Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, St. James's, London SW1Y 5AH

Interview with Eve Stainton

Institute of Contemporary Arts


Interview with Louisa Doyle

Eve Stainton’s dance performances transport audiences to brilliantly enigmatic, sensorial worlds. Anyone lucky enough to have caught ‘Rubby Sucky Forge’ at The Place, London in Autumn 2020 will have experienced a much needed detour from reality—three dancers melting, sparring and succumbing to each other in a futuristic stage ecology of metal and slippery projected visuals. Eve’s upcoming performance ‘Dykegeist’ at the ICA is sure to be just as estranging and endearing. We chatted about their process, aesthetic and influences over email.

I saw ‘Rubby Sucky Forge’ last year and thought it was totally mesmerising. It seemed so intuitive as opposed to logical. How does that compare to your experience of dancing the piece?

Thank you. It’s interesting to think of logic versus intuition. In ‘Rubby Sucky Forge’ my understanding is that they are both at play, it maybe depends on how you’re looking or feeling. A friend of mine said she saw maths.

There is a system/score/ecology to the work, which acts as a frame or logic that then allows for more intuitive investigations and textures to emerge. There are choreographed encounters, but myself, Joseph Funnell and Gaby Agis have a shared understanding that how we relate to the metal and each other is instinctive. Prioritising a space where intuition or instinct can be accessed is ethically important to me, so performers have agency over how things are carried out. Resistance or rebellion come under this too, which is also important.

‘Dykegeist’ is enticingly advertised as something of a 90s sci-fi spider lair. Why spiders?

I think I might be the spider actually! It’s quite strange. I’ve been working with costume designer Sophie Donaldson to create some collaged appendages that protrude and dangle. It came from my thinking around phobias and the ‘threat’ associated with queer/trans presence. I experience spiders as haunting, which might have something to do with an uncanny relationship I have to their physicality; I over relate through my body.

I became interested in the feeling of a displacement of identity that happens when I’m sharing a space with a spider and what happens to my understanding of time in that moment. It is as though the atmosphere can’t handle us both being there together and time has to collapse, rendering us both othered or ghostly in presence. It’s dramatic, alien tension. This led me to thinking around haunting and Hauntology. Line Henriksen describes hauntology as a philosophy which “brings together ontology and haunting, suggesting that all that can be said to exist does so due to a series of haunting, excluded others… (taking) seriously the agency of such absent others.” I wondered what it would be like to become the idea of the “haunting, excluded others”, as a power, or force that can adopt characterisation and occupy a mysterious space between audience, materials and performer.

What have been the biggest surprises and challenges you’ve faced making the piece?

At the moment there’s a whole set of challenges around how to create a Covid appropriate environment for a work that relies on closeness and interaction with strangers. Originally I was thinking of using proximity, touch and close encounters with the audience as a way to question the predatory threat assigned to queer/trans expression. This would, of course, be underpinned with consent and choice of what to participate in.

But with the backdrop of a global virus, ideas of contagion, contamination, threat, control and fear could already be present in the space. Now I’m in a process of paying close attention to how the complicated ideas within ‘Dykegeist’ can still be reached, because these issues and stigmas haven’t disappeared during the pandemic; they actually feel more crucial than ever to discuss. But it has to happen safely.

The biggest surprise to me still is that I’m sort of dressed as a spider. I never thought that would have happened.

Mica Levi is such a brilliant composer for this project. Their music is so eclectic, spanning classically influenced film scores to experimental dance music. What was it like collaborating with them?

It’s dreamy with Mica, and very new. Before it was just me in a studio on my own listening to horror soundtracks and imagining scenarios. And these phases have been over a year apart because of the pandemic. Something I’m working through with them is how to use lo-fi technology to induce a sense of being very close to people without having to be, using sound to time travel round the room and accentuate the mysterious capabilities of haunting and it’s live, unknown-ness; calling in fear, proximity, intimacy and chemistry.

Were you always certain that you wanted to be a dancer and choreographer?

The realisation came in a few waves. I grew up in Manchester as quite a hyperactive child, and since the age of 3 I was going to community dance classes in ballet and tap. I always had an interest in moving my body as a form of expression and felt quite drawn to pursuing it. Those dance schools became a second home for me and a way to process things that were going on in my life.

My interest or awareness around ‘choreography’ came a bit later. I remember attending a professional performance on a school trip in high school. I’d say that was when I started being really drawn to how atmospheres could be created on a stage using sound, lights and relationships, and how they could be emotionally moving. After that came my connection to the Manchester club scene which opened another kind of expression of dancing hard to baseline with laser beams and haze.

There’s a psychedelic, hyper-real visual aesthetic to a lot of your work. Who or what are your inspirations?

I think I’m drawn to psychedelic or surreal aesthetics because they allow me to imagine alternative worlds, in an absurdist pop trippy way that’s disorientating and mischievous. Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s mad clay animations, Christina Quarles paintings, the aesthetic of this 80s sci-fi TV series, ‘Terrahawks’, I binge watched with a friend, Claire Barrow, Dana Michel, candles melting, creepy experimental electronic sound effects. I’m also interested in it not being high production value and maintaining a roughness.

You make surreal, hypnotic video collages which have featured in previous shows. How do they relate to the movement works?

More and more I’m coming to understand my performance worlds as collage. I’m trying to mobilise that word to help me expand on an understanding of choreography and the language of performance. Going through a western program of ‘dance school’ education, I can sometimes feel quite heavy around the shape of dance and what is and isn’t possible. ‘Collage’ is allowing me to access a broader philosophy for what could be happening in the space that doesn’t carry the same loaded links to a white western lineage of dance history, which I experience to be problematic in a lot of ways.

Underneath, this is a desire to resist being ‘coded’, to resist a kind of categorisation that gets driven by society. Collage helps liberate me from this in its ability to transform, resist fixity and embrace multiplicity.

How do you think the pandemic will affect the experimental dance scene in the UK? What are your hopes for its survival, or transformation?

I think the experimental dance scene has always found ways of existing, as things in the margins do. I hope this moment can bring a sense of reflection of how the dance economy has been operating and how conditions for artists are extremely pressured and increasingly fragile. I’m feeling a need for connection with people, artists, the queer community, to share different ways of being within an art practice right now. I really hope there will be a serious and dramatic challenge to the severe inequality in our sector with respect and sensitivity, but with boldness.

‘Dykegeist’ will premiere at the ICA this Autumn (subject to change depending on government guidance).

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