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A kind of magnetic pull

An Interview with the dancer Noreen Guzman de Rojas.

Bruce Nauman's dance performance Untitled premiered at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia in 1971. The dancer Noreen Guzman de Rojas has given the role a new interpretation for the Nauman- Exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim under the direction of Cesc Gelaberts. During the ten one-hour presentations the artist transforms her body into a sphere through a simultaneously mental and physical activity.

Noreen Guzman de Rojas was born in 1971 in La Paz / Bolivia. She studied physical therapy, modern dance and dance pedagogy in Berlin, in the United States and in Cuba. Her engagements as a dancer have taken her to Boston, Heidelberg and to the Komische Oper in Berlin. Here she was choreography assistant for Ballett Extra and The Dream of the Minotaur, a choreography by Blanca Li of the Komische Oper Berlin. Noreen Guzman de Rojas's own choreography was used in tanZatelier of the Komischen Oper (Intimidad , 2002 and Resistener, 2003) as well as at the Festival Anernos ( Pertenencia , 2003).

During the performances at the Deutsche Guggenheim, the dancer turns her body for the duration of an hour around its own axis, lying close to the wall in the corner of a room. The first day there are five revolutions. On the tenth day, the process is reduced to one single revolution: one single slow 360-degree-turn in 60 minutes. Noreen Guzman de Rojas tells us about her experiences during the performance in an interview with Susan Cross.

Susan Cross: Noreen, it was so wonderful that you were able to perform Bruce Nauman's Untitled "dance" from 1969 on the occasion of our exhibition. It was an important component of the show and our exploration of the artist's use of performance strategies to map experience. I'd love to hear more about your experience as the performer. When you and I spoke in Berlin before the first performance, you described some of the mental and physical sensations you experienced while you were performing. Can you tell us again here what you were feeling? Much of the work is a mental activity, so it would be interesting if you could try to articulate what is going through your mind during the hour long peformance.

Noreen Guzman de Rojas: I think it's difficult to separate the mental from the physical activity for this work. There was amoment when I tried to separate the two to study them individually, but I found that it was not possible to split mind and body in this way . Before doing anything, I had to put myself into a state of mind, to establish a connection to my body.

I lay down on the floor and connected to my centre. I slowed down my breathing and tried to feel every single part of my body as well as the surfaces that were in touch with it. During this process, I started to feel that part of the wall and the floor, especially the wall, was absorbing me. My energy was used to either move with or against the wall as I tried to turn. And I felt a kind of magnetic pull. The force was both pressing against me and absorbing me.

This connection to the architecture or space was the first thing I strongly perceived and it developed even more forcefully as I continued. During the activity, my body always became very warm. And I became very aware of the heaviness of my body at specific moments, particularly my head.

Cross: Now that you have performed the work for many consecutive days, could you describe how your experience of the work has changed? Has your understanding of the work and the "instructions" transformed at all?

Guzman de Rojas: The more I performed the instructions, the better I think I understood them. It never felt the same inside. Although it could be that my movements looked the same from the outside, from the viewer's perspective. I don't know ... There were moments when I thought that I was close to the experience that Bruce Nauman envisioned. At the beginning I tried to understand his experience and to do it properly. But in the end l this isn't possible. So I made my own experience. And it was great.

There are two things that changed during this period: The more slowly I moved, and the smaller I made my movements, the more my perception of time and distance changed. One hour became so short and one breath became such a big movement. I discovered how much I move inside. After a while I also started to play with different states of energy as well as the perception of the people watching.

After finishing the hour, I always needed a moment to come back to the present, to myself.

Cross: That is an interesting notion, that you had to "come back" - implying that you went somewhere else - another level of awareness. You've described it so well, I can almost imagine projecting myself into your place. When I watched you, time changed for me as well. It slowed down. So little, yet so much, seemed to happen. Just as I do when I watch Nauman performing in his videos, I felt tension watching you as well. My own body reacted to the pressure I saw in yours. I find this kind of physical empathy and mirroring very interesting. It is a very basic way of communicating - without spoken language - mimicking another person's movements to connect with him or her. Our mental states - both emotion and awareness - become more magnified in relation to our physical experience. You mentioned that you were playing with the perception of the people watching you. Can you explain in more detail what you mean by that?

Guzman de Rojas: I was definitely working within a different level of awareness of both myself and my surroundings. Even though I didn't look at the people watching, I could feel them, and after several days I started to sense different energies. That sounds a bit strange, doesn't it? But it felt different. I could sense when a spectator was just watching or if they were sharing the moment with me. There were also some energies which disturbed me - often hyper energies. I concentrated on slowing them down and it worked some times, or the people left. There were also moments when I wanted to be alone to focus.

Cross: I'm wondering if at any time you felt like you lost control, that the activity took over. You mentioned feeling that the architecture was absorbing you. Was this a frightening feeling? I remember reading that some of the actors who performed similar activities for the artist in the late 60s, such as Sinking into the Floor reached a panic-like state, feeling that they could not breathe, that their organs felt pressure and they had to stop the activity. Did you feel any of this kind of loss of control?

Guzman de Rojas: The only moment I was bit afraid to lose control was at the very end, finishing the "turn". My body was trying to reach the wall, but the floor was absorbing me. I used force and was afraid to break the moment. But the activity took over, and it continued. It never stopped. It didn't scare me that the architecture took over; it made me curios, and I enjoyed letting go. It was great. I discovered amazing things. Fortunately I didn't feel any panic, but I felt a lot of changes in my body during the hour. I was very aware that I had to breathe more slowly if I wanted to move more slowly and before finishing, I consciously changed my rhythms before standing up. Afterward I was always a bit dizzy and, as I said, needed time to come back.

Cross: Thank you Noreen. Your insights have expanded my own understanding and experience of the performance. It is quite powerful to see the connection between physical and mental states. It is not often that we take time to step outside ourselves and take the risk of seeing our selves and our world in a different light.

Video of the perfomance

The interview was conducted by Susan Cross. She is the curator of the exhibition Bruce Nauman: Theatres of Experience at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.