Doris Uhlich: Searching for movement that charges the body up like a battery
Recognized Austrian choreographer and performing artist Doris Uhlich is returning to Tallinn's Vaba Lava theater with a new performance focusing on the effects of music on different kinds of bodies. Her new piece, "Ravemachine", will also feature dancer Michael Turinsky.
Austrian choreographer and performing artist Doris Uhlich’s most recent piece to be performed at Tallinn’s Vaba Lava theater was last September’s well-received “More Thank Naked”, a piece featuring twenty dancers performing completely naked onstage in a production whose motto was, “This is celebration of bodies: rejoice over your corporeality!” and focus was on considering the body free of prejudices, false shame, ideologies, and stereotypical and conventional attitudes toward both nakedness and dance.
Her newest piece, “Ravemachine”, performed together with dancer Michael Turinsky, who appears in a wheelchair, is an exploration of energetic movement, the techno sound, and its effects on different types of bodies. In an interview with ERR’s cultural portal yesterday, Uhlich explored her choice of subject matter, the role of music in her performance pieces, and her expectations for her audiences.
Barbara Lehtna: Why have you chosen to work with wheelchair and rave themes this time? Why a wheelchair dancer?
Doris Uhlich: After my techno solo “Universal Dancer”, in which I rode a machine — a table with washing machine motors fixed undeath it — people in wheelchairs who saw the performance gave me feedback, saying they liked the machine and asking if I had ever considered a dance training for disabled people. I suddenly realized, “You are sitting in machines, and techno is produced by machines — so actually that makes you techno experts!" I thought that the techno sound could be a great way to research energetic states for their bodies.
With this idea in mind, I called Michael Turinsky, who I respect a lot as a colleague, and asked him whether he would be interested in researching the idea of flooding the body with electronic sound with me. “Ravemachine” is a dialogue about the confrontation of two very different bodies — Michael’s and mine — and its main focus is to research ecstatic movement, where the energy in a movement becomes more important than its form. We are searching for movement that charges the body up like a battery.
BL: You are known for working with unconventional bodies — in addition to dancers, you’ve shared the stage with older people, people who are not dancers by trade, and now a person with a disability. What do you think — does your work make a difference? Why are you interested in working with different kinds of people?
DU: The themes of my various projects are all very different, and each project needs people who can connect to the to the theme. I really like people — I like connecting to different people, different bodies and biographies, as well as the biographies imprinted on people’s bodies.
BL: After the performance of “More Than Naked” at Vaba Lava last autumn, your choice of music was praised by the audience. How does music inspire you? Does it help you as a choreographer?
DU: When I first started choreographing pieces ten years ago, they had had no music, no sound at all. This has changed over the last five years. It’s interesting, though, because I feel like this might change again, and my pieces may become more silent again — we’ll see.
For now, though, music and sound, to me, are a source of energy for my body and my mind. It is like a gas station for energy — the energy that I and my projects love and need at the moment. I like to include music and sound in my pieces not in the background, but as an active partner. For me, sound is a body; sound has hands that reach into space, that touch that space. Moreover, sound crosses the barrier between stage and audience; the waves of sound enter the audience’s space — you can’t stop it.
BL: Going through your portfolio and career, I noticed that you use a lot of techno music. Is this a preference, or do you have a specific reason for this?
The reason is that techno can be mixed and remixed for long periods of time. It has a symphonic structure for me; it’s not finished like a pop song with a duration of mostly around four minutes. DU: Techno can expand in time. My projects became more and more energetic, and I found techno great, inspiring, and supportive of the physical energy I was seeking. Of course the history of techno, the beginning of its sound and culture, influences me to think of underground movements and developments in sound.
BL: Your performances have been described as “gripping”, among other things. What do you actually look for in an audience? Energy, or something else?
DU: Open minds, and open bodies. Energetic exchange, and that one starts to feel and regard theater as a living room — as a space where it’s not about consuming art, but rather sharing, changing, and exchanging energies.
BL: You’ve been to Estonia a number of times by now. What do you feel, how has the audience reacted to your performances?
DU: My audiences have been very open-minded and curious. I think that the human side in my pieces is something that really appeals to people here. I think that the audience can feel the spirit of my works — that it’s not about being admired as an artist, but rather being in an ongoing dialogue.
BL: There will be a rave after the performance. How should people prepare themselves?
DU: The less you prepare, the more you will be surprised. The fewer expectations, the more sensations!
Doris Uhlich, born in 1977, is a recognized Austrian choreographer and performing artist who has choreographed solo productions since 2006. Her work explores corporeality, or the physical body, and challenges her viewers’ traditional perceptions of gender. Uhlich, a graduate of the Vienna Conservatory in Contemporary Dance Education, has earned a number of awards in her native Austria for her work, including “Dance” magazine’s 2011 Dancer of the Year, the Austrian Ministry of Culture’s Dance Award in 2008, and its Outstanding Artist Award in 2013.
Uhlich’s newest piece, “Ravemachine”, will be performed at the Vaba Lava theater in Tallinn on Saturday, March 26, and Sunday, March 27 only.