Setting choreographic problems

Mariela Nestora

25 September 2013


Das (ist) ein…  photo: Evie Fylaktou

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I am Mariela Nestora. I choreograph for YELP dance company, which started in London and then moved and is now based in Athens. There’s a core of artists I collaborate with but ultimately the company moves when I move.

When did you go to London and then come back to Athens?

I went to London to study biology and after my MA in genetics I decided to devote myself to what I love to do. I studied at the London Contemporary Dance School. I’ve done my Graham and done my Cunningham and I’m done with that. The original idea was for me to become a dancer but after the 1st week at school I realised that I was more interested in choreography and composition. After school I was dancing for others and choreographing for YELP. It was a very clear choice to keep that separate. To choreograph, to dance are separate functions – different parts of me. And I prefer to keep this pure. Lately I’ve really been considering bringing this together.

Are you working on a project?

At the moment I feel there is something pending. It feels like my last production is not yet finished. Although it was performed in Athens and Denmark I want to go back to it. I’m about to start a new production. The title…”Exactly what I wanted, minus one”.

Is there something you’re questioning in this new project?

I have this tendency to create series of works.  So under a big subject I’ll have several works that deal with different facets.  This links to my interest in “research”.

Pure research? The act of research?

Yes, pure research. The act of studying something. There’s a subject you’re interested in and then you work your way through your medium, you find your way to study it with dance.  One example was “Odd Series”: four works of 1,3,4,5,7 dancers. 1 was the person with self. 3 was the person in a group. The piece was zooming out from the individual to the group. 4 was in relation to power. 5 was the individual and the crowd.  Another example was “S series”: 3 peculiar duets that dealt with philosophy and space.

So, your new project?

My project now is to create a piece that will be on its own, not a part of a series – to deal with a large subject in one work. Rather than breaking down and distilling a subject, I’m going to try to have an overview.

Are your pieces always theme or idea driven?

Choreographing for me is a way to think. To think, study and research. And when I say research I separate it from the actual movement research in the studio.

Do you set yourself choreographic challenges?

I like to set myself a problem…it’s a bit mathematical. You create a problem that you then have to solve.  Sometimes there’s a paradox in that you think you can’t possibly solve a problem that you actually made up.  “I created this problem, how can it be that I can’t solve it? Come on Mariela, if you stick to the research you’ll solve it.”

It sounds like you begin with very abstract challenges for yourself rather that starting from an image or theme. Can you imagine what you’ll do in your first rehearsal?

In the past I would begin with one dancer to make movement material. With this on I’m interested in the space, so I’ll start off with several dancers. I am thinking that I’ll work with interactions. Empathy. Ecstasy.

You speak of both mathematical equations and of huge human conditions. Empathy. Ecstasy. How do you put these together in one piece?

I don’t know yet. What I intend to do is work with algorithms and rates of change.  I’m talking in my usual equational self…it’s about difference and repetition. I’m reading a book by Deleuze on the subject. He’s fantastic.


No end, then photo: Myrto Apostolidou


Do you think audiences are looking for a message?

Yes, they do.

How does this affect your choices in your work?

Unfortunately it doesn’t.  I find that sometimes even if the work seems cryptic or abstract, the things that I ultimately keep in the work are the things that move me. That seems to work for some of my audience. I think the strength, the challenge worth risking everything for is to be confronted with an abstract place and then suddenly you are suddenly moved – this is a strength – to be moved unexpectedly.  That’s my favourite thing as an audience. To be moved unexpectedly, when I don’t know how it happened to me. After the performance , I take this with me and I can process it. And so ‘watching’ a performance can be ‘happening’ to me for a whole week or more.  I like the decoding process,  that it doesn’t necessarily happen then and there. I prefer it when it happens later.

When you’re an audience do you watch with a critical mind?

It’s a professional hazard. I have to consciously stop myself so I can watch more innocently.

What’s the role of text or sound in your work?

There was a phase that I considered my dance theatre phase. The text was deconstructed – devised text for the work – as open as the movement language. But then there are also works in which the sound of the body was like an essential  body-part.  For example in the work “In silence”, the sound was completing the body presence. Also in “faux pas” the solo completed itself with Katerina’s sound. More recent works have text in the score and projection.


Major tool.  That’s all I do.  For me it’s completely integral that dancers perform movement that is born within their bodies so they have a close relationship to what they’re doing.  That doesn’t mean that I use their natural tendencies.  I always challenge and work with specific tasks and limitations.  I always set tasks that equally engage the mind and the body.  This engaging the mind and the body is actually creating the space for things to be emotional but in a nonrepresentational manner- which is when they actually have their full impact.

So are your dances improvisations when they get to production?

No. They’re not improvised. They are structures, constructions, scores.  Every show is the same, more or less. The reason for using this process is that the performer has to be 150% present in each performance moment. There’s plenty of room for personal investment and interpretation.


Das (ist) ein… photo: Evie Fylaktou


Are you happy with how you do things?

No. Yes. Maybe. I wish I could not be…6K today and not a thing tomorrow…to find a way to calibrate, to give myself only as much challenge as I can take, and as much as I can afford…hmm… including in financial terms.

Do you believe less is more?

Yes. I think so. I tend to be very enthusiastic about more, so less is always better. This is our eternal conflict and joke with ILIOS composer collaborator, who accuses me of inventing  the unique maximalist style of Balkan Baroque!

Do you feel you’ve sometimes failed?

In a way I’ve failed in every piece I’ve made. If one would judge failure by the difference between “what I set out to do” and “what I did”, then I’ve failed in every work. But I follow my process through to where it takes me and I tend to think of that as a success.  I have also failed on two occasions in choosing the right collaborators. I was so obsessed and absorbed with the project I failed to give the appropriate attention to the essence of our projects,  which is the people working together with to make it.

And have you had an absolute success, for you?

On a couple of occasions people have come and talked to me years after the work was performed, giving me their insights on how it’s still with them, how it affected their life, choices in life. For me that’s the point of the  – for me it’s a way of life – but the whole point is sharing the work. So those times felt like success. Doing this work is totally about communicating, otherwise I’d dance away on my own.

Are you an artist?

Yes. The way I live falls under that description according to the social norms in the Greek context.

What is an artist?

I don’t have a clue. I was just talking about social agenda.  What I described before about setting problem and solving them, for me links more to my scientific background, but through a different medium.  But the advantage of the artist versus the scientist is that in the lab there is a specific method with a yes or no answer at the end but Art is beyond this binary system. The outcome of the research can take any form or shape.

The places between yes and no, what are their values?

In science the definite yes and no have equal value. The full range offered by the Arts hopefully provides us with new pathways to understanding each other and ourselves beyond our conscious thinking.  Thank you!  I finally feel like I have a concrete argument for deciding to be an artist rather than a scientist. Better late than never , no?

Why does art matter?

At this particular historic moment it feel like art is a “topos” (eng: locus). The way the system has developed, individuals are isolated because of many things like economics, technology, social interactions….a gradual abstraction of the individual and a weakening of the communal dynamics and power. So art can offer the reinforcement to the individual and the communal dynamic so that it reaches beyond apathy – not through a violent revolution but through reinvesting in the power of the individual IN the community.




What do you think of Time?

Time is my master, the ultimate dimension, because anything can gain or lose value according to where in the sequence of events it is placed.  I consider choreography as more a time-based medium than space-design. The When affects the What ultimately.


Very interested in past collaboration with architects and in manipulating the spacing of the audience as much as the space of the performers. The whole sphere contains the audience and the work.


Despite some fruitful collaborations, I’ve never felt I’ve explored Light.


For me set basically means space.  I tend to have a fixation with multiple props, repetitive units, multiples.


I have the pleasure of collaborating with Adonis Volanakis for over 10 years.  I don’t need to say anything. He just sees the piece, brings me something and it’s beautiful and to the point.

What do you wish for?

Within our Greek context I wish for the day when choreography will be considered yet another profession.  I also wish that Greek dance will become less isolated from the rest of the world.  I hope that ‘from stage-to-page’ will prove useful in this direction.

What have you found by moving from science to dance over these years ?

Overview. In my personal history I tend to separate things and then discover they are linked.  So I thought 15 years ago that the science and dance parts of myself were completely different. I am coming to realise that the both inform everything I do.  In the same way, I thought I had to separate being a dancer from being a choreographer. In order to develop further I had to put my own body back into my practice.

Everything is about ongoing research and eventually combining all my resources.




Mariela Nestora