A breath of freedom – interview with Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet, authors of the TOPOLOGIE project

Between 22 September and 1 October 2014, five Polish artists: Jan Lorys, Helena Ganjalyan, Kamil Wawrzuta, Kamila Chromczak and Zuzanna Kasprzyk, worked with Anne Vigier, Franck Appertet and Nicolas Martz in Les Gens d’Unterpan Topologie project in Gdańsk.

The project’s aim was to introduce actions performed by a group of dancers into Gdańsk’s public space, leaving the safe gallery or theatre environment and entering into the midst of an anonymous human mass. The city was treated as a natural scene and each movement or gesture of the artists was meticulously adjusted to the place where it was performed. The Topologie project was first of all focused on the process, in line with the so-called “relational aesthetics”, which is based on dialogue between the artist and the viewer. This dialogue was established based on the rhythm and dynamics of the city, its unspecified code of social relationships and relations with architecture.

As a summary of sorts, we present Łukasz Rudziński’s interview A Breath of Freedom with the authors of the Topologie project, Annie Vigier and Franck Apertet.

Łukasz Rudziński: What does Gdańsk look like from your perspective?

Annie Vigier i Franck Apertet: For us, Gdańsk is not only the centre, which attracts all the tourism, but also, for example, Nowy Port (one of the poorest districts of the city – ŁR). We wanted to touch upon various aspects of the city. We do not repeat the impressions of an ordinary tourist that one can see on postcards. We get to know the specificity of the city we’re in through contact with its inhabitants and their reactions. Rather than historical buildings, we’re interested in what lies behind them, what is hidden behind these beautiful tenements and façades. This is why Gdańsk, for us, is a city with two faces. We notice a clear distinction between the part that is supposed to be beautiful and presentable to tourists, with the extended commercial and service centre, and the less attractive part, which tends to be hidden from visitors. We wanted to find out what it’s like to live here. Discover something about the inhabitants of this city.

Walking through Gdańsk, our dancers overcome subsequent obstacles and find out what it’s really like here. They experience this city, get to know the context in which its citizens function, peek into various nooks and crannies. As a result, Gdańsk becomes more accessible to us with each day.

What is your project actually about?

In a way, it refers to the point of view of a child, who wants to go straight ahead and doesn’t understand why it has to turn aside in order to reach the goal, and why movement is so complicated and full of incomprehensible rules. We are aware that everyday life is governed by a sort of social choreography: people keep moving along the same routes. Every day they take their children to school, go to work and then, as they come back, they pick up their children, go shopping and return home. These routes are very much alike every day.

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What can you experience on the route?

The moment we decide to realise a project in the public space, we have to be prepared for anything and everything that may happen. We leave the theatre scene and come across a number of different situations. People can react in strange or unexpected ways – our dancers may provoke surprise, happiness or fear. This is a part of our project. We have to face up to all reactions to our performance, even aggression, and accept the fact that they may take place.

How was the choreography created according to which dancers move around Gdańsk?

The graphic arrangement of our routes is always the same. However, we think about what can be done to take into account the context of the city we’re in. In that sense, Gdańsk is a rather difficult place for us, as there is a river (Motława – ŁR) and channels, but not a lot of bridges. The arrangement we use in a given city may be smaller or larger. We take it as our basic assumption – this is our choreography. We always try to include something interesting that our dancers can encounter along the way.

Why do you keep repeating the same arrangement? Maybe it would be better for the project if you adapted it to the conditions of the given city?

We wanted to graphically present choreography and show that what a dancer can perform on stage can also be done in the public space by a group of dancers. We wanted to provide the artists with a possibility to create something of their own, but on our terms. They always experience some obstacles along their way which they have to face. This is how the persons we invite to the project become co-responsible for its final shape. Even though the arrangement remains the same, the route simply has to change.

This model of action is important, because our social life consists of roles we play and models of social life. We wanted to create an arrangement that gives some freedom and leaves some room for the creativity of the dancers. This is why we were looking for a model that does not control the human being entirely – which is true both for our dancers and passers-by they meet along the way.

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What part of the route is covered by the artists each day?

Five dancers start their routine at the same time. Each time they depart from the same spot and cover the same route which ends in the meeting point, after going through the entire choreography (in Gdańsk the meeting point was located on Mariacka Street – ŁR). In Gdańsk, the entire route takes about an hour and forty minutes. They meet at the crossings of lines of our graph, so they have a strictly defined time to perform their tasks. They have to be careful, because they have no way of checking the time and those meetings along the route are their only point of reference.

It is worth noticing that this is not a typical dance choreography, because our dance is much closer to everyday life and the experience of all people. We won’t recognise the artists straight away. Passers-by only see fragments of the choreography. Nobody sees the entire performance or accompanies the artists along the way.

At the end of each day, you meet at a specified time in a specified place. What happens then?

In the Topologie project, we try to involve people from the given country (although not necessarily from the city in question), because they know the culture of the place and have a sense of what they can allow themselves. They themselves propose what they’re going to do along the route. Each of the ten days of the project is a separate step. We meet in the evenings and tell them what we want to achieve as the final result of the project. After all, the dancers work largely alone. This is actually their project. We talk about who they met along the way, what reactions they encountered. With each day, they get to know the specificity of the place better. They also notice changing attitudes towards them. We talk about what they feel and how these changes affect their actions. Each day brings more and more questions. This is how our project grows.

Where, in all this, is the space for the dancers’ freedom?

The route and the objective are imposed on the artists. Precision is also very important: our dancers have to know exactly what they’re doing and where. They have to adapt themselves to the context of the given place and somehow react to it. This is how they formulate their response to the given place – their own artistic statement. Sometimes they experience violence. Later, they tell us why they acted how they did and what they felt at the time. We are not satisfied with an explanation that such and such reaction was “cool” or “adequate”. They have to find reasons for their reactions. We are interested in what caught their attention, how they interpret the surroundings they encountered along the way. They freedom is manifested in the decisions they take: whether they are going to lift something, bend down, stop to talk to someone. This is their choice and we do not try to influence it. We want these reactions to be an amalgam of their feelings and the context of the place. We avoid theatrical gestures, poetics and psychology – we are only concerned with the action. This is what we’re working on.

What is also important in this project is that they have to confront themselves with the rules that apply to them. There comes a point when they question their artistic education and this is when they can really feel free. After all, all the barriers we encounter in life are the ones we build ourselves.

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