‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ is a song by Queens of the Stone Age that
uses the word ‘art’ in an interesting way – the craft and skill needed to be able to achieve the simple physical act of keeping the mouth shut.
If we expand that small physical task to the greater discipline of dance, what do we get?
Why not write about the art of secrecy? It’s such a contemporary, rich, controversial theme. It’s one of those great themes you snap at as you down the seventh ale with some mates at the pub, juggling pool queues and beer mats, shouting out, “I know! We should do a play!A film!I hate my job, I’m sick of that office, I’m doing it, gone, done, I’m going crazy! I’m so f@*%ing angry!!”
And that’s the great difference between the emotional Friday night diva moment and the real work behind art.
IJAD Dance Company was set up in 1999 by artistic director Joumana Mourad. IJAD is working towards new forms of performance that combine new multi-media, social media and the wider meaning of interaction with movement. Mourad, a team of designers and performers have worked on an innovative and ambitious project – In-Finite – since 2011, when she started collecting people’s secrets and working with dancers on turning them into a performance.
The process consists of collecting secrets from the general public, interpreting them through dance and then sharing them through different performance platforms throughout the UK and hopefully the rest of the world.
The politics of this work are compelling because as well as working on personal secrets, the work stems from a political and social consideration on how we live.
In fact, one of the best definitions of the word “secret” dips into this concept: “Containing information, the unauthorized disclosure of which poses a grave threat to national security”.
So much more can be untangled from social and historical issues – what makes an English person keep something secret?
The project has a long history: Mourad was invited to work on a residency in Germany in 1996 as British artist. She recalls, “I had a big problem with that because I wasn’t sure if I was British… so I started questioning my roots. I was born in Lebanon but my parents are Argentinian and French”, she recalls, thinking about her Middle Eastern heritage, the one she felt at first less attached to, the heritage that came from her father’s stories and poems about love, blended with memories of real life.
“I was born into the war in Lebanon and we had to leave Beirut and to go to Syria. I was shocked because women had to wear the hijab and I saw them as weak, then one day we were invited to somebody’s house and the woman did not wear it in the home. I was amazed at her beauty, not just her looks but how she managed her kids and her husband who was a politician. She was telling him what to do politically and I discovered the differences between women and men and the secrecy within it. I started thinking that in cultures there are certain secrets…”
Mourad’s own personal study set her off on a bigger research about people’s stories, culture, what they think, what structures them, why they keep secrets and the reason why they keep them.
Dance as an art, as a discipline, sometimes seems quite elitist, so as a way to encourage a wider audience to connect with dance, would a project like this be an example?
“I think so and it’s because the stories are user generated and we’re very keen on the audiences, we want to be transparent and we want the audiences to communicate with us, we don’t want to be in the studio without people seeing us, that’s why on Sponsume it says – if you give this much you can come to the studio and see how your secret is developing. We want to be in communication with people all the time and let them know how we are thinking or even receive their ideas”.
Mourad hopes that the work will develop into a truly interactive project where audiences will tweet other audiences. Mourad comments, “It’s an ambitious and durable project because it’s about people for people… I sound like a politician!”
The hardest thing about In-Finite has actually been receiving a secret for the first time. Mourad remarks, “You always think you had the big one and it’s so intense and there’s another one that’s bigger or more intense or it’s counteracted by a lighter or quirkier one, trying to portray somebody’s secret is hard because you don’t want to upset anyone, but it’s your interpretation at the end of the day as you want to give the secret what it gives you as an information source, with its dynamics, colours, etc.”.
Even though the work is supported by the Arts Council England and supported by Laban, South East Dance, DanceDigital and Rich Mix, there are funding difficulties as a project like this needs constant communication with its audiences. As for future projects, Mourad tells me, “The next project is bigger, it’s a little bit bigger… to be able to make six billion people dance”. Quite an ambitious undertaking.
In-Finite maintains the topical elements of contemporary performance using an interactive approach and real time performance – it’s got the art, the work behind it, the thinking and the politics.
IJAD Dance Company will perform a preview of the work at Rich Mix in London on July 14th where the audience will be able to directly interact with the performers and see their secret being created right in front of their eyes. The finished performance will be shown at the same venue in January 2013.