British Columbian choreographer Joshua Beamish has achieved international success since launching MOVETHECOMPANY in 2005. His latest work Saudade opens our Global Dance Connections September 20-23. The Dance Centre's Katrina Nguyen caught up with the globetrotting dance artist for this Q&A:
Katrina Nguyen (KN): What does Saudade mean?
Joshua Beamish (JB): Saudade is a Portuguese word that has no direct English language translation and I came across it when I was looking to title the piece and had no idea what I was making. For me it directly reflected the way dancing exists - it is abstract, your experience of watching a dance piece would be complete different from mine, because generally dance as a language is less literal and therefore you are projecting your own experience onto it (to a greater degree than something like watching a movie in a language that the whole audience understands). I liked that the word is as abstract to the English language as dance is because saudade has no direct translation in English. The language that I write and speak in, has no single composite for this incredibly complex state of emotional being, so I can only attempt to communicate it through physicality.
The word describes a deep state of melancholic longing for something that may never have happened, for something that you’ve lost and can’t get back, or something that you desire that you will never receive. It is not attached to a particular state of time, so the word can evoke past, present or future. It’s this idea that you can long for things that you don’t even know you want yet. It’s like this weight and this feeling that you carry around with you that is relative to something… an emptiness of some sort.
KN: How do you relate personally to Saudade?
JB: This is how I walk through my life. As a choreographer and guest artist, I am constantly injected into these spaces where everyone else knows each other: they’re the constant, I’m the new impetus. You’re there and you’re working together very closely so you create these very intense bonds creatively or maybe romantically if you meet someone in that city and have a little love affair, or you makes friends with people because they make time to spend dinner with you after work and then … you might leave and never come back to that place again.
And now with the internet, and how connected we are through social media, I feel like people have never been as aware of everything they are still emotionally connected to. It was much easier to forget about that person you met halfway across the world that week when you don’t see everything that they are doing every day. It was easier to be present in our lives before all of that. This work came out of my experience with this, where I feel marginally connected to so many people I’ve met, or strongly connected to people who are no longer part of my life, but who refuse to dissolve. I carry around with me the weight of relationships that never actualized. Almost as though you are having funerals for certain versions of your life.
The whole work is a response to these feelings. If you choose to see this work narratively there are specific relationships you can follow. You can view it with a more literal lens and I definitely see it that way now that I have crafted it. There are clear relationships that you can trace through the work but you may not see that upon first viewing and you don’t have to.
KN: What is it like for you to watch the complete work being performed now?
JB: I see the work as really autobiographical now that I watch it; it’s so literal for me. When I was making it I had no idea. The structure of it was all happenstance but it has produced very clear divisions of parts of myself at various points in my life with different people - in the work, I am all six of the figures in Saudade.
KN: The dancers have performed with world-class companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Nederlands Dans Theater: did working with the cast have an impact on the work?
JB: They are so unique, so good, smart and efficient. With this cast I was able to make the whole piece in three weeks, it was crazy. The level of detail I was able to get with these dancers was at the point where we were not talking about what the general idea was, but we were talking about the most hyper-specific position or textural qualitative change in movement. Such as the position of a hand and how it can produce a new feeling for the audience from moment to moment - there is just a heightened sense of possibility. And I am able to largely trust that they understand my taste and my intent enough, to make the right choices inside of the work. I can watch the work in a way that is surprising to me even though I made it. Which is ultimately what I want and with these dancers I can go there.
Photo credit: Craig Foster