HUMANHOOD at Sadler’s Wells

  • Photography and words  Max Barnett
  • Talent  Humanhood

Ahead of their highly anticipated Wild Card show at Sadler’s Wells, PYLOT met with Julia Robert Pares and Rudi Cole. Founders of an exciting new dance company, Humanhood, we discuss their colliding worlds of physics and Eastern mysticism, and how they invite the audience to experience their shows.
How did the Humanhood journey begin?
Julia: Rudi and I met in 2013 in Birmingham while working for a local dance company. the contract finished and we went to Barcelona to do an audition. There was a festival director, Pau Estrem, from a festival near Barcelona and he asked me if Rudi and myself had a twenty-minute duet together which we could present at his festival two months later, which we hadn’t. We had never really made anything together. I told Pau that we had, and I went back to Rudi and said we have to start working on a duet as we are going to be performing at the festival.

Pau is now our international touring producer, so the circle came back around and that’s how it started. We were working long hours on the duet while in Barcelona, staying until very late in the evening after rehearsals with the company we were working for (we both got the job at the audition) had finished.

We went to Madrid’s International Choreography Competition in 2015 where we presented the duet, made it to the finals, and received a prize. We realised we were growing as artists by creating our own work and wanted to explore this path further to see what we could achieve and develop if we gave it our full attention.

After being awarded Arts Council funding and premiering our first full-length duet; in 2017 we made the decision to stop doing any more outside projects and to fully focus on Humanhood. From this moment onwards everything took off.

As professional dancers, Rudi worked with Akram Khan, and I worked with Jasmin Vardimon, who is also an associate artist at Sadler’s Wells, this gave us an insight on how high-quality productions were created and the teams behind them. Our experience with these companies as dancers led to the next step as artists, which was to create our own work: an exciting yet challenging process. The universe had evidently pushed us to make our own work and discover our own movement language.

How did you find the experience of curating a show with other acts? Did it have an impact on your own Practice
Rudi: For this Wild Card, Humanhood: Universe, we’re working with our core collaborators, artists that we’ve worked with from the very beginning of our journey and with whom we’ve built a relationship with over a period of time. We have invited them to create a world of sound, light and visuals, merging all of these elements in a performance/installation.

Julia: It helped us dive further into the world of each collaborator and the relationship we had with each of them. Iain Armstrong who is the sound designer for Zero – is creating a sound installation around the different spaces at the Lilian Baylis inviting the audience to sonically dive into the immersive world of the work.

Gyda Valtysdottir who is an Icelandic cellist and the soloist in the soundtrack of Zero is doing a live performance during the evening, bringing her own exploration of a meditative state and unique way to relate to her instrument. Horne Horneman, the lighting designer, is doing a light installation during the first Act of the evening ‘Universe’ and Mark Howard, who is the costume designer for Zero, and a painter will be capturing the movement of the dancers with his soulful traces in a large canvas. It is about bringing their own personalities and explorations into the evening and going deep end into our collaboration.

Do you feel like you understand more about your process by working with them and the collaborative aspect of the project?
Rudi: It deepens the respect and sensitivity that you need to have when working with other artists. It’s not just a case of just getting someone in to fulfill our vision but more a case of working together and learn from each other to create the world we have in mind which at the same time it shifts as the collaboration progresses so So, it’s more malleable and more flexible, but with a clear intention and guidance. For us, this way creates a more intuitive and collaborative process.
What inspired you to combine the worlds of Western physics, astrophysics and Eastern mysticism? What was it about these three elements that you were fascinated by enough to bring it into one practice?
Julia: I started a Physics degree before training as a dancer. I always found the world of physics and astrophysics fascinating, and that has influenced the way I think about dance, bringing this part of myself to Humanhood – it’s about connecting the physics world with the dance world, and let it collide into the body. There are these three kinds of worlds that we are playing with, or ways of seeing the world: the physics aspect, or the academic, scientific side of it; the Eastern mysticism or in other words metaphysics, which is about all the ancient knowledge that’s been there for many, many years; and the body, the physicality. We are dancers and choreographers who work with the body, so it’s about bringing the physics and the metaphysics, into the body and the movement that arise from it. Eastern mysticism came from our own interests and research, we both practice tai chi with our teacher in Birmingham and travel to the Far East during our research periods. We have been in India learning moving breath and connecting with the local communities during the research of Zero and spent a month in Taiwan exchanging artistic practice with Ten Drum cultural group, a traditional Taiwanese band, for Torus, our next ensemble work. We like to immerse ourselves in different cultures because they have different ways to feel time, to communicate and relate to each other.

Rudi: For us, Eastern mysticism and physics are a source of inspiration and we allow them to affect us in a very spontaneous way how we create our productions. It becomes a way of seeing and experiencing life and is something that we want to translate unto our productions, in the studio, and in our Humanhood practice workshops.

So as you’re progressing, the inspirations of your work have affected how you work with people, how you treat people, and grow and learn yourselves?
Julia: I think the biggest way it affected us is realising that everything in the universe, life and nature is a process. We see our productions as a process, there isn’t a beginning or an end or a narrative as such, it’s something that grows and happens and then transforms. That’s the same on the stage as when we are in the studio creating. We see the whole and its result as a process, so everything is part of the creation process, the artists we encounter, the conversations we have and the creative sessions in the studio. It helps connect everything you’re doing and thinking, whom you’re relating with and what you’re bringing on stage.
Would you say you tell stories in a literal or abstract way?
Julia: Totally abstract! It’s like when you look at nature, nature is abstract, it just is, but we put our own interpretation onto it. We look at the sun and moon, and we have our own interpretations bringing our cultured mind and way of perceiving the world into what is. In this same way, the audience will have their own take on things and our work. Our aim is to hopefully offer a  spiritual brush, maybe inspiring deeper feelings to the viewer. More like an alternate reality or state of mind that connects us with our humanity.

Was synergy or variety more important when selecting the people that you wanted to work with?
Julia: I think definitely synergy, but there is also a variety within the synergy. It is about tapping into what we have in common, how we are building a world in common, but also what is unique to each of us, each of the artists we are inviting, and focusing on that potential.

We guide the process so that it comes together in a particular way. Also, we choose those particular collaborators who we feel we connect with and we admire each other’s work.

What would you want the audience to take away from the performance?
Rudi: I think in the work we create there is always an unanswered question. It’s like coming away with a sense of curiosity for what just happened on stage. Coming away with that kind of unknown, questioning “what did I experience? How this affected me?” Actually questioning yourself more than the work. I think this is more interesting when seeing the work rather than making a pre-judgment or an immediate judgment. There is a blissful moment when no one is clapping just straight after the end of the show, it feels as if time is just suspended, a shared silence before the clap. When you’ve seen something that creates a silence in you, that makes such an impact, which can be in any form or shape, but you have to take time to process it. I think that’s really what we want the audience to take away.

I think a lot of curators at the moment are almost battling against what they perceive their audience to be, what they anticipate them wanting and how much to give them as opposed to fully embellishing in what you’re creating and inviting the audience to make their own discovery. I think there is also something in entertainment. What we are doing is entertainment, it’s just what entertainment has become in the commercial eye. I think it is about shaking that up a little bit and not falling into these things that are very enticing when it comes to creating work because it is about the audience’s experience. But then reaching that point is a bit more challenging, they will experience it how they experience it.

We’ve had age ranges from four years old to eighty years old experiencing our work and diving into the world of each production They have got something from it or at least what we have wanted them to gain from it. The positive aspect is that they could engage with it in some way or form. It doesn’t matter about gender, age, or cultural backgrounds. Everyone has senses, to a certain extent, and people can experience through senses. It doesn’t just have to be through sight or sound, there are other ways to experience this work.

We think that shows a great sense of conviction and strength. You want to produce work that you really care about and that will hopefully draw in people that have a similar view or feeling towards things.
Rudi: Or if they don’t, awaken them to it. To something they may not have been exposed to before. The experience is completely theirs.

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