Interview with Marija Scekic a.k.a. Histeria NOVA, part 1: On New Media and Science in Dance

by deborah on 10/26/2011

Choreographer and dancer Marija Scekic is the founder and Artistic Director of Histeria NOVA Artistic organization. She was  professionally trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance and butoh, she studied choreography and contemporary dance at Concordia University in Montréal (Canada).

Her interest in combining movements, science and technology initially triggered this interview since we have spent many, many  hours discussing about it…

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Photo above by Sandra Vitaljic (c), Marija Scekic in Shadow
Photo bellow by Sandra Vitaljic (c), Marija Scekic in Human Error

Around 2000 she began her professional career as independent choreographer, dancer, dance teacher and producer. Her deep passion for analysis of movement energy transformation (human, air or planetary) fused into choreography as a common place in early 1996 during studies in contemporary dance, electroacoustics and planetary geology at Concordia University. Since that time, she has continued to work in the same direction and self-produced many works, from full-evening group choreographies and solo performances to educationally designed programs and multimedia events.

Your working approach with Histeria NOVA is multidimensional… You always like to combine art and science, body & mind, nature and technology, brain and neurons…

MS: I like interplay of different movement dynamics and this can be applied to almost anything in life because Earth is a dynamic and active place in our solar system. I like to think of world as a living macro-organism with thoughts, feelings and life cycles similar to us, humans. We are born, we live, we die and so does the Earth. The speleology, astronomy, geography, social psychology, medicine just to name few, are all disciplines of human studies dealing with movement and transformation of energy.

But when it comes to dance, there are only two questions I am trying to answer: what and how. WHAT refers to clarity of the idea behind the dance and HOW refers to craft, tools and skills that are being used for creative process and the final outcome. So for example, when I worked with radiologist and new media engineer in „Human Error“, we used instruments such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance) and MCS (motion capture system) to create movement language between a stage performer and 3-dimensional virtual entity.

On the other hand, when I worked with mountain climbers and speleologists in „Little tragedy“ aerial dance performance, we used ropes, carabineers and pulleys to climb and „hang around“ walls, rocks and surfaces where „guts“ were most needed tool for embodiment of a creature fighting gravity, fear, freedom, courage and free fall. 

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Human Error by Marija Scekic, photo by Nina Durdevic (c)

What does your background experience in dance consist of?

MS: For 15 years I was trained in classical ballet and continued with higher education in dance at Concordia University in Montreal where anatomy and sommatic approach body techniques were in focus as well as various creative methods of construction. I was introduced to choreographic works of Marie Chouinard, Eduard Lock, Benoit Lachambre, Daniel Leveille and eventually my interest started to also grow towards improvisation tools, computer technology and interactive movement analyses that were rapidly growing in the world at that time.

The work of William Forsythe, Wayne MacGregor and Gideon Obarzanek became very interesting to me. However, most of my movement vocabulary and technical skills are actually a result of a long-term self investigation.

How did you come across the opportunity to work and perform with Tadashi Endo and what’s attracting you to delve deep into Butoh?

MS: My artistic urge towards creation of „in between worlds“ led me towards creation of „Shadow“ performance in 2004. You know the experience when you feel that „the time stops, the space slipps underneath your feet and gravity doesn’t exist any longer but you are still fully awake, alive and move in a perfect harmony with space and time“ – that is what I’m talking about. This feeling for me is like being home. I love this feeling. This is butoh.

There is infinite number of tiny vibrations caused by mental and emotional activities in our body and when body is moving fast, these tiny little movements are less visible. But when the movement slows down, subtle and sophisticated gestures, feelings and thoughts appear. This is why I created „Shadow“. I wanted to portray all these inner movements (shadow thoughts and feelings) that are equal to all human beings disregarding their nationality, race, political status, sex orientation, religious and political beliefs.

And naturally, I went to Göttingen to meet Tadashi Endo, a Japanese butoh-MA artist (MA means nothingness, space in between), born in China living and working in Germany. I introduced the project to him and his wife Gabriele Endo and first he was hesitant but later on, he called me up and said he agrees to participate as a butoh performer. The piece was awarded a Croatian National Artists’ Award for best dance creation in 2006. Few years ahead, I created three other works (Modulation 2, Human Error and Little tragedy). They are also butoh, naked and raw human biology dressed in computer science.

From your range of teaching experience, what do you think it takes to get people more involved and feeling more comfortable in this combination of dance and technology?

MS: Humanity behind all that technology. I think that’s all it takes. Look at Theo Jansen, Gregory Colberts, Gideon Obarzanek, Wayne McGregor just to name few… There is a social aspect in all of these people’s work that deals with something bigger then their own artistic work. There is a Human Tech Center in Finland that refers to safe living environment in which nature and state-of-the-art technology meet.

Technology has never been the centre of my focus but the complexity of work behind the simple ideas have brought me to a point where technology, science, art and nature can no longer be separated. I think that the development of new, high tech products from a human perspective (humanized) are what is very attractive and engaging idea today.

How would you characterize your relation to dance as an art form?

MS: Dance is a visual art. I’m both in war and in piece with the dance. It’s a true passion and love for me. Dance is also a nonverbal communication when it’s done well, otherwise, it’s just a random movement. The making of connections among the artistic forms is, for me, like process of making connections between different senses. When I think of dance I think about synesthesia, a unity of many different qualities (visual, auditive, tactile etc…) which all come together into patterns and visual language – dance.

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Tadashi Endo and Marija Scekic in Shadow
Photo by Sandra Vitaljic (c)

Tell me something about that how do you actually perceive your own body? How much of you does it take?

MS: It takes all of me, every day, no exceptions. I am somewhere between Descartes and Damasio with myself and my body. Between thinking and feeling, between art and science, between nature and technology. I see the world (and myself within) as a living creature, as Theo Jansen’s „strandbeest“, natural creature, not quite human nor digital but trying to flow in tune with space and time around me.

I believe that as we grow older we speak less and listen more. I only recently (5-6 years ago) became aware that my body can not perform everything I want it to perform but also noticed how much of the world performance I lost interest in. With time, we change, transform, evolve… whatever. I guess I’m fine as long as it takes all of me to be who I am.

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Tadashi Endo Marija Scekic performing ‘Shadow’
Photo by Sandra Vitaljic (c)

How do you prepare for diversity that your work demands: as a choreographer, as a dancer? Is it different between those two roles?

MS: In my case, the difference is huge. As a choreographer I work at least one year ahead before going to studio and inviting dancers. It is within that year of research and preparation that my ideas get clearer and some of the questions answered. I’m not saying that this is correct way to work but it is my way and I am doing my best to improve in it. I worked differently before but didn’t enjoy as much. As a dancer, the trainings are my daily routine. More I work on my body better movement I perform. It’s not easy but it’s as simple as that.

Jump into the second part of the interview with Marija Scekic a.k.a. Histeria NOVA here: Climber in Contemporary Dance