Maria Kong opens this year’s Chutzpah! festival on Feb. 19. (photo by Guy Prives)
The 15th season of Chutzpah! kicks off Feb. 19 with Tel Aviv-based dance troupe Maria Kong. Founded in 2008 by former Batsheva Dance Co. members, Maria Kong combines dance with art, sound, light, visual effects and technology. And, for the opening of Chutzpah! they take their performance off the stage and into the audience – or, rather, they bring the audience “backstage.”
The JI spoke with Israel’s Talia Landa, Maria Kong performer, artistic director and co-founder (with Anderson Braz from Brazil), in anticipation of the presentation in Vancouver of Backstage, which will take place at Red Room Ultra Bar.
JI: From where does the name Maria Kong come? What is its significance?
TL: We are “Virgin Marias” and “King Kongs” (not necessarily defined by gender). Together, we make Maria Kong.
JI: There is so much innovative dance coming from Israel. What makes the dance scene so “fertile” there?
TL: There could be many reasons why that happens; some more obvious than others. Israel is a great place where people from all over the world meet, connect and meld their talents in order to create magic. It’s a place where creativity and innovation are a driving force in our lives, hearts and souls. We have our fair share of challenges, so we are pushed to approach them with unique solutions. It’s no secret that Israel is the land of high-tech and start-ups; it only makes sense that this creative research and innovation would spread to the world of dance. We have a drive to do things passionately and intuitively, triggered by an inner impulse to never stop moving.
JI: Your vision centres on teamwork. How does Maria Kong’s creative process work in general? How is it decided what ends up in a performance? As artistic director, do you have “final” say?
TL: Maria Kong’s creative process works like this:
1) An idea is born.
2) The idea is placed on the table.
3) The team members from all of the different divisions (dance, music, light, sound and technology) come together to share their unique input and express their particular perspective.
4) The idea transforms from a 2-D piece of paper on the table, to a three-dimensional creation, which we continue to develop together.
Yes, perhaps I have the “final” say, but each creation undergoes many stages of dialogue before the concluding decision is made.
JI: The show planned for Chutzpah!, Backstage, is choreographed for “off the dancer’s stage,” so to speak. In what ways, if any, is the performers’ (and technical crew’s) preparation different for this type of show from that for a stage-based performance? And is there anything the audience should do to prepare?
TL: Backstage is unique in the way that it takes any given space and transforms it into a stage, but not in the conventional manner where the performers are on stage and the audience takes their seats. In Backstage, the members of the audience can grab a beer, join friends at the opposite end of the venue, change views, and experience the performance from a number of different angles.
The audience, time and space are a fundamental element of Backstage. Every venue has its unique infrastructure and particular vibe. In order to prepare for our performance for Chutzpah!, we inserted the Red Room Ultra Bar’s measurements and properties into our computer programs, as we aim to ensure that the graphics and choreography fit the venue and our energies can dance with the people of Vancouver. We reshape our bodies, mind and soul in order to create a tailor-made unique experience in each performance.
Should the audience do anything to prepare? Bring an open heart and wear comfortable shoes.
JI: Backstage, and other Maria Kong pieces, have featured live musical performances, including known vocalists. Will the Vancouver show feature live vocals? If so, can you share from whom?
TL: We are very lucky to have great friends with great talents who are happy to join us on our journey to this great festival. I don’t want to give it all away, but I will share that one of the special guests we are bringing is very close to my heart, and happens to have Canadian roots.
JI: For the simple fact of being an Israel-based group of artists, there was a call by some in India to boycott your performance there in November. How do you respond to such efforts?
TL: Maria Kong is a team of artists with a shared vision: a vision of common values. Our artistic creations are a result of open dialogue and passionate collaboration between the Israeli, French, Brazilian, Russian and Japanese members. We strongly believe in the language of movement: a language that knows no border and holds no passport. It is boundless, endless, holds no limits – a language of human connection, a language of physical and spiritual communication, traveling through all forms of artistic creation. Think of yourself, right now, as you read this text. You are probably in a room, inside a building, within a city, territorially bound by a country, on this wild earth that contains us all. As you continue going through this text, our wonderful earth is dancing in perfect synchronization with our sun, infinitely spinning within our endless universe. The beautiful language of movement is our core – it is fundamental to our survival, and an inseparable element of our existence.
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to add, please do.
TL: I would just like to say that the artistic director of Chutzpah!, Mary-Louise [Albert], along with her team, are the coolest people ever to have believed in us and chosen us to come and share our magic in Vancouver. We are really looking forward to it. So thank you, and see you soon!
Backstage will be at Red Room Ultra Bar Feb. 19, 21 and 22, 8 p.m., and Feb. 22, 4 p.m. Tickets are $29/$25/$20. By way of dance, Chutzpah! 2015 will also feature Shay Kuebler Radical System Art, Idan Sharabi and Dancers with Vanessa Goodman, Bodytraffic, ’Namgis T’sasala Cultural Group and, in Chutzpah!Plus, Serge Bannathan/Les Productions Figlio. For the full schedule of performances, tickets and other information, visit chutzpahfestival.com.