photo credits: Federico Boccardi
reaching ecstatic highs with Marie Zechiel
“I am not playing or acting - this emotion becomes reality for me for as long as I need it.”
As a visual form of expression, the essence of dance is the conversion of human body movements to please an audience. This however, is just one side of a coin as there is a non-visual component on the artist’s side that not many notice.
Marie Zechiel is a physical narrator, whose main form of expression is movement, that is seamlessly translated into stage, film, photo and performance work. Her choreographic craft is formulated through authentic movement, character development and the interplay of curated bodies and formations.
In the interview we talk to her about “ecstatic” highs – a desired state beyond the physical -, about her experiences and developments as well as the drawbacks in the dance industry.
photo credits: Federico Boccardi
STK How did you get into performance dance initially?
Marie I was dancing and performing as long as I can remember – I used to replay scenes from my favourite Cartoon Movies when I was a child and performed them in front of family friends. I used to dance all day at home, at one point my parents decided to send me to dance class. I tried different schools but most of them I didn't like as they were only playing games (little insight: it’s a pedagogical approach in dance for children to use games and imaginary stories to teach movements). What I wanted was to dance for “real”. When I took a ballet class with a former Bolshoi dancer - including a proper ballet barre etc. - I finally had the feeling I found what I was looking for.
STK What was the biggest take-away from your time at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London?
Marie Interestingly something, that is not necessarily related to dance… I discovered the importance of distancing yourself from whatever you do.
Being in the dance studio 10 hours a day (mostly weekends as well), always thinking about dance, being with people who also just think about dance, wearing training clothes all week – living exclusively in a bubble for too long is not healthy for me. I discovered that I want to have conversations outside of the dance field, that it is healthy for me to at least once a day put on real clothes and that I crave for experiences that are not related to dance.
Dancing is a huge part of me and my personality. But I am a worthy human also without being a dancer. This was my greatest take-away.
STK Any beef on the dance industry?
A lot of my fellow dance colleagues suffer from pressure and competition within the dance community. But personally I have never noticed the contemporary dance world as highly competitive. This is probably because I am not a very competitive person myself and never tried to be better than someone else. Everybody and every body is different.
But there is definitely a lot of pressure, struggle and undervaluation when it comes to the industry - Low fees, bad rehearsal conditions - you have to learn to speak up and fight for what is an adequate treatment. I am not talking about crazy high expectations here, but a decent heating in the studio, and a fair payment for example.
Something I find concerning is that the dance world is very elitist. Especially when it comes to state-funding for productions and companies.
Christoffer vn Woensel
STK Dancing has been proven to increase happiness at all levels, and ecstatic dance is not an exception there. Do you reach ecstatic states when you dance?
I do. I wouldn't call them “ecstatic” but rather “sublime” as it is not something that just happens but it is a state I deliberately create. When I perform I recall a feeling, an emotion I once had that fits the purposes of what I want to represent and make it real for this specific performance. I am not playing or acting - this emotion becomes reality for me for as long as I need it.
To be able to get into that state I need to be confident in what I am doing – insecurities never help. Meaning, when I have to dance a technically complex choreography - for example during commissioned works - I have to practice it until I feel safe with it and the next step is to find my performative reality with that sequence. Improvisation - on the contrary - makes it much easier to get into that state as my own body and mood dictates how I move.
Sometimes I am not able to reach this “Performance - Nirvana” and in those cases I have to act – experience proved that the audience can´t tell but to me it is something completely different – suddenly performing is work – whereas in the best case it becomes reality.
How would you describe the feeling the best?
Marie That completely depends on the emotion I dive into. It can be frightening
or supreme. But the overall experience of being in those moments I would describe as “powerful”, “real” and “pure”.
STK Are there any conscious steps or a routine you follow to reach the states? How do you feel afterwards?
There is no routine I do to prepare myself. I know that it helps if I feel confident with what I am about to do and if I manage to blend out everything that is not related to what is about to come. The goal is to only live in the present when I perform – there is no future, there is no past but only the second I live in. After reaching this state I feel pure - I just had the most intimate time with myself and had the chance to experience my body, my mind and my life in its essence.
STK How does the environmental setting you are in influence the process?
It doesn´t influence me at all as I create my own universe anyway.
I AM JOHANNES
STK I saw you are also a self-made entrepreneur?
Marie I started doing movement direction about 4 years ago. I visited my dear friend and great photographer “I AM JOHANNES” on set for a fashion editorial and naturally I proposed poses and movement ideas to the models and thus shaped the movement language of this editorial. I had a lot of fun that day and realized what I did was actually a huge benefit for the production.
Out of that experience I developed my unique concept of movement direction: with choreography you create a repetitive dance routine. With movement direction you create a whole movement identity that elevates a specific character, product, artist, …
Physical language has such a strong impact on how we see and experience a living being and I find it important to communicate this essence of expression. I spend some time researching and realised that involving a movement director for movie and advertisement-productions is already common in the US and so I decided to manifest this job in Berlin´s film scene as one of the first movement directors in the city.
But, due to the job not being established here, I began planning and producing my own film concepts to help explain the importance of authentic physical language to production companies, directors and photographers. It is hard work and I had to overcome many difficulties but I managed to show several big production agencies my value as a movement director on set. Now, I am happy that they keep consulting me as it is very rewarding to work on such a professional level.