Created by Claire Arnold and Jordan Robson, the dance film I Am Not Always Where My Body Is explores how we might use dance to escape our material circumstances
During the Covid lockdown, before they’d started production on their dance film, the choreographer Jordan Robson and filmmaker Claire Arnold would share nuggets of wisdom with each other over WhatsApp. “We had all these cheesy quotes that people have on their walls”, says Robson, zooming in from his home in Paris. “Things like, ‘Live, dance, love’. We were sharing them half ironically, but suddenly realised, they’re kind of true!”
From these knowing clichés came I Am Not Always Where My Body Is, a thrilling ten minute meditation on transcendence and escaping the confines of your body to ultimately find joy. In the film, Courtney from Bullyache glides effortlessly across the space of a single room, everyday objects scattered around him on the floor. Moving from ecstatic raving to classical dance and back again, the eclectic soundtrack features artists from Eartheater, Lizzitsky, Pablo’s Eye and even Nick Drake. “It’s about movement as a form of escapism”, says director Arnold. “A way to go outside of yourself and transcend the environment that you‘re in.”
Although the piece was partly inspired by psychoactive substances and the feelings that arise when taking them, the pair were keen to state that the project is about more than merely pure hedonism. Towards the end of the film, lyrics from the classic 1992 house track “The Realm” briefly flash across the screen, a nod to the shuttered clubs of the Covid pandemic and the freedom those spaces once provided. Yes, they were missing the rave, but Arnold suggests that “it‘s not just about partying – there’s a spiritual aspect to going to the clubs and immersing yourself in sound, and what that does for you at the end of a week”. In the film, the club takes on a quasi-religious meaning, a higher power that revitalises and restores.
This spiritual aspect can also be understood through the film’s set design. Working with production designer Justine Ponthieux, Arnold and Robson chose to place symbolic objects around the room to create a “sense of ceremony” within the four walls. One of these objects was an incense burner hung from the centre of the room, its foggy plumes periodically drifting across the space. The design choice gave Tylor’s performance an almost sacramental quality, further adding to this intangible sense of spiritualism within the piece.
Although important, spirituality wasn’t the only thematic concern of Arnold and Robson. “We were thinking a lot about time, because we felt stuck in time, and then time was moving so fast”, says Robson. To reflect this, a window to the outside world can be seen in the corner of the room. It’s obscured by a sheer, floral curtain with a bottom corner hitched up, creating the illusion that it’s both frozen in time and being blown by the wind. The effect, as Robson confirms, means that they could “freeze a moment, but, in contrast, have something so still yet moving constantly.”
This idea, that time itself – or at least how humans experience time – was indelibly affected by the pandemic is a constant preoccupation of the work. At one point in the film, we hear the voice of Nick Drake lifted from his song “Time Piece”. “Still it’s time that grows in my brain”, he recites monotonously. “Still it’s time that calls me here/Still I scream when time ticks/Still I cringe from time’s tricks.” As the ticking clock in the background of the track dissipates, Tylor ceremoniously splits into three, each iteration denoting a past, present and future version of one body. Not only is it one of the most arresting moments of the film, but it‘s also a physical manifestation of the piece itself. As Arnold says at the end of our conversation, “it all feeds back into the title – your body can be in one place, and your mind in a completely different one.” Robson nods in agreement. “We’re all pointing to one direction”, he says. “And the end goal is always enlightenment, transcendence and joy.”
I Am Not Always Where My Body Is is directed by Claire Arnold, co-directed and choreographed by Jordan Robson, with production designer Justine Ponthieux and director of photography Florian Solin.
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