Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview

Ultimate Dancer: Holy Smoke

By | Published on Thursday 3 November 2016

Holy Smoke

‘Holy Smoke’ sounds fascinating, a genre bending piece of choreography which has been influenced by Shamanic practices, and offers a “visceral look into the unknown with deconstructed messages of love and kindness, dreamy spells cast backwards and a pop song sung in reverse”.
To find out more about the show and the brains behind it, I spoke to creator Ultimate Dancer, aka choreographer and performer Louise Ahl.

CM: This sounds like a very interesting piece that doesn’t seem constrained by one-genre limits – can you explain what kind of performance we can expect?
LA: ‘Holy Smoke’ is an omniversal trans-dimensional ancient-to-the-future multi-all kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. It’s got layers of sonic art, healing dance moves, wearable sculptures, a gong bath and a deeply smoky atmosphere. You can expect the unexpected. We celebrate the weird!

CM: Does it tell a story? What specific themes does it explore?
LA: The piece tells many abstract stories, mainly about transparent exhalation, crystallised euphoria and the prehistoric hunt for knowledge. There is a wider thematic approach, which is rooted in some of my own interests in alternative therapies and mind-expanding activities. When making the piece I wanted us, as a group, to practice some of these things to create a presence, which would be somehow otherworldly.

CM:What made you want to do a show that looks at shamanism?
LA: The show is interested in shamanism, but we are not shamans. My understanding of being an artist is that art can relate to shamanism and produce similar effects or experiences for people. I believe that artists have the capacity to take people on a transformative journey.

CM: How would you explain shamanism and its practices to those who aren’t aware of what it is?
LA: A shaman I worked with described her work as giving equal value to the physical as well as the non-physical world. In the UK and Western world in general, we would go and see a GP with our ailments, and then get referred to various specialists for our specific problems – be it mental or physical health issues. A shaman would deal with all these enquiries and treat them with various rituals, which can be based on movement, hands-on physical treatment, sound etc.

But shamanism goes way beyond this outer appearance. It holds a room within which you can tackle your biggest fears in a new way. And if you cut it down to the very source: it is as simple as a new presence that appears around you whenever you open yourself to it – trust and commit – like to our show for instance. A shaman can act as a guide into this room. A door opening to something which is already in you – transforming your shit into manure that fertilises your own very smelly reality!

CM: Did you have to do much research into the topic to create this?
LA: Yes. I have researched with shamans and fake shamans. I have also learnt a lot about the vibrational healing powers of sound through learning how to play music with my collaborators on this piece. We have all learnt Eurythmy for the show – the healing movement vocabulary invented by Rudolf Steiner. We have learnt how to energise a space and how to kill bad moods.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your collaborators on this project?
LA: I met the Swiss real-life angel Divina Kniest in a workshop with a shaman a few months before we started to work on Holy Smoke. We bonded during this really weird and intense week and I asked her if she wanted to come and perform in this new piece and she said yes! ‘Holy Smoke’ is her first onstage performance experience and she’s totally amazing!

All-round genius artist Fritz Welch has made the incredible sculptural work for the show and is also performing in the work. We sometimes ask ourselves – is Fritz Welch a 21st century shaman? Ha ha – He certainly has the magic powers of connecting with portals into the underworld and brings back up with him an arsenal of visual and sonic oddities.

We also have Jer Reid – a Scottish musician who brings his beautiful sound manipulation forces into our ears. Jer was originally brought on board as a sound designer/technician but it was quickly obvious that he has the striking presence of an intense Zen master so I asked him if he’d like to perform in the piece as well, and he said yes! Together we form quite a cohesive group of mutants that audiences find really fascinating to watch.

CM: How did you get into this career? What attracted you to it?
LA: I always wanted to be an artist of some kind and ended up studying choreography as I find the human body in relation to the big concepts of time and space to be incredibly fascinating. I am interested in time and space-bending and people’s various perceptions of what reality is.

Choreography is a rich and expansive method for working with these concepts. To me, choreography is not necessarily about dance, but is a way of working that can be applied to many different fields. In ‘Holy Smoke’, I think of the sounds, visual elements, smoke, moods and light to be choreographed.

CM: You are from Sweden but are now based in Glasgow – how did you end up in the UK and what made you want to stay here?
AL: I came to study choreography at an experimental arts university in Devon almost ten years ago and since graduating I’ve lived in various different places. I ended up staying in Glasgow because of its strong and supportive arts community. Somehow it seems that the most talented and loveable people on earth live in Glasgow.

CM:What’s next for this show? Will you tour it further?
AL: We’ve only just started touring this piece so we have more UK dates booked in for next year, and soon hope to confirm our first international dates for 2017/18. Watch this smoky space!

CM: What other work do you have in the pipeline?
AL: I’m making a new Ultimate Dancer solo performance about darkness in collaboration with audio-visual artist Robbie Thomson, which will premiere in May next year. I am also starting to work on something new and ultra-special with Fritz Welch next year.

‘Holy Smoke’ is on at the Southbank Centre from 4-5 Nov. See this page here for more info.

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