Last Thursday, while thinking I would only be joining for a friend's birthday surprise (and cake), I found myself at the side of the studio at the Royal Theatre, watching and listening to the rehearsal for You Are Here. This is a pop-up production and a collaboration by three of my good friends, Samuel Rees and Beila Ungar, who are both dancers with the Royal Danish Ballet, and Jean-Hee Lee, a violinist and fellow Canadian. Sam and Beila are both choreographing and dancing in the piece, while Jean-Hee plays her violin, the sole accompanist to carry the project.
The idea began with Jean-Hee's proposal of a collaborated project. The three of them were having dinner one evening and started a conversation about being foreigners. This developed into the theme of loneliness, the inspiration for You Are Here. Being a foreigner can often invite the feeling of loneliness, and Jean-Hee, Beila, and Sam, each being expats in Copenhagen, were able to find a mutual sensation of feeling alone.
However, they then discovered the conversation itself carried quite a bit of irony. The act of the three of them discussing loneliness was in no way alone, as it was something that they were doing together. This raised the concept of people often feeling alone, but not physically being alone.
The Royal Danish Theatre then conveniently had openings for projects, a perfect opportunity to seize, giving the three ambitious creators two weeks to prepare something. They gathered four additional dancers, pieces of music, and agreed and disagreed on all sorts of fine details.
"The music chosen is solo Bach and Eckhardt-Grammatté's Caprice," Jean-Hee informs me, "We started taking some random material and put it to the Bach and found that it worked quite well."
"It's a sad sound," Sam chimes in, "To hear a violin alone, it can be quite haunting. And it fit perfectly with what we were trying to portray."
I ask Sam and Beila a little more about the choreographic process:
"We choreographed together," Beila says, "We made rules to openly agree or disagree and just be honest with each other. Sometimes we would also alternate in creating."
"This way, none of the pieces are a product of just one person's imagination, It's something uniquely created by us both," Sam tells me, and when considering what I had seen in rehearsal, it makes sense. Very often, with choreographers, you're able to get an idea of their styles. They have certain steps, or rhythms, or types of movements that they prefer and stick with. Watching this collaboration, I'm not sure that I could pinpoint something that would be "Sam's style" or "Beila's style", but instead something that is the product of an alliance of two innovative artists.
"During the process, we sometimes had Beila improvising and experimenting with Mac (one of the other dancers) and would keep what we thought was good," Sam says.
"It was nice to have one creator who was in and one who was out," Beila says, referring to her being a dancer and having Sam as the observer.
"In regards to the theme, we looked for inspiration in quotes of philosophers and some YouTube videos," Sam says, "The piece as a whole is a mixture of speech quotes, live music, performance art, recorded music, and dance."
To me it seems that despite having a very clear idea of their project being about loneliness, the creation process has in no way been in solitude. The three of them agree:
"You'll notice that there isn't a single solo in any of the movements. This was something we all agreed on," Sam expresses, perhaps suggesting that the sensation of loneliness is more than just a physical feeling.
The performance is on August 31st, 20:00, at Gamle Scene. Tickets only cost 100 kr and the piece itself is succinct. There will also be beer, intentionally creating a casual scene for an evening of dance.
** Thank you to Jean-Hee for these photos!!!!