Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
I’m not happy. I can’t attend the world premiere of Christianne Ullmark’s “close encounters in the fifth dimension”, featuring dancers Erin Poole, Amanda Davis and Margarita Soria and a sound design by Johnny Spence. Her choreography is part of Citadel Dance Mix, an exciting mixed bill shared with works by Syreeta Hector and Nova Bhattacharya at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance. Christianne knows that I’ve followed her work for some time now, and have anticipated seeing this choreography since we spoke back in March about Toronto Dance Theatre’s Persefony Songs.
Unfortunately, this is the week that Murphy’s Law met the apocalypse and they took up residence together in my home. Christianne whistles and utters a succinct “Dang!”, which is really all that can be said about that.
Her grace and warmth never fail, so even knowing that this piece will be posted late, she takes the time for a Q&A about “close encounters in the fifth dimension”. And hearing her speak about this fascinating work redoubles my eagerness to experience it the next time it is performed.
SesayArts: You describe “close encounters in the fifth dimension” as a “sensory experience that explores themes of a post-human existence in a world of cybernetic communication to propose how we might reveal the unseen”. How did you come up with the concept? And how will you convey it through movement?
CU: I would say that the concept revealed itself from within what was happening in the work, and through the research process. Initially inspired by both theory and fiction surrounding the existence of parallel universes, the work was also created in response to my experience working with Ame Henderson on her piece called Noisy (produced by Toronto Dance Theatre). I was interested in her methods and motivations for working with improvisation and task-based choreography, and when the project finished I had questions that supported but also challenged her theories towards understanding time loops, the primary concept that underpinned her work.
I wanted to know more about the reality and/or unreality of ‘Time’ and I wanted to know how to harness this knowledge into a way of shifting my awareness and relationship to seeing the world around me. With these questions in mind, and a desire to continue working with improvisation in performance, I began my research by developing a unique practice (movement method) that could act as an anchor to later support a choreographic score.
I had also always had this vision of working with sound in a specific way and using multiple sound sources in the space. I wanted sounds to be overlapping and in time and in space. Over the creation process, it became evident that the relationship of the dancers with sound and the sound sources (speakers) were really integral to the work and also interesting and compelling to watch. From watching this relationship unfold, it was evident that we were using sound and movement to communicate and reveal a portal to another dimension, and that the speakers were like extensions of the body and connecting us to a much larger network.
The themes are reflected physically because the practice for generating movement is happening in the moment. The relationship that the dancers have to each other, the sound and ‘other’, the desire to connect and communicate, is happening right in front of you, in real time. I think the journey to the fifth dimension is a transformative experience, for both viewer and performer, and this transformation is maybe a metaphor for the post-human existence; something that is beyond. We see the performers trying to get there. Wherever “there” is; however, we aren’t quite sure. Perhaps a higher realm of consciousness.
SesayArts: Talk to us about the work’s development journey. What was involved in developing the piece from the initial idea to the work that we see on stage?
CU: The initial research started by developing a movement practice and a way of generating material in the moment. This process took almost two years in total. But it was really important to me to hone a practice for a specific way to frame improvisation and for the performer to be able to make spontaneous choreographic choices. I worked with my artistic team and also worked alone. There was lots of discussion, reading, reflecting, thinking, doing. In some ways it was hard to work in such fractured phases, and so drawn out, but I don’t think I would have been able to create what I did if not for the long stretch of time, which relinquished the pressure to produce for a tight deadline.
Most of the process was spent in deep research, and experimenting, and it wasn’t until August 2019 that I finally started to “set” and structure the work to what it now looks like in its final form. Although, I for sure want to keep exploring the work, and I think it has a life beyond the 22 minutes that it is right now.
SesayArts: What will audiences experience at “close encounters in the fifth dimension”?
CU: The creation of this work has helped me begin to explore the nature of causality and uncertainty and to put into action a practice of patience. To invite my consciousness to believe in the existence of an alternate dimension, and to trust the tangent paths that can lead the way. Through this sensory experience, my hope is that your perception of the seen and the unseen will evolve and transform.
SesayArts: What is one thing that has surprised you and/or challenged you in your work on “close encounters in the fifth dimension”?
CU: The biggest challenge in the creation of the work was to relinquish control. As I am not performing in the work, it has been a great learning experience in how to be at the front of the room, giving direction, but not inhibiting the experience of the performers. I am lucky to be working with an amazing cast and group of collaborators and I really trust them with my vision.
News You Can Use
What: “close encounters in the fifth dimension” (part of Citadel Dance Mix) choreographed by Christianne Ullmark | Sound Design by Johnny Spence | Lighting Design by Noah Feaver
Danced by Amanda Davis, Erin Poole, Margarita Soria
When: On stage until December 7, 2019, 8 pm
Where: The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, 304 Parliament Street, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: www.citadelcie.com
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019