Laughing Our Way to Vulnerability and Change: An Interview with Eroca Nicols

Eroca Nicols is a woman soaked in charisma and energy. She is deliberate and playful – the perfect combination for an artist that disarms and changes her audience.

Eroca loves boldly, she honours her impulses, and is audacious with her words, thoughts, and feelings. She has a gift for making the strange become familiar, through humour and cutting insights. This way of being is the driving force behind her festival Badass Dance Fun, which was showcased at Habourfront centre last week

I saw Natural choreographed by Meg Foley and Karaoke Dance Project choreographed by Eroca Nicols. Consequently, our interview was shaped by the playful, provocative, and community inspired vibe that permeated both these pieces.

In this interview you will discover Eroca’s gifts in laughter, conversation, and building communities. Look out for this artist that sticks to her choices – is inspired by failure – and is armed for success.

I know you will have fun reading this interview.

AN INTERVIEW WITH EROCA NICOLS

Why do you think dance suits what was being said in this festival?

I do not think the work is a narrative thing. Everybody has a body, everybody moves it. We all know how to dance because we all know how to move – people get really uncomfortable with it because dance has been presented as this elitist form of art, and that has to do with the way it is presented, and it has to do with the kind of training the people get.  So, with Karaoke I felt I could hear and feel an art where it is culturally acceptable for people to fail and to be cheered on by a bunch of drunk people, you know what I mean? I find that pretty interesting – it is about the layers of performance we allow people to do or not do. It is less about a narrative and more about highlighting bodies that are both trained and not trained to move. It is about celebrating bodies that are at different places.

There’s a lot of layering of perspective in the piece, what was your intention with this?

I feel like a lot of interactive work forces people to participate in a very controlled way, it is not about people finding an experience together, it is that I decided what your experience is going to be and I am going to make you have it. As opposed to we can find a way to interact with the space as audience and performer by watching each other and engaging with each other on your own terms, you can choose your level of participation.

There seems to be a yearning in the performance community to change the audience’s experience –  I noticed this sense of play with the audience in your piece,so, then, what questions did you hope the audience would leave with after seeing your pieces?

I feel like our show has a series of surprises, where people go, oh shit they are doing that now? But I also think that in my work I try to do some fart jokes, you know sometimes it is a ridiculous fart joke fest. I also believe when there is a certain level of comfort, they start to be themselves when it is not a big anonymous group of people, and then when you get to be yourself and define the role a bit more, and through humour and complete absurdity, and asking the question: wow is that happening? people then  become vulnerable in a way that is fun. By having that initial disarming experience the whole experience becomes acceptable and not scary.

What human experience were you testing/examining in this work?

I feel like working with people that are not performers is a huge challenge – I mean they don’t have the codes we are trained to know as artists.

There are a couple of things that came up when the dancers said they were not nervous because they were having so much fun. It puts me in a very different space as a performer when people say they are having fun as a person and as a performer. So I think I tried to create that kind of environment for artists and the audience. I feel like I am trying to treat the audience and the performers as having a shared experience.The performance of observation is something I am finding interesting.

When did the craft begin with this work?

Early – beginning with discussions and people. Some times it began with images. I began with the thought that I want people to be having a good time and then the performance evolved from there.

What kind of spaces inspire you to create?

I am interested in social dances, I am interested in places where people come together to have a good time and are also performing for each other.

Discuss why Karaoke fascinates you.

It’s an exercise in failure. There’s this line of making work that isn’t supposed to be perfect. The intention is not to be perfect. It is to ask questions. I am fascinated by karaoke because it is a melting pot of what it is happening. People are watching, and drinking, and are nervous about going up, and other people are shining when they perform, while others are sad, and it’s just a cultural activity. It’s huge here, and it’s huge in other places. It’s taken so seriously in some places too. Being a good karaoke singer doesn’t mean you are a good singer, it is about people rooting for each other. It’s about people saying dude I have weird skills and listen to them.

What new questions were you inspired to ask yourself while creating this piece?

I just finished working on a solo piece this summer, which was pretty intense. I think after being kicked out of schools and experiencing life, and going to a slightly darker work which was hard I had to ask different questions. I think then it was nice to get back to working with fun – even my solo piece there has fun parts, but it is also majorly emotional shit.

One of the big concerns that I had was to make the people that were not performers feel good, I wanted them to feel like this was a fun thing they wanted to do. I really wanted them to trust me. I wanted them to know I believed they had an artistic voice, and that they felt supported. I also was thinking of the idea of the herd, and what that does to people.

Discuss how you wanted to treat the audience’s conception of engagement.

The whole point of the festival is that we want to change the terms of engagement for people who are watching, for people who are dancing, for people who are being watched. Dance, of the art forms in Toronto is pretty traditional. That’s why the festival happened because we are trying to figure out how to change it. We wanted to ask the questions: What would one do if they didn’t know all the rules of the art form? What it would be like for them?

Discuss the element of surprise in this work.

Yeah we worked with it with warning the audience about the splash zone in the first two rows, and then it turns out to be just a little splash. And that’s about showcasing how we get stressed about things happening that we do not usually experience during a performance. I am just not interested in the relationship where the performers are there for a passive audience. I am interested in an active watching, I think the element of surprise promotes active observation. I wanted people to feel like the piece was really for them. I wanted them to feel included as a member of the performers and as a member of the audience.

What do you say to people who are afraid of being addressed so personally as an audience member?

What I say to them is I want them to come on the journey with us to the point where they become comfortable.

When people feel frustrated and when people feel like this isn’t the right thing, you have to ask: why? They are going to be asking the same questions that I am asking, they are just going to be finding the answers in a different way which is totally fine.

What artists are inspiring you right now?

I think people that are working with democratic pedagogy in teaching, in how do you get information across to people without being dogmatic about it. This in the same way of making inclusive art while making bad ass dancing, how do we make something seriously cool without being elite about it.

How do you want Karaoke Dance Project to develop?

I think as a tour it would be awesome because it would give us the opportunity to see the different kinds of karaoke singers around the world. Karaoke is such a different subculture in so many different places and means so many things to these different places. In different parts of the world it would become a completely different show. The project is a queer project – so that would also be a big political question involved in a tour of this show. It is an outsider project, but that is a lot of my work.

Story by: Hannah Rittner

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