HUNTED at Sadler’s Wells

  • Photography  Fumi Homma
  • Words  Abi Buller
Sadler’s Wells recently hosted the UK premier of HUNTED by French choreographer Maud Le Pladec and New York-based writer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili. Shown at the Lilian Baylis Studio, this performance offers a thought-provoking depiction of the term ‘witch’, portraying a contemporary take on the often negative connotations of the term. Broaching themes such as feminism and capitalism, the duo take inspiration from militant artists such as choreographer Mary Wigman or contemporary writer Starhawk to explore how the self proclamation of this title can offer a sense of liberation and power in modern society. PYLOT speaks to Maud Le Pladec about the themes in her latest production.

What were you trying to achieve in your representation of women who have previously been labelled as ‘witches’?
The witch is an equivocal figure, as Anna Collin says in the introduction of her book; ‘’witches, hunted, appropriated, empowered, queered’’ at least three types of witches exist: those who practice witchcraft, those who are characterized as witches (by courts, religious institutions or public opinion), and those who proclaim themselves witches but do not practice witchcraft. I am most concerned by the latter categories because they arise from social construct and treat witchcraft as a metaphor. Witches represent evil, giving them negative connotations for society to associate them with. Historian Silvia Federici reminds us that women accused of witchcraft were not practicing members of pagan cults, but were in fact peasants who resisted the oppressive and impoverishing developments arising from capitalist domination.
How was the music composed to enhance the atmosphere of the performance?
</bThe music is a composition from Kalevi Aho, a Finnish composer, titled ‘’Sonate 2 Black Birds” (1990). It is a piece created for two accordions. For Hunted, I asked Okwui Okpokwasili, a remarkable Nigerian-American performance artist from NYC, to choreograph alongside me. Together we created Hunted as an incantation or performance-like ritual where the issues of address, fiction and memory are raised. The music is a partner with which Okwui (who is replaced by Dorothée Munyaneza in performing the show) converses to transform the hunt into a dance: between hunger and satiety, fear and ruse, submission and resistance.

What sort of messages are you hoping to portray through the context of this work?
There is a feminist appropriation of the witch figure in Hunted. The adoption of the witch motif underscores my interest in re-establishing the witch as an intrinsically feminine and alien figure: a figure that is both frightening and fascinating. The image of the witch as a liberated, rebellious figure has been found in many dance works from Valeska Gert to Mary Wigman. In Hunted, the revival of the witch figure is strongly related to the 1970’s figure, primarily in an activist context. It became a potent symbol of the feminist and gay struggle in Europe and USA. I can see also a potential political and social alternative in the use of the witch symbol; a major figure of the pacifist, feminist, globalization and ecological movements.

How were you able to achieve a narrative exploring disobedient women through this work?
We wrote the text of the piece with Okwui Okpokwasili. We based our research on many documentations, books like the book of Anna Collin, but also on Caliban and the witch: women, the body and primitive accumulation (2004) by Silvia Federici. We wanted to mix reality with reaction, offering a combination of facts and myths. We proposed a narrative which explores all the dimensions and the complexities of the subject. There is definitely a feminist dimension in Hunted, which is something we had to defend. In addition to these ideas, we also wanted to place the project in a metaphoric and poetic space. Step by step, the disobedient woman appeared thanks to all the voices that we gave her. The aim was to explore an issue and to ask questions, in order to let the audience have their own opinion.

How did the collaboration with Okwui Okpokwasili achieve the desired outcome with this project?
Hunted was created for a festival in Lyon (France) titled ‘’Aire de Jeu’’. Les Substances commissioned me to create a piece around Kalevi Aho’s music. I immediately thought about witches when I was tasked with the commission. At first I wanted to make a duet with another woman who had come from a widely different background to myself; because the piece is about exploring otherness. I wanted to consider the realness of the encounter in the process. That is why I chose to work with Okwui Okpokwasili. She is a performer from NYC, a remarkable Nigerian-American performance artist, singer, writer and dancer. I met her in NYC, proposed the project to her, and we discovered that we were obsessed by the same ideas, concepts and feminist issues. We created Hunted together and Okwui performed it. Now Dorothée Munyaneza replaces her in the performance. Dorothée was born in Kigali, with a background in singing, dancing and performing. She is Britanico-Rwandaise. At first, we wanted to call the project ‘Witch Transmission’, as this really represents what we’re doing with the project.

Why do you feel that performance is the right context to approach topics such as feminism and capitalism? 
The figure in Hunted has the desire to join other artists, activists and agitators. From choreographer Mary Wigman in the 1910’s to contemporary activist and writer Starhawk, who have directly taken this designation to evoke a potential reversal of that very power. As Federici tell us, witch-hunts served as a regulating tool used to maintain a hegemonic political-economic system, where women’s bodies became privileged sites for the deployment of power techniques and power relations. The woman’s body is the center of this question and it was obvious for me that we had to perform this question, that we had to use the performance to talk about that.

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