(dbddbb drawing: https://dlinehan.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/company-launch-un-sacre-du-printemps-dbddbb/)
Daniel Linehan is an American dancer and choreographer currently based in Europe, Belgium. Following his studies in Seattle and New York Daniel moved to Belgium to complete Research Cycle course at P.A.R.T.S. His performance works include solo creations such as ‘Not about everything’ created in 2007 but also various group pieces including currently touring ‘Un Sacre du Printemps’ created for 13 dancers or most recently premiered ‘dbddbb’ which Linehan choreographed but also performed in among other four dancers.
Kinga Jaczewska: I was wondering how did it all started? Your journey within dance and choreography field? Was it dance or choreography that began it all?
Daniel Linehan: In my life?
K.J.: Yes, yes. I want to go far back.
D.L.: I began more in theatre, acting. As a kid of 10 I did summer programs of musical theatre which also involved singing and dancing. At around 16 my main facus shifted towards dance and I began taking ballet and modern dance classes. I found it very interesting to express myself with my body. As I learned more about dance and its history, it seemed to me like a very open art form which can include many other art forms like music, visual design but also text and more theatrical elements. This openness made me feel that I could really be a creator there.
K.J.: And when did the choreography ‘click’ happen?
D.L: From quite early on I think. I always wanted to make my own thing. I enjoyed the technique classes but I always felt a bit restrained having to to do specific things in specific ways and that was different while making my own work. I began with making solo’s on myself that I would work on while in university in Seattle and then perform them in student showings. Later, when I moved to New York, I was always looking for opportunities to create and to show my work. Even while dancing with other choreographers, I would always try to work on my own projects.
K.J.: And then you moved to Europe. I am curious about the impact of the cultural change and the environment of P.A.R.T.S. and how did it affect your artistic practice and choreographic language?
D.L.: When watching performances in New York, I have always been intrigued by works made by European makers. There was something that I could connect with and I felt inspired by. I became very curious about what was happening in Europe. I also had some American friends that had studied In Brussels in P.A.R.T.S. and, from talking to them, it sounded like a very interesting program. It also had flexibility that I was looking for where I could work on my own things and get valuable information from the guest teachers. While in New York my attention was divided. I was working in a restaurant, doing administration plus in the creating in the studio, so it all felt very scattered. This is why move to Europe to attend P.A.R.T.S was so interesting.
K.J: And what about your process of working, did that change? I heard that the ways of working in States and Europe differ a lot.
D.L: There is something about wasting time that doesn’t really happen in States due to limited studio availability. You get two hours in the studio and you use it fully to make what you want. That time limitation though, often brings the feeling of works being strongly product oriented. What I see in Europe, is that there is much more time to reflect, think or ask questions. For some it might look as if more time was being wasted but I feel it gives you more chance to dig into your research. For example the earlier pieces I was making in New York were 10’ or 15’ and would be made in 2 hour blocks few times a week and developed really fast. There is a lot of positives and negatives in these two ways of working I feel. In New York you often see a lot of passion and drive behind the work. It is ok when things are not so clean or perfect as the raw energy that is very present, fills in the gaps. In Europe though, I find that questions are more considered which for me personally this extra time is very important.
K.J: ‘Daniel Linehan style’, could you say more about that?
D.L: Hmm.. Some people told me that I have a style but I don’t know what is it (laughs). I mean I try to avoid having one particular style. For each piece I try to come up with the specific question that I want to work with. In ‘dbddbb’ for example I am working on the idea of the march where one step always follows the next step and I am also working with the movement that has beat or pulse to it. Surely though, in a lot of my work I am thinking of the rhythm of the bodies and movements it creates. But this, I feel, still leaves a lot open in terms of what style comes out because the rhythm doesn’t determine the form or the shape of the movement exactly. Dancers that I work with also bring a lot of movement materials themselves so it is not that I am trying to impose a specific style but we cannot erase the history of our bodies or training.
K.J: About the created materials, I am curious what is the ratio between your own, prepared materials and the materials and creative input of the performers?
D.L: At the very beginning of most of the processes I come with the list of ideas that I want to be working with. For example the made up language/text that we use in ‘dbddbb’ was definitely prepared and researched before the creative process began. In terms of movement we (performers) develop it together in the studio and it is based on the principles that I bring at first. Like with the idea of march, we would discuss it in a group ,try some actions and begin creating. In other pieces for example, I came up with the text and then asked dancers to create material that would go with the rhythm of the text. I do try to come with very clear proposals and questions and then along these ideas have dancers create materials that we would then set or create games or a scores from.
K.J: Do you use improvisation as a tool? Your works often do seem very structured yet you also say that you are very interested in unpredictable moments..
D.L: Most of my pieces are written but because of that people often think everything is set second to second but there is also a lot of openness to certain degree. In ‘dbddbb’ there is a lot of moments that are written but we don’t know who is going to initiate them. We know what to do but we don’t know who would do it. The text and rhythm are written but the exact form of the body is not. I also feel that even though works are written, when you put it into different space, for different audience or like in ‘dbddbb’ where voice and body are multitasking, there are always these little mistakes and shifts that I do consciously include as a part of performance. Parts of creating right in the moment of performing. I don’t often call it an improvisation but there surely is a space for choices in between the rules.
K.J: In ‘dbddbb’ you are both a performer and a choreographer. How does it work for you to be partly an outside eye and partly in it?
D.L: It is hard, surely. But for me it is also hard to be completely outside of the work. It is a challenge to stay objective about how the work is made and how the audience will receive it. During the process I would stand outside sometimes or ask another dancer to stay out and observe. I also worked with other people that would give feedback or just observe the work from outside which is always very helpful. We also used video and made decision based on recordings. On the other hand, when I am inside of the pieces I am able to make decisions which are a bit more intuitive, where I can feel connection with my body and let it decide. Often when I am only on the outside I get stuck and don’t know how to move from section to section but if it is my own body I find answers quite easily.
K.J: On your website I read that you often work with subjects that you say you are ignorant about and aren’t specialized in. What, besides the idea of marching was the subject of ‘dbddbb’ that worked on?
D.L: I knew I wanted to work with voice again and that I didn’t want to work with text. At first I was very abstract wondering what does that mean. Is it just singing vowels, whispering Then I discovered the DADA ist sound poetry where they write syllables on the paper which don’t come from any language. When I saw it on the page it would make me want to read it out loud which felt very nice in a mouth. It was the kind of language I was looking for. A language that didn’t have any meaning and wasn’t understandable. It would be about the pleasure to articulate the sounds that might not necessary have a certain meaning but might gain it depending if we yell it, sing it, whisper it and so on. It soon became about what communication really is and what is the very base of it. Using DADA ist poetry I wanted to trigger imagination of the viewer. I think that now I work less and less with elements I am ignorant about. I have already worked with elements such as photography, video, text and I feel like I am coming back to them in order to approach them again but from a different angle.
K.J: Are you then interested in creating a certain world, fiction for an audience or more into presenting a clear meaning, a message? What is more important for you as an artist?
D.L: People sometimes ask ‘what’s the message of this piece or the previous piece and it is difficult for me to answer that question because I don’t think that I am trying to deliver the message. I think that if I wanted to say the message in that sense, I would write it. I am more trying to give an experience that could bring up questions or situations. In ‘dbddbb’ I had a question about what is it for a group to move and speak together in a common time. Using the poetry and marching it started to resemble different situations like ritual, party or folk dance depending on how we would do it. The piece is actually an investigation about how it is to manage and manoeuvre inside of the group and when does it become so strict that you lose you individuality and when can you find a way to stay with a group but sustain your individuality. So it is not that I have a message about these issues but these are the issues that we are exploring.
K.J: I wanted to ask about voice, an element that is very present in your works. I wonder if you, as a person that started with a body, have a certain hierarchy in reference to the voice and the body. Are these two elements equal or does one of them have a ‘last say’ when it comes to decision making?
D.L.: I think they are not equal but they interact. In my conception of what I am doing I say I start with the body. Even when I am working with the voice, I am thinking how it is located in the body. Its vibrations and so on but I actually think of a voice as something physical, part of the body. Of course when I work with a text and its meaning, it is no more purely physical as it brings concrete ideas to the audience. I think that the body and voice operate on different registers but they are not isolated. If they are both happening at the same time it really creates an overall experience for the audience. It doesn’t only isolate their auditory or visual fields but somehow it is more of a total experience in the same way as it is for us, performers. Even though I myself worked on silent dances, I often question why dancers are supposed to be mute. They have a voice which is another tool to be used. Voice for me just feels like a part of the body which can easily be an element of a dance performance.
K.J: You say there is an infinitive amount of perspective of the body and that you tend to choose few for each piece you create. Which of the perspectives did you work on during ‘dbddbb’ process?
D.L.: I looked at the body from more abstract, more imaginative perspective as well as from the perspective of the social body. ‘dbddbb’ being about how the group moves together, brought a lot of questions about how do we relate to each other, how do we make contact with each other and with the audience. Some of my works were not at all concerned with the social body whereas in ‘dbddbb’ social interactions were a big element that we worked with.
K.J: And just out of curiosity, are there new ideas, future plans, upcoming projects?
D.L: Yes. Not yet in process but I have some ideas. I don’t know exactly what form they will take but I am reflecting on the themes of obsolescence or loss. I feel like we are living in an age where there is an acceleration of technology, thoughts and ideas, but I feel like there is also an acceleration of loss and things going out of date much faster. I am wondering what that means. I question the things we lost from as far as ancient history, and what are the things we might re-use in certain way. Also projecting into the future, I am reflecting on what are the things that we now take for granted and which, in 100 years will be totally obsolete. So yep, I am currently at the process of researching, and finding ways to transfer these ideas into a performance.
Kinga Jaczewska, DeSingel, 28th January 2016.