Cultural Storytellers: Siri Embla
Siri Embla is a Norwegian-Kiwi dancer and artist. Renee Liang asks Siri about her latest work, collaborative show Lovers' Walk, and Kinetic-Sculpture ensemble The White Wall.
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I first met Siri a few years ago through my friend and fellow poet Gus Simonovic. Back then, they were just developing their groundbreaking multidisciplinary show, Lovers' Walk - a revealing and intimate exploration of their own love, in the spirit of sharing with their audience. One year later Lovers' Walk has toured the world, and I know Siri as a restless and innovative 'maker' on the performance scene.
Here's what Gus and Siri write about their show: "Lovers' Walk is an uplifting true love story told through fusion of music, poetry, video, theatre and dance. A majestic theatrical feast for your soul and all six senses. Two dynamic video projections, live dance and poetry.
Aroha, acquaintance, romance, affection, devotion, liaison - the show is about love in all its forms. “Lovers Walk will reshape shapes and brighten colours in your love- kaleidoscope while telling you a story that you know so well, as it was your own.”
Why did you become a dancer?
Dancer - how did the dancer become me? Where is the land between dance and mundane movement? Which rhythms creates the base for the movement to become a dance? For me life is a dance-a sequence of improvised movements to the beat of our surroundings.
In performance the essence of moods and feelings flows through me and comes out through physical forms and rhythms. I never know when a movement is a dance and when it is just a moving bodypart, they are so entangled in my experience as a human being. So why did I become a dancer? It was never a choice, it just is.
How has your career evolved?
In circles and spirals - I started early as a piano player when I was 10 and composed short melodies, later on I joined the youth theatre company in the island of Stord in Norway where I grew up. A place where creativity and self esteem was nurtured- moving into devising and directing short pieces which took us to Iceland for a gathering of selected Nordic performing artists. I fell in love with musical theatre and studied and worked in this genre for a while before I headed to Australia and studied Contemporary Performance at WAAPA.
This was a little beyond me at the time. But learning continues on a long time after one has left a course. I’m still having ’aha’ moments from that time!
There is so much to learn, and so many ways to express one's creativity- my path got me into studies in aromatherapy and massage, and most recently I’ve completed a yoga teacher training course. For some time I was wondering how these elements would work together, only to realise that they feed eachother – allowing my curiosity for creative exploration to be triggered, to try to express some of my observations and to share universal human traits, dilemmas and conditions.
Learning massage brought me back to my body after a long time of travelling... and landing in New Zealand I was fortunate to work with some inspiring people like France Herve and Al Wunder which helped me to truly discover the magnificent power of movement improvisation- the vast creative source that can be tapped into and the beautiful moments that arrise from it. It takes me to places I didn’t know existed. I love watching others perform- and I love having all my senses stimulated- which is slowly taking me into land of visuals and bringing back my piano playing and singing.
There is a lot of expansion in my career, my partner Gus Simonovic is an amazing support and is able to see what potential lies within me. He gently pushes me in directions I didn’t know I wanted to go in –until I’m there – going ’wow!’. Putting the label down and defining my work as: ’a dancer’, ’a singer’,’a piano player’ or ’physical theare’ or ’actress’ is almost impossible.
Is there any space between 'dance' and 'art'?
You know, there is space within every molecule, every atom. In the contemporary performance art world, boundaries between different disciplines are bluring. And the space is open for all kind of artistic expresion. Dance as we know it today is much different to what it was 10 years ago, and for me its very interesting to observe which space it will occupy in the next few years.
How did you develop your show, "Lovers' Walk"?
The Lovers' Walk – a Poetic Journey in Eight Scenes is an example of ''reality TV'', only in this case it's ''reality theatre'' that started with me meeting a poet, Gus Simonovic.
His poetry is positioned in the land of feelings, essences and atmospheres. Often a new poem triggers a sensation of a texture which I use as a starting point for a movement improvisation and choreography. Over the first year of our artistic relationship we were subconsciously creating the show, by slowly making each piece/step of our walk and collaborating with other amazing international artists (Jo Blankenburg, Gareth Priceless, Dubtext, Kotaro Nishishita, Peter Brierley-Millman).
I specifically remember one morning, in Brisbane. Gus and me had a couple of days in
emotional and creative ’no-man's land’. There was a piano there and I sat down to play, and the keys were just flowing together. I called for Gus saying- do you want to try a poem to this melody? As it happened he had that very morning written a new poem - ”Sun Without the Sky” (Morning Without Love) and melody and a poem fitted together perfectly. It really did bring us back together - it felt like my heart was being twinged to beat in a new rhythm.
There are more stories like this, where the real life and the performance become so intertwined that we sometimes don’t know what is what. That's very clearly reflected in the ”Lovers' Walk”, our lives are the show. What we discover, through our personal journey, is the elements that we feel are universal and that people respon to the most.
For us, Lovers' Walk is becoming a way of living, where scenes are added - taking us into new directions, opening new places, showing new layers; and it continously evolves as we evolve personally and artistically. So it is a ongoing life-art creation of universal experiences that can be shared - touching and inspiring the hearts of our audiences – our fellow lovers, our fellow walkers. Telling them the story that they already know, as if it was their own.
In what ways do poetry and dance complement each other?
Poetry is heightened language and dance is heightened movement. Poetry is feelings, metaphors, reflections, playing with reality on a verbal level. Dance does the same but in a physical context. Combined they allow a more holistic experience - where both intellect, emotional and kinestetic sense is stimulated. As an audience you get the opportunity to discover many layers and can connect to where it feels real for you.
What has been the best experience you've had touring so far?
Many memories stand out. Performing last year across Europe in non-English speaking environments however the audience responded on such an emotional way, which got us to understand our work on a new level. This is the amazing part of it, by sharing it with the audience, the audience share their experience with us- and we get to see it with new eyes! Also, being a part of the world's biggest arts festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival was mindblowing, a huge learning experience and inspiration.
Another highlight was also here in NZ, visiting towns and villages outside the big centres– where several people came and thanked us for taking the time to bring our show to their community. That's where we feel our performance is most accomplished – because it is about sharing and Walking with people. We are therefore very excited to be back in Auckland where our walk started.
Lovers Walk is turning one and we are celebrating this week with two shows at the Pumphouse Theatre this Thursday 15th and Friday 16th March. Also, wherever we went we shared the stage with local acts – no difference here in Auckland, Thursday is with Patti Cakes and Friday with Caitlin Smith.
Is there any difference in the way your work has been received in Norway vs NZ?
There is a difference, in Norway I tend to work in a well established institutional theatre company (Haugesund Theatre) last production (”Amanda fra Haugesund”). As well as being on stage as a part of the core ensemble I was the dance-captain and led the rehearsal period for 80 children, working tightly with choreographer Darren Royston (choreographer for Bangkok opera and teacher at RADA) and director/playwright/ artistic director Birgit Amalie Nilssen.
Where as in Aotearoa life as a performer is very different. It is work on many smaller and very personal projects and self-expression: one day street performing as a part of the Clown duo ''Vice-Versa'' (with Ananda Burgess), next night in the Wine Cellar with The White Wall performing together with electronica duo ''Dubtext'', or at one of many Printable Reality events. Next day I can be perfroming with Lovers Walk somewhere in Coromandel. Coming back to Auckland and being a dinosaur puppeteer or doing educational school shows at Auckland War Memorial Museum.
The combination of having the opportunity to perform on both sides of the world with such variety of content and context makes the life as a performer very rich. At the same time, I believe that the nature of my work is connecting to the core of the human experience, thus the response is very personal and varies from individual to individual- yet often with a common thread that it is exactly that – personal. And in that sense there is no difference where you are in the world or what size or kind of production you are involved with.
You also lead a dance performance troupe, "The White Wall". What does this group do?
The White Wall is a poetic-kinetic-sculpture improv movement troupe engaging with an immediate environment in a very unique way. Our performances are candid and responsive. "TWW" are moving in nature and reflecting it, through movement and stillness. Nature! - whether it is the urban nature or the green nature or human nature or....
Performances are adapted and tailored to any event/environment : from roving, interacting with the audience, to stage performance, corporate events, gallery openings.
We performed at places like TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, The Whitespace Contemporary Art, First Thursdays on K´rd. Our next performace is at ''inVOICE and Music'' event at The Pumphouse Theatre on 30th of March and at an award night at Waiheke Art Gallery.
You can find us on Facebook.
What are your next projects?
Currently I’m back at Auckland Museum doing a educational play about the First World War.
I always enjoy expanding into new creative environments and working on site- specific projects. One that I am currently working on is to be staged at the wild coast of west Norway, bringing myths into life with a contemporary flavour- preserving stories, but telling them in a way that is visually decadent and enriching, I am very interested in myths and archetypal stories and what they mean to us now. As an artist I enjoy working with different methods and ways of expression, and I am playing with creating visual projections, composing music as well as choreographing and directing. Another important aspect is to include the community- developing and running workshops, going to schools and museums – to allow for others to find that freedom within expression.
Gus and I are continously working nd developing on the Lovers Walk concept. Next chapter on our journey is a project called ”ID -Insomina and a Daydream”. We are exploring our realities up against each other. Who are we in relation to each other? What is real, what are our dreams, and nightmares… what are our expectations and how do they influence our identities?
Later this year I am going back to Norway to work for a theatre company in Haugesund. The new production is a play about cancer, called 'Heroes'. I'll be a part of the core ensemble, we are merging classical theatre with physical theatre. The show is opening in September and is running for a month.
Also, Gus and I have discovered an alternative theatre company in Serbia ''Porodica Bistrih Potoka''/ ''Family of Clear Springs'' ( although they say that they are beyond ''alternative'', they are wild ) and we are going to spend some time with them this European summer, working on our ''ID'' project that people in New Zealand will be ableto see in 2013.
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What: Lovers Walk - a Poetic Journey in Eight Scenes
Where: Pumphouse, Killarney Park, Takapuna
When: 15th and 16th March, 8pm
with very special guest :
Thursday 15th Patti Cakes
Friday 16th Caitlin Smith
Fresh from Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011 - via Wellington Fringe 2012, Lovers' Walk a short (yet infinite) odyssey written, created and choreographed by dancer Siri Embla and poet Gus Simonovic, with video material by visual artist Peter Brierley-Millman and music by Jo Blankenburg (piano), Gareth Priceless (guitar), Dubtext (electronica) and Kotaro Nishishita (classical guitar).
For more info and bookings contact: gus@printablereality