Born in Buenos Aires, Gaston Core is a choreographer, theatre-maker, curator and director. Trained as a performer in his native Argentina, Core moved to Barcelona in 2001 where he continued his work as a director and theatre-maker. In 2012, Core became the director of the experimental theatre space, the Sala Hiroshima Project. There he focused on the production and exhibition of the most innovative trends in the international contemporary performing arts scene. His choreographic work, “The Very Last Northern White Rhino,” the first in a trilogy, recently toured in Europe. Veronica Posth spoke with Gaston Core about collaboration, creating for stage, and the values underpinning his creative work.
How many years have you run the Sala Hiroshima Project for? Were you hosting only dance or other art forms as well?
The Hiroshima Project lasted almost a decade and was in Poble Sec, a central, young, lively and popular neighbourhood that, in the beginning of the 20th century had, on the main avenue, the biggest concentration of theatres in Europe including music theatre, cabaret and dance. I received the offer to direct the place although it wasn’t a theatre. We took it in 2012 but it opened to the public in 2015. We needed three years to adapt the place to theatre venue and have all the permissions to accommodate shows and audience. It was a very nice opportunity for me; I loved to develop the project as a concept and with a proper curatorial program. We hosted contemporary dance, music and performances of various kind, all quite experimental.
Since its beginning, the Hiroshima Project started being a point of reference for contemporary art scene, internationally and locally. Unfortunately it was a very complex art venue format that wasn’t very much aligned with the subvention that Spain and Barcelona have. Sometimes it was complicated to get the right funding and the pandemic complicated the situation so we decided to close it last year in November. Nevertheless, directing that space, turned out to be a huge and rewarding experience for me.
Where did “The Very Last Northern White Rhino” premiere? And what is the piece about?
The first time we showed it was last year in May at a festival called 10 Sentidos (Ten Senses) in Valencia. They invited us to perform the piece in an unconventional place, a museum called Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània. We showed it twice and we felt it worked very well. The feeling was different from the original one because this time it was in a white box. Despite that, it worked perfectly after having adapted some movements and the lights. Then we did some preview at the Hiroshima and then the official presentation was at Festival Grec in Barcelona, coproducer of the piece.
In short, “The Very Last Northern White Rhino” is the story of a strong yet vulnerable man, somehow the embodiment of the white rhino which is a beautiful and strong animal condemned to extinction. I got inspired by the story by the New York Times reporter, Sam Anderson, who learned of the death of the last male northern white rhino, and flew to Kenya to spend a week to observe the last two survivors of the species: two female, mother and daughter, who were entering into what is described as “functional extinction.”
How and when did you and Oulouy start working together?
It’s a crazy story because I was looking for a female dancer and a good friend of mine suggested me two female dancers and then told me I should meet this male dancer, Oulouy. When we met we immediately understood each other. He is very much in urban dance and was willing to explore contemporary dance as well. I loved his way of moving so we started collaborating. We are very different but we had a strong connection from the beginning. It took us two weeks to fully understand each other because we had different vocabularies regarding choreography and movement, but then we found our common language. I remember that one challenge was asking him to dance offbeats, for him something totally strange. Two weeks later we could easily collaborate and create together.
Is “Rhino” the only project you did with him? And what other projects have you been working on?
Yes, so far I worked with Oulouy only in “Rhino.” At the same time “Rhino” is a work which is part of a bigger project, a trilogy where I worked with a research based methodology modifying and altering some dynamics, spaces and forms of various dance techniques. This choice is taken in order to take them out of context so that it’s not possible to relate the given movements to a very specific social-cultural context or stereotype. Still, with that methodology, I can extract the expressiveness and the capacity of communication of those techniques. I work with their grammar but modifying the form which resolves into a very particular aesthetic of movements. Within the trilogy I worked with Oulouy, with an Indian traditional dance company from my city called Shreyashee Nag Dance Company, and with one of the dancers of this company Shreyashee Nag. So the whole is composed by three parts and I am about to premiere the third part which is a solo with the female dancer. I have worked with this company in Barcelona and we created a piece called “Chorus.” From that experience I wanted to work with one of the women performers for a solo that somehow mirrors “Rhino.” The woman I chose to work with is an extraordinary dancer and the leader of the dance company. For both solos the methodology is based on research which is the same but it deals with different techniques.
What is the idea behind the trilogy? Does it have the same motif or different ones?
The trilogy has two pillars. On one hand the mechanical, formal, choreographic research based on the mechanics of the movements relates to the three pieces. On the other hand, the other pillar, is the confrontation between the individual and the collective and how the two entities relates to each other. In the case of “Rhino” is a case related to extinction and how this individual that is part of the past can find calm in the middle of an existential chaos. We also worked a lot in regard to the public, how to relate to it. Some questions were crucial such as: How do we look at this performer that dances in front of us? How do we perceive him? How can he represents us? So there is a relation on many levels between the performer and us, the spectators. In “Chorus” we started with the text by Aeschylus. It is a tragedy based on fifty women that escape from Egypt because they are forced to get married. They go to the city of Argos in Greece and the king of the city wants the citizen of Argos to decide if to give asylum to these women or not. The women have to convince the locals because if they accept to give asylum to these women, Egypt will make war to Argos. At the end they welcome the women and Argos faces a war. It is a story that has much to do with the time we are living. The idea is how can we create a group, a sense of identity from a choreographic point of view, and in which ways two different groups confront each other. I am very interested in the tension between the you and me, you and the group, the group and another group.
What is that brought you to choose these two stories and bring them on stage?
I am interested to stage stories I find engaging in a very graphic way so basically into actions and movements. Specifically I like to see how do we look at the other, our relation and approach to the differences. I like to observe and reflect on how much are we different from the other. In “Rhino” there is the story of a fantastic creature that we have never heard of but it is an existing creature that is going to extinct. My question creating that piece was, what if we as human kind become extinct? It also plays with the idea on how can we empathise with who is in front of us. I like working with movements, landscapes and ideas of images which are there but that need to be completed by the audience. Of course the title of the piece already helps the spectators to have a frame watching the performance, but then is the work of the individual who watches the piece to interpret it and experience it.
The lights and music play a pivotal role in the performance. Can you tell me more about them?
The concept related to the light was meant to illuminate the space and not him. We worked asking ourselves how we could see him illuminating the space. When we present the show in theatres, the ceiling is very clear and illuminated to present the space as a membrane, as the space would be our skin. The music was created for the performance. I worked with Jorge da Rocha, a dear and great artist, a Portuguese musician who is a guitar player but specialised as a contrabass player. I talked to him saying that I was interested in a very intimate music where in some moments we might think the performer is singing. So we had to create something organic but stratified, with vibrations, noises and voices. I also wanted a reminiscence of the urban world so I asked him if he could beatbox not in the traditional way but made with various sounds, and he did a great job. The music in the piece is then composed by him and it interacts with a background noise that is the sound and the improvised voices and noises of the streets where we are presenting the piece. A sort of field capturing and transmission of the street sounds in real time bringing the outside in the inside and tapping once again on the idea of the space as membrane.
I perceived a high sense of spirituality intertwined with the complex duality of defencelessness and resilience in the way Oulouy moves. He seems to be in communication with an higher identity, to engage in a finely tuned pray, to perform a secret ritual through his sensitive and highly expressive movements. Was spirituality and the dualism aforementioned something you wanted to convey?
Totally, I am happy you observed all this and I find your description very accurate and beautiful. The performance has different layers and this idea of spirituality is very present in the piece. We wanted to bring on stage a handsome and powerful man in a very fragile situation. We as audience connect to him because of his vulnerability. We see a strong man showing fragilities and weaknesses. It is also the story of the animal itself, a huge mammal hunted to death and to extinction. The cause of his extinction is for the hunting of their horns, believed to have special and healing powers. But the idea of extinction expands to death and therefore to the end of something. At the same time it makes thinking about those who came before, the ghosts. So we played a lot with the opposites life and death, darkness and light, and the possibilities to make him transitions from a world to the other. Then there is a specific attention given to how he can dance calling into his inner-self, to get in touch to a power which is in his dance. The ritualistic dance he performs is a way to call and connect to his inner power.
The dance seems to be a celebration with notes of rage, sorrow, helplessness and forced acceptance. Oulouy alternates from smiles to gloomy expressions. Can you tell me more about the contrasting feelings you brought on stage?
Yes. We wanted his dance to hold the attention of the audience through details and nuances of the contrasting feelings he is able to perform. The whole piece is 52 minutes. The first 45 minutes he has lots of restrictions in the way he moves. He is dancing with specific rules such as not using hands, going off beat and other constrictions related to movements until the last dance when he lets go accepting that that’s the end. He dances with us for the last time and that is also the end of the piece. The ending is very explosive and he dances freely, he does proper urban dance movements. At that point he can really dance and express what he feels but the contrasting feelings are there. We wanted to have an impact on the emotions of the audience making them having some bitter-sweet sensations. The idea runs around the sensation given by being here together and acknowledging that there is nothing else that can be done but dance.
And what about the choice and creation of movements? Did you and Ouluoy worked together on the movements vocabulary or did Oulouy answered with movements to your ideas and suggestions?
Both. We looked at traditional urban dance movements such as Finger Tutting, Krumping, Waving and I asked him to change them in various ways giving the new movements a different aesthetic and meaning. That was the process of creation of the movements. I tried to understand his references, the dancers he likes, and then understand those movements searching for the right element to modify giving them a different identity. In the whole trilogy I work with the dancers’s movement vocabulary giving them some constrictions and modifying them. In addition to that there is the movement per se and then the investigation on how to define the space through movements. I am interested to see and work on how to organise the range of movements that we have within the space and based on what happens in relation to the encounter between dancer and the public. The lights are not pointed on the dancer besides one moment when he does theatrical faces with pauses. We want to see his superficial expressions in relation to us and focusing on the superficiality of identities.
And then there is an unexpected part which breaks the fourth wall and becomes somewhat participative. What is the idea about this indirect interaction with the public?
In “Rhino” there are two dancers, Oulouy and the stage, the place itself. He dances with the space, it’s all about the space and how he moves in it. Space for me is a metaphor of his condition and of our condition. He is an urban dancer locked in a black box which is very different from dancing in the street. He cannot run, he cannot move freely, he is exposed for one hour to our gaze and that is his condition as a dancer. At the same time it is the same condition of us as human beings. I often ask my self, what is my condition? An answer could be that my condition is being gay, a South American and a father. With this piece I am interested to make people ask themselves what is their condition and to reflect about it. That for me is a way to make evident that is all about space; who we are given the space we are in, in a specific moment.
I like that you said participative and saw the space created as a relational space. I wanted to make something very respectful with the audience, making them participant and reflect on what that empty space represented for them. Another point I want to add related to the importance I give to the space is because, from an aesthetic point of view, the spaces are often seen as receptacles, but the space has so much meaning and charge constantly defining us as human beings. I often asked my self how can I underline the importance of the space where we are together.
Would you like to tell me something about the piece you are about to premiere?
We are going to premiere the third piece of the trilogy on the 29th of June in Cadiz, Spain. As for “Rhino,” the performer is going to be central to the performance. The audience this time will be seated around three side of the stage. She is in the middle with the black wall behind her. This is the first time I work with this format having the audience on the stage but it feels like a good experiment. In particular with this piece the closeness is crucial because we are working on the idea of something sacred. It’s connected to a philosophical idea called halcyon days which is connected to a mythical bird described by ancient writers that makes his nest just before the storm arrives.
I was inspired by my arrival in Jerusalem at night when I felt an incredible sense of peace yet very fragile, as it could break in any moment. It was my first time in Israel and that feeling got me in a powerful way. It brought me thinking a lot about the tendency we have as humans to get together, to be in close proximity also if the history proves that we often are incapable to be together in peace. Somehow we cannot live without each other yet, when together, often we destroy each other. This contradiction made me develop this piece titled “Above” where I am asking questions such as what is holy in the other, what is spiritual in the person in front of me, and how can we connect to that. It makes sense to have her as solo dancer because her dance is strongly connected to the gods. My quests within this piece are what is sacred? How do we build something which is above us, together?
What is your working methodology?
My work is based on the combination of intuition and observation. I would say that my methodology stems from my strong approach to observe. I believe that observing attentively is a difficult thing to do, one of the most difficult things. Reading helps me a lot to find ways to observe things in deeper ways, to find keys and answers. I try to observe the societal feeling of the moment, of the time we live in. And then of course observation related to the interactions I have with the people I work with. I have most of the times clear ideas but then I am interested to see how the people react to them, and work with and on those responses. I always like to ask my self and the others questions, somehow becoming also the dramaturge of my own work.