About memory and illusion

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Martin del Amo

Martin del Amo, the highly regarded independent choreographer and dancer, has created a new solo called Mirage for the Sydney Festival. Although it is described as a solo, the elusive nature of the piece is suggested by the fact that it will actually  be performed by himself and another dancer, Miranda Wheen. The work is set to an enigmatic Morton Feldman score played live by the pianist Sonya Lifschitz and the all-female Enigma string quartet. Dance Australia put some questions to del Amo in the lead up to the opening.

What was your inspiration for this work?

There were a few factors coming together to inspire this work. One has to do with the fact that I had not made a full-length solo for more than 10 years. I never stopped performing but my focus during that time was more on choreographing for other dancers. Then, a few years ago, I was involved in a couple of archive projects, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on my career and made me want to reconnect with my performance practice. I had the feeling, though, that if I was to give full-length performing another go, I would need to challenge myself.

Around that time, I remembered the Morton Feldman score ‘Piano and String Quartet’ that I had been fascinated with for many years. I had always been interested in using it for a dance work but always refrained, partly because of its length (80 minutes), and also because of its complex structure. I realised that trying to finally ‘crack’ that piece of music might exactly be the kind of challenge I was looking for. 

I was also very clear about that I didn’t want to return to the kind of practice that I had when I developed full-length solos in the past, which consisted of me working by myself behind closed doors. I wanted to draw on everything I had learned during the last 10 years, when I had mainly choreographed for others. So the collaboration with another dancer was important. This is how I came up with the idea of the ‘shared solo’.

You have said that Mirage is in part about memory. How do you relate 'mirage' with the concept of memory?

A mirage is an optical illusion, and makes us question our understanding of what is real. Memory is similarly elusive. We can never be sure if what we remember actually happened that way. Two people, for example, might remember the same event differently. I feel that mirage and memory both share a comparatively fragile relationship with reality and truth.

How did this collaboration come about?

I have a longstanding working relationship with Miranda that spans more than 10 years. In 2011, I created a short solo for her, and we later collaborated on my 2017 Sydney Festival show Champions in which she both performed and worked on as the associate artist. As for Sonya, I have never worked with her but I have seen her perform. She is an extraordinary pianist, and I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with her. It’s exciting to work so closely with both an artist I’ve known for a long time and one I’ve never worked with before.

How do you share a solo?

Conventionally, a dance solo is passed on once it is completed. There might be an understudy present during the development process but they are actually not involved in the making of the work. The idea of the ‘shared solo’ is to involve another dancer, Miranda in this case, in the making process. The plan was that by the end of the process, both she and I would be able to perform the work. The way this will manifest during the premier season is that Miranda and I will take turns with what sections we perform each night.

Why did you choose that particular musical score?

Martin del Amo in a promotional image for 'Mirage'. Photo: Joshua Morris.
Martin del Amo in a promotional image for 'Mirage'. Photo: Joshua Morris.

I have known this piece for a very long time, it was introduced to me by a friend nearly 30 years ago. It spoke to me right from the beginning. I find it absolutely mesmerizing. The piece was obviously not composed for a dance context but somehow it has always suggested movement to me.  

 It seems a very unstructured piece of music – in a practical sense, how did you put it together with dance (such as the need to time your movements to music)?

 Yes, when you first hear this piece of music, it feels quite unstructured, random almost, but the more you listen to it, you realise that it is very intricately structured. But it doesn’t draw attention to its structure, nearly erasing it at times, which is rather sophisticated but also makes it quite challenging. The work has been likened to 'ambient music', in the sense that it emphasises tone and atmosphere over traditional musical development and rhythm. I enjoy how much freedom this gives me as a choreographer to map movement against it. In some ways the non-linear structure of the piece echoes my own choreographic approach. It’s as if the music and dance become interconnected layers of one and the same composition

Will this project tour anywhere else?

I do hope that the piece will tour but there are no concrete plans yet. I was talking to a presenter in Melbourne but Covid kind of put that conversation on hold. I look forward to resuming it soon. I have actually conceived the work with touring in mind. As there is an existing score, there is the possibility to involve local musicians. I have done this once before when I toured my work Anatomy of an Afternoon (2012), as solo for Paul White, to Southbank Centre London. The composer of that work, Mark Bradshaw, was based in London and assembled local musicians. Sonya is quite well connected into the Melbourne music scene so this might be a model we would follow.

Details: Campbelltown Arts Centre, January 7 to 15.

For more info, go here.


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