by Zoe Boden
Jasmin Vardimon is one of our most vibrant young choreographers. Her work has been described as ‘the kind that inspires emulation’ (The Times, Malta), and ‘thrillingly inventive’ and ‘articulate’ (The Herald). Her company are currently exciting audiences across Britain with her new work Lullaby, a dark, yet laugh-out-loud funny exploration of hospitalisation, illness and human nature. Here, following the première of Lullaby on 24th April, she talks to Zoë Boden about her work.
Why is your new work called Lullaby?
Lullaby - there are two reasons really. First, for me, a lullaby is supposed to lull you, to relax you, to calm you down, but a lot of times if you listen to the words they are quite frightening. There’s something about that which I like –that you try to do one thing, but do you something completely different. Being in hospital, my experiences of visiting people, being with people who have died in hospital, if it’s the last treatment before they die it’s kind of like a lullaby for me.
Did you make this piece because of a personal experience?
Yes, the personal experience was the thing that brought me to it. But I think being in a hospital is a personal experience we all share, or unfortunately will share at one point in our life. The hospital is the place where we are at a peak in our emotional life, if you see our life as a journey, being in hospital is a peak, it is a battle in our emotional life – the birth of a child, a death, or an operation, it is normally very emotional…
Yes. Exactly. My experience of hospitals has been mainly as an adult, but also as a child, and it is something that has always followed me.
You deal with topics like death and cancer, do you think that dance is a good place to deal with these subjects?
I think yes. It is for me, because this is the language that I use to talk about subjects that interest me, and I feel I want dance to be as communicative as any other form of art. I feel, well; this is my language, this is the language I have chosen, I am not a writer, this is the way I talk about things.
So in this work are you trying to exorcise something personal?
Every other piece is personal. I normally choose subjects that interest me, and that I have some relation to, because most of my work is quite theatrical and deals with social subjects, so it is not just on a personal level, it is also on a social level. Our society and the language that we use when we talk about hospitalisation is very special.
I was quite surprised how much you dealt with gender issues within the work? Did you intend to make a work about gender and relationships?
I think it’s another subject that is high on the agenda everywhere. It is something that you cannot avoid when you have males and females. I feel it is something that is very natural to relate to and is always there. I don’t try to ignore it, and sometimes yes, if it is there, I give it a bigger voice.
Do you see the piece as a feminist work?
No I don’t. I think it could also have been created by a male choreographer. I don’t look on gender as the main subject; it comes underneath other subjects, or it is translated by the audience. I think everyone reads what he is connected to or what he is interested in.
I just noticed that often it was the male characters who appeared to be in positions of authority, like the doctors, but in the choreography it was the women who were dominant, often ‘beating up’ the man!
Well, Tête was very much about domestic violence, which is a subject I am interested in as well. I am interested in those relationships so it does always come into it. We are still living in quite a patriarchal society in a way… so it is there, sometimes.
Your choreography is quite physical and sometimes violent, do you try to shock your audience?
No I just think that we are living in a quite violent world, unfortunately. I think it is a reality and I try to show that reality. The language which we use to talk about illness is a language of war, we talk about bacteria attacking our body, and the fight against it. Chemical warfare, x-rays – all the language is like warfare, so this is how I translated it to the movement, to the physicality.
When did you make this work?
So the situation in Iraq was already in the public mind?
Yes, but we started this before this Gulf war, but I do think it is there all the time.
In the public consciousness?
Are you aware of the audience’s reactions when you are on stage?
There was a lot of sympathy oohs and ahhs when people were being thrown!
Oh really. We could hear a lot of laughter, sometimes in places we were’t expecting it, so it was funny to hear the reactions. This was the first time we had shown it to an audience and you can never tell what their reaction will be. The things that make you laugh in rehearsal don’t necessarily make the audience laugh, as they are inside jokes, and of course the other way around. From touring I have noticed that different audiences react in different ways. It can be that people in one place laugh all the way through, then the next night there is silence.
From past experience, what do you think the differences are between performing in London compared to other areas of the country?
London is very much a dance audience, people who only watch dance, dance students…
Elsewhere often people have theatre season tickets so they go to see the drama, the musical, the dance and they are not specific dance audiences. Last time we were in Newcastle we had a really strong reaction from the audience, even more so than here [in London]. Here is a house audience, a home audience a friendly audience. It is much easier to perform here for me.
You are a Yorkshire Dance Partner, how did that come about?
Well that was quite a long time ago now. Bush Hartshorn who is the director of Yorkshire Dance, and at the time Mariead Turner… invited me to be a partner. Every year they have another partner. In the first year they managed me directly form Yorkshire Dance offices, and it was a very tight relationship, in the second year I had my own administration and in the third year we moved to our own office in the building and I had my own management. It has proved to be really really good for the company in terms of business development and management of the company, which is fantastic for a young company.
Once you’ve secured your funding, what is your process? How do you pick your collaborators and performers?
Collaborators are normally quite long term. Guy Bar-Amotz, is my partner and he always gives the artistic advice, and the dramaturgy. And he always does the media. Chahine Yavroyan did the lighting for Ticklish. Steve Wald who is the production manager has been working with the company a long time. So there are people who have been with us a long time, or worked on Ticklish.
Performers I usually choose for each production because I want it to be a different piece. And for this piece I needed performers who could act and dance because of the amount of text in it. Hofesh [Shechter] I was working with in Ticklish, Gavin [Rees] and Kath [Duggan] I worked with them on another project commissioned by Welsh Independent Dance, and then I did an audition where I chose Mafalda [Deville].
How do you find performing and choreographing?
It is difficult, very difficult! You never have outside eyes, so it is a long process. I work constantly with a video camera, and after rehearsal I watch it. Especially the parts with me in I can’t correct immediately; I have to go home, watch it and do the correction, try it the next day and then film it again, so it is a long process. But I really enjoy performing so this is the way I find the best. And this year we had a rehearsal director for the first time, Liat [Shinar Ogden] who used to dance for the company so that was very helpful. She could come in more at the final stage and look at the overall and see how to help.
Who influences your work?
Most of my influences are actually from films or books. With this work particularly I’ve been very influenced by Susan Sonntag. I used her text. And Lars Van Trier, and also other, mostly old, films. These are my aesthetic influences.
What are you trying to communicate in your audience?
I want to engage them. I want to make them think about issues. I am not interested in beautiful shapes. It is more a theatrical approach, but in a very physical way.
What is your artistic dream?
I would like to do a film; a physical feature film. And to work with actors, physical actors. Yes.