Q&A with Patricia Okenwa

Patricia Okenwa is a contemporary choreographer with over 14 years of performance and choreographic experience working with some of dance’s most prolific names including Rafael Bonachela, Andile Sitoya, Kim Bandstrup’s Ark Dance Company. Resident at Rambert for over a decade she is also a founding member of the boundary-pushing, cross disciplinary New Movement Collective.

In collaboration with visual artists Mária Júdová and Andrej Boleslavsky and commissioned by Renaud Wiser Dance Company, Patricia’s R&D for the work Camouflage will feature as part of Brighton Digital Festival and will be performed at The Lighthouse on Thursday 5 October and at Werks Central on Friday 6 October.

We asked Patricia to take a break and reveal a bit about what drives her.

You’re known for combining extreme physical choreography with emotional themes.  Can you tell us how this form evolved?

When I started to make work myself I was attracted to pushing dancers beyond the usual as a way to be fully present in the performance.

I guess I love to see people attempt something, but let go of the end result, so something new can emerge in the moment. This is always emotional, because the dancers have to be very committed and are entering a vulnerable state, where they give up some control.

Was there a particular gap in the creative arts scene that you wanted the New Movement Collective (NMC) to address?

NMC evolved as a response to our collective need to create beyond what we could access at the time and our common interests in architecture, design, technology and to a point, fiction. Most of us where working for large established companies and it was not possible to make work that was site or space specific and collaborative with other creative disciplines so we started to create those opportunities ourselves. The dancers in the collective had been performing at a distance on big theatre stages and were now up close in immersive work. This was exciting and new to many audience members.

Which piece of work are you most proud of?

I'm pretty proud of Hydrargyrum, the work I did for Rambert last year. I made a huge step forward in my way of working in this process and the work is very me. I also had a particularly wonderful time with my collaborators, composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, designer Jon Bausor and lighting designer Charles Balfour. It felt like such an organic process of developing the concept, structure and design, but I feel our unique voices are very present.

You’ve written about how becoming a mother has become a catalyst for creating new work - could you tell us a bit more about this and whether this has affected the themes you wish to explore in your work?

Becoming a mum has changed me personally. I recently gave birth to my second son and again I found the experience of birth itself transformative. My physical, emotional and mental power all played together to bring him to the world and at the same time I had to fully let go and flow. Having experienced it again is making me want to dig in and work from that place or know that place.

I also recently started a project called a Stabat Mater, researching mothering with a small group of dancers and a singer as well as in workshops with non-professional dancers and mothers of different ages.

We’re fascinated by the utilization of digital technology including virtual reality headsets and movement recognition sensors in the Camouflage project. Are you positive about the advancement of digital technology or concerned?

I feel both. I think technology as well as human behaviour is complex and unpredictable in its effects, so sometimes the most light and playful scene could make us reflect on something sinister or dangerous. I guess Camouflage includes the option of testing moral boundaries. What do we feel comfortable with, how does wearing a mask or giving into a virtual world change how we act or feel

What is particular about our set up is that live dancers interact with the participant as well as the virtual reality they are immersed in allowing interesting behaviour to emerge between dancers, participants and the space.

What are your ambitions for Camouflage and your work with Renaud Wiser Dance Company?

Our ambition is to create three works that relate to digital imaging where two are more traditional stage works by Renaud Wiser and myself plus the VR installation.  My work will take the experience of Camouflage Installation as a starting point and give the audience the opportunity to try out part of the creative process. I hope this will allow the audience to relate and interpret the work in a new way, bringing their own VR experience to their theatre viewing experience and vice versa. I think this will spark new conversations and a level of co-ownership.  Stage works will be created next spring and will premiere and tour from May.

Urban or rural?

Dreaming of rural

East or West?


Where does the future lie? 

Play, flow, presence

© Benedict Johnson
Q&A with Patricia Okenwa