La Casa Gelato

single channel video

Choreographed and performed by Layla Marcelle + Matilda Cobanli
Camera: Jacob Raeder
Editing: Alex Thornton

An interview by Francis L. Quettier and Dora S. Tennant for WomenCinemakers Biennale 2018

Hello Layla and Matilda and welcome to WomenCinemakers: we would like to introduce you to our readers with a couple of questions regarding your background. Are there any experiences that did particularly influence your evolution as artists and creatives? Moreover, how does the difference between your cultural substratums address your artistic research?
We have a shared memory of standing in the Pacific ocean, wearing just our bathing suit bottoms, sunglasses, and lipstick ---- we were talking about dance and eating chips ---- four years ago in September.

For this special edition of WomenCinemakers we have selected La Casa Gelato, an extremely interesting dance video that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article nd that can be viewed at What has at once impressed us of your insightful inquiry into the relationship between human body and its surrounding is the way you have provided the results of your artistic research with such captivating aesthetics: when walking our readers through the genesis of La Casa Gelato, would you tell us how did you develop the initial idea?
We were working with Swedish choreographer Emmalena Fredriksson whose artistic research at that time was exploring ‘faking’ others: embodying another dancer improvisationally. M: I really enjoyed Matilda doing Layla. There are certain people that we love to channel. L: I think you and I like to channel one another. There's something really comfortable about it, something really pleasurable. It’s both you and not you. And that’s where this work started: in dance, as a duet.

We have appreciated the way your approach to dance conveys sense of freedom and reflects rigorous approach to the grammar of body language: how do you consider the relationship between the necessity of scheduling the details of your performative gestures and the need of spontaneity? How much importance does play improvisation in your process?
The work started out as a unison duet. There are a lot of non unison moments in the film that are technically ‘fuck-ups.’ The choreographic material was fixed compositionally, but we hadn't rehearsed it together very much before filming. We were not precious with our choices- we followed an intuition in our shared aesthetics--- and our shared desire to not do fouettés, pirouettes, and splits. There’s a whole section in the duet where we just say "cool moves" ---- those were intended to be place holders for future as-of-yet-undetermined movement material that we never got around to making---- so that moment was always improvised as a mark. ‘Marking’ is what dancers do to save their energy or muscles from doing a particularly challenging action. An easier or less energetic action is done in place of the actual movement. Tap, tap, tap: here’s my triple pirouette, imagine it.

Featuring refined and well-orchestrated camera work by Jacob Raeder, La Casa Gelato involves the audience into heightened visual experience: what were your aesthetic decisions when conceiving this stimulating work?
We both love an absence of virtuosity with an insistence on rigour. Virtuosity can make dance an object: polished, unaffected by an audience, a thing rather than a state of becoming. We are interested in dancing as a state of thinking. In the duet there was an imperative to be specific without being precious, to follow desire. Each of us can be very particular about minutia, and that becomes very funny. We all share a playfulness, and everyone was given a lot of agency. Jacob works primarily in sculpture and ceramics, but he has an ongoing relationship with dance, and his cinematography evokes a particular sensuality and curiosity that genuinely engages with the dance on its own terms.

Many artists express the ideas that they explore through representations of the body and by using their own bodies in their creative processes. German visual artist Gerhard Richter once underlined that "it is always only a matter of seeing: the physical act is unavoidable": how do you consider the relation between the abstract feature of the ideas you aim to communicate and the physical act of creating your artworks?
We we were not interested in controlling what the finished piece looked like. Instead, we invited other collaborators into our process (Jacob, as a camera operator, and Alex, as an editor). We wanted our choreographic methodology (a series of propositions that either get used or not, building on what came previously) to be consistent. You could try this…. or not. Knowing that we were working on a duet that would ultimately exist as a film, we weren’t busy with things that we would usually be busy with (such as spatial relationships). There are moments when we simply swapped places- and those ended up being moments that Alex chose to use in the final edit: little moments of readjusting or messing up timing. The mechanism of the dance (and dance filmmaking) was exposed, which includes the lapses in memory, the squinting in the sun, the walking and talking in between dancing.

It's no doubt that collaborations as the one that you have established over the years are today ever growing forces in Contemporary scene and that the most exciting things happen when creative minds from different fields meet and collaborate on a project: could you tell us something about the collaborative nature of your work? Can you explain how your work demonstrates communication between two creative minds?
There is a desire to embody the other person. L: You make a dance and it’s great and funny and I want to learn it. I want to try it on and by doing so make it mine, because then it's in me, but not in a way that takes it away from you, but that expands my sense of self --- for our boundaries to go like this [moves fingers together in wave motion]. And that collaborative process works because it's a two way flow. Our collaborative process feels generous, matter-of-fact, and casual. Everything is a proposition. The whole process feels very porous.

M: It's interesting that each of us has 4 or 5 things that are very specific, and then everything else is "do what you feel.” The choices are always odd, or idiosyncratic. A wrist leading a turn and eye focus will matter immensely, but the actual turn and body mechanics are of no concern.

Marked out with minimalistic and at the same time refined visual qualities, La Casa Gelato seems to respond to German photographer Andreas Gursky's take, when he stated that Art should not be delivering a report on reality, but should be looking at what's behind something: its essential still effective visual style provides your performance with such emotional intensity: what are were aiming to provoke in the viewers? And what do you hope the spectators take away from your La Casa Gelato?
We feel that art ----particularly performance--- exists somewhere in between what a maker intends and an audience perceives, and so we don't have expectations for spectators in that way. Rather, there is an inviting into this particular thing- this dance, this place, these people, this moment. We wanted to make a film that felt more like dance than film.

La Casa Gelato has drawn heavily from the minimalistic specifics of urban environment and we have highly appreciated the way you have created such insightful resonance between space and movement: how did you select the location and how did it affect your performance?
At that time we were quite busy with thinking about public space in Vancouver because we were also then working on WATERFALL FALLING FOREVER AGAIN, a post-internet dance media project that explores social choreography and collective rhythm in city spaces. We were dancing in public and looking at bodies in the city often, and the bubble gum pink walls of La Casa Gelato are incredibly striking. The pink wall felt really important, as did "golden hour"- but we didn't realize that golden hour was the worst time to film there. We decided to embrace it. During the shoot we were literally squinting. It was a Thursday during rush hour, so many people were cycling on their commute home and the street was very busy. People stopped to watch us for a bit, to ask what we were doing. There are different social contracts enacted when experiencing dance in a theater. By performing dance in the world, casually, people encounter it in a way that they aren't expecting it ---- it's there and if they want to engage with it, it interrupts their routines. Performance activates spaces in such a particular way. That pink wall is now forever this work for us.

Before leaving this conversation we want to catch this occasion to ask you to express your view on the future of women in contemporary art scene. For more than half a century women have been discouraged from producing something 'uncommon', however in the last decades there are signs that something is changing. How would you describe your personal experience as an unconventional artist? And what's your view on the future of women in this interdisciplinary field?
We're meeting right now, discussing these interview questions at CURRENT, a Feminist Electronic Art Symposium in Vancouver. Their tag line is “dream of a new future”. We're in it and we're seeing it and we're a part of this group of queer ++++ women and non binary folks who are making things that deal with a physical practice but also some sort of virtual or electronic practice.

It’s a coincidence that we’re both in Vancouver right now talking, as neither of us live in British Columbia anymore and that film was made right before we both left. Matilda is dividing her time between Austria and Belgium, Layla is based in Philadelphia, and we both just happen to be here now to discuss this work. Layla is here working on a project with Justine Chambers, an artist and badass woman making vibrant, vital choreographic work. We know so many women in the contemporary dance scene in Vancouver who are doing good work, and we have found different ways to be happily involved from the distances and proximities in which we find ourselves.

Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Layla and Matilda. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving?
L: Last year I was invited to perform at Sawdust Collector, an interdisciplinary bi-weekly performance series at The Gold Saucer in Vancouver. One of the curators knew I was going to be in the city for an artist residency. Matilda and I had been talking about a solo she was working on that repurposed some of the movement material from this project, and I asked if I could learn it and perform it at Sawdust Collector. At the time I was reading a book about Black Quantum Futurism and I really interested in the notion of time folding. Matilda was going to be in Vancouver one month later, and because the previous version of the solo had been a duet, I loved the idea of us having a duet that had a month long intermission. So I performed Matilda’s solo in June, and she performed it in July, but we talked about it and presented it as a duet. There’s something cheeky about presenting our work in this way that feels in line with the work itself.

M: I made the solo for a theater because that was the framework through which it had to be performed at SEAD (Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance), but I was performing it in semi private or private performances for people- like in parking lots and change rooms and in the bathroom. I performed it in different stages of readiness for different people in these semi public/semi intimate spaces.  

L: I performed the duet at an after hours party for a friend who hadn’t made it to the Gold Saucer. It was summer, we were standing outside of the party, in an industrial area of the city, talking about the piece. So I performed it right there, in the middle of the street. I loved that context because there's something that feels really good about it being in semi public space.

We’re both keen on having these short dances in our pockets that can be performed at any time, in different stages of completion. And we're interested in virtual collaboration, continuing to work across oceans.

Copyright 2021 Layla Marcelle