Dance as a Trajectory – Into Stories of the Past, Deep Emotions, Playfulness, and Intuition 

Elena Morena Weber is a trained dancer, working in the field of performing arts and based in Zurich. During her fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude, she continued her physical investigations into dance as an exploration of the past, and into deep emotions, while understanding dance as a passionate and sensual tool with which to experiment with different movements. In her choreographic work, her biography often works as the source of inspiration, unpacking questions of belonging and concerning sensitive and emotional states during various phases of human life. She creates narrative pieces that search for relations between personal connections and a universal context. In a studio visit, Weber introduces her choreographic and performative praxis by discussing previous works, and the outcomes of her latest research, which brought her back to the small village Fescoggia in Ticino, in the south of Switzerland.

Schlosspost: Since when have you been dancing? What is your earliest memory that relates to your professional passion as a dancer?

Elena Morena Weber: I started taking ballet classes when I was five years old. I never wanted to be a swan, but I loved to dress up and stage shows in every possible occasion. Later on, I fell in love with the freedom and complexity of contemporary dance.

Schlosspost: Can you give us a short introduction to your personal approach toward choreography?

EMW: Like dancing, creating choreographies was something that has been present in my life since an early age; the techniques became more elaborate through the years, but the ambition and playfulness stayed the same. Even though I find the body a fascinating tool of expression and narration certainly able to stand for itself, I’m interested in the moving body as an element existing in a broader constellation. I am more and more interested in using unconventional settings, where the dancing body needs to adapt to different conditions than the ones in a dance studio or classical stage situation. I am intrigued by the influence that these specific spaces have on the body; in a way, I feel that in this context the movement becomes more human. Maybe more urgent and less elitist. The black box is a wonderful tool, but in my opinion if I make use of it to stage a piece, this decision should be justified.

»Even though I find the body a fascinating tool of expression and narration certainly able to stand for itself, I’m interested in the moving body as an element existing in a broader constellation.«

Schlosspost: You are fascinated by the archaic, by rites, and traditions. The piece SPUREN (2016) you did with Mirjam Sutter traces back to old Swiss traditions, i.e Tschäggättä from the Wallis, Silvesterchlausen from Appenzell or Pschuuri from Splügen. What was your special interest in (re)discovering them?

EMW: Mirjam and I were driven by the interest to discover a part of Swiss culture we didn’t know, with the intention to maybe getting a bit closer to who we are. Through searching for ancient rituals of Alpine regions of Switzerland, we found treasures! We discovered a part of tradition that moved us deeply from the inside, far from embarrassing clichés of Swiss folklore. Because the traditional processions and rituals still happen today in public space, there is often no real boundary between audience and performer; no fourth wall. So for us it was clear from the beginning that for SPUREN we wouldn’t use the traditional stage setting that divides the audience from the stage, but break this down.

Schlosspost: Today’s emerging interest in the archaic, the spiritual, and its traditions as a form often recalling and echoing nature and our instincts itself, can be seen as a counterreaction to postmodern labor cycles and ever-growing cities and use of technology.

EMW: I feel that the overwhelming presence of technology and its development is a challenge for humans. We tend to forget that we are part of nature and living beings. Through rituals we are able to access some other part of us, some very ancient place in ourselves, which can be a liberating explosion of emotions, but also scary because those places seem to be out of control compared to the rational system of our world.

Schlosspost: In your work GEORGE (2017), you address particular emotions that are connected to the concept of solitude and melancholia. The logos of emotion begins in the pre-articulated experience of »being moved.« How do you translate emotions into the language of contemporary dance?

EMW: Longing and melancholia are moods that are very present in my life. They play an important role in designating belonging and memory as focal points of my work. When I started with the development of the main character George – an old melancholic giant turtle – I explored movement patterns, slowly shifting from posture into movement, starting from daily activities like eating and personal hygiene toward emotional states. This process was supported by layers of sound that created an atmosphere related to the emotional world of GEORGE: hopeless loneliness, sadness, and melancholia.

In a second stage I took the outcome of the creature George into long improvisation sessions with the rest of the ensemble. The piece was a collaboration with the collective OFF deluxe, where artists from different fields such as dramaturgy, stage design, costume, and music collaborate. In this sense, elements such as stage and sound have the same importance as movement and developed hand in hand.

At the present moment, I am developing an idea that takes GEORGE to the next stage and out of the black box. GEORGE 2.0 (2018/2019) will be delivered to the home of anyone interested in an easy-care pet. In this process, I’m interested in playing with the ideas of proliferation on one side and intimacy and loneliness on the other. It will be a sort of revival of the dead, involving some ancient illusionist trick, but I prefer not to spoil it yet …

»If what I create and perform, touches me emotionally, there’s a big chance it will touch the audience as well.«

Schlosspost: In your choreographies you often use atmospheric music, different light moods, and various styles of improvisation as tools to focus more on movement driven by intuition and emotion. I would go so far as to say that intuition is one code of your practice.

EMW: If I decide to go through a creative process, I often have a personal connection to the topic. That’s the reason why I consider intuition as an important guide. But this doesn’t mean lack of craft, precision, or rules. If what I create and perform, touches me emotionally, there’s a big chance it will touch the audience as well. If I have an honest access to emotion this will be visible, and in this way I can transmit something to who is on stage with me, and to the audience. For me performing art is about communication and I aim to frame this communication in the most direct way. I trust that simplicity is key.

Schlosspost: The piece MEMORABILIA (2018), which you are currently working on, wants to trigger the memory archive of the viewer, creating space for endless associations by fabricating a constantly mutating and moving little creature. Memory is also changeable and alterable. The construction of memory is also a constantly shifting concept.

EMW: In MEMORABILIA, I work with a huge sheet of plastic shade. As a performer I am beneath the shade, covered by and moving with it. The shade functions as an antagonist, but also as autonomous, eerie creature. I am interested in exploring ways to create artworks that can serve as a surface or source to open the viewer’s channel of memory. In doing so, I aim to trigger cognitive processes and their entire hierarchy, from sensation, perception, memory, and attention – I want to achieve sensation beyond the visual and acoustic one but widen the experience. I am currently working on WELL, COME HOME! (2018/2019) with Oliver Kühn, a creation that will happen in a small village in the region where I grew up. The idea is to transform the whole village into a stage, including a gastronomic event, with the intention to engage more senses than just the visual or acoustic.

Schlosspost: The new piece WELL, COME HOME! is carried by a personal an autobiographical approach.

EMW: Yes, in a site-specific setting, the piece narrates the story of a woman who returns to the place of her childhood, taking the audience onto a surreal journey. But nevertheless the protagonists of WELL, COME HOME! will be the village itself, Fescoggia in Malcantone, a particular region in southern Switzerland, and residents of the past who reflect on the region’s history of migration: the architect Domenico Trezzini, who influenced the Petrine Baroque, a style often used to design buildings for the new Russian capital St. Petersburg under Peter I. And Filomena Ferrari, who took over the brick business of her dead husband, being ahead of her time in the nineteenth century, just to name a few. we work with five professional dancers and actors, as well as many residents from Fescoggia and surroundings to create a tableau vivant like setting. Walking through the narrow streets, past and present, dream and reality begin to melt. Flickering trough their life cycles, this piece might end in a celebration of life and death.

Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018
Photographic material for TRIO | EPISODE #1, photo: Jürg Zimmermann, 2018

Schlosspost: The project TRIO | EPISODE #1 – still research in progress that you are working on with the musicians Matthias Tschopp and Jürg Zimmermann, also centers around the disappearance of a female soul. Large-scale projected staged photographs show a woman in a state of resolution.

EMW: The intention of this project is a dialogue between sound, photography, and the moving body. We intend to create a series of works in which each discipline will alternately take the lead. The first vision is a piece staged around three characters, one of them a woman obsessed by a fear of disappearing.

Inspired by the fragmentary form of crime thrillers, the starting point will be to generate isolated pictures/scenes/situations. I imagine the act of stepping into an archive. The archive is characterized by gaps and it’s our task to assemble the pieces and arrange them in the most plausible way. Criminal investigation goes through a similar process. With this in mind, we intend to invite the viewer to reassemble the fragments, finding its own, individual, and for him plausible narrative. The idea is to subsequently create different episodes, each standing on its own but still connected to the others. Material from a previous piece might appear in the next one, creating a nesting effect.

For the realization of these »episodes,« I imagine using unconventional settings, such as private houses or abandoned buildings – the perfect crime scenes!

The interview was conducted by Denise Helene Sumi