Pictured above: scenes from Teoma Naccarato's newest cyberperformance Dirt.
Teoma Naccarato is a performer and choreographer whose intermedia works often explore the power dynamics between the human body and technology. In this interview for .dpi, Naccarato discusses her newest creation Dirt, a visceral look at the effects of topics deemed “taboo” on our relations to ourselves and others. Dirt will be livestreamed for the TimeWave festival on Saturday, June 22 at 3:00 pm EST.
.dpi: What inspired you to create Dirt?
Teoma Naccarato: This piece has been fed by several projects over the pas year or two. The soundtrack actually is something that I created during a residency a year and a half ago that was exploring the theme of intimacy in performance. I was working with a group of dancers leading a collective creation and the idea of bringing to the surface culturally taboo questions surrounding issues like assault or mental illness or addiction really came to the forefront in our process. We became aware how difficult it can be to ask these taboo questions and how shrouded in silence these issues are. Isolation can foster shame or guilt, a lot of negative qualities, so I think there is something essential and positive about asking these questions and sharing stories that are often silenced.
For me, this piece is not really about sharing a narrative about any one experience. It’s about the weight of those secrets and how silence keeps people divided and separate. When we ask difficult questions, I feel it opens space for connection and intimacy with other people. So that’s where the project began: opening space for a dialogue with the audience not so much to discuss a specific storyline or individual narrative but to connect the raw energy or emotion that lies behind intense experiences. That’s what I’m interested in exploring through movement.
.dpi: In your previous creations, the performers’ movements often reflect an inner struggle. Why this curiosity about internal conflict?
TN: I draw from personal experience and also the stories I see around me, in my community. I am also inspired by my work as a teacher and collaborator with artists from many disciplines. I feel that I see the power and value again and again of allowing these types of taboo experiences to be shared. I think it creates community and everyone has something to share. My creative practice, in whatever medium I’m working with, is a really effective way to access a kind of vulnerability. Taking the risk to share and acknowledge vulnerability creates the possibility of connection with other people.
.dpi: There are some gritty elements in Dirt – groping, crawling, even a little saliva. Where did you find your inspiration to choreograph these movements?
TN: This piece in particular was created through a lot of improvisation and repetition. It wasn’t a question of stringing movements together. It was more about trying to enter into a state of awareness or physical being and then making choices of movement or performance from that state and that experience. I’ll draw on particular memories or stories to access the underlying energy and rawness of an experience but let my individual storyline go. It's not, “he did this or she said that,” but where are those emotions, that trauma, living inside my body physically? And I respond to that in movement.
For a video piece, I use the camera a lot in the creation process. I improvise for a good chunk of time. I watch it, I see the things that resonated for me, and then I try to stick with specific ideas to go deeper: I just want to play with touching my belly or I just want to play with the "crawling low to the floor" idea. This piece also had to do with choreographing for this space and the frame of the camera, which is so different from stage, so I was working a lot with concealing or revealing different things that were happening in my body. I guess you can say I used trial and error, and repetition to discover what felt good and what actually was effective on camera, and vice versa.
.dpi: It sounds like a process that can take on a life of its own. Were you at all surprised by the direction the performance took from its initial idea?
TN: There’s always an interplay between just being inside it, creating, versus reflecting or analyzing the piece. Sometimes I would leave the studio and be writing in my journal and make a whole plan for the structure and think it was great but when I came in and performed it, it was not the same thing because I didn’t create it from an actual experiential practice. But the dialogue back and forth is always part of creating a piece.
In terms of surprises, when I am improvising for the camera, I try not to define in too narrow or singular a way what I think a certain movement means because that movement is abstract and can mean a lot of different things or be interpreted in so many different ways by different people. I feel like each time I watch the piece I have new associations and discover potential meaning that I didn't consciously intend.
.dpi: How does using a video camera change your relationship with your audience in comparison to a stage performance?
TN: The one thing about video is that it gives you the power to direct gaze much more clearly than on a large stage. In framing, I am instructing the audience where to look, especially when it’s very tight, close-up shots. I am also giving permission for the audience to gaze intimately upon me, especially when my eyes aren’t in the shot and I’m just showing isolated body parts. It allows the audience to see the body in a way that you wouldn’t on stage, in closer proximity or in the different context of this site, from different angles, which means I can choreograph differently based on what I’m going to be able to conceal or reveal of my body in a given moment. So it creates a different power exchange and dynamic in both directions between the performer and audience.
And in this piece, I am controlling the camera while I perform. I am tilting the camera; I am controlling the zoom; I am framing my own body; so it’s a very specific relationship I have as a performer to the camera. There’s not someone else managing or manipulating what is shown.
.dpi: Would you describe Dirt as a feminist work?
TN: My intention when I start to create is not to have any specific message but, that said, I think it’s undeniable the extent to which women’s bodies are gazed upon and put up for consumption in media. As a creator, I can only share my own voice and my own experience in relation to my community and culture and society at large. I start from a personal place and see how that connects to other political issues but I’m not starting from a specific political agenda. I want people who identify with whatever gender or in-between to be able to connect or associate with the piece based on their own subjectivity.