NAPS with Tyra Wigg

During the past two years the dancer, artist and choreographer Tyra Wigg has been working on the project NAPS, which is set to premier at Weld on the 6th of December. During these years she has spent several periods as an artist in residence at c.off. We asked Tyra about the project and the process behind it.

photo: Elinor Tollerz Bratteby

Tell me about NAPS and how you have been working with it for the past years?

The birth of the project derived from a dance practice that I had been developing on my own for some time. I was investigating how muscular contraction and release could propose different energetic directions in the architecture of my body, in the space I was in, and of my focus. Later I expanded this practice by involving knowledge and exercises from the fascia method, that I explored in my work with choreographer Gisèle Vienne and her assistant Anja Röttgerkamp. The fascia work introduced a deep relaxation in my whole body, and sensations of inner movements that I had never experienced before. Alongside this relaxation, an almost overwhelming sensation of soft and heavy tiredness made itself present in my body. When accepting and affirming this tiredness I experienced that my movements became more effortless, as if my body was taking a rejuvenating nap at the same time as it was dancing. Coming from a culture and dance tradition where tiredness is not exactly a highly regarded quality, I was mesmerized by how this practice could actually revolt against that whole belief system in me. I started to wonder how the tiredness could manifest itself on stage, where it would be a powerful force to deconstruct established cultural symbols for progress and success. My mind instantly drifted to images of massive music concerts, fronted by idolized rockstars, especially the rockstars that has gone to history as both symbols for and victims of success, like Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix. I wondered how it would be to let NAPS bring the “dance of pleasurable tiredness” into their high-achieving and hyper-exposed bodies in the midst of a concert. What if the affirmation of tiredness could have acted like a stop button that prevented them from achieving the success that pushed them over the edge?

During these two years the directions of the project has changed, and then changed back again, to then morph into new formats. For four weeks I worked with Paris-based musician Aram Abbas to research around musical and choreographic ideas for NAPS. Due to logistical issues for Aram (international collaborations have their pros and cons) I’m now working with another brilliant musician Siri Jennefelt, who is also a sound designer.

I have spent a lot of time by myself in dance studios to deepen my movement practice. I also spent countless hours trying to formulate the project in text for contacting venues where I wanted to present the piece, and for the endless applications for funding institutions. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been very fortunate in my attempts to finance the project, but thanks to amazing co-production support from Weld, funding from Stockholms Stad, studio scholarships from Konstnärsnämnden, free residencies at c.off. and MDT, and my artist grant at SITE, it has somehow worked out. Though I still can’t grasp how much time I’ve spent to make this happen, without any sort of income. To work so much at the same time as I was worried about money has for sure contributed to the extra tiredness in my life, and strengthened my motivation to expose it on stage.

You have been here at c,off at different stages in the process. Where are you right now in your work?

Now I have a little less than two weeks of rehearsals left before the premiere and I think that we (me and Siri) have landed in an interesting “core structure”. The big remaining work is now to repeat the material over and over to see what actually happens and can happen in the different parts and transitions. I have some tough but necessary decisions to do in order to make some things more prominent and to throw some away (or save for another time). To get perspectives from outside the bubble I invite test audiences to several rehearsals to get their feedback. As the collaboration between Siri and me is still pretty fresh, I’m curious to see how these last weeks will strengthen our dynamic on stage. We both perform just as much in the piece in our different, and sometimes the same, roles.

What’s it like to prepare for a stage piece of a project that you have been working on for so long?

It has been a rollercoaster in many senses. I’ve experienced bursting sensations of something larger than life in the moments when my mind expands around what I’m busy with. Numerous times these sensations have been abruptly ruptured by the cold lump in the belly whenever an application for funding is refused. As I like transparency, I can confess that I count four successful and fourteen unsuccessful applications in total, which is perhaps not rare for a “first piece of big ambitions”.

Another factor that has extended the process of NAPS is that I’m touring a lot as a dancer/performer in other productions, and working in my extra job. Injuries and a precarious housing situation has also made it hard for me to work concentrated for longer periods. The only thing that comforts me about all these difficulties and disappointments, is that the project has never ceased to be important to me, and I have no doubt that the piece needs to be presented. This reassurance is actually reducing my nervousness for what the audience’s response might be.

The stage piece is called a ”choreographic concert”. What does that mean?

The idea is that Siri and I relate to each other as members of a music band, where we weave together our different practices into a celebration of the tired state. While Siri is used to playing and singing in live concerts, I’m questioning what this popular and social event could be through choreography. To Siri I’m proposing ideas similar to those that I work with choreographically, that aims to dissolve symbols of popular culture with a relaxed tiredness. Siri is composing catchy tunes that flirt with pop and eighties rock, that she is breaking down to more suggestive expressions. Eventually we meet in an “ASMR-duo” where I am extremely grateful for Siri’s skills with sound technique and audio effects.

What is ASMR?

ASMR is an acronym for ”Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” and is described as pleasurable tingling sensations in the scalp and down the neck and back. It has become a huge phenomena on youtube where “ASMRtists” are seeking to stimulate these sensations through speaking low or whispering to the viewer and doing sound effects with objects, often while engaging in role play. Many viewers watch ASMR videos to relax or even to fall asleep. ASMR doesn’t work on everyone, some even find it creepy, but I’m one of those who get the “chills”, and I’m fascinated by the performance that some of the ASMRtists give to stimulate the spectator’s fantasy. The idea to involve ASMR in NAPS came from me questioning if we, through translating this video-phenomena into live performance, can stimulate the audience get in touch with their own physicality, subjective sensations of tiredness and a critical perspective on what is causing the tiredness. In their videos, ASMRtists tend to go into the role of a caretaker and the viewer is given the role of a client or patient, to whom the ASMRtist pays affectionate attention. Many viewers tell that they feel seen and appreciated by watching these videos, which is something that the commercial industry has picked up by using ASMR to market products. In NAPS I’m intrigued by this ambiguity of how the need for relaxation and feeling unconditionally cared for is used to feed capitalism.

The project looks at the thin line between” the seductive public side of certain success-phenomena and the state of absolute burnout”. What interests you about this in-between space and thin demarcation?

I’d say that our society has way too much focus on success through the concept of maximizing. I mean, what is left when we have used all our resources to reach the absolute maximum? For example, when there is no more fuel a diesel car will not be able to move itself anymore, and it’s the same with people. Many stories I hear from people afflicted by burnout syndrome starts with a life in a constantly escalating speed, often involving professional success and social recognition, until one day when they suddenly cannot move out of bed, and their bodies are unable to perform the simplest everyday tasks. So the line between these extreme states is remarkably thin.

What has become my interest in NAPS is to see how the involving of voluntarily tiredness prevents the maximized state, that here is represented by maximized muscular tension, complete gestures, sound volume and musical climax. I’m interested in a “middle space”, not fully producing, nor being caught in passivity. I see this middle space as full of potential as it has a long range to go before it falls into any of the extremes.

You are also engaged in improving the economic infrastructure for freelance artists, tell me more about this work and your thoughts on the social security systems for freelance artist’s in Sweden today?

This is a huge topic that requires much more space than I’m able to give it here and now. What I can say is that we are many artistic freelancers requesting a financial and social security system that offers us better conditions to stay in our professions and develop the artistic field, while at the same time having a sustainable private life. As it is now, many of us have big issues with basic things like being approved for apartment contracts or to carry the costs of having children. And what will happen to our economy if we get sick or injured? Or the day we retire?

Instead of adapting to the growing working market for freelancers, the social security systems like A-kassan and Försäkringskassan are denying support to a huge amount of professionals that don’t fit into the old work norm where one has full-time employments over longer periods of time. Those types of employments are getting more and more rare and are almost inexistent for professional art practitioners.

The  “alliances” – Dansalliansen, Musikalliansen and Skådespelaralliansen, that have a commission to support freelancers through an employment model, are also seemingly ignoring the conditions on today’s labour market. Many prominent and acknowledged artists are falling out or their narrow requirements and low amount of employments, which proves how obsolete, but also arbitrary, that system is.

What I wish for is a much more flexible system which offers a continuous income no matter the title of your profession. There’s no doubt that the system needs a radical change, and I personally see no solution to be more sustainable than (ideally universal) basic income. As that would also mean that people would have the choice to work less, basic income could be a key to revive other values in our lives and revolting the current norm of maximized work and consumption. Unfortunately this is probably also the sad reason why this question seems far from most larger political parties agenda.

Anyhow, what I have done so far is to insist on a review of the current systems through the dance department at Teaterförbundet(the union for stage and film workers), who also hired me to speak in their seminar “Dansare oavsett villkor” (“dancer no matter which premises”) at Folk och Kultur and Scenkonstbiennalen. I really hope that Teaterförbundet will do all they can to make this matter be taken seriously on a governmental level. It is crucial for both culture and public health.

Thank you, Tyra!

Read more about NAPS at Weld och more about Tyra Wigg at her homepage.