatre. The audience accesses and leaves the stage via an unexpected route through corridors and hidden back-stage spaces. The action that eventually unfolds (in obscurity) on the stage, not only includes the spectator, but also, literally, mobilises the theatre’s structure, and the technology and objects in it. Found objects, including a roll of wire, are set in motion and the entire soundscape is composed of sounds emanating from this space itself. 

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Sara Jansen

Sara Jansen is a scholar and dramaturg. She writes about dance and performance, and has worked on projects by, among others, Rosas/Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, fieldworks/Heine Avdal and Yukiko Shinozaki, and Trajal Harrell.