Jefta van Dinther: “It was a very beautiful but estranging experience, seeing my living body”

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther is known for creating striking sensorial illusions. Ahead of the UK premiere of his new work, Dark Field Analysis, we caught up with Jefta in Gothenburg to find out more about the creation of this intimate and voyeuristic piece.

What inspired you to create Dark Field Analysis?
There were two main starting points. One was the title of the piece which is a term I borrowed from a method within alternative medicine. It’s a way of taking a blood sample – a drop of blood from your ear – and placing it under a special microscope to invert the structures and colours, which means you can see the blood living as you watch it. I had this analysis, and for me it was a very beautiful and profound but also an estranging experience of looking in to myself and seeing my living body. I had a very existential experience, and I became interested in how you could be so distant to yourself at the same time as looking at yourself. The term, dark field analysis, struck me as something very beautiful and poetic, a mix between something scientific and something very philosophical.

This starting point came with another: at that moment in my life I was having a lot of strong encounters, meeting people for the first time, and I had very powerful exchanges with people through words. I became interested in the materiality of the spoken word and how there was a feeling of profundity in that exchange. This inspired me to make a piece that had spoken word between two people as the main motor.

How did you use this scientific approach to influence your creative work?
In the end there’s very little science left. The performance is an experiential journey of perceptions and colours, but also of stories, a kind of staging of two people whose relationship you don’t really understand. The piece starts as a kind of anatomical theatre, a laboratory space, as an aesthetic expression of this science, but slowly things start to dissolve. The audience is sitting on four sides of the stage looking on to the performance area, and something that starts off as shared ends up becoming something that is yours, as one dives into a black hole with very low levels of light illuminating the bodies. It’s almost like a dream; a distorted inner landscape. I think the piece enables a journey from this public, scientific, open space where everything is presented, to something much more mysterious, poetic and internal.

Dark Field Analysis centres on an intimate exchange between two men, beautifully performed by Juan Pablo Cámara and Roger Sala Reyner. What inspired you to focus on a duet relationship? How collaborative has the making process been?
When I first asked them to join the process, I asked if they were willing to sit on the carpet naked and talk for one hour surrounded by the audience. This point of departure had to do with my personal story of meeting and falling in love with a new person, and the kind of conversational mode that takes place in the early stages of a relationship when you’re diving in to each other, through which you also dive in to yourself – there’s a kind of re-configuration of who you are through somebody else. Those conversations often take place when you’re in bed, in the park, or on the carpet of your home. It’s accompanied with that unassuming, lazy space.

My work in general is very collaborative, but in this case the performance unfolded specifically in relation to the performers. The qualities they have became very directive. I think it has to do with their use of voices, which are very present in the piece. The voice is an extension of the body and it carries a lot of personality. They are also naked throughout the performance which is a very personal exposure of who you are.

Can you tell us about your use of text, which plays an important role in this work?
In the end, the piece became much more of a complex assemblage between music, light, voice, body, choreography and material than I had thought. But from the very beginning I approached it as a textual and sonic piece. I was really interested in the idea of conversation.

We didn’t know how to stage this conversation. I had the blue carpet and the audience on four sides in mind, but I didn’t know what the performers were going to do, or if they were even going to move. So we spent the first five weeks just generating texts and dialogue that we would record, transcribe, repeat and it was only when we actually put ourselves on that carpet that these bodies started to move. The text gave rise to a way of becoming. We ended up working around the idea of what it is to be a human body, through a juxtaposition of the human in relation to other forms of life. We’re exploring an animal quality, but also a synthetic or cyborgian quality, something that is not sentient.

What would you like audiences to take away from this work?
What I understand when I hear people share their experience of this performance is that it can enable a kind of journey in to yourself – in a similar way to how I dived into myself through that microscope, you can dive in to certain areas of yourself that are not so clear and that you don’t visit very often. To areas that you don’t necessarily know how to label. It stirs something in you and creates an intensity, even becomes emotional. What I would love is for people to allow themselves to be in this state without having to do something with it or without having to name it – maybe not even make sense of it through talking. It’s not about grasping, it’s about being.

Dark Field Analysis comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio on 12–14 Sep. Tickets are £17. To book, call the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.