Features PerformanceQ&A and Interviews Published 20 September 2013

The Scales of Lady Justice

Jasmin Vardimon on the restaging of Justitia at Sadler’s Wells.

Diana Damian Martin

Jasmin Vardimon was born and raised in a Kibbutz in Israel, and founded Jasmin Vardimon Company in London in 1997. Vardimon was Associate Artist at The Place in 1998 and now at Sadler’s Wells since 2006, as well as holding a Visiting Professorship at University of Wolverhampton and Artistic Directorship with National Youth Dance Company. Navigating both theatre and contemporary dance, her choreography touches upon wider social and political issues. I spoke to Jasmin about the re-staging of her 2007 piece Justitia, written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz.  One of the few pieces in the company’s repertoire where text and movement are both foregrounded, Justitia uses the framework of a crime story to explore issues around guilt, judgment and decision-making, playing with both site and perspective.

DD: Your piece Justitia is returning to the Peacock Theatre this month. Can you tell us a bit about how the piece initially came about?

JV: I created Justitia in 2006. The notions of justice and the presence of guilt were on my mind. I was primarily interested in how we process information when in a judgmental situation.  I questioned if what we see dictates our point of view, or is it our point of view that dictates what we see?

I was interested in creating a narrative piece that would be full of visual and oral contradictions, when the spoken and written text would sometimes contradict the information the audience receive visually. I wanted to give different points of view of the same story, offering alternatives to the reality – the truth.

DD: In the central narrative, a man is found dead on his friend’s sofa, presumably murdered by his wife. Using this as an anchor point the piece moves into a range of different spaces- from the court room to character’s internal sites; this allows for a range of juxtapositions and narrative play. Can you tell us about this structure and visual integration?

JV: There are several layers of information played at the same time, and the audience, who are somehow placed in the position of the jury, have to choose where they look, and what they listen to. I was interested in exploring whether most would trust their eyes or their ears, and how layers of subjective truth would add to that mix.

The piece is staged on a huge revolving set, allowing us to see the scenes, literally, from different points of view, sometimes through shutters, open doors, or through the description of the stenographer. Through this we explore the perspective of the eye and the mind.

DD: Your piece navigates both text and movement; it introduces the confessional into the dance piece, and plays with ideas of guilt and truth. What was essential for you in this interplay?

JV: In its essence, Justitia is a piece about our understanding of justice and about the notion of guilt. I enjoyed placing side by side, as on the scales of Lady Justice, the courtroom, where one tries to prove ‘not guilty’ and on the other side the group therapy, for people who live with guilt. I’m interested in the energy that lies between these two elements.

As an artist I’m interested in exploring the constant dialogue between movement and text, dance and theatre and what lives in between.

DD: Your work usually deals with particularly loaded issues; you’ve examined human cruelty in 7734, freedom in the show with the same name, illness and its perception in Lullaby.  What  do you think the language of dance brings to these issues? What makes them so central and imperative in your work?

JV: My inspiration comes mainly from the life around me, around us. Life takes its course and along this journey there are significant moments that influence me and trigger a creation. My work over the years has mainly dealt with observing our contemporary society. Sometimes placing a mirror in front of us can reveal a face that we prefer not to see or to feel associated with. I like to focus on socially relevant issues that are of a concern to me and the people I work with. These issues are always personal to someone, emerging from real stories, real topics and real concerns.

The language and tools of expression I use for each project can vary. In Justitia there is a substantial amount of text, as I felt there was a need for a layer of information that couldn’t be told by movement, like the history of the characters or their internal thoughts. Movement can communicate on another level and through channels to our sub-conscious, but I believe in the complicity and the integration of all these means of communications and expression.

DD: Your work is defined by a strong engagement with theatrical tropes, in particular a certain approach to narrative, character and audience. Can you tell us where this interest stems from, and where you see your work positioned?

JV: My art is a form of expression, a form of communication that I invent every time for the purpose of each specific production. It is always physical, as that’s where my artistic roots are, but language and text are integral as we use them every day, and media and technology are part of our modern life. I use all of these elements to communicate my thoughts and ideas. For me the title of the genre is not relevant, it’s the content of the art work, that is important.

DD: You bring particular elements into your dance vocabulary, from text through to dynamic scenography; does the role of the body change with every production? As someone whose work has been influenced by choreographers such as Pina Bausch, do you think their legacy is leaving an imprint on what is permissible, possible and risk-taking in contemporary dance?

JV: I always believed that everything is possible on stage.  The stage is the temple of the imagination.  The body is just one vehicle for expression, when we use our voice, emotion and intellect too, the message is somehow richer. Pina Bausch had a huge influence on the dance world, me included, but personally I shouldn’t forget I had much earlier influences on my career from German expressionism, which impacted on my education in early life in Israel.

Expressionist Dancer and Choreographer Gertrud Kraus was very influential on the education of dance in the Kibbutz movement, and my father who was a director and producer of a theatre venue, who open my eyes to politically concern theatre, and many different ways of expressive art.

DD: You were raised in a Kibbutz in central Israel and founded Jasmin Vardimon Company in 1997. Has this cross-cultural experience influenced your work?

JV: I’m positive that it has. I grew up in a kibbutz (Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh) that was founded by writers and poets who placed a huge emphasis on creativity in education. This led to a very unique form of education for that time.

I guess that also growing up in a group rather then a traditional family developed my consciousness of group dynamics, something I deal with a lot when choreographing.

Moving to a multi-cultural city like London has opened up my awareness and curiosity of the cultural groups and communities that make up this contemporary mixed society.

DD:  There is a commitment to education in your work. Can you tell us a bit about your work with young people, and how it has come to occupy such an important part in your practice?

JV: I have always been interested in developing and encouraging young talent.   Over the years we had many apprentices who later joined the company, and I have been engaged in training dancers and cultivating their development in different ways and in different institutions and universities. Most closely collaborating with Royal Holloway University to offer a Postgraduate Certificate in Physical Theatre for Dancers and Actors.

Over the years I came to realise that there was a gap in performing art education, between the excellent, established training for dance and training for theatre. Most dance training focused on dance technique, and somehow didn’t put enough emphasis on the development of the dancers as rounded artists that express through their entire capacity (using voice, text, character, etc).

Personally I’m interested in developing more versatile and creative performers, something I’ve been doing with all the dancers who’ve joined my company. I enjoy seeing how dancers develop and grow.  Many who have worked with me are now creating their own choreographic work, which is exciting for me to see.

The development of JV2 – The JVC Professional Development Certificate, is aimed at dancers who want to develop as versatile and multi-disciplinary artists. This is slowly growing and we’re now working on a bigger scale. We are now able to share more of our knowledge and experiences with others, thanks to our new creative home in Ashford.

Justitia is on at Salder’s Wells until Sunday 22nd September. 

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Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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