Interview with Laura Kriefman - Guerilla Dance Project

photo (c) Anna Hammersley

photo (c) Anna Hammersley

Laura Kriefman is the founder and choreographer of Guerilla Dance Project (GDP) a dance group famed for introducing dance and beauty to what is perceived as prosaic activities, such as riding the bus or having a cup of tea, by surprising commuters and passers by with choreographed dances within everyday spaces.

GDP recently completed a unique residency at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol - the only programme of its kind in the UK. The residency offers artists the rare opportunity to experiment with new technologies within the arts, creating a safe space to take risks and develop new cultural experiences.

Laura Kriefman is also the creative producer at Tristan Bates Theatre and is working on GDP’s next project called The Museum of Broken Relationships. Laura talks to Female Arts about Guerilla Dance Project and explains what a ‘dance game’ is.

When did you start Guerilla Dance Project (GDP)?
I started the Guerilla Dance Project in November 2009 - it grew out of an urge to choreograph a poem, which turned into an entire choreographic adventure around a building. That’s when I realised how much fun it was choreographing for public spaces- amongst members of the public.

What is the reaction of spectators to GDP? Do people participate if invited?
Our work really satisfies people-watchers, the active observers in a city, who realise something’s happening and are rewarded with the seeing the transition from pedestrian movements performed en mass, into more elaborate dance. There’s a great satisfaction in being the only person to see this in a crowded public space. People love watching our work. And without a doubt, where members of the public have a similar object at hand (i.e. happen to be holding a newspaper when we start to perform) they will try to mimic and participate.

Who are the dancers in GDP?
The GDP is a company of about 10 dancers who have trained at some of the top vocational dance schools: Tring, Laban, London Studio Centre, Rambert. They are a fantastic company who are open, and inquisitive and inspired by this work. It’s great to have such playfulness combined with such technique.

What made you think of integrating dance with everyday activities?
I believe we dance throughout our lives. That everyday we dance through our environments and social interactions, that there’s rhythm and beauty in everything. I wanted to see whether it was possible to create work that surprises, entices and engages the public- encourages them to see their everyday environments in a new manner.
In our urbanised, techno-powered lives can we find the rhythm that dances through it, that suffuses our daily socialisation? Can we court technology like a lover? And can we find the courage to ask “Will you dance with me?”

Are key people in the performance space made aware beforehand e.g. the bus driver or coffee shop manager?
If we’re going to cause a disruption in a private space, then yes we often pre-warn shop owners during the walk round on the route that morning. But as our work appears and disappears we’re never in one public space for more than 5 minutes so most are very open to it.

Does performing in public spaces make rehearsals and choreography difficult?
I don’t think so. I think it’s inspiring. I am inspired by the way we move through our world every day, so always feel that there are ideas to explore in the rehearsal room. It has influenced our practice, as it means we have developed a whole range of vocabulary, scenes and phrases that can be re-interpreted in different spaces. We rehearse everything up to a high level to allow us the freedom to improvise in a new location. It’s invigorating and inspiring.

When did you start dancing and where did you train?
I started dancing when I was very young- for fun. I wasn’t very good but adored being inside music. I got a bit better, and got a place at the GSA Conservatoire to study performance and dance. I got a lot of encouragement for my choreography both there and whilst growing up in Bristol and since then have studied different social dances and choreographic approaches. I was lucky - no one told me that I wasn’t ‘allowed to be a choreographer’ so I’ve found my own voice.

How long were you in residency at Watershed for & how were you selected for residency?
Our residency was for two months as an intensive development period. We now have a permanent home as a resident company. We submitted an application to develop this work in February after seeing the opportunity advertised. We wanted a chance to develop our practice and push ourselves out of our creative comfort zone. We wanted to understand technology and find ways to make our use of composition and sound as surreptitious and portable (and therefore as pervasive) as our dance. The Pervasive Media Studio offered us incredible source of ideas, technical knowledge and project support.

You teamed up with music composer Tim Barber and gaming expert Robin Lay at Watershed – how have they influenced GDP?
Greatly - a residency like this allowed us to explore our creative disciplines, how they link, find a shared collaborative language and explore what was exciting in all three disciplines. We learnt an incredible amount that has been integrated into our on-going company practice.

What involvement did conductor Charles Hazlewood have with the GDP residency?
Charles Hazlewood was one of our mentors during the residency, along with St George’s Bristol and Sound and Music. Each of these mentors offered us support and inspiration on different aspects. Charles was great to engage with about his experiences as a conductor for dance and his interest in our investigation into the symbiosis between choreography and composition.

What was the reaction to GDP’s showcase at Watershed on the 9th June 2011?
I was worried that people wouldn’t be engaged, or being interested in the work. But people visually got it, wanted to engage playing with the new prototypes and really responded to the company’s passions and ethos and what inspires us to create work. That was very humbling.

You are creative producer at Tristan Bates theatre, what does this role involve?
I programme and develop the Tristan Bates Theatre. Producing our own work, developing our public profile and running our talent development work.

What is GDP’s involvement in The Museum of Broken Relationships?
The GDP is one of the commissioned artists for the Museum of Broken Relationships. As our work in inspired by people and objects we have been commissioned to create a new dance response to the objects and stories in the Museum that are from people’s previous relationships. I’m incredibly excited to explore some of the new ideas we are developing.

What is a dance game?
Gosh - what is a dance game? Each of our games are very different. But at the heart of them all: It’s an experience that invades your environment and gives the members of the public observing and active players the agency to control, influence and be inspired by the dance in a manner that empowers them. Our dance games are a lot of fun, break a lot of rules, and offer a different way of engaging with dance. And like a game there is a winner - and that’s always a member of the public.

Any words of advice for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Trust what’s at the heart of your work. Never lose that. Keep questioning it and keep making work in response to those questions and it will just keep getting better.

Find out more about Laura Kriefman and the Guerilla Dance Project:

GDP website
GDP residency at Watershed, Bristol
GDP residency video
GDP on youtube

The Museum of Broken Relationships
Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden

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