Kitsou Dubois «Zero Gravity Dance» 1994-2001.
Kitsou Dubois, 1994
Altered States of Gravity.
«What's the first thing you notice about zero gravity as a dancer?
Weightlessness stretches the expressive moment of the dance, achieved at the moment of lift if you are a ballet dancer, and extends it out to infinity. This is very interesting, especially to me. How can I find some new movement in a new space, what movement does a particular space provoke? These are the questions I've always been interested in, and I suppose that this a reason why by chance I met an astronaut.» ~ Kisou Dubois
Let me get back to some of the points I was trying to make earlier by telling you something about our experience filming in these conditions. From the beginning, I had the idea that the best way to record this would be to anchor the two film cameras, while the digital video cameras could be used for some experimentation with camera movement in weightlessness. This conservatism regarding the celluloid film technology ended up being pretty much justified. All the material you just saw came from the two film cameras, one with a fish-eye lens positioned directly in front of the area of the plane that was more or less exclusive to the actors, the second on a tripod behind the six-person audience and operated by TV Slovenia camera-man Andrej Lupinc.
My reasoning was that if you added chaotic camera movement on top of the weird sight of actors levitating, it might be a bridge too far in the perceptions of an audience entirely unfamiliar with the imperatives of weightlessness. It might be too much of a good thing. I should say that I myself had of course not experienced weightlessness when I was planning the shoot in that way. But I also wanted to experiment, and we had a number of digital video cameras running during the flight, including one that I was hand-holding. In fact, I had a very privileged situation during the flight, because I was the only one, apart from Dragan and his actors, who could float freely during the entirety of each of the thirteen parabolas.
Cameraman Lupinc was tethered to his tripod, but I got to fly around each time. One of my most vivid memories of documenting that first flight on December 15th was of becoming mesmerized with the fact that I could reach out my arm, let go of my running DV camera, and watch it spin, in place, in space.
In fact, I got so carried away with this that much of the footage I shot ends up being useless… But I knew it might be, and wanted to experiment anyway and see what came of it. And in fact a lot of it will be useful in the final film. If you don"t experiment you never find things out, and anyway we had enough built in redundancy in the coverage that nothing was lost.
Another vivid memory I had was of chasing this same camera all over the plane, as it suddenly had a mind of its own and shot off on its own trajectories within the plane, like a kind of microcosmic space probe. If you looked closely at the material I just showed, you would have seen that camera flying into a mass of tangled actors and floating audience members, closely followed by myself, while Dragan Zivadinov caught it for me, returned it in mid-air, and then we all collapsed on the foam rubber mats on the floor for the double-gravity phase of the parabola. Just as I had thought, the material the DV camera shot during that episode is less compelling than the material shot by the fixed camera, simply by virtue of the fact that an earth-bound audience is far more able to understand what"s happening in the "anchored" camera material. Seeing a camera float through space, in other words, can sometimes say more than seeing what that floating camera is recording.
We have in France a specially equipped plane to trace parabolas at high altitude. On earth gravity is one G. During a flight the aeroplane executes thirty parabolas and thirty times we have twenty five seconds of micro gravity. A parabola happens as following. When the planeís nose up, thereís twenty seconds of gravity 2, twice your weight. Then twenty seconds at the top of the parabola, twenty five seconds of micro gravity, followed by twenty seconds of gravity 2 when the aeroplane levels out. During the flight there are thirty parabolas like that.
Now, what is the state of weightlessness. In the future decades we'll integrate the presence of inhabited inter-planetary stations. This existence of new places will become a new dimension in our cultural consciousness and in our philosophical dimension. The dream of flying which gives us our first, our only real experience exists during spatial flights in weightlessness, but paradoxically the reality of life in weightlessness brings problems which can disturb the pleasure of being liberated from gravity.
The astronaut has to adapt himself in an inaudible world, sensory motor and perceptive environment. She must redefine her own world and is confronted with sensorial images which have two fundamental characteristics. They are unusual and conflictal. Thus appears space sickness, a sort of disease of adaptation.
Kitsou Dubois. Oui, c'est ca. If you are astronaut you have to have wanted to be one for many many years, and if you finally become one it's not the time to say I feel sick or I don't function so well in zero-g. It's impossible that an astronaut will tell you, 'I was sick.' But I felt that this Dutch astronaut understood me, and that he knew that it is not so easy to be in zero-g, that there are many problems, you know. And just on the basis of that feeling I decided to begin the big story of how to enter into this institution of the space agency.
James Flint. What was your experience of the astronauts and scientists you met during your three months at NASA?
Kitsou Dubois. Ah! NASA was not so kindly with me - because I am French, because I am a woman, because I am a dancer! It was too much for them. And it was very hard for me. But after that I understood many things about the space industry, and when I when I came back to France and I decided to enter in the laboratory of CNRS, the laboratory of Neurophysiological Research in France, which works on the human problems in microgravity.
James Flint. Is that where you made the film of some of your early flights, the one that's showing at the Lux?
Kitsou Dubois. Yes, and everybody got a little bit anxious about that, thinking, 'What is this woman? She has no right to be here!' It was all very bizarre for the French space agency and perhaps a little bit ahead of them. Nobody understood me, not until Arts Catalyst came along. With a story like this, there's a time when you're too much in advance for people to understand what you are doing, and then comes a moment when you are exactly in tune. Now I think the space agency are keen to have more experiments like this, that it might be okay to open up to the arts, but I think when I did that, I was a little bit in advance you know. And so some people were with me and other people were against me.
James Flint. So when did you make your first flight?
Kitsou Dubois. That was in 1990. The first flight was just to try and see what the possibilities were, if my project would work. But then it turned out I was very well adapted to zero-g, and so we did a second flight to find out why: because I am Kitsou? Or because I am a dancer? So I made three flights with three dancers, three different dancers, and all of them were very well adapted. So I thought, I can prove it that this is because of dance experience. After that I proposed training some non-dancer people, because they told me, okay, you need ten years to become a dancer, but we have no time for the astronauts to do that. So how can we give this experience to an astronaut very quickly? So I proposed a 36 hour training programme based on a dancer's training and carried out in various different environments that were analogues of weightlessness. I chose first a dance studio, then in the water with a very specific method of swimming to adapt to the water and find a movement that goes with the water, not against the water, and then a climbing technique, because in France we have a company of dancers and climbers and I knew there was a cross-over there.