In the background, the music lilts in the air. A voice is saying, “She is the most beautiful thing I have ever met.” The lights are low, and send warm glints along the walls. Nuria, Ali, and Amanda, three dancers of the Suku Dance Lab curve and sway on the wood floor illustrating with their bodies the complex connections between sex, love, fervor, and fear. I’m sitting in on the Suku Dance Lab rehearsal, viewing their project created for the WAXworks 2016 program.
“Opia” is a vivid performance supported through the dancers sexual experiences, in particular that of the dichotomy between that of power and shame, as well as the gift of pure pleasure one can induce through personal liberation. Belinda Adam and Talia Moreta invited me into their practice studio to see the process first hand. It was an impressive, stunning moment, and I felt empowered through their authentic connections, bold philosophical standpoint, and their obvious awareness of the responsibility to use art as an expression of significant human themes.
June 26, 2016 | 7PM
Triskelion Arts’ Muriel Schulman Theatre
106 Calyer St, Brooklyn, NY 11222
Belinda and Talia, how did you two meet? What is the philosophy behind Suku?
Talia: I decided to pursue dance as a career and attended Chapman University. I first met Belinda in my sophomore year there. We had never talked or interacted previously but I was making work and noticed her immediately at auditions. Her movement quality and performance drew me in and I instantly felt connected to her. Through this creative process, we have to know one another more and our bond as friends grew strong, as did our bond as movement artists. I come from more of a postmodern/contemporary ideology and training, and Belinda comes from more classical ballet training. Merging the two on top of our crazy dynamics in our friendship brought something that was very exciting. As the more conceptually driven half of the company, I focus more on the big picture and count on Belinda to add color and texture to the outline I have created.
Belinda: I grew up in Indonesia with very limited dance training. But I have always known that movement is something I feel free to express myself with. In search for a richer dance education, I decided to move to the States, where I met Talia. We both graduated from Chapman University last year. Our chemistry developed very instantly and naturally. We have similar taste, but we come from different backgrounds. I refer to Talia as my creative soulmate. We believe that the bond we have together, these two girls who bring random crazy ideas into the table who came from two separate continents, is something very special. We want to share that with everyone. We want people to peek into this, experience it, and be a part of it as well.
The project you’re working on now delves into female sexuality, particularly masturbation. There were also some strains of violence, choking and restraining, mixed in with the passionate play on movement. Why were these concepts important to you to illustrate through dance?
As two individuals with a high sex drive and desire to connect, we started to find that many of our conversations were centered around sex, the lack there of, or active seeking of it. Many times after a promiscuous act, we found ourselves asking “is this right?”, and a feeling of shame would cloud our human need for physical contact and connection. The fear of being over promiscuous or not “respecting” ourselves started to enter our sexual experiences and at times prevents us from being able to enjoy this opportunity for connection. It is difficult to experience such desire, and for that desire to turn into shame and disappointment once that desire was attempted to be fulfilled. Although sometimes disappointing, sex is something that both of us see as a beautiful act, and as dancers it is another form of movement expression, and physical contact that is so vital to us as individuals and as artists. We wanted to find a way to illustrate the frustration with sex that we were feeling and decided it was important to divide the concept into three different perspectives, sex with self or masturbation, sex with another, and sex as viewed by society. Through our process and hearing the stories of our collaborators, the idea that kept on emerging was that as women, we didn’t really know our bodies and we didn’t really know what gave us pleasure. This is when masturbation started to take a prominent role in the work. It was a curiosity for pleasure that had to start from within before it ever reached the hand of another.
Process is always an incredibly important part of creation, and you both described that as part of the process for this project all the dancers spent time answering prompts and questions about their own sexuality. What questions did you ask, and how did you make sure everyone felt comfortable answering such intimate questions?
Instead of directly asking questions to the dancers, we decided to have an open conversation in which we presented and discussed ideas and concepts that were moving or interesting to us regarding our sexuality. This gave our dancers entry points in which to add their own personal experiences and opinions. Through this hour length discussion, the conversation revealed many different experiences in terms of sex, our sexual preferences, how we feel our community has molded our relationship with sex, our neglected relationship with our desires. Another thing we always stress is for the dancers to feel free speaking up if they feel uncomfortable, and to only share, what they want to. We created Suku Dance Lab, as a safe platform for all of our collaborators to express their feelings and ideas. These interactions and exchanges are where we find most of our inspirations.
While watching your rehearsal I was reminded of the works of Pina Bausch, and butoh group Sankai Juku. There was also a conversation during your routine that explored the idea of what has been done before, and how one can use their own perspective to reinvent it. How, in a city that can sometimes be overwhelming with visuals, do you make sure that you are moving forward, and continuing to be inspired and inspiring?
What keeps us going is the curiosity and desire to connect with others. We have desperation to understand people at their deepest point, and to reveal parts of themselves they may not have known existed. This is why collaboration is such an integral part of our process. In revealing something about others, we also reveal something about ourselves. What interests us the most is how human experiences can be deeply unique and simultaneously universal. Our community gives us inspiration, and how we ensure that we are inspiring is to remain inspired. We work hard to stay true to ourselves and to remain vulnerable and open in that truth, allowing others to see our truth no matter how odd, or ugly we think it may be. We believe that anyone has the ability to be inspiring as long as they’re open to being vulnerable and constantly work towards their best self.
Below is one of our other projects. The video was co-directed, and costumes designed, by Elena Gabro.
What drew each of you to Suku Dance Lab? What makes a good dance or performance company?
Ali: I was initially drawn to Suku Dance Lab because I was intrigued and excited by their movement language. They aren’t concerned with conventional beauty; they do things that are ugly with a conviction that makes those things enthralling. Between Talia and Belinda, there is a connection that’s so organic that it’s manifested in compositions that feel like they create themselves. I was really interested in the rawness of their work that brings to life this juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness.
Amanda: Talia and Belinda drew me to Suku Dance Lab. Literally and figuratively. I watched them create work in college and knew if they ever started a company that I would dream to be a part of it. They create with such honesty and purpose, truly curious about exploring topics from many angles and incorporating the perspectives of the dancers as collaborators. And I think those qualities are vital in making a good dance or performance company the ability to create work with vulnerable topics that truly resonate with the creators and the ability they have to be present with the process, willing to let things sit and simmer before attaching to a finished product idea. They work so well together and have so much patience, and I don’t know that quality dance can be made without patience.
Nuria: Belinda asked me if I was interested in dancing with and for them for the production of OPIA. The human exploration of the movement and the mind that is behind the themes of very Suku Dance Lab’s production is what really drew me to accept the proposal. In my opinion, a good dance performance company is the one that treats and respects the dancers as human beings and gives them the opportunity through mindset, movement or challenges to achieve the next level in their dance careers.
Nikki: I absolutely love how collaborative, exploratory, and bold Suku Dance Lab is and how we are able to focus on process. Many projects in the city come with incredibly short time frames, which leave little room for depth. But with Suku, we are able to have lengthy conversations about sensitive topics and explore movement with and around one another in a very safe space that Talia and Belinda create for us. Because of this, the piece has been able to unfold in a way that is layered, rich, and always intriguing as a performer.
The concept behind the current project is one that could be considered radical, or socio-political. Is dance a way for you to explore, or share, topics you’re passionate about, and how does one share abstract, political, or existential ideas through dance, while still making sure they’re clear or understood?
Amanda: Yes, dance, for me, has always been a way to explore topics I’m passionate about. It’s difficult to guarantee that any piece of art can be fully understood in the way the creator hopes because it depends a large part on each individual audience member’s perspective, subjective experience, and state of mind at the given moment they see the show. It also depends on how they choose to absorb and interpret the work, but it definitely requires commitment from the dancers to explore the roles they are playing and the ability to see the work from an outside, all encompassing lens (which can be hard when you’re immersed in the process + all the ideas that emerge and filter out and change, your own thoughts and feelings, etc). Being present with the journey and process and being willing to take risk (maybe even straying away from original ideas or expectations of the piece you grew to love) in order to make the statement is necessary. As a dancer I always feel that the work itself, relationships and roles become clearer, make sense, and tend to work themselves out over time.
Nuria: Dance has always been for me my expressive way; I am not a talkative person, so I find in movement my way to feel the freedom of expression, without feeling any judgment. When I try to express other people’s ideas, abstract, political or existential, I always have tried to feel it in my body or mind before I can put it onto the dance floor. I have always thought that the audience goes to the theater with a blind mind, and the stage is like a “Tabula rasa”, like a white board. Then the dancers and all of their interactions on that floor make the audience leave the night with a very word-full board. With all of that they have witnessed, they need to process it, over the next few hours or days, and create some feelings in their mind, body, and spirit to actually have a clear idea and understanding of the abstract, political, existential ideas that we try to express through the movement.
Nikki: Communication has been a frequently recurring topic on my mind lately, especially within this project. I’m not one to verbalize strong topics, but I love to be able to put them in my body and communicate them through this alternate medium. I believe it’s incredibly important to use dance as a means of spreading awareness for certain issues and to make strides in a new direction. Although I feel that what people are able to understand or what they will interpret is reliant on many factors, most of which may be out of our hands. As long as we take the initiative to put this kind of work out into the world and spark the fire to initiate some sort of conversation or second thought, I believe we are doing our art justice!
Amanda and Ali, your duet love scene was beautiful. There was a balance between fervor, passion, violence, and exhaustion that perfectly encapsulated, for me, what sex can be. At one point, I believe Allie stated “We have something to say.” How did you two work this sensitive scene, and what do you both feel was the most important concept for you, personally, to explore and represent?
Ali: This work is an exercise of therapy for me and I hope also for my fellow dancers and for audience members. The duet scene in particular is different each time we come to it depending on where I am in my relationship with sexuality, my pleasure, and myself. The duet is a safe space to explore concepts of consent, physical vulnerability and power, openness to/acceptance of surprise, as well as an opportunity to practice active listening and unapologetic enjoyment. Amanda has been such a generous partner in this never judging the choices I make in the movement accepting me, challenging me, and making her own daring choices as well.
Amanda: We originally created this duet after listing sixteen different words or actions on our own that came to mind when we thought of sex. It started out playful as we were just exploring the process of creating the movement, but over time our roles became more solidified based off our own personalities, our own experiences, and what Talia and Belinda can see from the outside. We spent another rehearsal narrating our duet on paper to understand it, and then worked individually to keep the conversation in flow, so that even though aspects of it were essentially ‘set’ we could still listen to one another and respond openly each time. Her role, or instinct, rather, is more aggressive and excited and mine more softer and curious, but there are opportunities all throughout where we can blend between those lines, sometimes I push her away but then maybe I bring her back and try to keep her up while she tried to back away. After talking about it more I think the most important concept to explore and represent is being there to hold space and listen to each other in the relationship. Relationships aren’t robotic and cannot be ‘rehearsed’ or predicted, therefore we can’t get in the habit of feeling comfortable or predictable in whatever expectation we have for the duet. Whatever we feel in that moment is valid and can be responded to whether or not we wanted it to be there.