body & geography: the dancer as explorer

keith gallasch: interview, katarzyna sitarz, tanja liedtke fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow


Where are you from originally?

From Poland—the northwest. I lived in a town called Szczecin, which is close to the German border, very close to Berlin. After finishing high school, I left to go to university to study Russian Philology, a mixture of linguistics and culture. I spent a year there and then I left for Holland to study dance and choreography.

That’s an interesting shift from Russian Philology.

It’s a bit far away, but at the same time not so far. I’d been dancing since I was really young but it was always just for fun. Basically it was my mum’s solution to make me exhausted at the end of the day because I was this restless, hyper kid. It was never really like a ballet school with a focus on being professional but about having a good time, developing in different ways but more for pleasure. I continued that from age three or four so I’ve been always dancing and always doing different things at the same time—I played a lot of sport; I played piano for eight or 10 years.

I never thought about dancing professionally because at that time the borders were still closed, it wasn’t really an option. Also, I was never in a ballet school so that path was closed for me. Then in 2005 when we entered the European Union, suddenly the borders were open and it was easy to travel. No visas, no green cards, all those crazy immigration procedures. Suddenly there were opportunities to go abroad where I knew there were schools where you could get a higher education in dance, choreography and performing arts. I had worked in the opera in my hometown and later I was dancing part-time in theatre. I realised hey I’m really enjoying it and thought, okay, if I want to do something about it, I have to do it now when I’m 18-19. That was my choice to move to Holland.

The school (Rotterdam Dance Academy which is now called Codarts) was considered at the time one of the best in Europe and I had some friends there so I knew that the school was pretty technical. This was a challenge because I wasn’t really sure I would be accepted. At the same time, I thought what I need is technical support and a professional approach. The Dance Academy is connected with the Music School. The dance school at that time had a dance performing department, choreography department and teaching department. In my second year I made a choice to study choreography. So I was kind of doing the whole program.

Did you keep dancing or did your focus shift to choreography?

Both, which meant that I spent in the school from the early morning till very late—like living there! I love to work for people and with people, to collaborate just to learn how they deal with things. At the same time I love creating myself and I like to have time where I can say, okay that’s my little project and I want to do what I want, to develop, to see what’s possible.

The academy, from a choreographic point of view, was very much based in movement, so our work was “movement-based” which wasn’t necessarily always our interest. But we all had very different projects. We had to create different pieces and in Media Technologies we were creating our own little dance movies. We collaborated with dramaturgs and with set designers and composers. It was a big openness. What I’m saying is there was a focus on working with concepts but not in a highly conceptual way.

What kind of things interested you conceptually?

A concept gives me a certain frame, a frame of mind and a certain interest—a theme that I’m interested in. For example, if I’m creating physicality on stage or even researching physicality, there is a certain approach. So I can establish some kind of physicality, which will be each time different. I’m really interested in movement research—which kind of body do I need as a performer, which kind of physicality, what are the qualities, where do they come from and why. Questioning. I try not to get stuck in one particular comfortable movement or quality that my body naturally has or some people that I work with naturally have—pushing the borders. I’m very interested in basically being uncomfortable. I find it now as I’m in a transition moment where I’m not really established but neither am I just starting out. I’m in this zone where there are lots of options and I’m a little like a sponge absorbing and seeing how does it feel.

You graduated in 2009. So you’re absorbing lots of things but are you also finding you’re developing a conceptual rigour that’s your own, or a stylistic vocabulary, or is this part of the reason you’re here? Can you see something emerging that is “you”?

Yes definitely. Even in absorbing things, there is a certain process of selection I’m making consciously or unconsciously just because I’m interested in some things. But in a way I know I have quite a particular way of moving or approaching things. At this moment I’m also trying to challenge that. So I think I’m escaping being labelled or labelling myself. Each time I get into this zone, I go “not yet.” I don’t know why that is, if I’m scared or…

What about influences? You’ve worked with some interesting people Rosas Ensemble, Rui Horta, La Fura dels Baus. Have these offered you a variety of experience or inspiration?

I’m trying to work with as different people as possible. That way I can get into many different places within myself also. The latest work I did with Rui Horta; I moved to Portugal for that. So apart from the artistic journey and our collaboration it was also my personal journey into that culture and discovering people and a certain mentality and country. Rui Horta is a fantastic artist and person so to work with him was just a great pleasure. He’s very open in his vision and his approach.

He is very appreciative of people and of the effort they make. He’s working on the potential of people. At the beginning I was surprised he was very positive and he just loved what we were doing and he was shaping it, but never from a very negative place. I found this a very beautiful way of working. I’d like to cultivate that kind of approach in my own collaborations.

What different kinds of demands do they place on you as a dancer?

I’m adapting. This is what I like about being a freelance dancer/choreographer/performer, at least at this stage not being with a particular company or choreographer. I empty myself each time I work with somebody new. Of course, I carry history and my background and I cannot escape myself but it’s like each time I would work with someone I try to empty the cup in order to have a place, time and space for things to come, to arrive, to fill in. This is kind of like a process. It’s not always comfortable or always something that I know exactly. It’s always this being lost and not knowing. But I find it a beautiful approach.

In the range of work you’ve done, how much of it is based on steps, or tight knit choreography? Or is it a much more expansive experience?

I’m not really good at remembering steps. Of course, there is choreography that must be learned and this is my job. I enjoy improvisational structures. With Rui Horta, there were huge theatrical aspects. I kept speaking on stage from the very beginning to the end, either to myself or louder to the audience. That work was very theatrical, very physical. Some works are based more on improvisations and constant composition while performing. Some are more musical—with Rosas Ensemble it was collaboration with musicians. We were even not so much dancers as performers. Different projects demand different approaches.

What drew you to come to Australia?

This is actually a very interesting story. Obviously, I applied for Tanja Liedtke scholarship. But just before applying, somehow, everywhere I went—I’m travelling a lot in Europe; I don’t really have a stable place—I would bump into Australians. And I would get along really well with them. I found some qualities of being and approaching life and co-existing, very special—unique. Some qualities maybe I didn’t have. So I started to question what is this land Australia that produces such a people? That was before I applied. Aside from this the scholarship program was amazing and really appealing.

What have you been doing here?

The application consisted of my CV, my motivation, why I find it interesting for my future development, what I can offer, what I can share. It’s a lot about collaboration and sharing. The Tanja Liedtke scholarship has two parts. One is running your own creative development, which can be anything—it’s a really open field. The second part is working on a creative development with a local choreographer, which in my case was Lucy Guerin. So I had to write my own concept, which was very much based around collaboration to develop a short work—a blind date.

Working with other dancers or other artists in general?

Other artists. My concept for that project is something new and it started from before coming Australia. It’s basically a concept of home. I was questioning it from different angles: what is home; what does it mean; is it a place; is it a mental state? I found actually coming here to Australia really interesting for the project because I would really be away from my zone, my field, my home, all the way to the other side of the globe, standing upside down! The other part of the concept would be collaborating with people I didn’t know—other artists, not necessarily dancers. Actually I didn’t work with dancers. I made a choice of working with a visual/media artist, a dramaturg/actor/writer and a composer. This team also came together step by step. I was open for whatever was available. So it was a ‘blind date’ organised by Shane Carroll from the Tanja Liedtke Foundation who was taking care of everything.

Did you get much time to work with these people?

With Zoe Scoglio the visual/media artist, we had three weeks together. With all of them, we kept emailing before I came. So I shared with them the concept, not necessarily what I wanted to do—I didn’t know what we were going to be doing because I try to keep it open…it’s a collaboration, not me imposing a work on somebody. We started from sitting and talking and getting to know one another. With Matt Cornell whom I met last year in Vienna, we’d spoken before but we had one week together in the studio in the last week. Meantime Josh Tyler is based here in Sydney. He’s an actor/writer and dramaturg. We were emailing a lot and he was also writing some text because I was working with text and some approaches to it…he was in the studio with us for two days. So I had different ways of working with these people.

Do you feel that’s come to a satisfying stage of development?

It was more an experiment to see how we could merge together. We had a presentation at the end of three weeks, which was a compilation of different ideas we were trying out. All the time now that I look at it, it was more about generating ideas, not necessarily developing them further. Because the subject is so philosophical and broad, we could go anywhere—there were still some places we didn’t go.

Can you give me an example of something that came out of it?

Joshua Tyler, Katarzyna Sitarz, Zoe Scoglio, Home creative team

Joshua Tyler, Katarzyna Sitarz, Zoe Scoglio, Home creative team

Joshua Tyler, Katarzyna Sitarz, Zoe Scoglio, Home creative team

We narrowed down everything and divided our work into three major parts, one being Home as a Body. We had two different things between Zoe and me: me being actually physically a ‘home’ for projection. We were projecting little versions of me dancing and using the surface of my body as a landscape. Then we went in a different direction into Intimacy and Absence of the Body. Again we were working with projections on my body. Zoe would be finding different objects or using her own body, her own hands and presence being projected on me. We went into Navigations—directions, searching for home, partly because we were talking a lot about nomadic cultures. Then we were working with walkie-talkies on an idea of Here, Near and Far but still having one point of reference. One walkie-talkie section involved setting one device in a place where we ‘stored’ people—part of the room. We made an architectural plan of a house just using simple white tape. We made a house and we guided people into a little room or a big room, spaces with very abstract borders because home can contain very abstract ideas and agreements between people. I welcomed people and then I left. I continued the journey outside. Mark preferred to create a really interesting soundscape so we were playing this through the walkie-talkie to create different spaces and different journeys.

We also made a short movie about being in a house but being homeless. We decided a slug is a snail with a housing problem. It was more about that mental and emotional state when you are in a place but you’re not really there. So you’re kind of lost. And then we set the physicality where I would just be constantly shaking and being out of any kind of control.

Is this something you might work on in the future or do you see it simply as something that you’re glad you’ve done?

Oh, I definitely see a future for it. There is so much potential. We did so many really interesting things that I feel that I need to digest it because it was quite an intense process—three weeks of brainstorming and making and finding a common aesthetic language. I would love to carry on with it, especially as it’s a subject that’s very present in my life.

What about your experience with Lucy Guerin?

That was a really interesting process. She was working with three dancers and three actors. And I was an ‘extra’ doing whatever I could share or do. I was really very much part of it while the research was going on, trying out different options and tasks and possibilities. Once Lucy started to shape the work a bit more, I stepped out in order to observe it. I was really glad I could participate in the process from the very beginning. So it’s not that I was joining something already underway. And the other thing was that because of the collaboration Lucy is making with Belvoir and the actors, she wasn’t in her comfort zone, in her field where she’s super under control. I could relate to this just because of my own experience. It was interesting to observe how she was dealing with things, approaching the work, because it was also research; how she’s shaping it, timing it, which kinds of tasks she’s setting. Another beautiful thing is just the way she works with people. Just as I was saying about Rui Horta, Lucy Guerin is such an amazing, beautiful woman who appreciates people and their effort and the qualities they have. It was a pleasure to be with all of them. The group was really great.

And all up it’s been a good experience for you?

It was a great experience. I’m not saying it was the easiest one because I had to find myself here, in the Australian mentality, the Australian approach towards things, finding ways to communicate with people, to have a common understanding which wasn’t always an easy thing just because we could look at one thing from very different perspectives. We would be speaking about something and after a few hours there would be a sudden ‘Okay! this is what you mean!’ It sometimes takes time and energy and leads to some frustrations, but…What I enjoyed a lot was coming here and being a little bit like a blank paper. I don’t know the people; I don’t know who’s who. I’m not engaged in any political whatever or social structures. It was a pleasure to see work, to like it or not, with this kind of approach. For a long time I haven’t had this. I felt like a little bit like this innocent child.

It’s good that Dance Massive was on and there was so much for you to see.

That was really great. What I would like to add is how grateful I am for the opportunity and to all the people I met on my path and who supported the project. Shane Carroll was just an angel looking after everything—even making sure I looked in the right direction crossing the road! I found people very open and very supportive. The Arts House team were great for my collaboration. Whatever I asked, there was never a ‘no.’ Almost everything was possible. There was always trying, always options. I’m not used to working like that. Very often I work in surroundings that would be like “no, this is not possible” or “go and deal with it yourself.” So this is something ‘wow’ for me. Big support and very friendly community and very open people.

For information about the Tanja Liedtke Foundation and Fellowship go to http://www.tanja-liedtke-foundation.org.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

25 October 2011