"We took inspiration from improvisation techniques, using them to push our boundaries"
Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.
Not only has Basque dancer and choreographer Amaia Elizaran created seven original modern dance pieces but has also been involved in various cultural projects over the past ten years. This autumn she took part for the first time as a solo choreographer in the artist-in-residence dance creation programme in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, promoted by the Etxepare Basque Institute and Conseil des Arts et Lettres du Quebec in Montreal.
During her residency, Elizaran created ‘In a Loop’ at the École de Danse Contemporaine de Montreal. In partnership with the Etxepare Basque Institute and the Conseil des Arts et Lettres de Quebec, the residency extended over five weeks, with collaboration from Dantzaz konpainia, Gipuzkoako Dantzagunea and Tabakalera. This creative residency is part of the Québec - Pays Basque programme. Since 2015, the choreographer and dancer has been working on her own projects under the name Amaia Elizaran.
‘In a Loop’ is Elizaran’s eighth dance creation. In this latest production, the choreographer wanted to portray the quest for individuality within a continuously evolving time loop. Elizaran conducted her choreographic exploration by focusing on the repetition of ideas and incorporating elements of improvisation. The show premiered in Montreal on December 6th.
What was the goal of this creative residency?
For me the aim of this project was to create a modern dance piece with fourteen students I didn´t know. It was a challenge for me because it was my first time working as a choreographer without also being a performer. But it was a challenge I really enjoyed and was easier than I’d expected because the students put all their energy into the project.
What was your approach when it came to working and creating?
My days in Montreal were quite variable. There weren’t very many hours in the residency dedicated to creation. I had two- or three-hour sessions with the students. It scared me at first, because when I imagined the residency and the objectives I wanted to achieve, I wondered if I’d be able to do it in so little time. I was really focused when working with the students. I also had hours of studio time that I used to explore new choreographic languages, rehearse and try out new ideas. I had to do my best to work as efficiently as possible, and that was quite a challenge.
What about the research and creation process?
A lot of new interests were sparked during the residency, especially from the studio work on my own. When it´s hard to make decisions, the process takes longer. That can be a good thing, but in this kind of situation it´s very difficult. I simply made decisions and moved ahead with them. I couldn´t afford to take a step back and that was also been a big challenge. In the mornings I went to the studio and then I spent time with the students for the creation session. In the hours I had left I had time to focus on myself and my work, which is really hard in my daily life. When I’m working on a creative project, I might be at the residency in the mornings, and then I have to teach in the afternoons or work on other projects, or I have a performance.... It´s very difficult to take a five-week window to dedicate yourself exclusively to creating a project. It´s a tremendous opportunity to be able to work like this and a gift to have been able to focus only on this project. This focus made me feel really inspired. I also spent time getting to know the city, among other things. I took lots of walks around Montreal and focused on the creative work during my walks. Although I had little time to work in the studio, everything I had worked on the day before became clear.
You created a piece called ‘In a Loop’. Where did the project come from?
In 2019 we premiered ´Mar´ and then came the pandemic, so ´Mar´ had a very short run. It´s the piece that has had the shortest run of all the ones I´ve done. I´ve always had a sense of regret. When we created ´Mar´, I had a question in my head: with this method of creation – creative improvisation – with a large cast of performers, how many things could we do? How far could we go with so many people? This was the perfect opportunity to develop this artistic process that began a few years ago.
I had about 50 hours of creative work with the students, which is very little time to work from scratch on a creation. In Montreal I wanted to do a project I had already started the creative research on to make the most of the time I had. The artist-in-residence programme allowed me to work on the questions that arose from the ´Mar´ project and the creative objectives that also emerged from it. We took inspiration from improvisation techniques, using them to push our boundaries. It gave us the chance to to see how far we could go with a much larger group. In ‘Mar’ we were the performers; in ‘In a Loop’ the possibilities were multiplied with 14 performers.
In the end, ´In a Loop´ has nothing to do with ´Mar´. It takes a different route. But it’s been really interesting to see how the same method of creation produced another totally different piece.
What conclusions would you draw from your creative residency?
One of the conclusions is that I´ve had the opportunity to dedicate time to creation and to focus on the work. I´ve realised how important it is to be able to be as focused as possible on the artistic process in this type of residency and I´m aware how working this has contributed to my work. I find it very hard to work like this in my everyday life.
I´ve also realised that I’m capable of working as a choreographer. It’s the first time I´ve felt that I am a choreographer. I mean, I’ve worked as a choreographer in previous projects, but I’ve also been a performer. I´ve worked on projects where I never actually see the final product in situ. I can feel whether the piece has gone well or badly, and what is interesting and what isn’t in the process of creation, but always, from the point of view of a performer. To be able to look from the outside, I’ve had to resort to video to analyse my creations. This time, being "outside" the process has been much quicker, and not in the sense of seeing the finished piece sooner, but because the decision making was much easier, and I could see immediately what worked and what didn´t. When it didn´t work, I had to find a solution. When it didn´t work, the solution was found much more quickly and when it did work, I was able to see straight away that we were on the right track.
So, I knew what I had to look for the next day and I could identify the course of the whole piece. I really enjoyed the process because the students gave me a lot. They were 100% behind the creation and the criteria I proposed. Their feedback on the ideas I put forward in the process was very touching.
What did it mean to be able to carry out your creative work abroad?
I’d say that it’s opened up other possibilities for me in the future. I´ve become interested in creating without being a performer at the same time. I really enjoy being a performer, but perhaps there can be two different paths.
It’s been an incredible experience. The amount of culture consumed in Montreal is huge, and not only at the school. That’s the main takeaway I had from the city. On the first days, I visited the Place des arts. It’s shaped like a metro station with several theatres and exhibition rooms inside. It´s great to see how many people go to the theatre, both adults and young people. The programme is spread throughout the week and each play might be performed four or five times a week. Every play I saw was sold out or nearly sold out. I get goose bumps remembering that. When we do a performance here you have to make a huge effort in terms of promotion... In Quebec people are avid consumers of culture.