Nothing But Desire: An Interview with luciana achugar and Michael Mahalchick
by Stacy Dawson Stearns for Show Box L.A.
SDS is Stacy Dawson Stearns
LA is luciana achugar
MM is Michael Mahalchick
SDS: I am going to start at the obvious. “Puro Deseo” means “pure desire,” but desire is too numinous to regard as a singular entity. Can you discuss specific forms or personifications of desire that called upon you to manifest this piece? Did you wish to open something in yourself that you had not yet experienced?
LA: “Puro Deseo” means pure desire because puro means pure but in Spanish to say pure desire you must switch the words around and say “deseo puro”; on the other hand puro in front of deseo means “all desire” or “nothing but desire”. In other words, I was interested in leaving the title in Spanish, not only because it feels very different than when it is said in English, but also because it means both pure desire and nothing but desire, all desire – and there was no direct translation for this phrase in English.
When I speak of desire, I intend to embody a state of desire that to me is akin to embodying potentiality. I guess there is a religiosity within that state of desire, but that aspect permeates the state without my seeking it directly.
When I began working on this piece I had the fantasy of being able to create something that could remain in a state of potentiality, meaning that I was trying to create not to design a product, but to make a dance that could embody the desire to create, the desire to express, and the desire to affect change or possibly even heal the audience.
I was trying to be honest with myself and accept that as an artist my desire is to heal the audience, as pretentious as that might seem; that’s truly one of the underlying motivators of my creating and I wanted to access that possibility for magic that is within the theater and within my body (and Mahalchick’s). This was done both with humility and delusions of grandeur. Therefore, the desire is both vulnerable and full of fantastical delusion.
SDS TO MM: This makes me curious about Michael’s experience. Michael, how was it “to access the possibility of magic” within your body and in within the space of the theatrical setting? Can you characterize the way these ideas worked through or in your body during this process?
MM: For me, in this work, “accessing the possibility of magic” manifested itself as an exploration of presence. Because this piece starts in a place of “emptiness/nothingness” it creates a space where one can slowly build an embodied presence that isn’t informed by preconceived notions of character/identity. Each time we perform this work it feels like I am conjuring the movement and my character from nothing besides the desire to affect change on my own existence. I feel like it is the creation then transformation, by sheer force of will, of an embodied presence that has the agency to affect change on its environment in a way that is not necessarily based in materiality but is driven by a palpable energy.
SDS: Michael, you and Luciana have been collaborating for a long time, but this was your premiere as a performer/creator in this work. Did this experience shift the way you collaborate with Luciana as a video or sound designer/composer? What questions or challenges to your other art practices have arisen from your psycho-physical participation in Puro Deseo?
MM: I don’t think the way I collaborated with Luciana on Puro Deseo was essentially different than how I’ve collaborated with her in the past. Generally, when I work with Luciana we have a very close and open dialogue, artist to artist, about what ideas she would like to explore in the work and my role within the work is usually determined by our ongoing discussions of her ideas, not necessarily by the role she may have initially recruited me for. In order for my contribution to best serve her ideas my role sometimes needs to shift to accommodate the changes that occur in the development of the work. Within my own art practice, my experience in Puro Deseo has led me to a deeper exploration into ideas of time and presence in relation to transformation. Can the act of transformation be effectively dramatic to create meaning when the act is invisible in a material sense? This is, for someone who primarily identifies as a sculptor, definitely a challenge.
SDS: Luciana, you have identified Puro Deseo as an incantation. I have never known magic to sit by quietly when it is invoked, even as a muse. Did the incantation “work” in the way that you originally intended?
LA: No, I don’t think it worked. I think I failed, except for maybe the very first part of the piece… I think the only part of the work that is truly healing is the darkness. So I guess the fact that I somehow, not rationally, arrived at the decision to use darkness did work. But in all honestly I wasn’t completely intending for the whole piece to be a true ritual of enchantment, but more to find the intersection between incantation and performing dance in a theater and to ask questions about it.
I guess you could say that it is more a piece that desires to be an incantation, since like I said before I am not interested in accomplishment and completion or perfection of design but in what motivates it or drives it; which is more similar with what being/living in a body is like.
SDS: Your choreographic work involves shifting sensory experience/exploration into form. Is “translate” the right word to describe the movement of your material from initial discovery to expression on the stage? If not- how would you characterize the shift from primordial information to repeatable structure and vocabulary?
LA: I wouldn’t call it translate because as I understand it, that would possibly denote a reshaping of some kind, and I think that what I am doing is more a compilation of content/material without losing its initial motivation during that magical improvisatory moment that birthed it. That is probably why I end up using repetition a lot, because instead of taking the material and following a kinetic or movement phrase from it’s initial discovery, I try to stay in it and repeat it to let it change me, my cells, my flesh, my organs and my emotional state so that I can become what that movement is rather than just “showing” it as a dance move.
I also repeat to try to find an inner logic that brings about it’s relationship to space that makes most sense from an intuitive rhythm that just plainly feels right; not without questioning it but trying to follow what feels exciting, natural or simply like it belongs to the world or new “body” that seems to grow out of the piece…
SDS: As a performer, you glow in a way that is feral yet vulnerable. Do you feel that this empowers you when you face external critique of the work? How does the eternal dialogue of review/commentary affect you in your creative space? Have you endured any press-related dismissal or indictment of your work that you would like to address here?
LA: Thank you, that’s a complement to me: “feral yet vulnerable”…! It empowers me onstage; or rather being onstage makes this feral yet vulnerable side of me come out because that’s how it feels to me to be the object of viewing of the gaze of the audience. (I can elaborate on this a bit more but I can’t find the right words right now for it . . . something about the audience’s gaze representing western civilization and the status quo – somehow when I’m the performer, it is a space where I can be my non-socialized self). However, it does not empower me when it comes to external critique as I often feel misunderstood by critics. Yes, I feel like the raw or feral aspect of it makes most critics dismiss it as less serious dance, less formal. (For example my last piece was criticized for using a mirroring structure but not being perfect in its form; although it was obvious that we could not see well and therefore the failing of the structure was built into the work and part of its intention and exploration).
On the other hand, some viewers that are into more intellectual readings or that dismiss dancing if it’s not conceptual enough, seem to not connect enough with my work because it’s too humanistic or felt or maybe because it embraces theatricality and functions more as an experience than as an essay.
It’s hard to say really, this is when my ego and insecurities get in the way and it’s hard to really know how it is being seen by others. I am constantly dissatisfied with what I do as I am too self-critical, so any critique I tend to take to heart; until I take some distance from the work and the critiques and start my next work and get all excited about it again…