Backstage with Sorour Darabi

Der*die Performer*in Sorour Darabi sitzt umgeben und bedeckt von einer großen. blonden Perücke auf dem Boden. Es ist nur das Gesicht des*der Performer*in zu sehen.

Sorour, what do you wish for the audience to experience when they encounter Natural Drama?

In my work I want people to make an experience that moves them emotionally and I wish for the audience to have a physical connection to what they see. Showing something that challenges their feelings is more important to me than an intellectual experience. I've always been attracted to those kinds of artworks that manage to connect to my feelings and that show something which has been outside of my thoughts or my physical senses. The experience of the audience to me is also a question of domination. The way that I dominate the audience as an artist is connected to feelings. It's almost like a game that I like to play. I play with people's feelings and emotions (laughs). I don't make pieces to please the audience. I want the audience to experience paradoxical feelings, gut feelings, doubt, fear, rejection. This is all welcome, as long as I'm respected as a fictional persona on a playground. In Natural Drama I raise questions and thoughts around the environment and climate change, and I'm interested in transporting this process of change to the bodies in the audience. The piece also participates in a discourse that keeps all fields of the art world busy at the moment. How can we make art in times of climate change that is hitting the planet in such a drastic way? Who has the resources to do so?
In connection with these questions, there is a lot of fighting with the big and famous players of the field. Many of them present a very conservative way of dealing with all those questions in their work. I wonder what's the point in approaching nature and environmental issues with a conservative mindset? You know, nature is queer now!
The bourgeois and classic image of nature doesn't exist anymore. Nature is not unpenetrated anymore it's penetrated now. There's nothing holy about nature anymore.

Which ideas, questions and doubts regarding the concept of nature arise during your tour with Natural Drama?

I'm interested in dance history. Isadora Duncan as one of the most important artists in Western dance influenced an image of the “free dance” that has a strong connection to nature. I am wondering what it means today. And what kind of freedom is meant. What is this free movement?
In Western countries there is always the question of who can dance and which body can dance. This is still super important and I experience this myself. I presented my work in renowned festivals and international venues, which then didn't use pictures of my trans body online and on social media.
Since more and more Western countries have become right-wing and super fascist, I feel that bodies like mine are being more and more censored at some point. Whereas the public discourse on issues like freedom focuses on countries like Iran to maintain a very specific image of freedom that is then spread around the world.
The question of which body can dance is of course also related to technique and dance education. I find that interesting because related to my heritage, I have a totally different point of view in analyzing dance or appreciating a choreography. I use to speak about “my heritage” rather than talking about “Iranian heritage” because for an Iranian person heritage can bring a whole range of different connections.

For me dance is much more connected to immateriality. Dance is not that materialist in a way that you can write a book about all the lines of the body in space. It's more about energy and also about bodily states of trance. Related to the question of which body can dance, a focus on the immaterial aspects of dance shifts the attention away from aesthetics of beauty and European white bodies that always look the same and are so boring to watch.
In Natural Drama I also wanted to work with the voice. I have been in a process of searching my voice and the aesthetic that I want to create around it. We've worked a lot on fragility and ability of the voice also because I'm not trained as a singer and I am a trans person which means that also my voice is in a process of change. With my voice I challenge the classical and conservative understanding of beauty and art in Europe. I like to ask myself what sounds beautiful to me? Since for a long time it have been white, cis and upper class people who had the power to decide what they wanted to see and what is beautiful. So in my work I'm always defending the fact that I'm creating what I want to see. I'm not creating what they want to see, because I know what they want to see. And It's not that I'm not able to create that. I think everyone can create that. As a choreographer you just need to bring together super professional dancers, you pay them super well and then they create a piece that most of the bourgeois people will appreciate for their whole life. What I want to see as an artist also concerns the question of generation. I think it's missing young artists who are having the courage of creating pieces that make sense for their generation and for future generations – pieces that could initiate change in the whole field of dance.

How would you describe your approach to movement in the piece?

My approach to movement is quite related to my approach to language and the voice. My choreography always is a lot about embodying different states of the mind and body. I am interested in the process of re-entering different bodily states. Re-entering a specific state from your everyday life, or a situation your body has memorized for example under the influence of drugs or another state of physical intensity. One can re-enter these states and use them in a choreography. I use my imagination a lot when I work on movements that recreate such images and sensations.

What brings you joy on stage when you perform Natural Drama?

Performing Natural Drama is quite challenging for me, because it's a very frontal piece. In front of the audience I feel quite naked although I'm not physically naked (I mean almost something between naked and covered, a sort of second skin). But I'm super exposed. Most of the time my pieces are bringing me to a place that is quite exposed. That's very challenging and I think I really like this challenge. Because I feel that even though I am exposed and also fragile, I'm at the same time dominating the audience. That's very interesting to me.

The stage design of Natural Drama appears like an installation in the space. What is the idea behind the poetics of the stage design?

For this project the stage design started as a collective imagination of four people: the Scenographer Alicia Zaton, the Lightdesigner Yannick Fouassier, the Dramaturg Lynda Rahal and myself. Together we created the space. We have been reflecting a lot about the meaning of binaries and how it's so hard to escape them. But you cannot pretend they don't exist and that we don't have to address them. So we decided to directly deal with this issue. With the stage design we are in some way trying to create or quote this binary world we are living in. Therefore we installed the risers in the space, which divide the scene into different sections. I can perform in the front of the stage, very close to the audience, on the risers and also in the back of the stage. I can play with making something more visible and something else less visible. It opens up a kind of panorama. Also I can play with my body appearing smaller or bigger. So when I am close to the audience on the risers I am just like super big and rude and very dominant. And in other parts of the piece I'm far away and small. Through the stage design I can work on very different layers of the relationship with my audience. This set up also relates to classical theater and the division between avant-scène and arrière-scène. Avant-scène means the front of the stage. Arrière-scène refers to the back of the stage. Connected to this differentiation there were also specific artistic reflections on how to use these two different places in the theater. So when something obscene was supposed to happen, for example something related to sexuality, that should not have been presented avant-scène, but always arrière-scène. Avant-scène and arrière-scène created an order, that derived also very much from a bourgeois mind set. And that decided on what can be show to the audience and what has to be hidden and is only supposed to be shown in a hidden way.

Very early in the process I had the wish of having a curtain of hair for the show. In the end we decided that it should be blonde hair to create an image of fluidness, ice and coldness. For me it was also a reflection about blonde hair, which can symbolise white feminism. Additionally, I associate blonde hair with Isadora Duncan, although she had dark hair, but I don't care, because she was a white woman. I know it's very boring for white women to hear that because they usually want to be the victim of everything. They don't like to be questioned, because very often they don't believe that they have any privilege. But hair is still a very versatile symbol, of course. Hair can be read as a symbol of femininity. But it's also quite queer. For other people, hair doesn't refer to any specific gender. So it doesn't belong to white feminism, it doesn't belong to femininity, it doesn't belong to masculinity, it doesn’t belong exclusively to humans. Hair belongs to nature and brings with it very different ideas and possibilities.

Natural Drama is a solo. Savušun, another solo, you have presented at tanzhaus nrw in 2021. Also your first work Subject to Change is a solo. What's your interest and your relation to solo works?

I'm a young artist and I want to experiment a lot in my pieces. In my work I need to feel and to get engaged with something. And I think I really need to experience things myself, with my own body to find out what is artistically important to me. Of course I am also collaborating with other artists and that is usually a big support. But I do think that I rely a lot on my own creativity, my own aesthetic practice and my own ideas. Also quite practically speaking you have to put in a lot of work to create space for yourself and your work in the field of dance. You cannot just appear out of nowhere and do a group show. It doesn't work economically. No one will support you. Even after having worked in the field for many years, it is often difficult to create something like a big piece with many dancers. But of course once you have money, you can pay a lot of people and their creativity. After all these years I will very soon realise my first group show with several performers. I had the first experience of it during my residency in Palais de Tokyo last November. It was a beautiful collaboration and I was very happy with the result. So I thought, allright, now is the time to produce a group piece.

What potential futures does the dialogue with Isadora Duncan and Zahara Khanom Taj Saltaneh suggest?

The two of them do not have a dialogue with each other. The piece is a dialogue between me and the two of them in a parallel world, or perhaps in the future. As a trans person, I am used to living in parallel worlds. Sometimes people are like, “Do you even exist?” Yeah, in a parallel world, you know. Maybe not in your world, but I exist.
So with Isadora Duncan and Taj Saltaneh I was interested to incorporate a reflection of two stories with very different ways of reflecting about the body, feminism and about the way that we are fighting in different places. Taj Saltaneh used to live in Iran. She wasn't traveling around the world and there was not yet an immigration movement like we have it today. Isadora Duncan lived in another corner of the world with her own heritage and roots that she was trying to find in Greek culture and Europe. She was interested in an image of freedom connected to nature. I think the concept of nature needs to be redefined.
I believe in the plurality of “natures”. Also she had a very religious and very Catholic background and appropriated a lot from traditional dances from the East. But still, both of them, in very different environments, fought for more or less the same rights.

Sorour Darabi trägt einen beigen Body und hält mit seinen Händen eine lange, blonde Perücke in die Höhe. Ein Teil der Perücke befindet sich im Mund der*des Performer*in.

Sorour Darabi

Natural Drama
Fri 15.09. + Sat 16.09.