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Being Digitally Physical by Eric Christison  

Eric Christison is a dancer and choreographic director. With a background in classical ballet, dancing professionally for ten years, Christison is now translating his craftmanship into choreographing for major fashion houses. Exploring what movement means to him on a digital stage, in the journal he shares a dance improvisation to the scores of Bach, along with a set of screenshots capturing movements and in-between-moments frozen in time. With the editor Josefine Skomars, Christison talks about his personal relationship to dance and choreography. Read the full conversation and see the story in the 1903 Journal issue VI available in Tiger of Sweden stores.

Josefine Skomars: How do your improvisation sessions come about?

Eric Christison: It always starts with an urge to move and to physically express something. I never plan to do it; it’s a feeling that builds up, leading to a moment when I’m like, ‘I need to go to the studio now’. I think that’s something perhaps writers or singers experience too, and dance is just my way of analysing a section of time similar to writing a diary. When enough things have built up for me physically, there needs to be that moment when I can go to a space and write it all down. I don’t know what I’m going to get out of the experience in advance, but at the end of it I always feel a lot lighter mentally. It’s my way of communicating with myself.

JS: Do you also use dance as a way of communicating with others?

EC: I have had moments of going to the studio with a friend and exploring our own worlds together. I used to do it a lot with my friend Tigran in Zurich; we would go into the studio on a Sunday, cut the lights, blast music and just move for an hour or two. But generally, it’s very personal, and if I decide to share it, it’s almost like voicing thoughts in a language that no one really speaks, and whoever sees it can take what they want from it.

JS: You get such a large response to the snippets from improv sessions that you put up on Instagram – people really do react to them and respond to the dialogue.

EC: I think they can see that I want to share and start a conversation. The movements can apply to anybody and everybody because we can all relate to some sort of physicality. There is a human instinct to move; I think everyone has the desire to do so.

JS: You call the improvisations you share digitally ‘being digitally physical’. What does that mean to you?

EC: I think that phrase applies to me now more than ever. I realised that I have very little documentation of my ten years as a professional ballet dancer, because it was all a live experience. My work no longer lives in a theatre but on a public digital stage, which I find to be no less physical

JS: How does it feel to have a digital stage?

EC: I love it. Because it didn’t really matter to me if there was a live audience of 1,000 people or nobody at all; it was always about my relationship to the movement, music and environment. I think I’m more interested in sharing the physical work than sharing a performance. I don’t really think of it as a performance; to me it is simply how I work, how I function. It’s literally what I’m made of. And I use my physicality in a very articulate way so that my movement speaks for itself.

JS: Would you say that your main practice is still classical ballet?

EC: Classical ballet will always be my foundation. The fundamental ideas around physical technique can always be applied. But I like to combine the pure technical elements with my general instincts, as well as influences from outside the ballet world, like raving and pop culture. I studied art history before I studied dance and a lot of my dance vocabulary references art. I first learned to analyse my own physicality through art history: understanding shapes, proportion and dimension and how all those things relate to each other, especially in classical ballet. When I create shapes with my body I’m also thinking of them as shapes on paper or canvas, or now, on a screen or in photography.

JS: And in photography, for example, when you freeze the moment, you can really see the references and how they can translate; your body becomes sculptural.

EC: There’s a lot of geometry involved, thinking about lines and how they connect to other shapes in space: shapes that can be broken down and flipped, with different trajectories and dimensions. That’s always the challenge with dancing and improv: to move in a way that’s actually playing within this technical puzzle. It is like a game to me, a bit like Tetris.

JS: Yet it looks so effortless.

EC: It’s a complete equation. If you took away the art and the craftsmanship attached to it, it would become very mechanical. I think that’s where the artistic part of the process comes in, where you’re blending the elements. You’re doing something super technical, but you almost mask the technique with artistry; you don’t see the stitches because you have this nice layer on top. That’s really what ballet is about: not showing the effort and all the working mechanisms. At least I think that, and it’s a part of how I move and how I like to be physical; to work really technically with the bone and muscle structure, but then mask the hard work with fluidity.