Piece for Person and Ghettoblaster, Nicola Gunn
“Piece for Person and Ghettoblaster”, Nicola Gunn © Gregory Lorenzutti

Tanz im August Interview Series: Nicola Gunn

A confrontation with a man cruelly throwing stones at a duck was the catalyst for Nicola Gunn’s solo work “Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster”. That encounter — and the misunderstandings inherent in it — inspired a piece in which communication, and miscommunication, take centre stage.

How do text and movement relate to each other in this piece?
I think the audience might try to make a connection between those two things at first, and wonder if the movement is meant to illustrate the text — and sometimes it might be. But I see it more as though the movement attacks the text — sometimes surreptitiously, but at other times with a more explicit aggression. The entire concept of the piece relies on this duet between text and movement. It was my intention that the movement be somehow unnecessary — unnecessary action. That’s the phrase I used to describe the violence of that man throwing stones at the duck.

Tell me about your process with choreographer Jo Lloyd …
Our practice works with subconscious desires and the effect of language on the body. Jo is very attuned to my natural physicality, and has an incredible ability to take information, translate it, and then throw it back at me. While making this piece, we spent a considerable amount of time in the studio playing with the idea of unnecessary action, telling the story of the text over and over again to see how the body reacted, and also using the body to attempt to shift the energy of the text. Jo is also one of the funniest people I know, so the process is mainly one of pure joy and absolute pleasure. Pleasure is also a very distinct mode within the performance.

© Gregory Lorenzutti

What do you do to prepare for each performance?
I do extensive warm-ups and look after myself in the most practical way — eating well and ensuring I get enough sleep. I always feel slightly embarrassed to admit that it takes an immense amount of concentration to perform this work — there’s a shitload of talking and a shitload of choreography involved, so preparation usually consumes the whole day before every performance. I work hard on being relaxed enough to be present in the room with the audience. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing.

This is a deeply personal work. Do you have to maintain a certain distance from it?
My whole body of work has been built on a practice of creating autobiographical fiction, so the choice to use myself as material is carefully orchestrated. That said, working with intimacy, risk and vulnerability does come at a personal cost sometimes. More than anything, I get bored of myself. It’s fatiguing, and there is an aspect of shame in dealing with the personal on stage in front of an audience. However, that can be interesting in itself, and it is something which I’m exploring in my current work.

What role does humour play in your work?
A critical one, I would say. It can serve as a ‘soft’ approach to difficult subjects but, at the same time, humour can also be incredibly exposing and subversive. I am also big on shared experience and collective action, so to be in a room full of people, all laughing at the same thing at the same time… Well, I think there’s some magic in that.

A Co-operation between Tanzbüro Berlin and Tanz im August 2019
Our tanzschreiber authors Alexandra Hennig, Beatrix Joyce and David Pallant were invited to interview the Tanz im August 2019 artists Nora Chipaumire, deufert&plischke, Nicola Gunn, Gunilla Heilborn and Claire Vivianne Sobottke. All interviews will be published on www.tanzschreiber.de and www.tanzimaugust.de/magazin