Science-Fiction, Cinema and Dance are not easy to manage together and make them successfully, and even less to make a series out of them. The Die Wolke Art Group is achieving something that probably will be important in the screendance history: Imago.
Today I bring you here an interview with Dani Joss, the director of this amazing series of sci-fi dance that comes directly from Greece and that I had the pleasure to watch two chapters and I will screen next 4th November in the Museu d’Art de Cerdanyola (Spain).
Hello Dani, thank you for accepting this interview. First of all, for the readers, can you make a little introduction of yourself?
My name is Dani Joss. I am first and foremost a musician and sound artist, working mostly within the realm of the electroacoustic medium, but also interested in intermedial and interactive art, and audiovisual installations. I have two personal music albums, Liquid Photography and Shaper of Form, the latter of which has received an international Qwartz award for research and experimentation. The Imago films are my directorial debut. I am also a sound engineer, music producer, and acoustic designer. I have lived in London and Berlin, while currently I live and work in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Tell me what is DIE WOLKE ART GROUP. Who are the members and what do you do?
Die Wolke Art Group is a non-profit research and development organisation dedicated to the performing arts, contemporary dance, video art, mixed media and associated technologies. Based in Thessaloniki, Greece, it is comprised of a rotating and ever-expanding cast of individual artists, thinkers, and technicians. Its chief aim is the research and development of outside-the-box multidisciplinary art, as well as its implications in the urban social context.
The founder is Drosia Triantaki, dancer and choreographer. Together with Aliki Iosafat and myself, we are the three core members that look after Vitruvian Thing, our headquarters, that is at the same time a small post-production studio and a venue for contemporary dance works, experimental music concerts, and short film screenings.
IMAGO is a science-fiction series of dance short films. I had the pleasure of watching the two chapters you have made so far: “Orientation” and “Symmetry”. I have to say that, in my opinion, there are amazing! It was the first time where I could see screendance applied in sci-fi without trespassing into the experimental video. Have I missed anything?
Thank you for your kind words.
Obviously, sci-fi and mystery are major influences as genres. However, especially with Symmetry, there also exists a rather convoluted mode of storytelling, or rather idea-conveying. In exploring the thematic connotations that we established in Orientation and continued in Symmetry, we tried to construct a kind of semiotic web, on top of which we applied the visual narrative. So, there is a lot of metaphor theory involved, lots of intrinsic references, a number of threads to be unravelled. That said, we wanted Imago to be multi-layered, that is, not to be completely incomprehensible if not 100% decoded with the first viewing. We wanted the viewer to feel drawn into this mystery world, where ideas come to life.
Why did you decide to use dance for telling this story? How is the way to create with Drosia Triantaki?
We decided to use dance in this manner before the story even existed.
For both films, we had specific imagery that we wanted to realise, and then the story got built around it. That is maybe oversimplifying a bit, though, as there was a lot of back and forth. I think the answer to the question is that we weren’t happy with some works of screendance that we were seeing at the time; we felt we required, as an audience, some context: be it narrative, abstract, philosophical, anything. This requirement led to the development of our approach.
Drosia is an extremely capable, disciplined, cerebral dancer. We spent a lot of time discussing the screenplay, and she did a great deal of research on actually applying our thematic material to her movement. Many scenes were inspired by her work.
One thing I specially liked was the cinematography or photography of your films, they have a special color and light. Tell me about the work of Vaggelis Koumouris and the camera you use.
We use the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, which we (proudly) own. The look of the films is a product of a good combination of lighting and post-production: we tried to analyse films we like, try and figure out how they were shot, and then apply our conclusions, even if that meant taking some risks.
For Symmetry, we were able to rent some high end lighting equipment, which was very helpful. Also, in my opinion, a lot depends on set design, which in our case was a product of finding the right locations and some good art direction by Aliki Iosafat. A big part of the look was achieved by our decision to shoot Raw in log colour space for maximum flexibility, then in post achieving the desired result through colour grading, relighting, and VFX techniques.
Vaggelis is a student in the local film school. Along with Eleni Chrysomalli, a graduate of the same school and director in her own right, they helped not just with photography and camera work, but also with the production as a whole. We were very lucky to have them during shooting, as they had more filmmaking experience than we. Each brought about a different style of work and their influence can be felt throughout Ep.II.
This is of course true for every single one of the contributors, from our brilliant sound designer Alfonso De Grandis to the special FX makeup artist Anta Nalbanti, the performers Nana Kouli and Constantinos Katsamakis, and everyone else in a long list that can be found in the official website: die-wolke.org/imago2
Thanks to this mise-en-escène, I would say that your short films are not just screendances but dancefilms, what do you think?
I agree, a word we sometimes use is “cinedance”. I believe the uniqueness of the approach is that the dancing “belongs” in the scene, yet again it does not: we explore that fine line where the dance’s agency is attributed to both character and performer, or oscillates between them. We thusly set up spaces that work both towards the narrative and are also abstract. In other words, when developing a scene, we would ask ourselves: “would the character in this situation really dance now?” and Drosia would come up with sequences that elicited a “yes” or “no” answer, but also quite frequently made us forget that we needed to ask the question in the first place. Then we’d consider how to better convey that visually. This process is radically different from a traditional screendance production, so it follows that the result would be as well.
In my opinion, this second episode, “Symmetry”, is less abstract than the first one, “Orientation”, and the editing rhythm is more dynamic, the voice interacts more with the main character and the effects are improved. Until which point do you want to arrive? Which are your references?
This is a very difficult question to answer, mostly because most of the time we work with what we have. For Symmetry, it was the original idea of setting up symmetric units of meaning, or symmetric signs, characters, plot points… almost like constructing the plot around a pivot. That felt like a very original way to approach our subject matter, for example the Lacan references regarding the infant “imago” state, while at the same time setting up a world where “native” characters can get entangled with others that they created in another level of story. Therefore, the perceived level of abstraction can differ, depending on the idea that we are trying to support. I don’t think we intentionally try to move towards this direction. In fact, the way Symmetry ends, it opens up its world significantly: “With maturation, comes the art of shaping: the populations, the rules, the structure, the symmetry”. So there are so many ways that the heroine can move forward: will it be more exploration, with just the domain rules changing? Or will she conjure up something more introspective and psychological?
Regarding the rest of your question, the answer is similar: for example, I’d love to have a sequence, near the end of the series, that would be inspired by Nolan’s Inception, but we know that that’s never going to happen. We do, however, make it a point to always take a few risks and attempt something that we are not sure how to pull off before we do it, and that is a way to push ourselves forward. In the end, I believe that the content itself, when distilled in the form of a screenplay, will point to the necessary directions, the obvious or less so, references, and whether parts of it will move towards action, character-driven plot, voice-over with experimental photography, with more or less dancing, and so on. At the moment Imago is a platform for us, and we’re happy to be on it without trying to steer too much!
Tell me about this technological image you offer to the viewer. How did you get to build that amazing place and structures?
We were very lucky to have two local microbreweries as location sponsors: Sknipa and Ali. They each let us in for one night (we had to do it at night, daylight would obviously never work, and the windows were really large there), and then we let Aliki transform them with all sorts of props and prints to make them feel authentic to the original intent. Of course, there was a lot of digital set extension and some compositing trickery required, but I still feel that, overall, set design and locations were the most important factor.
That said, a few of the machines that Drosia, Nana, and Constantinos had to interact with, had to be built! That was neither simple, nor cheap. Luckily we had Tasos, our chief builder, that took Aliki’s CAD designs and built the big sphere machine, as well as the cryochamber. From there, it was a matter of practically and digitally adding the little things that made them come alive.
Have you planned the next chapter yet or is it still a secret?
There are of course ideas about what could happen next, and we’ve known how we want the series to end since we started. What we haven’t decided is how long we want it to be: shall we make a grand finale and make it a trilogy, or shall we expand the universe and let some more threads unravel? We have even talked about making an animated episode. Another problem at the moment is funding: the scale of the next episode will largely be determined by its feasibility. We live in troubled times, especially here in Greece, so there are always unforeseen obstacles. We are confident, however, that an opportunity will present itself and, when that happens, we’ll nudge everything so that it’ll fall into place for episode III.
Thank you, Dani, for having the patience to answer all these questions. I am impatient to watch the next episodes of this amazing project!
Thank you Eva for your appreciation and support. Kind regards!