|Jacky Lansley, choreographer, on a picture she took of Japanese fishermen’s ropes.
GB Tell me why you chose this.
JL In the spring of 2010 I went to Japan, a trip that was deeply inspirational. I took this photograph of fishing ropes on a small Island off the coastal city of Akashi. Throughout Japan there is an aesthetic of arrangement in the mundane and everyday. In this simple display of pride in work, the fisher folk have created, for me, an object of contemporary beauty. In my choreographic practice I always attempt to make the work visually meaningful – and to reveal the sense of structure, task, and duration – as this still life image does.
I was visiting Japanese friends who took me to the island, so for me this picture is also associated with their friendship and generosity. I went to Japan with my partner to research dance and performance and through our Japanese contacts we were able to access the worlds of Noh theatre, Nihon Buyo dance and Butoh. We had private lessons with great masters and witnessed some sublime performances in private studios; we felt privileged to have such close contact with the culture. The detail in the everyday there was something I grew to really love which is why I noticed these bowls of fishing ropes. There is intensity there too. The arrangement is set against the background of the sea and its dangers. Even as I’m speaking to you I’m in Cornwall looking out at the wild sea and remembering that distant, and strangely similar, coastal landscape.
GB Do you find that beauty is related to hardship for you? Dancers go through so much pain to create this beautiful art form.
JL I think there is that duality in the image I’ve chosen. There is a sense of struggle but also a sense of fun and wit in it. It reminds me of a chorus line, which is an image I’ve deconstructed and played with a lot in my work. Dance is physically taxing but having originally done very exacting traditional ballet training, I searched for something more interdisciplinary and more connected to the world. I’ve explored alternative techniques that work with release and gravity so it is no longer all about the bleeding feet! I’m very drawn to a found and minimal movement language and I work with the individual dancer’s vocabulary of personal gestures rather than imposing a grand codified technique on them. We work with what I call the mundane body.
GB So the beauty of those gestures and the beauty of these ropes are things that crop up almost coincidentally.
JL I think so. And I try to choreographically frame these moments in a way that holds the quality of their original contexts. I collect images, gestures, objects, sometimes words. I make little films, take photographs, and draw pictures in my notebooks which I then share with the dancers in my studio in London’s Shoreditch. The process is about exchange; if I give a movement to a dance artist that has come from my personal experience they explore how they can make that material their own.
GB It’s interesting that you look at the individual human side of your dancers. Do you feel that they are still objectified when they’re performing?
JL I think there’s an ongoing difficulty with this in dance as an art form. Despite all the wonderful developments through post-modernism and the conceptual impact of Merce Cunningham, John Cage and many others, dance and dancers are still looked at in a very objectified way. The seduction of extreme technical virtuosity has become more problematic not less. People look for these display skills even in complex compositional works. Some choreographers have moved away from theatrical contexts entirely to avoid their work being framed in this way; preferring to work in found sites, art galleries or community contexts.
GB Do you think about beauty when you’re creating something?
JL I recently worked with some of the Bach Cello Suites which I think are very beautiful. Being influenced by the post-modern journey of fragmentation, parody and quotation it feels as if beauty hasn’t been allowed to come up. The word has been demonized in a way. I think in my present work I am exploring notions of beauty, working with stillness, time, perspective and the beauty of the body moving through space. When dancers really own a gesture I find it very moving.
GB You have chosen something that’s been made beautiful in a very unselfconscious way.
JL When I was in Japan I felt that art and the creative was much more embedded in ordinary life than here in the West. This link between the ordinary and the extraordinary is present in ancient Noh theatre, for example, where the student will study a walking practice for years. It is not a technique that changes the body in the way ballet does. It’s a technique of daily movements made special and revealed. Butoh also is an incredible contemporary dance form whose practitioners explore themes of extreme darkness and pain combined with lightness and playfulness. To me that contradiction can be beautiful.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
JL Multiple meanings. Something that draws together the past, present and future. Something that has the presence of the everyday within the creative and the heightened. I work with abstraction as many artists do – but I also look for an inner vitality.