The Shift of Focus
Three Questions to Isabelle Schad from Elena Basteri
EB:To create the choreography for The Shift of Focus you drew not only on specific movement techniques but also on poetic and symbolic elements. Can you say something about these different working elements and how they interrelate?
IS: The Shift of Focus refers to how we shift our own gravitational centre – and through that our own body weight – in relation to an action or activity. Through an awareness of gravity in relation to our position we are able to send our energies outside – without forcing – and in this there should be a connection between the foot and the hand.
The role of the hands and how they are held is important.
Everybody knows this from daily activities: for example, just before we cut a piece of bread we position our hand differently; we position ourselves behind the knife so that we can use our own body weight.
The work with the movement, and specifically also with the panels – the mobile landscape created by Umberto Freddi – took place within this awareness, which of course comes from my background in aikido. And our aikido master, Gerhard Walter, teaches us to understand what ‘naturally’ happens, so that it can inform the complex movement in aikido techniques. Ultimately it’s the same for dance, performance or any kind of ‘studied movement’.
On a metaphorical level my – or our – wish was to shift the focus to the forces that keep us together – universal ones – given how hectic and stressful our daily lives have become in these times of war, political confusion or Covid. For me this means a continuation of what I’m busy with already: ki can be defined as the universal energy we can all perceive once we bring our awareness to feeling our selves, and from there to feeling the world; ki is what we deal with when we train – aikido, shiatsu or other movement principles based on our energetic centres, such as our chakras. I have recently also been dealing with light energy or principles of infinite movements that loop, repeat and transform; movements that connect us to more universal or one could say to cosmic forces. To forces that exist rather than needing to be invented.
And then there is a ‘symbol’ which emerged in a recurring way during the process; and this is the number 7. It started with certain coincidences, like the 7 panels and 7 performers, and ended up becoming something to build around: 7 as the lucky number, 7 chakras, 7 layers of the aura, 7 chapters, 7 as a cosmic number related to the 7 planets, 7 days of the week, 7 as a cyclic number, 7 in fairy tales or sayings, 7 sins or virtues and many more.
EB: The Shift of Focus is your first collaboration with the artist and architect Umberto Freddi, who contributed stage and visual elements. How did this new collaboration unfold?
IS: After meeting and talking, sharing ideas or ‘things we like’, such as music, films, architecture, books, we had the idea to do a research work together, which pretty soon ended up in something that wanted to grow. At first we worked with the mobile panels in the space. It was pretty demanding for me to understand the physicality of our bodies in relation to the presence of the moving space, which was immediately very powerful.
So powerful that I wanted an equivalent materiality from our moulding and forming materials, our performance and presence. The element of video from Umberto’s drawings is another important element . For now, we’re still making plenty of discoveries, and it seems a longer process has begun than ‘just’ making a piece in a few weeks time.
I’d also like to talk about the importance of the collaboration with Emma Juliard, who thinks so beautifully and watches with me, and collaborates on far more than ‘just doing the lights’; and with Damir Simunovic, who contributed his strong presence and delicacy in choosing the sounds; and finally with the 7 performers, Josephine Findeisen, Frederike Doffin, Jasmin İhraç, Przemek Kaminski, Manuel Lindner, Jan Lorys, Aya Toraiwa, who fully brought themselves and their backgrounds in. I don’t think I could work with people who were better informed, more professional or giving. We’re getting to know each other better and better, and the practice and training is leading us to share a pathway, rather than making a couple of pieces.
EB:‘Contemplation’ is a term you often use in relation to your artistic work and The Shift of Focus is no exception. It’s a term that can have spiritual, philosophical or mystical connotations. What is contemplation for you?
IS: Looking at the meaning of the word, we can find: the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time or the act of thinking about spiritual things, meditation.
I have to say my experience in Zen meditation and other related practices has informed my work for a long time now.
I look at phenomena that interest me over long periods of time, and along the way things get finer or richer; they transform or simply change.
It links to a curiosity about life as such, or maybe also about understanding how it makes sense to do things like performance … sense-of-life questions, joyful things to do, like training, moving, creating together …
But I also want to think of the people who come to see us. My wish seems to be create pieces that offer a contemplative shared time. And an experience of shared space. This time-space experience is unique and personal to everyone, and yet we also feel something together.
For me this is what art can offer; or maybe, expressed more personally, what I wish to offer for us to experience: the level of connection as a counterpoint to our daily lives, where we often find ourselves running around with thoughts jumping from here to there, restless or stressful, sometimes happy but definitely fast.
Maybe it’s just a time offered for us to rest together and be really there where we are.