Humanhood, a UK dance company founded by Júlia Robert and Rudi Cole, will be performing this week in Binary – International Artists Showcase. The duo generously shares how they turn their research in physics and Eastern mysticism into exciting, new material for dance.
As dancers and choreographers, you’ve both expressed a curiosity for physics and Eastern mysticism. How did you both become interested in these fields?
Júlia Robert (JR): Before I trained as a contemporary dancer in London, I started a physics degree at the University of Barcelona. Physics and questions around the wonders of the universe and our world have fascinated me since childhood. When Rudi and I met, my passion and research in physics captured his curiosity. He started diving into it and doing his own research too. Eastern mysticism became a more important part of our lives through practices we picked up during our travels and in the UK. In 2015, we spent four months in India learning ‘Moving Breath’ from Sheela Raj, and we’re currently taking Taichi sessions with a master in England.
It sounds as if you’re finding a way to bridge physics and spirituality to contemporary dance.
JR: The Dalai Lama himself said, “Spirituality without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality.” Sometimes, making that connection to dance is about letting concepts from physics become alive in the body, without trying to be literal or ‘making a story’ out of it. It can be a pure, physical and playful experience, like kids rediscovering our bodies. At other times, these concepts become images from which our choreography grows.
Human beings have thus far divided the world into different fields; this has allowed us to study each field in detail. But a new paradigm of science is emerging, which is currently evolving from the Newtonian vision where the world is a machine governed by laws, to a new vision where the way the ‘Observer’ views the world affects the ‘events’ that happen within it. So, actually, we’re an active player within everything that is happening.
And dance helps us to plug into this experience?
JR: There’s a special beauty in dance that enables us to connect the pieces. In fact, dance teaches us that there are no pieces – when you’re dancing, you can tap into the whole.
Tell us more about the Humanhood Practice, which the company refers to as a practice of dancing with “presence and consciousness”.
Júlia Robert and Rudi Cole (JR & RC): The Humanhood Practice helps to cultivate focus and a calm, self-centered state while working with the body from within, past exhaustion. We work with intention and totality, using the coordination of visualisation and breath. During our 1.5-hour workshop in Singapore, our students will get a taste of this, though we usually spend over three hours to really dive into the momentum. We invite participants to let go of expectations and self-definitions, to dive past their mental limitations.
You’ll also be performing ZERO, a dance about “the beginning of a process, the beginning of the universe”. What did it take to translate such a lofty concept?
JR & RC: ZERO is our first full-length piece and in a way, it was also the beginning of Humanhood’s universe. The challenge was being as open minded as possible in the studio. During the early stages, we didn’t set any tasks. We started the day with nothing and allowed our intuition to generate ideas and movements. In fact, our minds had to be as neutral as possible, without the constraint of thinking about ‘choreographing a piece’. This resulted in a lot of improvisation, exhausting our bodies of habits and conformity. We also had to consciously discard ideas bearing any resemblance to choreographers we’ve worked with in the past.
Were there connections in ZERO to physics as well?
JR & RC: Yes, there’s a clear insight from ‘quantum entanglement’ which is translated into the last section, where the two of us, like two particles in the distance, are constantly correlated and in sync even with our eyes closed. In one moment at the start, there’s an association with ‘dark matter filaments’, with their quality acting like a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies.
There’s also a very defined moment in ZERO, where everything suspends and we are left with a feeling of Yin and Yang. It’s a moment aware of the foundation for balance and harmony within dynamic processes. There’s also another section in ZERO which brings the moment close to nothingness within a theatre setting, leaving the audience with just sound, inviting them to let go of the need to be entertained, and instead, fall into calmer, inner states.
How does Humanhood collaborate with scientists?
JR & RC: At the moment, we are undertaking a residency at Birmingham University’s department for Physics and Astrophysics with a focus on Art informing Science and vice versa. The physicists participate in movement sessions led by us, while we’re informed by research from their labs and observatories in the field of Asteroseismology, the study of the structure of stars. The idea of this exchange is to see how their research can inform our creative intentions and the application of Humanhood’s work, with a polar effect on how our movement sessions can provoke these physicists to look and question their research from completely new angles.
Your works also seem very interdisciplinary for a dance company.
JR & RC: We’re interested in exploring subtle ways to invite the audience into the world of performance. Currently, we’re focusing on different ways to experience sound in a visceral manner. We’re also starting our research for Humanhood’s first group piece, Torus.
What excites you about coming to Asia to perform?
JR & RC: The audiences! We’re extremely curious to know how our work is received by the part of the world from which we’ve taken much of our references and inspired us to create ZERO. This is our first time performing in Asia and we very much look forward to feel how the world of Humanhood is experienced.
Interview by Adeline Loh. Photos by Donata Kukyté.. Catch Humanhood in Binary – International Artists Showcase at Esplanade Theatre Studio on 29 and 30 June.