When was the last time you felt the ground pulled from your feet, that the concrete seemed liquid and the air was so dense, smelling of candyfloss and jasmine? Ieva Miseviciute’s performances have such an impact on audiences, who have had the privilege of witnessing her taking the stage and claiming the atmosphere. Her practice manifests in spectacular pieces such as I Will Rip Your Arms Off, 2013; SSSSSSSSSSSS (hiss it, don’t say it), 2014; Apricot Juice and Lord of Beef, 2015 and most recently Tongue PHD, 2016, all of which expand onto multifarious horizons, charged with variant colour, emotional intensity and intellectual rigour. She, in charge, takes you up and leaves you confused, rolls you around your waist twice and drills you through. Ieva claims and grasps; her magnetic personality spreads into her words, her gestures.
Each and every prop is an onomatopoetic manifestation of her imagination, where she stirs up choreographed and improvised acts. She activates her energy centres and triangulates muscular movements. She blends and stirs the humanness into the animalistic. In her works text and language sublimate from thin air into solid form, while her bold aesthetic embodiments provide the pillars of her conceptual and philosophical wanderings. She is interested in everything, from Butoh dance to method acting, from masks to prosthetic limbs, from stand-up comedy to rituals. Everything that concerns human nature and the ontological quest calls her. Here is where I became curious to know her better, to seek out where she locates sensuality amidst all this. What came out was something unexpected: open-hearted, genuine and intimate conversation. While being thrown into delving deeper into subjects of sexuality and identity, I felt my horizons of wisdom expanded… Thus, dear reader, be prepared for a rollercoaster experience. We have left it to you to fill in the blanks and place laughter and giggles where your wild imagination takes you.
Fatos Ustek: It is utterly a pleasure to meet you. I have been following your work for a while and was gutted to miss your piece at Block Universe Performance Art Festival in London. I have prepared some questions, hoping to engage with you as a person, while exploring your relationship to sensuality. I have mapped out various different notions, and concepts that may be exciting to converse on, in relation to your performances and sculpture works. If you like, we can start from what you have been up to today.
Ieva Miseviciute: Well, I am taking pole classes. Today I just came from my drills.
Fatos: Ah, I just came from yoga.
Ieva: Cool, so we are both grounded.
Fatos: What made you start pole dancing?
Ieva: It is a new challenge for me. There is something that pushes me to do all the inversions on the pole. That is a physical challenge for me and it is nice to be pushed, and I also like it as a dance form. The only thing you have to dance with is a bare pole on stage and it adds a very nice vertical dimension to all of the movements. You go up and down and it is so simple. It is just a stick.
Fatos: What about the feeling? Pole dancing has an immediate sexual connotation with the contexts in which it is performed. As a trainee, do you have an elevated feeling attached to this in relation to other dance forms?
Ieva: I definitely went there for the combination of acrobatics and sensuality.
Fatos: Are you planning to incorporate this new technique in your upcoming works or is this solely training for your muscular composition?
Ieva: Actually, I am preparing some works, most pressingly working on a number for next week. I am preparing to be DJ-ing at the same time as dancing on the pole.
Fatos: Wow! How can you do that? How is it possible to dance on the pole and DJ at the same time? Don’t you need your hands to press buttons while holding yourself up?
Ieva: Well, let’s see how it will work.
Fatos: Is this technically possible?
Ieva: I don’t know. Of course it is; I think everything is possible. Also, multitasking is a female activity: phone in one hand, baby on your lap, laptop on the counter while you are also cooking, and still seducing your partner.
Fatos: I would love to see your piece now; it sounds great! What makes you curious in the world? What grasps your interest, that you take it onwards to incorporate in your works?
Ieva: Enough sleep.
Fatos: Such an amazing answer! Surely, without feeling rested you would not be ready to take in what is around you and in the world. If we open curiosity on a broader perspective and think of it as a force that urges action, how do you connect being curious to finding out about something? Is there a space between these two states of mind? If I were to ask the question differently, in your practice you depict a wide array of concepts and provoke multifarious concerns as to the way things are. It is like a spatialization of your internal elaborations, manifested as physical vibrations that extend into the audiences. In the picture of this exchange, where do you start? How do you take a step forward from only being curious? Can you perhaps describe the processes you engage with in your performances?
Ieva: Each project has a very different process. The more material you come up with the more you have to update the process and approach to the new piece.
Fatos: Do you take an intuitive response or work with methodological applications? I have been reading that you draw inspiration from text, from people…
Ieva: It is both. It is very much a balance of intuition and method. For me it is important to follow the current in my own life and my development. Let’s say, I often take a new line in training or new skills that I have learned. Often entangled with these new schemes, I get a proposal for a project or invitations to places and then I apply methods and formulate the structure, the framing and all that. It is the intuitive line that follows and I have to follow my own development. And I add structure to the work in the final stages.
Fatos: The aesthetics of your work is very sensual and it is very bold and sexy, and mostly I find an oscillation between moments of sheer expression and manifestation of strong emotions and seduction. How would you talk about your work? How would you contextualize the choreography? For instance, your recent piece that premiered at the Kitchen in New York City, Tongue PHD, is an amalgamation of many different dance forms, from Butoh to method acting. It feels like sitting in a choreographed wild séance with you, evolving into a feeling of intrigue and excitement. How does the sensuality of your work arise? Do you choreograph in detail the thread that runs through? How do you feed the audience?
Ieva: You know it is an ongoing mystery, because there are a lot of methods that you can employ. Let’s talk about Butoh for instance. Butoh is how you engage the energetic chores of your body, and later resonate with and effectuate your audience. I have also been really interested in method acting and how Jerzy Grotowski formulized it.
All these things are methods; I am always very interested in psychology, because I am an ongoing process myself. I am an ongoing constellation of molecules that is constantly changing. I actually first and foremost have to respond to myself. If I apply Tongue PHD again it is not gonna work. Actually, I am different and I need to find the buttons and what to push and how that resonates with the audience. More and more that I am arriving at this point, the less I depend on how I am perceived by the audience and the more I can actually effect that. But that is a lifetime’s work – to always be able to distance yourself from the dependence on the opinions of other people.
…the amount of adrenalin shoots into your system. It is incredible and that has a very surprising effect on your psyche and mind…
Fatos: That is very true; in that sense it is interesting that you work on your body, on your psyche. In each iteration of your performance, your work becomes part of yourself; in a way it is an unsettling place to be. It must feel vulnerable, and empowering at the same time, whereby you are expanding your innermost truth perhaps, onto space, onto other subjects, other psyches and onto other bodies…
Ieva: It depends. There were times I would feel like it is my funeral or I am about to give birth on my way to a performance. Sometimes it feels so lonely and horrifying, and sometimes you feel nothing at all: total silence. And you don’t give a shit at all. It is a very interesting place, especially when
you are about to perform an hour-long piece; the amount of adrenalin shoots into your system. It is incredible and that has a very surprising effect on your psyche and mind. A lot of stage performers are addicted to that shot of adrenalin, actually.
Fatos: The higher you climb the deeper you fall… It is a risk in a way.
Ieva: It is always a risk. Although I don’t know how the acrobats feel – I am really curious that they are actually risking their lives and I am just risking my name.
Fatos: But perhaps there is a difference between losing your name and losing your life. When you risk your life you are not exposing yourself to others; you are only exposing your humanness as a mortal being. Ways of being, and feeling incorporated in a work is an attestation of the self. You are risking the continuity of your presence instead of the rupture that will come through.
Ieva: That is also how much you are dependent on other people’s opinions. For me the worst thing is to actually have a very good show and not to feel it, not even failure on the stage; worse is when you don’t experience joy from what you do and that is an awful place; it is a sign that there is something I am suppressing in myself that I need to work on, that is more dry and dark. For me it is more of a failure if I walked off stage and I did not enjoy it.
Fatos: Why is that? Do you think it is because you did not fulfil expectations?
Ieva: I ask myself today what the reason was… I force myself to be a perfectionist thrilled by the dance too much, maybe cared too much, maybe felt too good about myself. Every day there is a different reason you walk out with a different map to study, every day a new configuration.
Fatos: Do you give yourself a break?
Ieva: No. I wish I would give myself more time off.
Fatos: Let’s go back to where we started. How did you discover sensuality? Do you remember an experience that still resonates with you and is beyond immediate?
Ieva: Today in the pole class, actually it is a pole dance practice, where all the dancers come together to practise. I walked in and this dancer, she was leaning with her back and hips thrusting forward and she was just moving. Only the hips, and going down with her back on the poll. It was such an incredibly sexy moment. I approached her and asked, are you doing circles and eights or what is the combination? She responded, saying: ‘No I was just, like, stretching my hips.’ Man! That is exactly what good sex is; it is not about a special combination of movements, patterns or circles. It really is a difficult place to be, as in your back is arching and your thighs are holding tight and in a sense you are rotating all your female organs to find joy. That is today’s discovery for me.
Fatos: I think you are right about sex; it is when you flow and float…
Ieva: And there is that very sweet point. On the one hand, it is physically challenging and on the other hand you fall into pleasure, stirring the pleasure.
When do I find pleasure… I masturbate a lot… Where else do I find pleasure… I like flirting a lot; I actually like flirting in public spaces…
Fatos: What gives you pleasure?
Ieva: When do I find pleasure… I masturbate a lot… Where else do I find pleasure… I like flirting a lot; I actually like flirting in public spaces. Although here it is soon gonna be outlawed but I really enjoy it. It is fun to look at different cultures, what is the key, and what you can do.
Fatos: Sensuality and sexuality are made into a taboo in most cultures. However, for instance in São Paulo, everyone, on every corner, is making out. The demonstration of emotions at the bus stop or at a corner store… and I found it a very interesting, sensual space… There can be impromptu dance parties on the streets, which makes me think of your Broadway boombox happenings.
Ieva: Yes, I do that; once in a while I find myself taking my work too seriously. I have a boombox and I go and dance. I really like Broadway; it is a shopping area and at around four, five or six o’clock, people are mostly satisfied with their daily purchases and it is the quintessential New York moment. And the street is broad, cars respect your will to dance in the middle for a second and you have that wonderful feeling amidst the tall buildings and sky above you and people joining in. We all get united with the images we carry about New York; it is a perfect avenue into spontaneous joy.
Fatos: And a smoke machine?
Ieva: Wait! I actually own a smoke machine that I take with me if I go somewhere, and LED lights. If you need to quickly change the atmosphere.
Fatos: Almost a first aid kit, or, rather, a survival kit?
Ieva: Boombox, smoke machine and LED lights!
Fatos: Excising an accumulation of matter in your body; our psyches and our bodies tend to accumulate a lot of excess matter. Doing something that is not your work per se might be a good release.
Ieva: Obviously I do not think I do enough and the level of work you do in the studio has to really match the amount of work in front of the audience, and sometimes that balance goes off in either direction.
Fatos: Would you call that an act of release?
Ieva: Blood donors who always give blood – they need to continue otherwise they have too much blood, as the body gets used to producing excess amounts. I have not scientifically learned this, but as far as I know donors need to continue donating blood as they produce too much. I think with me this is how creative work is; I hit the walls when I start noticing that I am not experiencing pleasure out of it. For me it has to be about pleasure. I have to enjoy it. Of course when you challenge yourself and when you overcome challenge, that is also a form of joy. Like combing my hair after being on stage. I like to challenge myself a little bit more; to calm down can be a challenge too.
Fatos: There is a curious relationship between challenge and inspiration. With each challenge undertaken, you aspire to accumulate stimulating incentives to create. Could you say that in a way each challenge is a learning curve, from everything you learn you find out about your aspirations and your desires… Do you ever play with your challenges, aspirations, with your body, your psyche?
Ieva: I think you play when you leave enough space in structure. The more you figure out the structure that works for you the more you leave spaces in that structure to play. I can achieve more joyful play through this. On this day-to-day basis, I like playing all the time. I think the more sleep you get the more playful you become.
Fatos: Your work is quite playful; there is a certain level of unexpectedness: from movement you go into text, direct speech, narration, abstraction, movement again… Also, your use of text and assigned voice is a shift. It feels your voice designates the sensuous space, in a way contrasting your look – like that feminine on a black curved dress you wear in Lord of Beef. It is kind of a breathing space, but we as audiences don’t ease in, don’t feel we can comfort ourselves in the piece. Is this an aspiration for you?
Ieva: I find it incredible in some ways; the Western audience is especially so easy and so used to structures and they are so used to queues and how frames and presentations ought to function. It is almost inevitable for someone who comes from another culture to constantly make fun of it. How can you not make a joke about raising my intonations at the end of the sentence? There are these templates, I would say… Depending on the state, it varies… For instance, in England, people like capturing and defining, such as: ah, it is a smart beginning, it was a funny end, ah sexy start… It’s the same in the social structure too. You may look way too feminine in a 1987 Givenchy dress; I don’t think there is a greater pleasure to it than destroying it with lizard-like behaviour.
Fatos: Playfulness in breaking expectations and norms. I feel there is almost an over-attentive attitude towards your outfit, to the props you use, the stage and the mise-en-scène you construct, the lights, all those elements that create an unsettling harmony. Everything falls into place when you are meandering through choreography, and spontaneously shift direction in search of elevation of a rhythmical presence through the space. The spontaneity that emanates in a playful manner in your performances makes me wonder, how much do you control the improvisation?
Ieva: For me conceptualizing anything is a genuine pain after eight years in academia, and purely abstract ideas are not gonna fly. It is a compromise in which I have to make myself understood and give myself to the audience and most probably take pleasure in it myself. I do not like ordinary movements, nor standard looks, nor common language. Naturally I tend to choose understandable and familiar concepts that I like to turn in the most probable extraordinary ways.
Fatos: In your works, how controlling do you like to be?
Ieva: There is a quote that I would utter now in response. Grotowski says, ‘what is imprecise requires imprecision’. Total freedom and total care do not the power of structure that gives the quality of finesse, as it is also easier to play when there are some rules, some structure.
Fatos: Play does not exist without rules, nor structure. You mention Grotowski a lot; are there any others you are inspired by or whose work you admire?
Ieva: Grace Jones… For a while I was really more obsessed with the stage presence of Freddie Mercury than Grotowski. I like him for his ability to unite method acting with physical theatre and very abstract work. I really enjoy that… Eartha Kitt – I go off on tangents at times. I could spend the whole month just watching, studying, reading everything I can about Grace Jones… Hmm, I am trying to remember all my tangents…
Fatos: How did it start for you, exploring your body, your mind, your psyche? Do you remember?
Ieva: Yes, it started when I quit smoking [giggles]. I really recommend it.
Fatos: Ah, I quit a couple of years ago as well.
Ieva: Aha, watch out! Things will start going out of your body, made out of silicon, body extensions… It is a strange feeling, but it comes when you quit smoking: you’ll wanna be on stage!
Fatos: When did you start smoking then?
Ieva: At the age of seven [laughs]; in a Russian circus and I quit by the age of nine.
Fatos: That is brilliant!
Ieva: It was hard with my whole family smoking.
Fatos: Were you travelling with them, involved in performances?
Ieva: My mum, dad and my little sister; we had a whole-family circus.
Fatos: It must have been quite an experience. Maybe that is what trained you not to depend on the ideas of others.
Ieva: I have to say that I am not there yet. I could be much more careless; there is a lot of room for growth in that department.
Fatos: Last question, before we wrap up: what excites you at the moment?
Ieva: Sex really excites me at the moment. And I need that! As long as there is sex, good food, enough sleep, what else can excite you more than that!