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How do you get strangers to open up to each other in a very short space of time? Jo Fong and Sonia Hughes create a safe space for probing some buried truths as part of Experimentica 2018. Emma Geliot and Filiz Mehmedova joined a choreographed conversation.

Emma: Are you talking or am I? Which of us is the listener?

Filiz: I’ll talk first, what’s the question?

Emma: Here goes: “How does where you live impact on how you live?” We’ve got six minutes…

Filiz: Umm…

We’re sitting in Chapter’s Common Room, two to a table. Each of us has taken a glass of water and helped ourselves to some fruit. With hindsight, had I known how pithy the questions were going to be, I’d have picked something with a bit more gravitas than a banana – a grape, or a date perhaps. The audience, a dozen of us, had gathered beforehand and walked around Chapter before going upstairs, chatting. Sonia Hughes has prepped us for what’s to come. We’ll be given a question. One of us asks it then keeps their trap shut for six minutes while the other answers until the music tells us time’s up. Then we swap. Then there’s a ‘duet’ question, where we’re both allowed to talk. Then we swap partners.

Keeping quiet for six minutes is hard (especially for me), but it’s just as hard to dredge up a response and keep going for that length of time. The brain is working so frantically that suddenly you notice you’re spilling your guts, sharing things that hadn’t ever taken out into the light of day before, let alone confided to a stranger.

The room is 50 per cent full of animated voices and 50 per cent full of controlled silence (I have to clench my teeth to stop butting in when things are really interesting). Then “bong”, or “bing” or “toot” and it’s time to stop, mid-flow.

“Where’s your dad from?”; “Is there something you’d like to ask me?”; “Do you have a plan?”, to the final “What’s the truth of your life?” and, “In these times, what do you hold dear?”, and much more besides. An hour and a half whizzes by, punctuated by a short piece by Jo Fong, who talks about what gets her goat – passionate, heartfelt. How could we not reciprocate by being honest?

The set-up seems simple but the result was complicated, brain-bubbling and required the rapid development of a safe environment to work. This was like those 1970s drama games – you fall backwards, eyes shut, off a stage (pre all that health & safety nonsense), and trust your peers to catch you. A leap of faith.

I first met Jo Fong when I interviewed her for the first ever issue of CCQ Magazine, back in 2013 (it’s here, if you want to read it). She was just beginning to explore how dancers speak for her suite of films, Witness, Portraits of Women Who Dance, but has gone on to make several really engaging pieces of work that open up dialogue with audiences to the point where the dividing line performer and audience is blurred with very pleasing effect. She is also a terrific collaborator (this isn’t the first time she’s worked with Hughes) and Neither Here Nor There certainly feels like a significant point on this dancer/performer/choreographer’s journey, while I’m going to be on the look out for more from Sonia Hughes.

Neither Here Nor There was performed five times over the course of Experimentica 2018 at Chapter, Cardiff from 11 – 14 April.

Images: Jo Fong & Sonia Hughes, Neither Here Nor There, Experimentica 2018, Chapter, Cardiff. Photo: Warren Orchard