Guillaume Guilherme interviewed by Karina Buckley
Guillaume Guilherme was a cultural mediator at Tanzhaus Zürich when he took part in Aerowaves’ inaugural Startup Forum at Spring Forward 2022 in Elefsina. The four-day workshop for 11 emerging presenters and producers culminated in a €10k award for three selected projects, each curated around an Aerowaves artist. One of these was Guilherme’s project, entitled No Honeymoon, which aimed to build on the theme of absence exposed in Sigrid Stigsdatter Mathiassen’s Cold Hawaii.
The programme, which will tour in Guilherme’s native Switzerland, complements Mathiassen’s 30-minute dance/performance art piece with a specially commissioned poem by dance artist, poet and DJ Malika Fankha, and rehearsed improvisations on the theme of heartbreak by local dancers in the host cities. Each thread loosely addresses the void left by something now missing, and it was this hollowed-out feeling of heartache that motivated Guilherme from the off.
“It is this physical sense of no longer having someone or something available that guided me in composing a triple bill performance”, he says. “The overload of emotion – the sensation of having a squeezed heart when something overwhelms you.”
The host venues will identify local dancers for the improvisation sections; but to write the text, Fankha was the obvious choice for Guilherme. The rhythm and rhyme of their work combines the intimate with the declaratory in a way that chimed with his vision for a piece that is as personal as it is universal. To add a further layer of ‘absence’, Fankha’s contribution will be pre-recorded, rendering them as a presence we can see and hear but cannot physically touch – an experience that became so achingly familiar during the pandemic.
With Mathiassen and Fankha on board, Guilherme set about finding host venues for the tour. As the president of Premio – a network of performing arts institutions around Switzerland for emerging artists – he might have expected ready access to programmers for his project. If he did, he was wrong.
“When you chat as [president of] Premio it’s one thing, but when you yourself are proposing something, you are on that level of trying to be attractive or convincing – then that’s suddenly another way to communicate. People usually tend to write to me quickly, but as soon as I was asking them for a curatorial choice, they wrote to me much later because it was simply another request on top of all the others. I know a director in Geneva who told me, ‘hey, I have 400 unread mails in my mailbox – sorry I took two months to answer you, but I couldn’t otherwise.’ You need to be either introduced or in good contact with people simply to be read or to be heard.”
His efforts to recruit partners from Switzerland’s cities and valleys yielded a positive response from Tanzhaus Zürich and from Lucerne’s Südpol, where Guilherme is now co-director; he is currently still in discussion with Théâtre Sévelin 36 in Lausanne and Kaserne in Basel. Residencies are planned to bookend the tour in spring 2024, with Mathiassen spending two weeks ideating in Zürich and a further week in Lucerne around International Women’s Day.
Two performances of No Honeymoon are planned at Südpol, but at Tanzhaus Zürich the situation is different. Although Mathiassen will be in Zürich during Swiss Dance Days (an international dance platform solely featuring Swiss dance work) the Tanzhaus programme is simply too full to accommodate a production of No Honeymoon. Nevertheless, Guilherme considers that Mathiassen’s presence there will be worthwhile: “It’s a super match. With over 300 people there, she will be in touch with Swiss and international programmers. I’m sure there’ll be some mix and matches, and some mingling with Sigrid.”
These residencies were born of a desire to make Mathiassen’s long trip more worthwhile (she will make a fourteen-hour train journey from her base in Denmark) so what started as an effort to tour as sustainably as possible has also become an opportunity for cultural enrichment. “That’s the way I’m hoping that touring could be planned and thought of in the future – which means slowing down all the processes, taking time,” says Guilherme. “Avoid the plane, but also get to know the institution better, the local people. I’m sure there will also be a connection between Sigrid and the local dancers who will perform every time – someone different every night. So, like the ‘slow food’ movement appreciates good taste and good food, I’m sure there will be the possibility to develop a ‘slow’ performing arts market.”
Guiherme has also built in workshops in what Mathiassen calls ‘OMG Dramaturgy’ as a way to further connect guest artist with host citizens. But what exactly is OMG Dramaturgy?
“It’s still a bit mysterious for me,” says Guilherme. “From what I understand, it’s about letting go and accepting what’s happening. It’s a way to accumulate synchronicity, serendipity, and chance – but also trusting chance, trusting what happens in the moment, what could be produced, sequence after sequence, in the building of the piece. Or the other way around – not rejecting what happens in the studio during rehearsals. Sigrid will explain in more detail in the next article!”
Guilherme himself is feeling the need to let go as he settles into his new role at Südpol while simultaneously navigating the red tape attached to his award. “I keep No Honeymoon in mind, and especially very deeply in my heart. It’s something I really want to do but working across borders is demanding. Switzerland is not part of the EU, which is producing some administrative tension, because the awards cannot be given through Switzerland, only through countries of Creative Europe. And now I got this new job [at Südpol], it’s also about trying to find ways of doing the production.”
Guilherme’s mission to organise a meeting between poet and dancer was complicated by Mathiassen’s return to study (she is entering the second year of a Masters in Choreography at the Danish National School of Performing Arts in Copenhagen). He had originally planned an online interaction for November; still, fate found both artists in Vienna, where Sigrid was touring for Alex Baczyński-Jenkins last April, prompting an initial meeting that was rich in promise. With the scene set for the next creative phase – writing the text (they expect a first draft in late autumn) – Guilherme is addressing himself to more mundane tasks like co-ordinating Mathiassen’s tour, navigating the delays that come with a change in personnel at the top of one of the host venues, and deciding how the budget should be distributed.
Money is tight. Mathiassen’s student status means she cannot receive subsidies from Danish state funders, while Swiss funding authority Pro Helvetia can only support Swiss companies. Conversations about cash are always difficult but it looks like Guilherme may need to have a few with the host venues in the coming months. What he lacks in liquid capital he more than gains in human capital, however: Guilherme has surrounded himself with a group of people who are up to any challenge.
“Together with my great team at Südpol Luzern, Florence Ruckstuhl and Annick Bosson, I will invest myself fully in the Swiss tour of No Honeymoon and welcome Sigrid warmly after a long absence that has squeezed my heart.”