Just Dance: 7y98D

Ouro, the Vancouver-based dance collective, addresses the climate emergency in its hypnotic dance project with RubberLegz

Global warming on the cusp of becoming irreversible – or perhaps it’s already there. As I’m writing this, I’m gazing out the window at a divided sky; one half is clear blue, the other is expelling snow. Today marks the beginning April, and this icy, interchangeable weather is highly unusual for the dawning days of spring. This is just another noticable effect of climate change.

In response to the impeding doom of the heating planet, many artists and creatives are utilising their practices as a way of steering action. It’s far less about raising awareness, now, for we’ve gone far beyond conversational points or discussion. Now, it’s about actionable response. Ouro Collective is doing just that in its work, a Vancouver-based dance collective merging hiphop, waacking, breaking, popping and contemporary dance in its evocative works. Founded in 2014 by Cristina Bucci, Dean Placzek, Maiko Miyauchi, Mark Siller, and Rina Pellerin, the collective has since evolved from a group of artists “looking to share and learn from each other” into something much bigger, and more impactful. The group have collaborated with artists spanning all mediums over the years and, in its eighth season, this is its most exciting yet with its roster of Ash Cornette, Cristina Bucci, Eric Cheung, Maiko Miyauchi, Rina Pellerin, and Shana Wolfe. All of which hail from diverse cultural and dance backgrounds, wherein they forge a collaboration that demands a need for “dialogue, creative innovation and community building”, the collective explains. 

The result of which has been merged into project named Just Dance: 7y98D, a mesmerising piece composed in collaboration with Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit. The work is inspired by The Climate Clock, a public installation created by an Golan and Andrew Boyd located that counts down the days until unrepairable climate catastrophe – where no longer can we reverse the burns, scars and wounds of humanity’s impact. Below, I chat to the collective about collaborating with RubberLegz, who’s “well known in the street dance community”, learning the hypnotic choreography over Zoom, and how dance can be a vital tool for addressing the climate emergency. 

It’s interesting to hear that you learnt the choreography through Zoom, how did this pan out?

In 2020, we received the Chrystal Dance Prize, an award from Dance Victoria, which supports projects with international collaborators. We began rehearsals through Zoom, in our own homes, as Vancouver was on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic and RubberLegz was in Los Angeles. As rehearsals progressed, the ban on international travel was not yet lifted, and we were forced to continue the project virtually. 

Learning movement online is challenging in a number of ways, but learning RubberLegz’s movement online is a game-changer. His movement vocabulary stems from breaking and threading concepts which results in various limbs folding and threading into one another, and with Zoom, everything is backwards. Though challenging, this opportunity created space and trust between the dancers and choreographer.

This trust also extended into the film’s direction as the storyboarding and filming preparations took place online. Co-director David Ehrenreich said: “It’s the first dance film I’ve made, and I enjoyed the unique collaborative process. I imagine it’s similar to adapting a play into a film; this live performance is being created, and we got to go watch it and design the film around what you see at the rehearsals. Rauf approaches movement and the human body in such an idiosyncratic way—we wanted to champion the exploration they were doing.”

The project raises awareness about climate change, a highly pertinent and relevant topic of today. How do you do this in the choreography and wider project?

The title of this project was inspired by The Climate Clock, a public art installation created by artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd set on Manhattan’s Union Square. The clock counts down the time left to avoid climate disaster. Ouro became aware of The Climate Clock in 2019 when seven years and 98 days remained. Faced with this stark knowledge, OURO was inspired to bring “the most important number in the world” – as described by the creators of the clock – to dance audiences. 

During the filming of 7y98D, we endured extreme weather conditions. On one of our filming days, Vancouver had the worst air quality in the world, and on another, temperatures reached over 40℃. The air was thick from the smoke of neighbouring forest fires. We had to alter quite a bit of movement to adapt to the environment, so in a way, the choreography underwent its own type of natural selection.

The choreography begins with dancers moving in a harmonious link, mirroring the cyclic nature of the earth. As the piece progresses, the dancers begin disconnecting and linking onto themselves. The tone shifts and movement becomes faster and more urgent as they adapt to new environments. We are currently in rehearsals for our full-length theatre piece and are adapting the choreography seen in the film for a live audience.

What reaction do you hope to receive from your audience?

We hope audiences reconnect as a community during this critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible. Making small personal changes in our lives can pave the way for a better relationship with the earth. 

“It’s a challenge to make a film about how little time we have left to save our planet without it feeling depressing or preachy. Dave and I wanted to present this film in a way that allowed the audience to connect to the movement of the dancers on an emotional level first and wait till the end to provide some context.” Co-director, Jeff Hamada explains. “Hopefully it leaves people feeling just as inspired to go out and do something.”

In what ways can dance and art be an agent for change, especially in relation to the warming climate?

Art can be an agent for change, as it inflicts subconscious responses and emotional connections that impose lasting meaning for the viewer. With a topic like climate change, it is easy to feel disconnected and complacent, as its effects are often regarded as gradual and not fully visible. We wanted to find a way to encourage our audiences to recognise our current situation and empower them to make changes while we still have time. Jeff Hamada said, “The rotations that happen throughout the film are meant to be a reminder that the climate clock is always ticking, but also to convey that there is still time.”

What’s next for you?

We are currently adapting 7y98D into a full-length stage piece, which will premiere in summer of 2022 in Vancouver. Following that, we will be touring the work, and running our summer programming and workshops.

Dates for our community and ocean cleanups will be released in the next few months. They will be open to the public and followed by workshops led by our team and collaborators. We encourage everyone to come, learn and contribute to reversing the Climate Clock. 

Suspiria x Damien Jalet

Thea Hawlin discusses supernatural dance with choreographer Damien Jalet for the recent remake of cult horror film Suspiria 

You wouldn’t guess it from his impressive CV, but Damien Jalet came relatively late to dance, “it always comes to one thing” he muses, “desire has to be stronger than fear”. From humble beginnings entertaining his grandmother in Belgium, Jalet would go on to first study theatre at Brussel’s National institute of Performing Arts before moving to New York to pursue modern dance. The vibrant contemporary scene became a springboard that saw him move from dancing to devising, working with everyone from L’Opera de Paris and Chunky Move, to Bjork and Marina Abramovic.

In 2013 Jalet devised a female trio dance called “Les Médusés” at the Louvre. In preparation for the piece he made his dancers watch Dario Argento’s 70s horror film Suspiria. It feels fated that when Luca Guadagnino was searching for a choreographer for his remake of the cult classic, it was this piece by Jalet that caught his eye. I sat down with the Belgian-French choreographer to discover how to transform movements from the mundane to the mystical.

Once you were on board with the project how did you begin? Did your ideas change and develop, or did you have a fixed concept from the start? 

I got inspired by sacred geometry; the first thing I designed when I started rehearsals was this composition on different pentagrams and pentagons the company is dancing on in “Volk”. The sculptural positions of “les medusees” were really a very concrete starting point for everyone. I wanted a very centered, very grounded physicality. Most of the movements come from the belly, the womb or the thoracic cage – ‘suspiria’ is of course connected to the lungs. After three weeks we had a rough sketch of all the different choreographic parts, going from very structured to wild and distorted. Once the shooting started we kept on rehearsing and developing material, it was very intense. 

Were there any specific choreographers or dancers you used as reference points?

David Kajganish, the scriptwriter, got inspired by pioneer avant garde female choreographers such as Martha Graham, Pina Bausch, Isadora Duncan, but I guess his biggest inspiration was Mary Wigman, who worked  before, during and  after  WW2 in Germany; the reputation  of her work got affected by the contact she had at one point with the third Reich even though she’s been a great influence on many important choreographers. But even though I placed choreographic quotes here and there, I really didn’t want to become stuck in the “historically right”, I wanted to stay close to my creative instincts and embody the ideas of the film. In a way I really tried to transmit the visceral energy of the original Suspiria in the film, something frenzied and primal. I also referred to some trance rituals I had witnessed in Indonesia. The first function and power of dance is often forgotten, people often think of dance as pretty, gracious and classical but I wanted to break that. 

Thom Yorke produced music especially for Suspiria. Did you use his work?

Unfortunately, its more Thom who had to work with my material, as he joined the process quite late. I think “Volk” has been extremely challenging for him as the whole dance is scored in a really complex rhythmic polyphony (each dancer has to learn the 12 page score in order to perform it right, it’s a nonstop counting trip). He confessed he had many many discouraging attempts, and it took him six months to finally figure out. The dancers are counting on three and perform on pentagons, time is connected to three and space to five, once he started playing with these two numbers, “Volk” as you hear in the film appeared all at once. I was really impressed by what he created actually. 

How long did it take to come to a final sequence?  How did you know when it was finished?

The original piece “les medusees” was made in 9 days, but “Volk” as you see in the film took nearly three times more; the geometry and entwined connections between the dancers in a narrow space was a bit of a mindf***k. When you perform a work live, it is indeed in constant evolution, a piece sometimes really blossoms over time. With cinema the scary thing is that you mark the work in time with indelible ink. And it’s there for a while! But I have to say that as a choreographer, who can be sometimes frustrated about the ephemeral nature of our art, there was something comforting in the idea: to have at least one work being immortalised.

You’ve said before dance is about ‘capturing something that is not conscious’– how did those ideas inform the development of the piece?

When I work on choreography I can have a very clear departure point, but I never know how it’s going to look at the end. Somehow it always has to be an investigation, an exploration, and since it’s an intuitive process I guess something of your unconscious gets translated in the process. It’s also not a work I do alone, what you end up seeing is the meeting point of the hard work of a lot of people, all specialised in different fields. So it’s a bit of a collective unconscious in a way. There was one beautiful moment early in the preparation of the choreography, when I was working with Dakota Johnson. Somehow, I asked her to move from her skeleton more than her muscles. There are so many things in our body we can’t control consciously; you’re heartbeat to start with. I guess muscles are directly connected to consciousness. You use your muscles to operate an action, a decision. When you move from the skeleton something interesting happens. Somehow that’s the only thing that will remain from your body, so it reminds you of your own mortality. Dakota started to move her shoulder blades and because she is so loose, it moved in a pretty extreme way, nearly like an animal. She was completely unaware she could do that, and was nearly disturbed when she was watching herself on video. I felt it became pretty much a physical metaphor of her own unconscious powers. For this film in particular, surreal motions and animalistic or primitive energies seem to really come to the fore. Part of what makes the dance so magical is its ability to transcend so much without the use of words.