Art and teaching are a continuous multidimensional process that requires paying attention, asking questions, and adapting to others, reflects Rafaela Sahyoun, dance artist, movement practitioner, educator & choreographer based between Brazil and Portugal.
The last few challenging years have allowed Rafaela to explore the intricate spectrum of human experience and the delicate threads that bind us together at a personal and artistic level. Although she sometimes feels like she is swimming against the current, with the added complexity of breaking through gender-related barriers and biases, she finds teaching fulfilling. She enjoys seeing students push boundaries through movement and emotions.
Rafaela will share her work and experience between September 22 and 24 at UNFINISHED among a vibrant community of global thinkers and makers. Part festival, part talks, part art, part undefined, the UNFINISHED experience gathers 3141 participants selected from those who apply.
Read on to find out how Rafaela is approaching this year's theme, "Silence," and what message the artist would write on a billboard in the center of Bucharest.
Reflecting on my career trajectory, a pivotal moment for me has been the over-time experiential acknowledgment that these labels converge at a point of interest—an ever-evolving relational system of constant changes rooted in process-based labor, spiraling within the ecology of sensory bodily experiences.
In my practice of embodying the roles of performing, teaching, and choreographing, each encompasses specific learning processes and is motivated by distinct sets of questions. Each has its own agenda, intricacies, politics, and accountability in cross-cultural relationality within the community and industry.
In my experience, development involves continuously integrating information from these multidimensional perspectives. It has been a practice of sustaining substantial curiosity through decoding and elaboration. This ongoing process keeps updating my research and aspirations beyond binary boxes and gaining new rhizomatic roots.
UNFINISHED. Thoughts and Expectations.
From a distance, it feels like a courageous and exciting space for unexpected connections. The name "UNFINISHED" suggests a focus on ongoing processes where people and ideas come together to expand perceptions and nurture possible futures. I imagine a meeting point where disciplines, practices, narratives, and body stories cross paths, which shelters a high potential for exchange and learning. What ecology will emerge from that? It excites me to go out there and play! I anticipate a grounded intention in the contemplation of shared time and the co-creation of shared experiences.
The “Silence” Theme
My artistic practice unfolds around cognitive processes of awareness through the body. I play with and benefit from silence as a means of perception. In my experience, although the senses are available for noticing, they become even more salient with fewer stimuli, leading to more precise perception. Silence (ing), as a state, can act as a tool for contemplating what is going on internally, a map of the instances of presence, to access anatomical sensations, to process information, and decision-making.
The work I am bringing to UNFISHED, titled NINGUEMMESOLTA (Don't Lose Me), is shaped by the ever-evolving instances of decision-making between performers as they co-create strategies to coexist, support, impulse, and absorb impacts — an ongoing negotiation of desires and agreement update. The questions that drive the choreographic experience are practiced in real time. Therefore, performers can only sense each other, negotiate and address these questions through deep listening and perceiving. In this piece, silence is not seen as stillness, pause, or absence of sound. Instead, it is actively practiced and exists beneath the surface. Silence as a choreography of attention, silence as the ability to rest in the doing. Silence acting as a sensor, a way of connecting with the world. Silence is a low-tech mechanism of extreme efficiency when it comes to the senses.
These challenging years have been a profound catalyst for both my personal and artistic journey, compelling me to explore the intricate spectrum of human experience and the delicate threads that bind us together in an increasingly complex world.
What brings us together? It is a question that I have been coexisting with for a long time, igniting my drive to come closer to narratives other than mine, ensuring I interact with diverse stories and actively challenge my biases and binary boxes. Recognizing, naming, questioning, and addressing entanglements as a form of practicing responsibility.
I've found myself deeply immersed in contemplating affectability, a theme that has gained significant relevance in my artistic practices. One branch of this research revolves around the politics of touch and the complexities of the dynamics concerning tactile interactions, as I seek a deeper understanding of their resonances and a comprehension of their impacts.Touch, considered a primal human need, plays a crucial role in reconnecting individuals with the intricate web of gestural impressions stored in their body's memory.
These impressions, shaped by the norms and values of society, are stored deep within our body's memory. When we revisit and reawaken this sensory repository, we initiate a process
of questioning and reshaping our habitual behaviors, which, in turn, opens up new avenues for perceiving and experiencing life.
The Challenges and Rewards of Teaching
One of my ongoing challenges often feels like swimming against the current of traditional teaching methods. It's like trying to decode a complex and sometimes oppressive system deeply ingrained in how we learn – a system that often presents itself as the norm. Being a woman in this field adds an extra layer of complexity, involving breaking through gender-related barriers and biases that can make this journey even more demanding.
In today's ever-evolving educational landscape, a significant challenge I face as a teacher is facilitating a learning space that respects and actively nurtures each student's unique cognitive learning process. This commitment to a human-centered approach empowers students to take ownership of their education, fostering autonomy and responsibility, while recognizing that this journey is a contextual craft process. There are no shortcuts!
This journey involves expanding our understanding of the senses, connecting individuals to their personal body-stories, narratives, ancestralities, ecologies, body-knowledge, subjective, and imagetic layers within their experience. It entails moving away from conventional, one-size-fits-all teaching methods, embracing practices that allow us to craft life in real-time and gain profound insights into our interconnectedness. This is both challenging and highly rewarding.
Moreover, as we delve into movement practices that open emotional channels, we encounter layers of complexity and sensitivity, demanding attentive presence, participation, and accountability. This dual challenge and reward remind me that teachers are no longer models; we are facilitators of endless journey-possibilities, and we cannot exclude ourselves from them. Witnessing students construct a vibrant learning ecosystem is deeply fulfilling, pushing the boundaries of participation and cultivating a profound sense of collective learning.
Yes to nature! It always saves me!
Maintaining a consistent rhythm in sleeping and eating patterns is fundamental to me. As someone with dyslexia, I frequently experience cognitive fatigue. Through years I have learned to slow down to manage this drain effectively. I have strategies and practices to support my routine, but it is unrealistic that I protect myself against exhaustion as a Latin American woman, immigrant, and freelancing contemporary dance artist.
I have certainly faced creative blocks, and how I deal with them tends to be quite situational. I find it helpful to pause momentarily and take short distance from the specific project I'm working on, although sometimes that's unrealistic!
Frequently, I play with mappings as a visual and linguistic practice; Mind Mapping helps me.
Moving - which can go from ordinary walking to ordinary dancing. Changing the landscape!
Sourcing inspirations and references.
Accepting the frustration!
Olafur Eliasson, Mette Ingvartsen, Jefta Van Dinther, James Turrel, Trisha Brown, Lina Bo Bardi, Axel Willner, Maria Bethânia, Charlotte Adigery.
I am working on a choreographic piece framed as a duet co-created with dancer Inêss Galrão. It is an ongoing investigation tracing the impact of a choreography of resonances. The departure point is centered around embodying a kinaesthetic physicality grounded in constant body pulsations — a technology of affection that speculates notions of inseparability and interconnectedness. We are mapping how channelling energy through these pulsations in the body and in relationship can encapsulate ideas of resistance and continuity, catalyzing gradual, transformative change. In the context of a duet, we focus on how to shape-shift this system of interaction that gradually updates the landscape in an attempt to reassess preconceived stereotypes and touch base on societal projections over women.
A Message on a Billboard in the Center of Bucharest
What is amplified in the void of silence?