Opposing forces

Eleanor Brickhill interviews dancer Lucy Guerin

EB What was special about working in New York (1989-1996)?

LG I think the most significant thing was the dance community, which is really strong and very supportive. Starting to choreograph there was easier for me than here. Somehow, you’re not so much on view. There’s so much happening, you’re just one more person doing some little showing somewhere. Here, I always felt so exposed. People are responsive, I think, because it’s so hard to keep making work. It’s a matter of course that people have jobs and dance in their spare time, even really successful, established people. In ten year’s time, I can see myself showing work at the Joyce or at BAM or City Centre, doing quite well, but still waiting tables.

EB Sometimes working on other people’s material is like doing your own work, because there’s something that feels so right about what they do. Was there anyone in particular like that?

LG Tere O’Connor’s work was most like that for me. He wasn’t interested in spending hours getting the right this and the right that. It would just come out in this kind of gush. It was about a different thing, not the movement. Mostly, the way people are in civilisation, the way they interact with each other, how they’re isolated. There are not that many things that preoccupy us. There’s love, there’s probably power, there’s God knows what else. The point for me is basically a stylistic thing.

EB So how do you decide what material to use? What’s the basis for these decisions?

LG It’s just instinctive, really—I use what pleases me. I like things with a conceptual base, and because of the way they work in the space, rather than through any emotive content. I don’t think of dancers as people who are trying to express themselves. In the beginning, they’re more like abstract concepts.

EB What about physicality? What does dancing feel like for you these days?

LG I still love the visceral sense of really pure movement. But since I started choreographing, I got bored with movement for its own sake, so I tend not to look at that fine detail. I want it to mean something more. I don’t think I’m naturally that sensual or luscious. I like moving fast, using hard, classical lines in my choreography—over-indulging. You know, ballerinas who distort movement through their own intensity and verve? Sometimes I’ll set something up and then subvert it, undermine it somehow, in opposition all the time to itself. I like my movement to be affected by more emotional elements. Not love, or hate, or anything like that, but by a sort of tone that’s beyond just moving.

EB Do you have anything in mind when you say that?

LG Well, the last piece I made, called Incarnadine, which means ‘blood red’, I had a 25-minute unison duet with Becky Hilton juxtaposing very large movement and very small movement, quite rigorous and relentless. Pretty much all my pieces deal with duality or extremes. Then I had a trio come in after about ten minutes, all in pinks and reds, very interdependent, and mutually supportive all the time. They held on to each other a lot, used the whole stage. It was a lot more lush. An initial idea for that little one was that very small movements can have huge consequences. You’re standing on a cliff, and you just take the tiniest of steps, and it results in death. (Demonstrating) I had to move to this place, not really knowing…what it was. Testing out positions, not really being fully committed to them.

EB I made a piece once where I just fidgeted—trying to get into the right position for a photograph. That’s all. Finding the quality, the tone: trying to fit in, find the right place, being uncertain about what ‘right’ was, but in a forthright sort of way.

LG Yes, that’s what I mean by tone. It doesn’t happen that often that you find something really special in your body where the movement has its own life. You spend a lot of time in the studio, trying to come up with something that’s not re-hashing, just a bit of this or a bit of that part of your history.

EB In (musician and sound artist) Ion Pearce’s work, Practice (1995), at The Performance Space, you used old material and some new stuff.

LG Yes, the first two bits were from that duet in Incarnadine—the one that went to the floor a lot and that little one. The third, more dancey one was especially for the piece. Solo material for myself always tends to look dancey. Because it’s from the perspective of being a dancer, it lacks that directorial edge. That’s what I mean about having a conceptual base to start from. Then I can really push the material, be much more disciplined with how I make it. I won’t just make nice movement.

EB How do you decide what your pieces are about?

LG I can’t make pieces about someone’s life, or political issues. I can’t ever get interested in that kind of connection to reality. It has to remain abstract, which is why it sounds like I’m waffling all over the place. Usually my pieces are about how I make sense of human existence, which sounds extremely grandiose. The thing is, it doesn’t usually get more specific than that, and ends up being a bit unwieldy.

EB Yes, the ideas are so all encompassing, how do you ever say, “That’s not part of this dance?”

LG Often I have to get down to questioning the basis of existence for a while. That’s really tedious. I have a difficult time by myself in studios. I start off thinking in a very abstract, almost philosophical way. After two hours I’m crying. It’s so far from movement. By myself it’s always really confronting, but I’ve come to see that as the important step: to have these two opposing forces, a dialogue. Incarnadine, with that static duet and the flowing, expressive trio, was about different approaches to how you deal with your life. Do you just go with the flow, and allow yourself to fall apart, and then come back together? Or are you very rigorous and resist and try to be really strong all the time and hold your ground? Both things seem really beautiful. I love those people who are really strong, but they have their limitations. And people who can be manipulated really easily, they’re more like water, finding their own level. That’s the dialogue, looking at choices. That’s the movement. But then people who work just purely with movement would argue that it’s really the same thing.

EB Perhaps they’re really working with a whole lot of other things, and just haven’t noticed… It’s just not a credible place to be anymore.

LG No, everyone yawns. There are obviously a lot of other things going on so why not just admit it.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 35

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 1995