Zara Sands is a contemporary dancer based in the South East of England who utilises bodily expression to best explore her artistic concepts. Her latest project Hibernation Dream is no different, combining music and movement to create an interdisciplinary art project in collaboration with composer Will Chaffey. The film uses dance to create vocals which were then used to create music which in turn was used to create the diegetic sound of an office woman’s dream. The project launched at the start of September for one month on www.videoclub.org.uk and is receiving a National Lottery Project Grant from Arts Council England.
The ‘Hibernation Dream’ project is a free online programme that includes a film that goes by the same name, a journal documenting the creation process as well as online workshops developed in response to the performance research that formulated the film.
We spoke to Zara to find out more about the projects inspirations, creative process and to delve deeper into the concepts behind the film:
What was your inspiration behind creating ‘Hibernation Dream’?
In essence I wanted to use dance, film and sound interdependently to paint a picture… Whether that picture ended up being received as an explicitly decipherable idea or as a purely bizarre and abstract vignette didn’t matter to me, as long as the material was inspired and a true rendering of the feelings put into it.
Why does ‘Hibernation Dream’ want to create a feeling of discomfort and how did you achieve it?
I think a lot of what I make aims to create a feeling of discomfort because it is usually the things that make me uncomfortable that inspire me to create. Hibernation Dream is inspired by a bundle of thoughts and values that make me uncomfortable because of how they exist so peacefully and harmoniously among people, even when they make very little sense.
The first source of inspiration, before I’d even come up with Hibernation Dream, was some lynx sounds myself and composer Will found on Reddit. We loved them because of the way they were so disturbing. You couldn’t tell they were lynxes and they sounded like they sat in a really wrong place between human and animal. Listening to them we thought they could be the sound of someone giving birth, the sound of a child having a tantrum, violence, mating calls or perhaps the sound of a really bad stomach-ache or period cramps. You could sort of switch your perception in your head whilst listening to it and visualise something totally different. We then wondered what would happen if we created music out of it, then what would happen if we created a corresponding dance… and along the way a film script was built around this. We created material that responded to these noises then created material that responded to that and eventually developed what I hope is a somewhat weird and wrong 6-minute world.
How has your concept of ‘natural’ and ‘natural roles’ changed throughout the process of creating ‘Hibernation Dream’?
The project made me really think about how I convey or reference something that has a different meaning to different people, and I think the project has made me realise how fluid my concept of the ‘natural’ is and how easily it changes by simply changing the angle I look at it from.
I think as a society we have little grip of what the word ‘natural’ means. Whether that’s through having little regard for the environment but great carbon accounting, whether that’s through attacking people’s diversity or bodily autonomy, or making choices about how we treat our health. I think that all too often we make the word mean what we want it to. That’s why I associate it with a dream.
How was your experience working collaboratively with Will Chaffey on this interdisciplinary art project?
A breeze. Me and Will have been partners for over two years now and I tend to avoid mentioning this unless it is entirely relevant. I worry that people may think I’m only working with Will because Will is my partner. I think we may be well suited as partners because we are so aligned in thought and share such similar passion over our work. I want to work with the people who can make the project the best it can be regardless of personal relationships and I’m a real advocate for this. We have very similar artistic philosophies but very different stylistic interests, so we had never planned to work together. The work organically unfolded from our shared love for these viral lynx sounds and the desire to create something from them. I think one of the great benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration is that you can get so caught up in the trends and languages of your field that you forget how someone from outside of it sees things. Will was great for this because we were both mutually happy with being very blunt with one another. I think bluntness can actually make things so easy, but as long as everyone is comfortable with it and there is a power dynamic where everyone feels equally capable of being blunt. Our ethos was that the work always came before our egos!
We are living together and so lockdowns didn’t affect us how it affected many others. It was pretty much impossible not to work in person. A lot of the initial material creation happened when we were living in a studio flat together during the first lockdown, which I suppose made collaborating more efficient but also made progress slower, since we were spoiled with too much time. I could spend forever making a decision if I wanted to. When it came to creating the film I took the lead on this as Will primarily saw his expertise as composing and writing. He conceptualised the film with me and then I moved forward putting it together myself.
What was your approach to developing a movement vocabulary and what did you base it on?
To put it simply I created an improvisation style. This involved building up a bank of movements and gestures that I could draw from intuitively on set whilst improvising. I explored improvisations based on ideas that I associated with the concept of what’s ‘natural’, and ones I could also interpret as explanations for the animal noises I was dancing with… so I would practice improvising to the sounds, dancing as if I was making the noise of the animals in this ‘natural’ situation and collecting movements from this. After having done this with each situation, I then assembled each collection of movements into one big bank. When performing I would try to express the feeling of becoming this creature and all these supposedly ‘natural’ things.
How will the workshop enrich the ‘Hibernation Dream’ experience?
For workshops I tend to have a plan and remain open to deviating a little here or there as I think it’s important to be able to respond to the people and the moment. This is a part of the project that feels in a certain way much more democratic, as it involves sharing other people’s depictions of concepts through performance and creation, so involves a much broader balance of perspectives than mine and Will’s. As a dancer I hope to highlight that dance doesn’t always have to be a codified set of rules you are taught, and that it can simply be your own form of self-care and making sense of your own perspectives of the world around you. I like to see it as visual art with musicality.
What was it like being a young creative working during the Pandemic?
My answer depends on what kind of practice I’m referring to. It goes without saying that many barriers and challenges to being self-employed or freelance have been exacerbated by the pandemic across creative fields. My experience as a dancer stood out to me. I found it difficult because I had just spent 3 years training to do so many things that you need resources to be able to maintain as skills. Particularly when live rehearsals couldn’t happen, it was frustrating seeing other dancers have suitable space and facilities and home set ups to dance in certain ways whilst I didn’t. I remember feeling like there was not much acknowledgement of this discrepancy within my community. I probably had it better than a lot of other people too.
It was refreshing to develop the movement for Hibernation Dream because I was able to create dance according to where I was and how I could therefore move. By the time it became a funded project I had already created a lot of the material living in a studio flat during that first lockdown period. I now hope to share similarly personal ways of moving when facilitating the workshops.
Congratulations on receiving a National Lottery through Arts Council England grant! What advice do you have for other creatives who are in pursuit of applying for grants?
I sadly can’t reveal any hidden universal formula for getting funding as I’m only one artist in a whole landscape of artists out there, and not funding anyone myself. This is my first time managing funding in the form of a grant too!
In my opinion it is good to be genuinely excited about and motivated by the ways your project satisfies the principles of who you’re seeking support from. I feel glad that the application process motivated me to push my project in directions I’m proud of.
What are the next steps in your career?
I want to continue using my body as a dancer and continue using my skills as a creator, and I think that both can be used in ways that are symbiotic to one another. Having done Hibernation Dream it would be awesome to take on another project that I can raise and nurture from the ground again, and I have some ideas in my head.
I think it would be lovely to collaborate more using dance in other fields too…
In the meanwhile, I will be continuing to perform as a dancer and to share my own work, which I’ll share details of on my socials and website when announced!
Watch Hibernation Dream online now: https://videoclub.org.uk/new-exhibition-hibernation-dream/
See more of Zara’s work on her website: http://zarasands.com