We caught up with Eleanor Sikorski from Nora to find out more about the dancer-led initiative and what to expect from the much anticipated return of Nora Invites… in the Lilian Baylis on 1 and 2 June.
How did Nora come about?
Flora and I started Nora, essentially, so that we could do more dancing. We wanted to actively create situations in which we were working with choreographers and other artists that we loved in the studio: making, moving and performing. We were both at the end of a period of doing a lot of independent producing and curation, and we could see that in order to shift the nature of the work we were doing, from laptop to dance floor, we had to initiate something new and something big… or at least something that dramatically shifted our perception of our power as dancers. We also wanted to create a working model which could be robust enough to eventually involve more people, which we have done. Nora is now a trio! Stephanie McMann, Flora Wellesley Wesley and myself.
Nora is a dancer-led initiative. Do you generally approach choreographers yourselves, and what leads you to approaching particular choreographers/ dance artists?
Yes, we initiate everything. We have had a lot of help, guidance and support from others but we are quite strict about the fundamental decisions coming from us. It has always been important for us that Nora has the potential to take whatever shape we want it to, so we like to keep questioning what we are doing so that we don’t fall into any boxes without wanting to and we stay flexible to our and our collaborators’ needs. Each conversation with an artist starts a little differently, depending on if we know them well or not at all! The important things are that we love the work they make, that we believe they will engage with us as artists in the studio, that they are conscious of the power dynamics that Nora is trying to challenge and that they have an ethical approach to working… that might sound like a lot to ask, but there are plenty of people working like this!
Nora Invites is back after its run in 2015. Do you find the experience of performing the same pieces for 2 years has changed? Do you feel you have changed as individuals and as artists in that time?
We have changed a lot and the way we perform the show has really shifted. The main shift is that we have had time with the work and practice performing it so we feel much more confident and knowledgeable about what we are doing on stage. Stephanie (now co-artistic director with me and Flora) was our rehearsal director throughout the process of making the duets and her role has been key to us developing our relationship with the work – I think we have gone from being in awe of the work to feeling like we are the work, or, as dancers like to say, that we ‘own’ the work. I think our performances are better for it.
Nora Invites features three different pieces by three different creative teams with quite different moods. How do you adapt to the tone of each piece on the evening?
Liz Aggiss kept repeating a mantra to us throughout out her process which is, ‘The King is Dead! Long live the King!’. Essentially this just means drop it and move on. Next, next, next! She taught us this mantra in relation to what we do within her piece, but it is actually really useful for performing the whole evening and being able to leave each piece behind and move onto the next. The first time Simon Tanguy saw us performing the other duets he came backstage and said something along the lines of, ‘breathe, slow down and think floppy’. He saw that we needed to chill out before we could do his piece well. It’s not necessarily hard to get in to each new piece, it’s more difficult to get out of the previous one. You have to learn to drop it quickly, to shake off the residue and start again from nothing. We have very different relationships with all of the artists, so I find it is useful to just imagine each of them before we perform their work, and their imagined presence helps me to get in the right mood!
How involved have you been in the creative processes behind each piece? Does it differ piece to piece?
Each piece had a very different process. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion gave us a musical score and set us the task of creating movement to the written rhythm. They essentially left us with it for six months, dropping in and out of the studio to support and direct us. Their handing over of the score was key to the concept of the work.
Simon Tanguy worked with us in the studio for about a month, spread out over the course of a year. He directed us through many improvisation scores and then we slowly wrote a script together. When we had learnt the script he set it in space – creating a choreography which supported and moulded the words in very particular ways and working with our lighting designer, Seth Rook-Williams, to create the right landscape.
Liz Aggiss choreographed the work and then taught it to us, giving us very clear direction in order to create her precise vision. During the process of teaching us the composition she made adjustments as she saw us embody her ideas and as she got to know us better as people and performers. She was amazingly quick and sharp in how she composed her ideas around us as we worked.
You’ll also be here the week after Nora Invites, with Nora Talks, where you’ll be discussing your thoughts after a period of research. Do you think this research informs or changes the way you perform, particularly in Nora Invites?
Yes, the talk will be one of a series in which we reflect on our curatorial research and we invite people to respond with their own ideas and thoughts. Our relationship to Nora Invites is constantly shifting, as time passes, and this research feels like a continuation of this shift – a bit like a natural evolution. Having performed the work a lot I think we now feel more reflective, and we have begun to think about what might happen next; this is essentially how our research started! Our research is also closely connected to our changing relationship with each other: the experience that Flora and I have performing together over a long period of time, and our relationship with Stephanie as rehearsal director and now as co-artistic director/performer. We have discovered a lot about each other, about how things can work and be different to how they appear or what one might imagine. We are very happy with what we have managed to do, so it feels important to share it and invite others to see it. Through being transparent we hope to continue questioning how performance can be made and how dancers can engage directly and practically with artistic practice and intention.
I’m not sure our research has directly affected how we perform, but the fact that we are doing the research is because our relationship to performing has changed! Maybe…
What’s next for Nora?
After our series of Nora Talks we are planning to curate a new programme of work for the three of us to perform. This curation process has begun already and it has been a fascinating and ever-changing ride. We are still keeping very open to what this could be – maybe something similar to Nora Invites, or maybe something wildly different. We will see!
Click here to find out more about Nora Invites.
Image: Flora Wellesley Wesley and Eleanor Sikorski in BLOODY NORA! Photo: Camilla Greenwell.