Ester Tal and her new project, Water Bodies ” is a reminder of both the ocean’s beauty and its fragility”

Water Bodies

Water Bodies is a collaborative digital-dance performance with social change at its heart. The performance is using a unique blend of dance, theatre, film, digital effects and live camera feed to re-connect the audience to everything ocean.

The creative team behind the performance is an Australian flamenco and contemporary-based performance-artist, Tomas Arroquero, flamenco dancer Ester Tal and award-winning digital artists, Martin Coyne and Jordi Robert. We spoke to Ester, who is also one of the members of our Wonderful Team and asked her to tell us more about the project and idea behind it.

What sort of artist would you describe yourself as?

That’s a hard one. 5 years ago, I would have said without hesitation, a “Bailaora” (flamenco dancer.) I trained as such and I still produce a lot of flamenco work, alongside my husband Uri, with our company, Mi Flamenco.

However, I have diversified in recent years, exploring different ways of moving and presenting work.

It’s now more difficult to categorise, but maybe “dance-theatre artist” might be more appropriate? The jury is still out on that one.

So, what’s changed?

I suppose I have.

When I lived and trained in Spain, I was so intent on wanting to embody flamenco – how the art form is perceived, how I felt it: earthy, intense, raw, passionate.

I feel very privileged to have had that immersive experience – 14 years, in total – to study and work as a flamenco dancer in Spain. However, I felt I had to shed certain parts of myself during that time, in order to connect with what flamenco is.

Flamenco has such a cultural bond, that it has to be lived to be experienced.

I think being back in the UK has been kind of liberating. Even though I miss Jerez so much – and go back frequently for flamenco input – being here has enabled me to reconnect with parts of myself which had been pushed into the background.

I find myself wanting to produce work which enables me to use my flamenco base, but also delve into other parts of who I am, my core values; the way I feel a piece of music, or the way I view the world.

Water Bodies
Water Bodies

What’s this latest project, Water Bodies?

It’s a collaborative project with fellow-dancer and friend, Tomas Arroquero and 2 amazing filmmakers/digital artists, Jordi Robert and Martin Coyne.

With a blend of dance, theatre, film, digital effects and live camera feed, the aim is to create a stunningly visual, sensory experience; to connect audiences to everything ocean.

I wanted to enhance the dance and movement, rather than it be a digital take-over, so it is subtly atmospheric, rather than an over-use of “clever” effects.

Collaboration is what makes me tick, so I am hugely excited about this current project.

Is there any flamenco in it at all?

It isn’t flamenco, but it is certainly influenced by it, especially percussively.

We are, in fact, often barefoot, but we do wear flamenco shoes in some pieces and it is interesting hearing the audience perspective on this.

It is particularly fascinating, because as soon as you put on a pair of flamenco shoes, there are expectations. As dancers, we see our shoes as a percussive tool, whereas an audience might laden them with all types of stereotypical nuances.

This is something that can’t help affect the work. Though, I hope won’t stop us being brave in the process.  

What drove you to make Water Bodies?

I was born in a coastal town. When I have lived away from the sea for too long – Madrid for 7 years, for example, during my flamenco studies – I pined for the ocean. The sound of the waves, the feeling of the sand, the smells and textures, have made up so many of my seaside memories.

I have been wanting to make a dance work about the sea for years. Its fluidity and flow; its colour, power and serenity are all things which resonate with me as a dancer.

Myself and Tomas Arroquero were in residency at The Laban at the end of 2017, where we were exploring new working methods. I mentioned that I wanted to look at water and dance and we started delving into the theme of the ocean and our seaside memories.

And that was the start of it all.

Once we were exploring the subject, we couldn’t ignore the topical environmental issues around our seas. The way, we as humans, seem to devour our planet, bit by bit, whether that be over-fishing, dumping our plastics, or utter disregard for other species inhabiting this earth alongside us.

Our whole attitude seems to be barbaric and so self-destructive.

That sounds depressing. Is it a stark piece of work?

Yes and no. I see it as hopeful.

The whole project is about reconnection; about remembering the beauty and vitality of the ocean. So, there are plenty of moments to feel that within the piece, including some fun, seaside nostalgia.

But, yes, there are warnings within the work; reminders of what we are doing to our planet. And I am hoping that this will create a dialogue, a thought process and ultimately a change in the way we carry out our daily lives.

During the crowdfunding campaign, I have already had many conversations with people – face to face or via social media – and I can see how these dialogues provoke a shift in thought – including mine.

Water Bodies
Water Bodies

Tell us more about the crowdfunding campaign. Why go down that route?

There is a huge strain on the arts at the moment. This is nothing new and every artist knows how difficult it is to get work out there.

It is hard not to define the quality of one’s work by whether others see it as fit to be funded. The fact is, there is a lot of valuable work at the embryonic stage that doesn’t get the funding it requires.

I didn’t get funding last year, so I decided to fund the first development stage myself. This wasn’t possible this year.

By doing the crowdfunding for the second development stage – as opposed to going through other funding bodies – we are making a mark with the work before it even gets out there.

People are talking about it, friends are trying to reduce single-use plastics, plastic-awareness groups on FB are engaging with arts groups and vice-versa.

The very topic of Water Bodies concerns every human being on this planet.

If ever there was a people’s project, this is it, so it seems a perfect way to raise awareness and get more people on board, as well as funding the making of the work.

So, back to the work itself, when will it get out there?

We are now entering our next development stage and we are all in residence at Pavilion Dance Southwest in Bournemouth this summer.

However, it is a daily process – both individually and collectively – so before we get to June, there are a lot of conversations to be had, individual experimentation, sharing of material etc.  

I am aiming for the middle of 2020, as I think that a piece of work can get stale if it is held back for too long, but it is a fluid process and is determined by many factors – financial included!

I am now looking forward to this year and the exciting creative exchange between the filmmakers and dancers.

The deadline for the crowdfunding campaign is March 17th, so to find out more about the Water Bodies project, share and pledge, go to:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/water-bodies—digital-dance-performance

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