We talk with Barbara Matijević and Lewys Holt in the run up to their solo shows at The Place about working on your own and whether more ‘radical’ forms of dance will trickle into the mainstream.

Many of us have a somewhat blinkered view of what we perceive as dance, and choreographer/dancers Barbara Matijević and Lewys Holt will each present us, on 26 February, with solo shows which will turn this idea on its head.

Forecasting, created by Matijević and Giuseppe Chico (Premier Stratagème), is a show which uses cut together pre-recorded amateur YouTube videos on a MacBook laptop and fuses them with the body of the performer. In Holt’s Phrases, we see him interacting with his own stream of consciousness on a Keynote presentation through movement and storytelling. This is not simply dance as movement paired with music, these pieces delve into a space which is personal and exposing. Plus in the awkwardness of it all, they’re fun. 

I spoke with Holt the day after he’d performed an improvised show in York. He has a thoughtful, witty and light manner: “I can’t deny enjoying humour even though I’m practising forms which are more bodily or somatic or earnest.” We both enjoy the parallels between the two pieces with him remarking how they’ve brought, “pre-produced items into the space and mak[ing] them do something with a live body and a live audience.” I also talk with Matijević about how Forecasting is in some ways a statement for multimedia on stage: “what I experienced as a spectator, that in this, [using multimedia] there was a certain tension, a battle of attention between the real body and the dancer and the huge screen that was moving.”  From watching the trailer for the show, I tell her how the synthesis of the screen and her movement is utterly surprising for the spectator to watch. She goes on to describe her relationship with the MacBook as “this hybrid creature that is in constant flux.” It isn’t as simple as a performer and a screen, she is delving into ‘the “in-between” space, “when you have the body on the screen and you have the real body on the stage and you are forcing the viewer to not make choices.”

Although the two shows at The Place are both solo performances, they will certainly differ in the way their central performer interacts with us as viewer. Holt’s work is intrinsically linked to his background in improvisation and comedy: “I can’t help but try and be funny,” he ponders. But there is something important in bringing his own personality and openness to the audience – something that gives the work a grounding which he hopes “peels away the kind of floaty-ness of something.” He is working with movement using score processes: “I’m engaging with it live, the movements I’m doing are spontaneous but within a structure.” In this way, it is much like when someone begins filming a YouTube video. There is potential for mess, more blips, and this is what I imagine, makes both shows so engaging.

In Forecasting, because of the nature of the YouTube videos that Matijević and Chico have found, each moment must be choregraphed to an absolute T. However, I was surprised to hear that the show is still different every night. Matijević tells me: “You’d think that as a performer it’s almost automatic when they press play for the video to start, which in one way is true, but on the other side there is this space that isn’t automated and that allows for each show to be different.”

There is something about Phrases and the genesis of the project that sparks my attention. Holt tells me that he enjoys working on his own as he can: “follow my own interests without having to articulate myself.” It seems to me that this meditative, lone devising, is part of what he is trying to get to the bottom of in the dramaturgy of Phrases. The show lets us into Holt’s world of anxiety and self-doubt, but ingeniously it’s in a way that isn’t self-indulgent or arrogant. He has stripped back the auto-biographical element of the show: “It’s not pointed or exact… it’s much more analogous than that.” On the other hand, he voices the fact that making a show on your own can be “cripplingly lonely”. Although he has had the help of many dramaturgical eyes along the way (particularly those of Finnish choreographer/dancer Inari Hulkkonen), the work remains, at its core, his own.

I ask Matijević when she’s performing the show, whether she is ‘casting’ herself into the heads of the amateur YouTube videographers for each section? “I still don’t have a clear answer about that,” she says, “because sometimes it’s very short, I don’t have time to get into character but there is a certain mood, a certain colour.” Her collaboration with Chico seems in this way vital, he is the virtual and she is the real in this process.

Matijević is Croatian and based in Zagreb but performs the show in three different languages. I ask her if she is excited to see what the UK reaction to the piece will be: “It’s an event for us to go to London, it’s quite special, a lot of our references are from the Anglo-Saxon cultural background, we feel in a constant dialogue with this culture.” Holt is equally excited to be performing alongside Forecasting: “there’s lots of people doing radical things on the smaller scale of dance which are not really in the broader consciousness of what it is.” Yet, we mull over the fact there is more and more of it around? “It will trickle into the mainstream over time,” Holt responds.

Whether we want that to happen is another question. Particularly at a venue such as The Place, I would go as far as to say that the intimacy and liveness of both Holt and Matijević’s work, is what makes it so electric to witness.

DOUBLE BILL: Giuseppe Chico and Barbara Matijević / Lewys Holt is playing on 26 February. For more information and tickets, see The Place‘s website.