Bodyworker, Mixed Media Artist and Performer SERAFINE1369 (Jamila Johnson-Small) talks about latest production ‘IV’ to show as part of NOW23 at The Yard Theatre
Mastering stillness and calm in our relentless day and age can quite understandably be a challenging feat to accomplish, our digital age continually keeping us connected to the outside world. Meditation a vital practise in helping to achieve a sense of living in the present and shutting off from distractions. Finding that a meditative environment was a byproduct of the creation of new piece IV, Bodyworker, Mixed Media Artist and Performer SERAFINE1369 (Jamila Johnson-Small) was able to achieve this in part due to sound designer Josh Anio Grigg’s score, amongst other factors. The show bringing together bodies in movement and stillness, in light and in darkness, and a speaking clock, to create a series of tableaux and moments of dancing with complete abandonment. Incorporating loose dancing emerging through tight structure, a system of movement and stillness – IV is a meditative play between instinctive rhythms and strict timing. Ahead of the show, to take place the from 25th to 28th April as part of the NOW23 Festival at The Yard, SERAFINE1369 tells us more about what to expect!
Hi SERAFINE1369, you’ll be presenting your show IV as part of Yard Theatre’s NOW23 Festival from 25th to 28th April. How are you feeling ahead of the show?
Really invigorated by the working process! I’m feeling excited, geeky, keen to see and feel it all come together. I’m really loving working with Steph McMann, Darcy Jane Wallace and Natifah White, as well as Josh Anio Grigg who’s collaborated with me as Sound Designer for the last seven years, and the guests we’ve had come into the studio.
Getting into the conversations that the work is stimulating and the small adjustments left to make and details to refine; I’m thinking about these as we get closer to the show dates and I’m trying to imagine how this work will look and feel in the theatre. And also how it will sound – we’ll be working with the B.O.S.S. (Black Obsidian Sound System) PA so I’m really looking forward to hearing the sound through those speakers at The Yard.
IV brings together bodies in movement and stillness, in light and in darkness, and a speaking clock, to create a series of tableaux and moments of dancing with complete abandonment. What inspired you to create this work?
I’m very much working in a continuum – one work flows into the next into the next…I often work with the same people so the conversations and research developed in one work, are carried through into the next. Preceding IV was We can no longer deny ourselves (2022 commission from Somerset House), ‘When we speak I feel myself, Opening’ (2022 commission from Sadler’s Wells), I I I (something flat, something cosmic, something endless) (2021 commission from Liverpool Biennial) and Heavy handed, we crush the moment (2019 commission from Barbican). They maybe feel like one body – or world – of work. There’s also this sense I have of trying to get towards something, some kind of state or proposition and I’m refining this through each of the works.
I tend to work from commission to commission, so when I receive an invitation, I get as much information about the context as I can and then I feel out which elements of my current research could make sense and start growing the new work from there. I say I’m working with ‘the tension between things’, and I gather these elements and try to let them speak. In this case it was the clock – my voice programmed to announce the time each minute, the storm soundtrack and the feeling of dancing within this landscape, and The Yard stage – I wanted to have more people on it than just me and the first work I made for The Yard in 2012 was a quartet. And a sense of wanting to make a performance that shares my love of dancing.
And also money. I do my best to be pragmatic and to work within my means as an artist. By now, as someone who’s always produced my own work, I’m pretty aware of the kinds of things that are possible in different venues and the costs of stuff, so I have the scale in mind when making. Which maybe sounds dry and not like the romantic idea of an artist making their dream a reality that people can have, but I think it’s super important to consider the economies and infrastructure of making a work. Perhaps it comes with the awareness that working with my body – being dependent on the ability of that body to show up to do the work – that brings my focus to resources and capacity, to limitations. The rules of the score also speak to this and want to be supportive of the performers, enabling and relieving of some pressure. This is also what brings the sense of the continuum; slowly I’m accumulating knowledge and resources across commissions and gigs and it feels like something is growing, like a path is being cleared.
IV incorporates loose dancing emerging through tight structure, a system of movement and stillness – a meditative play between instinctive rhythms and strict timing. When crafting the show, was there a conscious decision to make it meditative or was this a byproduct?
It’s not something intentional. I try to let the work become what it wants to become, and this meditative feeling is what emerges through the practice and the combination of elements. Meditative, hypnotic…I think it comes through the kind of attention we have as performers, the music made by Josh Anio Grigg, and the counting of time. There’s a feeling of endlessness, a sort of flatness and a softness underpinned by intense focus that comes through the counting, the stillness, the bass frequencies.
The Yard Theatre are renowned for supporting new work, having staged their NOW Festival for nearly a decade now. What does it mean to you to form part of their latest edition?
I’ve presented work in various editions of NOW over the years – over the last decade in fact! It’s a huge compliment to have been invited back. This time, if I’m honest, I do feel some pressure for the work to show a progression in my practice and thinking. I’ve been making work for many years now and it feels like a bit of a critical time for me personally. I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of the work in the programme too.
What have you learned/taken away from creating the show?
With this kind of score-based work, the performances themselves do a lot of the teaching. So far, I’m learning that I enjoy working in a group – I’ve been working pretty much just on solos and duets for the last 10 years and it’s been feeling so good to share the work and to be in dialogue and in movement with more people. This work also feels like the consolidation of a lot of thinking and facilitation I’ve done over the last years which is exciting but I don’t quite know what that’s telling me just yet.
What can audiences expect from the show?
A friend came to watch a rehearsal and sent me these words about it: “it feels like the messiness of togetherness in time. a mechanical feel turned sticky, viscous. A delicate channel for an uncontrolled traffic of thoughts and histories and feelings. there is a mood to it, it feels atmospheric but really moody, a mood I can’t quite put into words just yet”
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
I’d love it if people left the performance having had an embodied experience and feeling something. Whatever that is. Something that is personal to them. And I also hope for them to be able to enter into the world and the ethics of our practice, the sense of undoing hierarchies and proposing hospitable architectures as opposed to hostile ones. I would love it if people could leave not feeling like they didn’t have the tools to understand the work – it’s a response I hear people often give when they’re talking about dance, that they didn’t understand what was happening. I’m working to facilitate and frame the work so that it doesn’t feel inaccessible in this way, where each of our own embodied understandings can simultaneously be valid and correct.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
IV will show from Tuesday 25th until Friday 28th April 2023 at the Yard Theatre as part of NOW23. To find out more about the production, visit here…
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