Dialogue with Lilia Mestre on slow motion

Contact Quarterly 1 Jan 2006English

item doc

Contextual note
This text was published in Contact Quarterly, vol. 31 no. 1, Winter/Spring 2006, pp. 29-30.

On January 20th, 2004, the choreographer and performer Lilia Mestre conducted a master class on slow motion during the event Connexive #1: Vera Mantero. After a warm-up with strong physical and dynamic exercises such as running, the participants had a heightened perception and feeling of their bodies. The first task was to form a cluster of bodies, a huge ball with all the participants, and subsequently move out of it in slow motion. Simultaneously, the dancers would call out their names and introduce themselves briefly. The slow motion task made several participants' bodies block; they transformed into statues, which was not quite what Mestre was after, rather the opposite. Details and micro-movements could eventually emerge and be enhanced through exercises that made use of extreme expressions.

Mestre explains what fascinates her in slow motion as a choreographic tool: "It has the effect of a zoom. You can really see everything that is going on, all kinds of details and micro-movements. Furthermore it allows you to dissociate different levels of consciousness of the body, of intention and awareness. Each movement consists of elements you're mostly not aware of. Slow motion creates the opportunity to dig exactly in these places. In a rather short amount of time, say a few minutes, so many things become visible.

“In a workshop situation you have the possibility to observe, to look at each other, which is an effective way to learn about movement skills. Still, it is an extreme condition for the body that is not so easy to execute. It can quickly lead to extreme movements, bodies out of coordination, like people walking with their feet very high up.

“Slow motion entails a certain degree of artificiality, but my interest is to get as close as possible to the normal movement, to produce an exact copy, which is only slowed down.

“A second element concerns time. Slow motion functions as a time stop, a break, a suspension, almost as a photograph. One second of movement stretched out as if it could last forever. Slow motion as a way of losing time.”

Less is more? "Minimal movement for maximal expression," Mestre calls it, "although it piles up fast when you are intensely aware of your body. Movement grows so detailed that it almost returns to nothing." Precisely on that point, slow motion allows for the instigation of a different hierarchy in the movement. "The slow movement bursts with awareness, so that is becomes possible to touch emotion. You can slip inside the emotion and at once be able to express it, to bring it about. Hierarchy is indeed obliterated at some point: you devote the same importance to the particular movement of your toes as to the intensity of your emotion. At the moment of expression, though, you inevitably make a choice: you can emphasize the emotional states or the physical awareness. Thereby you pay attention to small elements, like picking a single word out of a phrase. If I had to choose the moment of slow motion right now, what would I choose to communicate?"

The extreme reality of the moment, the hyperconsciousness of movement and intention, involve the environment, which leads us to Mestre's interest in the analysis of social behavior. "The execution of common movements in an everyday environment or a normal social space provokes particular questions," knows Mestre. "What are the rules for social behavior? Why are they like this and not like that?

“Slow motion thus guides you also into an awareness of being, of things and actions that you do all the time without realizing it anymore. Our world is overflowing with information; everything goes so fast that there is no time to hold. It makes us exclude many things from our lives as unimportant. At the same time, they are there, as everything is already there, also the creation of movement.

“My interest is to develop channels to make things come out, but in a different way, with a heightened consciousness. To enable the recognition of certain emotions and movements that are all too familiar. To enable an identification of yourself with these forms. That is another social issue: as a performer, I am not very different from you as a spectator, so I would choose themes and relations that allow for identification. And in the end, slow motion is a tool available for all of us; it doesn't require virtuoso technical skills."

Lilia Mestre is a performing artist living and working in Brussels. She has worked with Vera Mantero, Hans Van den Broeck, Christine De Smedt, and Mette Edvardsen. She created the company Random Scream in 1999 with Davis Freeman. (www.random-scream.be) to expose the eclectic elements of everyday culture with lines of flight for dance, theater, and video.