Julianne Chapple is the seventh recipient of the biennial Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award, and she premieres her first full-length ensemble work Suffix October 26-27. We sat down with her for a chat about her approach, the inspiration behind the piece, and how she is working to create a new experience for her audience.
The Dance Centre: What is your approach to choreography, and how do you integrate other disciplines?
Julianne Chapple: My approach to creating movement is different in each process. I generally start with envisioning the world of the piece and the choreography that fits into that environment emerges the more I reflect on the atmosphere that I am trying to create. In this work, the sculptures came first. Ed Spence and I created them based on movement potential. We didn't want to define how they might be used; how they might interact with the body during the design/construction process. We build the first prototypes way back in 2014 and then tested them with different dancers as well as our own bodies to discover the various ways that they could be used in conjunction with the human form. We've come back to this project for multiple research phases over the past few years, tweaking the sculptures based on safety and durability needs, building new designs and discarding a few that didn't click in the studio.
The choreography in the performance all grew out of those initial experiments with the sculptures. Even the movement not involving the objects was developed out of the strategies that we discovered while working with body and object together.
TDC: What was your inspiration for Suffix?
JC: Ed and I started sketching the original designs while we were in residence at a little arts centre in the mountains outside of Rome. Living in this medieval village, it felt like we had gone back in time. We didn't have cell phones, wifi was limited, and I reflected a lot on the feeling of being disconnected. It made me wonder how the ubiquity of technology was changing how we use our bodies, and perhaps even changing our bodies themselves.
This interest evolved into research around transhumanism and cyborg culture.
Subsequently, I've done a deep dive into the grinders, biohackers, singularitarians and AI enthusiasts whose faith in progress seems to verge on religious fervor. My material exploration of objects that may be incorporated into the body, has grown to encompass body as object, body/object confusion, and dissociative states.
TDC: Tell us about how you use sculptures in the work
JC: Ed and I created a series of large-scale sculptures that the dancers are able to interact with as equals. They move with the performers, sometimes appearing to merge with the body or act as a pas de deux partner, at other times seeming to exert their own agenda or move in unpredictable ways.
We also have another series of sculptural objects that act as a physical archive of the performer's bodies. Inspired by the surreal and morbid acts of ardent transhumanists that turn to mindfiles, rejuvenation biotechnology and cryogenics, we've preserved important physical renderings and biological material of each individual performer for posterity. These reliquaries will be on display in the theatre during the performances.
TDC: What kind of experience and space are you looking to create for the audience?
JC: My aim is to create a meditative dreamworld. I want the audience to relax and allow the events to wash over them. Feel and forget their own bodies. Experience a bit of timelessness.
The theatre will be set up as an open black box, allowing the viewers to move through the space. There will be chairs and cushions available for anyone wishing to settle in one spot. I often find the traditional theatre set up a bit uncomfortable and restrictive, so I've decided to give the audience the option of positioning their bodies in a way that will allow them to have the best experience in the space.
TDC: What has the Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award meant for you?
JC: When I received this award, one of the most touching messages of congratulations was from a friend of Iris Garland's that told me she would have liked my work. I never met her, but the effect that she has had on the Vancouver dance community is incredible. As a choreographer and educator, she impacted so many artists and it is an honour to be a part of that lineage. As I understand it, she also had an interest in dance and technology, which connects with the themes that are present in Suffix.
I am so thankful to have received ongoing support from the Dance Centre over the years, from being involved in 12 Minutes Max, the DanceLab residency and the Artist in Residence programs. It is very exciting to be presenting this piece in the same building where we first began researching these ideas.
TDC: If you were not a choreographer, what career path would you have taken?
JC: I think I would have ended up being an artist of some kind, even if I had not found dance. When I was young I always thought I would be a writer. I also discovered an interest in music and visual art during my high school years at Langley Fine Arts School. I think performance is the perfect fit for me because it can contain such a multitude of disciplines. My choreographic practice has given me the opportunity to combine text, lighting, video and sculpture with movement. This piece is a great example of how expansive dance work can be and has given me the chance to step outside of my expertise and learn so much about different materials and processes.
Julianne Chapple: Suffix
October 26 & 27 2018, 7 and 9pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie Street Vancouver
This is a promenade-style performance and the audience can move freely through the space. Seating will be available for those who need it.
Photos by Ed Spence, Julianne Chapple