Before their October 2009 performance at Dance Umbrella, Wally Cardona and Rahel Vonmoos sat down with Donald Hutera to talk about A Light Conversation. With thanks to Dance Umbrella, we now share that interview with you:
A Light Conversation is a deft, eloquent and beguiling new duet made and performed by the American dancer-choreographer Wally Cardona and the Swiss-born, London-based Rahel Vonmoos, with the audience surrounding the pair on three sides. Below this dynamic duo reflects on what motivated this collaboration and what they’ve gleaned from it.
Donald Hutera: How did this creative partnership come about?
Wally Cardona: We first worked together when I made a work for Ricochet. A fifth dancer was needed and [artistic director] Karin Fischer-Potisk told me about a woman named Rahel who’d danced with many people, including [frequent Umbrella-supported choreographer] Charles Linehan. I’d seen a Linehan performance in New York City earlier in the year and enjoyed it immensely. I remember being mesmerised by a woman performing in it. Karin said, ‘That’s Rahel.’
Rahel Vonmoos: Funny coincidence: not knowing Wally, I actually stayed in his flat in 1993 while touring in New York City with a Swiss company. So I’d heard about him and his work. When Ricochet asked if I wanted to join them for his production, I was curious and said yes. Wally’s ability to verbalise his ideas and the whole working process I found very inspiring. When he proposed that we make something together, it was very clear to me that I was interested.
WC: I suppose my selfishness initiated the project: I wanted to dance with her. When I look at something, or somebody, and don’t understand what’s making it work the way it does, I become very interested. I want to learn something I don’t know.
DH: Under what circumstances was A Light Conversation made?
WC: The circumstances included our distance from each other (my primary residence is in Brooklyn and Rahel’s is in London); our families (neither of us wanted to be away from home and family for long); and scant financial resources (we didn’t receive any grant support). Sounds grim, eh? Luckily, three presenters/institutions who knew either Rahel or me generously offered their spaces to us to work in: Tanzhaus Zurich, The Joyce Theater and London Metropolitan University.
RV: We talked a lot about life and dance. It was clear that one of us had to travel each time we would meet. This we did in four blocks of two weeks over a period of seven months. We had residencies in Zurich and London, and then a final week in the theatre in New York City before the premiere.
DH: The piece works simultaneously on intellectual, visceral and emotional levels. What were your intentions?
RV: Well, that seems like a great outcome if the piece is experienced in that way! I’m not sure what kind of piece I intended to create, but all these aspects were there in the initial working ideas and starting points.
WC: It was clear to both of us that we’re two people who think abstractly and who love to move. The work would play itself out through movement; us meeting each other, and the conditions we were working under, would generate the material. The initial motivation was to encounter each other’s experience and create something ‘real.’ When we were asked to do that horrible thing of ‘please describe the piece’ before it even exists, we said, ‘Imagine a live documentary that exists of video footage, live as well as recorded telephone interviews, discussions, scrapbooks and the two of us dancing. Now condense all of that stuff into just the two of us dancing alone onstage.’
DH: How did you go about devising the movement?
WC: We first got together in a London studio, turned on the video camera and started dancing. I said a few words and we danced some more. She said a few words and we danced more. That’s how three full days played out, and I think it well represents our process. We’re not keen on talking, but when we do it’s usually about our kids, husbands or life in general. Light conversations that can get quite heavy.
RV: A lot of A Light Conversation comes out of those first three days, or is related to the idea of the two of us ‘meeting’ and dancing together for the first time. Our relationship before that had been as choreographer and dancer, so we didn’t know each other physically. I find it interesting to look at these quite raw recordings now and see how, though we’ve changed, there’s something that was there from the very beginning.
WC: We were also in agreement throughout that the point was not to be the same. Our individuality was going to be key to our roles.
DH: There’s a chemistry between you. What do you think it consists of?
RV: A great mutual respect and interest in the other person. We’re there in that space for that length of time, and intensely together. It was very clear throughout the process that in most aspects we’re really different. It was very intense always having our differences together in the studio; the constant collaborative decision-making was, at times, a challenge. This might add to the piece on an emotional level - different characters, different opinions about certain things, different approaches and different ways of expressing ourselves stopping each other from making habitual decisions. But we had a lot of agreement as well!
WC: I experience a dynamic chemical reaction with Rahel that’s positive, negative and everything in between.
DH: Location and space are important in your work, Wally. A Light Conversation is simple and intimate in comparison to some of the pieces I’ve read about on your website. What determined the choice of setting?
WC: After making a few large-scale works that dealt with vastness and the use of many objects, I was eager to revisit people. But that’s people as complicated, complex, ever-changing objects. So yes, we were interested in simple and intimate, but to make space for the complex.
RV: The way we use location comes with the idea of having the audience enter the space the same way we enter it. Although we choose a clear theatre setting, we’re all together in it. Rather than making a spectacle for the audience, this adds a layer of simplicity and honesty.
WC: An example of our differences: I do see this as a spectacle, a mini-Coliseum with two dance gladiators in their mid-40’s.
DH: What keeps you both in the dance field?
RV: I wanted to quit and do something completely different so many times. But I’m interested in creating something out of nothing, and I like movement of and in the body.
WC: Oh, my. What a question. My answer would depend greatly on my mood. I like dance, making dances and dancing. The challenge of all three excites me because it continues to offer a perspective on experience. By doing it, making it, thinking about it, talking about it, teaching it, writing about it, remembering it, imagining it as something else - it allows me to attempt to explain the unexplainable.
Cardona and Vonmoos will revive A Light Conversation at Joyce SoHo Jan 7-12. Tickets are available here.