Spotlight on Faculty: Erika Batdorf
Director, choreographer, creator, performer Erika Batdorf, who teaches movement in the Acting Area of the Dept. of Theatre, shares an update and travelogue from her sabbatical.
In July of this year, at the beginning of my sabbatical (a week after finishing a video collaboration with Aaron Phelan on my theatrical solo Mr. Raisin Head, which should appear sometime in this coming year) I moved with my family to Bali, Indonesia.
My goal for this sabbatical here is four fold; to work on a new solo that I began in Toronto from an Ontario for the Arts grant; to start a practical book on one of the things that I teach— emotional connection for performers through physiological awareness; to do some study of certain Asian movement theatre forms that are related to much of my previous work; and to investigate a new artistic relationship with the various possibilities on the internet.
Too much of course! Doesn’t every sabbatical start that way? However, what I most want to share is a recent international artistic adventure that was indeed special and rare.
Soon after I arrived in Bali, I was invited on short notice to join a group of international artists focused on the environment with whom I have worked before called 9dragonheads.
This is a fascinating group of visual artists committed to the environment, environmental and nomadic art, adventure and international exchange. It comprises visual artists of various kinds from Germany, France, Brazil, Austria, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, United Stares, Netherlands, Germany, Georgia, Canada and London… and more.
Their plan was to continue a journey that they began two years ago to travel through sections of the Silk Road. This time the section was Turkey, Uzbekistan and then Georgia—mostly Uzbekistan by jeep. We would create work enroute and produce an exhibition inspired by the journey.
The trip began with a symposium at Istanbul Modern about the 14 years 9dragonheads has existed. This was a helpful way to begin, with a Swiss critic giving an overview of the 9dragonheads history and process and several artists sharing their understanding of the group – its goals and mission.
We then flew to Tashkent and drove in a caravan of 18 artists in 9 jeeps through Uzbekistan to The Aral Sea, the 4th largest inland lake in the world. It is now almost gone; it is the largest environmental disaster in the world.
We then created an exhibit at the Karvasla Museum in Tblisi, Geirgia for Artisterium, a large international art festival.
I decided to take this extraordinary opportunity and use it as a forum to continue to develop the solo I have been working on that includes elements of confronting the possible death of the planet. I was told shortly before I left that I would be performing for the opening in Tblisi that would be for approximately 2000 people. I realized between the size of the audience and the language barrier that I needed music! The organizer of 9dragonheads put me in touch with a music group that had been invited to Artisterium from Germany for the opening, Arwinda.
I immediately got in touch with them and we decided to create something together for the event in Georgia. I sent them a script, some music from my Canadian composer-collaborator, and then left for Turkey hoping that this mysterious band and I could create something in the 4 days we would have together in Georgia. (I am not in the habit of creating things that quickly—but this is one aspect of 9dragonheads that is challenging and exciting.)
After a journey through Uzbekistan that is very hard to convey in words; but was not only an education in Islamic culture, history and art, but a bonding experience of a life time with some exciting, brave and generous artists dealing with dust, terrible digestive issues combined with challenging road side bathrooms and roads (in some cases no road or bathroom). In three weeks these people became life long friends. We created art in an unbelievably beautiful hotel in Samarkand: I sang with Channa Boon from the Netherlands in an impromptu performance we created for ‘room to room’ an event 9dragonheads often does in hotels, where everyone must create something in the hotel on short notice.
Here an American/New Zealand artist did a very funny piece - we all entered his small room and saw that his sheets and blankets were all tied together next to a sign that said PLAN B. He then locked us all in his room. Here we are trying to get out…
We sang in an abandoned bus stop in the middle of the desert.
We sang in giant old pipes on construction sights, and in Samarkand mausoleums.
I sang here and I thought I was alone, I looked up and saw a woman from Bulgaria weeping and she hugged me intensely and we both wept…
…not a typical performance, but one perhaps that I will always remember as a highlight.
People made films and friends at road side tea shops and restaurants… we sang, we taped people together...
Here a New Zealand performance artist was taping people together with duct tape, you can see the Korean documentary film maker recording us in the background.
We made art from garbage, cotton, camel bones, old pottery, stones,
Here a Brazilian artist designs with rocks in an ancient Ayaz Kala
Many artists were finding ways to use discarded silk from rug makers.
I saw this being photographed in the dry Aral Sea by a Japanese artist, and had no idea that all this time getting the clothes pin to balance just right would result in this gorgeous photo.
We danced under stars with these Uzbekistan men who cooked really good food with one pot for all 28 of us in the desert (the men there love to dance!)
We all tried on hats in the Bukhara hat market.
Here are the tents we stayed in that night in the desert.
This is Park Byoung Uk, the Korean visionary and artistic director of 9dragonheads.
We created installations of all types, with anything that people found and documented everything endlessly! And finally we all did something more prepared in and around the boats in Moynaq:
Several of us holding flags made by Lisa Benson, a New Zealand artist.
An artist from the UK, Bram Arnold worked with blue paint in the desert.
An artist from the Netherlands created a sound installation for one of the boats before he arrived- a morse code recording made that was a story of a fisherman from the Aral Sea.
Another Dutch artist who created this spiral near the boats.
I sent pictures of these boats to Tom Kerr (composer and York grad) and he wrote a beautiful melody that I wrote lyrics for and then sang it in the boat - it also became a part of the final performance in Georgia.
Here we are in Khiva… after a lot of driving through very bad roads…
Once in Tblisi, Georgia we all got to work on the exhibition. This is where we really saw the gift of this intensely bonding experience. We are all artists that tend to work alone and obsessively. Suddenly we had a whole new team of eyes that we trusted. As critical and self oriented as we all can be at times, we were all able to let go of our own needs and help someone else, regardless of what we felt about their work. I was delighted by how each of us would unselfconsciously ask for help from the others- can you help me hang this, does this look like a good place for this, can I use your string, do you have any pliers, when you are done can you bring me the ladder and hold it...
Arwinda and I got to work right away, efficiently and intensely. The performance and collaboration was so exciting we have decided to create the entire piece together! We performed a fairly stunning 12 minutes of material for the event and every time we rehearsed, someone would invite us to some festival or event somewhere else and ask for a CD… we now look forward to an exciting German/Canadian collaboration and hope to change the environmental content to suit the location of each performance. I will go to Germany to work with them in April after working with a director (Paul Towner Rainsford) on the material in Australia in March shortly after another theatre project begins that I am directing February in Jakarta.
Here is the Karvasla Museum in Tblisi, Georgia - a Finish artist sets up her installation before people arrive.
Russian cotton plantations are where the water was diverted that emptied the Aral Sea, so a great deal of cotton was used in the exhibit. This is dirt and cotton and the entrance to the main exhibit floor is up these stairs.
Here Christophe Doucet, a French artist creates a piece made from Uzbekistan cotton that I watched sketched and conceived in the French speaking car on the journey.
Here we are performing next to a sculpture created by an Austrian artist in front of a photo of the boats in Moynaq taken by Denizhan Ozer.
the day after (the smaller flags you see are the same ones that we are holding up in the desert. They were on our cars, worn as sun shields and capes, photographed throughout the journey and then hung in the exhibit hall.)
The photos are all here courtesy of the various 9dragonheads artists.