Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview

Anthony Nikolchev: All the Things You Said You Never Said Before You Thought You Could Ever Say

By | Published on Thursday 12 March 2015

Compagnie TDU’s Dance Theatre piece ‘All the Things You Said You Never Said Before You Thought You Could Ever Say’ was guaranteed to catch my eye with that ludicrously long title but that’s not the only thing about it that got my attention; it’s a collaboration from a number of highly talented creatives, including leading contemporary dance artist Vivien Wood.

Also on board is actor and writer Anthony Nikolchev, who has achieved critical acclaim in his native US with a number of self-written one-man performances, but has in recent years also spent significant periods of time training and performing in Europe. To find out more about the piece, and his involvement in it, I asked him the following questions…

CM: What is ‘All the Things You Said You Never Said Before You Thought You Could Ever Say’ about? What themes does it explore?
AN: ‘All The Things…’ (as you may want to call it for short…) is a performance aiming at the minute yet universal conflicts challenging (bettering?) human relationships. Its source material is miscommunication, inadvertent passive aggression and the inability to verbally articulate oneself thus manifesting in physical impulses to connect. It is an exploration in how love can fluctuate drastically, incited by almost negligible misunderstandings that can balloon to detrimental effect if not “clearly” addressed. But “clearly” is never so easy.

It’s about what is said on the surface, and what we try to mean beneath that surface. It’s about realising that may be there is no meaning that we keep secret, that the deeper we dig the more we see the hole as a bottomless labyrinth, often bringing us back to the same point.

And ‘All The Things…’ puts its main characters – a not-so-new-anymore couple, and multiple versions of said couple – in a fight against chance, pressed up against the sudden chaos of a life that we so often try to organise contrary to the unpredictable.

It’s about asking if the unpredictable is something we should embrace, rather than fight to force each moment into the boxes that we see as life’s patterns.

It’s about the patterns we fall into, both helping us and hurting us in our pursuit for a life in contact with others.

It’s about communication, and all the ways that that sounds easier than it actually is.

CM: What is your role in it?
AN: I am the writer – although the text is devised throughout the process and includes pieces of text from the other performers, based on questions or prompts we’d all answer. I am also one of the four performers.

CM: Can you tell us about the other performers, and how you came to be working with them?
AN: We met working as founding members of the Studio Matejka in Poland at the Grotowski Institute under the direction of Matej Matejka. After two years of intense laboratory physical theatre research, we decided to work towards a performance together. That was in 2011.

In 2012, Gema Galiana and I did solo performances with Matejka, and Guillaumarc Froidevaux and Zuzana Kakalikova began performing in another Studio Matejka piece called ‘Awkward Happiness’. But the four of us wanted to merge my work with text into the physical work we were doing with Matejka. The Studio Matejka formed our physical vocabulary, and Vivien works with us more as actors moving throughout space, rather than the dancers with whom she typically works.

We are an international team – Zuzana is Slovakian, Gema is Spanish and Guillaumarc is Swiss – Zuzana and Guillaumarc are the co-artistic directors of Compagnie TDU – and we challenge and complement each other as coming from very different backgrounds.

Gema, Vivien and I just came on with TDU for this production. Gema and I are looking into establishing a space and company in Los Angeles, but that’s a topic TBD.

CM: How did your collaboration with Vivien Wood come about?
AN: Vivien first saw the four us at work together in Poland, when she came out to the Grotowski Institute to serve as our rehearsal director on a few performances made by our then company – The Studio Matejka. In a fit of inspiration – or perhaps a moment of desperation – Vivien invited Gema and me to perform in her new directorial undertaking in the north-east, at Newcastle’s Dance City. Gema and I both had solo performances that she saw in Poland; my work as a writer and Gema’s work as a performer of serious uninhibited, beautiful, present, untethered and all-giving energy started our collaboration. We worked on ‘Exile’ with Vivien, and then approached Dance City and Vivien to ask if they wanted to help us on our new performance, and thus ‘All The Things…’ was born.

CM: Your performance background seems very much centred on writing and performing plays. How different is it to be working on a piece of dance theatre?
AN: I am an actor, first. I am a writer as a secret process that gives me satisfaction. I believe everyone needs and most likely has something like this in their life, in order to survive – something you do that satisfies the voice in your head, which often screams, “No one understands me right now!” It’s that secret that you can keep with yourself, and you never have to worry about making it fit with any other perspective. So peaceful, and yet not how the world, nor theatre works.

I do realise my contradiction, as I have decided to reveal my very selfish, one-sided passion on stage to a public. And thus, yes, my voice has been adjusted, or rather, just tested. I wrote my first one man show graduating from a theatre programme at Wesleyan University, and it was received well after a very intense editing process, largely due to my mentor and inspiration, Yuri Kordonsky. Since then, I have written three produced and two published plays that have been performed all over Europe and the major US cities.

However, it’s always a fight. I am still very much an unknown in this field, but I write with the goal of putting myself as an actor in my work, not to sell my plays. My last solo play is being produced somewhere in Belgium by another actor, but I have never seen someone else’s production of my writing. I write because, as an actor, you audition for a lot of work that seems to not fit with your own voice. I wanted to merge my interests into something worth saying on stage. I studied philosophy and biology in university, along with theatre, so I feel like I have been thrown between the why (philosophy), the what (biology) and the how (theatre) we struggle with as humans. I want to keep peeling away the layers of that onion, because (insert reflexive expletive) if the world nowadays doesn’t still need a few voices working on trying to figure that out.

Dance theatre for me is just another form of performance, the simplicity of one body meeting another, with no words, and speaking a lifetime of a story, a relationship or a conflict. Our work is rather the “curious pursuit of communication through the tools that we have theatre”. And that just means asking at all times during the process, “what does this moment need?” Is it a piece of text, is it a look, is it a movement with a monologue? Just a monologue and nothing else? And in that, we begin to form the DNA or scaffolding of the nature of this and every other specific piece that we make.

Each piece brings a different side of my writing out, but ultimately I’m never satisfied with words or movement or any other tool as adequate to communicate one idea to another’s head. It’s that pursuit, that conflict, and that failure, that makes it worth it to keep trying, and never stop in surrender.

CM: You grew up in California and began your career there, but have since spent a lot of time touring and training in Eastern Europe. What led you to do that? Do you see yourself continuing with a ‘transatlantic’ career? Would you like to go further afield?
AN: California, by many definitions, is the top of some sort of hard-to-summit mountain. I was born there, the son of wonderful parents; my mother raised in Los Angeles and Paris, my father a Bulgarian emigre, whose family illegally fled communism. I could never reconcile the profoundly unique sides from which my parents hailed, unless I travelled the trek myself. Furthermore, eastern and central Europe carry serious weight in the history of modern Western theatre, not to mention brilliant literature. Stanislavsky, Chekhov, Meyerhold, and then Grotowski all leave the mark of their practice in all the theatre we see in the west.

I needed to submerge myself into the murky water of choosing performance as a profession, and challenged myself by jumping into the deepest water I could find (aka, a one-way plane ticket to London after selling most of my belongings in Chicago). I thought, “if I resurface, I’ll have gained what I need to keep going”. So here I am, stubbornly continuing. And it’s helped in coming back to California, and performing in London, or wherever else. My life experiences inform me as an actor and writer. Train rides in Poland play into my work just as much as performing in Moscow. I will go where the work takes me, and I have my experiences as my foundation, plus a few good vodka stories.

CM: What’s next for Compagnie TD after this? Are there any plans for further collaboration?
AN: Compagnie TDU is constantly collaborating with different artists. They have a new performance premiering in Luxembourg in September, called “Confidences.” As for Gema and I, we would love to work with TDU again, but the financial and life challenges of international collaborations is always an influential factor.

CM: What’s next for you? What new projects are you looking forward to…?
AN: The two best pieces of advice I’ve received to help me make decisions as I leave homes and cross performance forms are:

1, Only choose one of two things when you can no longer do both.

And 2, always choose the more interesting choice.

I have to make good with the States for a bit, as I have been choosing a lot of work outside of the US. I’m looking forward to returning, to follow up on a year of film work I did in 2014 – a feature film and a few very interesting shorts. The films will be coming out around the summer. Next up on stage is an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story called, ‘Babylon Revisited’ as a solo performance bound for New York. I have my next writing projects in mind too, all at different stages. I like to practice the 5 stage project plan: always have at least one project ready to go, another in rehearsal, another raising money, another on my computer, and a few awful distractions in my mind just popping up.

‘All the Things You Said You Never Said Before You Thought You Could Ever Say’ is on at Ovalhouse from 17-28 Mar. See this page here for more info and tickets.

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Photo: John FG Stead