© Ben Harries
© Ben Harries
Ten years after its 2004 success, Jasmin Vardimon revisits PARK (the UK tour of which starts this Thursday). The Israeli-born UK-based dance maker, whose company is growing from strength to strength, has decided to refresh the engaging and (maybe for some) provocative dance that shook quite a few audience members as much as ‘one of those first dates’ could. You know, the goosebumps, the jitters of excitement, the tremors, and that unnerving knot in the stomach feeling you get when you start to really wonder what’s hit you. For those who haven’t yet seen the Jasmin Vardimon Company perform, then this new tour is a timely opportunity to experience the work of an artist whose ideas are as fresh as her personality is warm, and whose faith in performance is as grounded as it is inspiring.

In person, Jasmin’s passion, expressed through her eyes, her hands and her words, is both contagious and as raw as her work is on stage.  

She grew up in a kibbutz, one that was “founded by poets and writers” and concerned with culture and its development as much as it “encouraged artistic creativity”. To explore and to express are notions that not only shaped her as a dancer but that became, perhaps unknowingly, leading motives in her choreographic explorations. A dancer (with the Kibbutz Dance Company) before moving to London in 1995, Jasmin’s very first performance was in Mats Ek’s Down North. She remembers: “I was playing a role which I had to really understand, and delve into, and that’s something that later, in other creation, I missed a lot of the time... the fact that I had to simply execute movement, without a motive behind it didn’t satisfy me as a performer. To perform without understanding why I am doing so, and without telling a story was frustrating. That actually led me to decide later on that I wanted to create work that really tells a story.” It is surely, in part at least, the legacy of her education that leads Jasmin to say: “ At the end of the day, what interests me is to look at a subject that concerns me, that touches me and that I engage with; and to bring it to the audience”. She explains that Gertrud Kraus came to Israel in the 1920s, bringing from Germany “expressionist ideas that very much shaped Israeli art, as well as dance technique” . Where some see the influence of Pina Bausch’s or Mark Morris’ visually and/or emotionally stimulating dance theatre in her work (and I Ek’s dedication to movement-led rather than mime-informed storytelling) – perhaps because they are all artists concerned with telling a story, where other contemporary dance makers have rejoiced in abstract movement exploration –  Jasmin feels that her inspiration “is much more rooted where [she] grew up, and marked by Kraus’ legacy”. She goes on to say: “Our education was different, very much based on improvisation, individual exploration and creativity, and these were side by side with technique”.

PARK is our own story – an urban tale that looks at concepts and issues that concern us all, “still relevant ten years on, and perhaps even more so now than they were then”. As Jasmin explains, PARK is “a microcosm of society”. Human interaction, land ownership, belonging and foreignness, homelessness… are just some of the themes PARK touches on, looks at and raises concerns about. Rather than imposing her own feelings about the dilemmas and metaphors that make PARK such a compelling performance, she raises our own awareness: “I’m interested in asking questions, rather than bringing answers”.

But how does she do it? And what can we expect from this new PARK? She tells me: “It’s still the same public park occupied by different characters. It still looks at the characters’ stories, and the relationships between these individual stories and the drama of the space. The park is sold to become a commercial entity, and will not belong to the public anymore. So PARK still looks at both the personal, and the social, more global issue of land (and public space) ownership.” New PARK, new cast? “Yes” she says. “A multicultural, multilingual and very talented group that brings some wonderful qualities and shades to this production” Jasmin is concerned with performers’ individual – true – interpretation: “When I work with a dancer, I try to connect to their inner self, to their psychology. I never actually ask them to copy a movement or to do something that isn’t natural to them. They really need to touch that emotion, that feeling, to express it”. As PARK is a rework, different aspects of the piece are enhanced by the new cast’s own sensitivity, background and experience: “The dancers had to find their own way to meet these characters. I did not ask them to just repeat what the earlier cast had done; instead I asked them to understand the psychology of these characters, and see how they could recreate that role, with their own understanding of it”.

She also shares that the choreography was slightly altered to make certain things clearer (“With the wisdom of time and distance, you discover things that were actually there, but that you had not felt in the same way”) and that there is a 3D element – a projection – to this new PARK. Technology is only one of the many elements with which she layers her performances: the visual, verbal and physical languages are all powerful tools for expression: “I’ve been asked whether my work is more dance theatre, or physical theatre. And I think… well, what are the definitions?” Does it matter even? A notion Jasmin explores further: “Exactly! Does it matter? For me, my work is art. It’s expressive art. I use the tools necessary, and available to me, to express the story that I want to tell. I will use language if I feel there is a level of communication, about inner thoughts, or historical facts, which verbal language is most suited for; and I will use animation (when I feel that there are visual elements that I want to portray that I cannot do otherwise). I will create a soundscape at the end of the creative process [in the manner in which you would edit a film] to enhance atmosphere, to develop drama, to quieten moments. Music has the power to sublime certain ideas, and I try to use it in that way. And I use technology, to add another layer of imaginative words that cannot be expressed in another manner.”

“At the end of the day, I’m looking for honesty on stage”. This knowledge, and the dedication Jasmin shows is trying to attain this, from her work, from her dancers, from the energies and tools she gathers together to better serve her performances are best summed up in that one sentence. PARK, is a work dedicated to its audience; you, me, dance lovers and curious theatregoers alike. It engages with us, talks to us, and might well have the power to challenge our perception of our contemporary society:  “I’m interested in creating stories, and talking about existing concepts”. Alienation exists in our society, “Yet we don’t often question why it exists, and how come this has not been resolved yet”. Upcoming performances of PARK are a perfect opportunity to reflect on these. Theatre is “a tool for reflection, and has always been through history”. After all, “it’s instrumental” .

I asked Jasmin whether she wanted to tell us anything more about PARK before we see it. But, it’s up to each and every one of us to make our own interpretation of PARK: “I don’t want to influence with my own feelings. I believe the interpretation is an extension of the art itself. I believe that when audiences are creative, and create their own interpretation, they bring another dimension into the art and that is, for me, the joy of art !”

 

Jasmin Vardimon Company starts their UK tour on October 9th,and will perform at Sadler’s Wells, London on the 10th and 11th November.

The company is based in its very own home, in Ashford, since 2012, and thanks to generous funding from the ACE earlier in 2014, the company will expand it’s experimental and educational activities there. Jasmin wishes for artists from different disciplines to meet, collaborate, and see her home as a laboratory for the live arts. She also believes the transmission of knowledge is an artist’s responsibility towards others, and is engaged in many educational programs. She believes education to be a dynamic dialogue, and feels she “teaches as much as [she] learns ” The JV production space is also home to JV2, a student company which tours alongside the main company. There are many exciting developments ahead for the Jasmin Vardimon Company, including a collaboration with Turner contemporary in Margate, which will be unveiled in 2015.