Interview : Mary Wycherley, dance artist and choreographer


Choreographer and performer Mary Wycherley is creating a new dance work, "Invisible Histories" bringing together sculptor Rory Tangney  and award-winning sound artist La Cosa Preziosa for a work exploring time and memory, created specifically for gallery environments. Déshabillé talks to her about it.

Q. Where did your love of dance begin?

I am continually excited and intrigued by movement and have a deep fascination with how people, animals and objects move and interact physically with the world. As a young dancer I worked mainly in ballet and then moved into contemporary dance which in turn opened up the world of the contemporary arts to me. As a result, my work is now something of a hybrid and includes not just live performance but also film and gallery installation. So in many ways my love of dance has enabled a love and appreciation for interdisciplinarity and how movement and dance can appear between different art forms. Maybe it’s a live dance piece, maybe it’s film, maybe it needs to be an installation…

Q. Who are your inspirations? Do you get inspiration outside of dance?

Dance is always my source medium. Every work I make, even when it is not live dance performance is coming from dance and movement interests and experiences. But my inspirations don’t really come from dance. I always need to look at dance through another window in order to see more clearly what it is that I want to do and what materials I want to create in dance. And I think that is because it gives me a freedom not to rely on materials, styles and approaches that I know already from dance. It pushes me to think, find and source new movement, new qualities and new approaches and tools. It always feels like turning over a new stone and finding what’s underneath and that freshness keeps me interested.  Although it is also terrifying at times because it means frequenting a place of ‘not knowing’ so I can find new things. That can be unnerving!

Q. Describe your experience of working on Invisible Histories and what you learnt about time and memory from it?!

In Invisible Histories we were interested in looking at memories, not as fixed narratives from the past but as emotional experiences that collide and reside with us in the present. Memory is like geology really: layers and layers of memory get laid down through life experience. It is embedded in our body and some memories we are conscious of while others remain unconscious. In this piece we’re also exploring the traces we leave on other people by being part of their memories and the space of collective memories.

I collaborated with two wonderful artists, visual artist Rory Tangney and sound artist La Cosa Preziosa. Both come to the project with an openness and curiosity which has made the process very engaging.  Working with memory as embodied and held in the body, in the sculptural objects or sounds has evoked much discussion and consideration of time, history and its relationship to the present during the process. But working collaboratively also places demands on a process because it requires time and consideration of how to create the conditions in which multiple voices can contribute to a work and still ensure that the vision and concept of the work are coherently realized. That is both the challenge of collaboration and the delight because it stimulated interesting and new methods for generating our materials. 

A gallery is a very apt presentation space to work in for a piece that considers time as fundamental in its concept. As audiences, we go to a gallery with a very different set of expectations to what we bring to the theatre or to the cinema for example and this has been an important consideration in this piece. Embracing the gallery offered a renewed consideration of audience, space, time and the significance of concept. Navigating the conceptual and historical frame of the gallery environment through the lens of dance and enabling dance to embrace paradigms originating in the visual arts, opened up new and surprising aspects in the work. I also hope that such interdisciplinarity supports the encounter between audience and the work and brings together the voices of communities with a shared heritage; dance and visual arts.

Q. How do film and dance complement one another?

Historically film and dance have a strong relationship. Film presents the opportunity of framing and detailing movement in ways sometimes impossible in a live context and has made it very intriguing to many working in dance, myself included. What we can’t see on the stage can be made visible, even the most minute of details. The process of editing is also highly choreographic. In fact editing and choreographing share striking similarities in their process. The accessibility to working with film enabled by new digital technologies, as well as the potential for film to reach new audiences, has significantly enhanced the connection between dance and film in recent years.

Of course I don’t think they always compliment each other because film can also erase that which is essential in dance – the live, multidimensional pulsing and breathing body near you in live performance. I feel as a filmmaker I really have to be careful not to fall into a trap of beautifying the body. So much emphasis  can be placed on how a film image ‘looks’, and so I am always careful to balance the possibilities of the lens with the question: Is this dance? What am I losing and gaining by dance and film working together? But that’s what makes any work interesting - wrestling with materials and balancing the needs of the piece with the medium and materials. And that really is the compliment you ask about; when art forms rub up against each other and present challenges to each other, that’s where something new and exciting emerges for me.

Q. What are your future plans/dreams?

I’ve just received Arts Council funding to commence my 4th year as Limerick Dance Artist in Residence in partnership with Dance Limerick and Limerick City and County Council and that is a great infrastructural support for me in the past years as an independent dance artist working in Dance Limerick.  I have a new work which I am researching and this in an ensemble piece with live video and performance.  And I am continuing to work next year with a wonderful performer and artist, Berlin and Sydney based Rosalind Crisp, sharing research and methods from our respective practices. That’s really exciting. And the fifth edition of Light Moves Festival of Screendance, which I co-curate, is happening early November so that’s all in development now too. In terms of dreams, well a holiday would be nice! But I really I want to continue to explore more and more ways for dance to explode open and be whatever it needs to be and not be perhaps boundaried by its own histories, techniques and approaches.


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