Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir would like you to experience something new
Last year, the promotional poster for the Reykjavík Dance Festival featured a late-twenties dancer wearing shorts and a flesh-coloured bra standing with her back against a wall, one-foot and chin up, staring aggressively at the viewer. The stark but startling image seemed to promise something new and unusual, more concerned with ideas than stage pictures. If there was any bounce in ticket sales—it might have been responsible.
The premiere of Margrét Sara Guðjónsdóttir’s ‘Soft Target,’ the work the image derived from, revealed a work that was as intriguing—and as irresolvable—as the picture. Clearly, many people were captivated: ‘Soft Target’ was booked at venues throughout Europe, including Springdance in the Netherlands and Tanz im August/Sommer.bar in Berlin. I found ‘Soft Target’ to be ambitious and original—yet I wasn’t sure if it managed to convey something novel about perception or the perceived/perceiver gap, the topics it claimed to be about.
INTENSE AND CEREBRAL
Over email from Berlin, where she currently lives and works, Margrét Sara turns out to be as intense and cerebral as her work. Balanchine may have claimed to begin his work when he walked into the studio, but Margrét Sara “work[s] on what I want to communicate and how I can communicate it months before entering the dance studio.” She prefers to work with a dancer other than herself, even when she is creating a solo for a female performer, in order to gain distance.
At this year’s Reykjavík Dance Festival, Margrét Sara will premiere ‘Dedication,’ a half-hour performance for one dancer that is part of her research process towards a full-evening work, ‘Variations On Closer.’ That final piece, which will involve four dancers and a lighting designer, couldn’t be realised in time for the festival because of funding constraints.
Margrét Sara describes ‘Dedication’ as having an autobiographical impetus—“doing artistic work is a struggle you have to be dedicated to”—but its purview is, of course, larger. “Creativity can even come from dedication,” Margrét Sara posits. As research, she is conducting a discussion series, ‘Dedication2,’ about freedom (and, presumably, its relation to dedication) with at least thirty performance makers. She’s also doing studio work “on different types of body awareness and […] stage presence” and the “resurrection of past experiences living/stored in the body memory of the performer.”
I asked Margrét Sara why she thought that abstract ideas like those of ‘Soft Target’ or ‘Dedication’ were well-suited to exploration in dance or theatre. She answered that perception, how we “experience, watch, read into, interpret, sense, make sense” was a big interest, and “how and what makes you experience in a new way” a favourite question; these things were obviously appropriate for the stage.
In ‘Soft Target,’ she was particularly interested in “the gaze and how we receive through the visual allowing projection to decide what it is that we see.” Often, she says “Looking through the eyes of our past experiences is blocking us from having “new” experiences. We have already decided what is what, which is an automatic animalistic reflex to survive.” She points out that the “aggression of the projection that takes place between the observed and the observer in the theatre space is parallel to real life.” As a choreographer, she says, she “like[s] to work with and against this human reflex.”
THE MYSTERY REMAINS
Margrét Sara also explains that some of the confusion felt by viewers of her work is intentional; her work is “purposefully obscure.” In ‘Soft Target,’ she used “the androgynous look of the half naked dancer […] as a confusing first layer image,” and in ‘Dedication,’ she is attempting to “neutralise the performers’ appearance and blur the lines of any familiar shapes and gestures” which she hopes will open up “a different kind of a shared non-verbal and non-image-based communication/experience with the audience.”
This is thought-provoking—but still leaves what ‘Dedication’ will look or feel like opaque. There is the fact that Margrét Sara names Romeo Castellucci and Ivo Dimchev as performance artists whose work she most enjoys. The work of these men is concerned with ideas, but it is also visual, loud and, well, dramatic. Ivo makes himself bleed in several of his performances, and Romeo’s latest work includes the pouring of (fake) shit all over the stage. Some of Margrét Sara’s earlier work (for instance, ‘Dead Meat’ with Knut Berger) has lacked the austerity of ‘Soft Target.’ Without doubt, though, an email exchange is not going to remove much of the mystery, and Margrét Sara seems to like it that way.