Artist Statement

Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum

“The fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big thing.” 
The ancient Greek poet Archilochus passed it down to Erasmus, quoted above, but who knows who said it first. Isaiah Berlin, in his famous essay from 1953, The Hedgehog and the Fox, turned his laser intellect to figuring out what that might mean, to be one or the other.

I am the fox. No doubt about that.

I started off as a singing scientist-sculptor who made dances. I’ve been producing performances with a hybrid sensibility ever since. For me, choreographic structures set in motion ideas, experiences and collaborations. I believe that the willful coexistence of unlike things creates pleasure, magic, insight, and enough spaciousness to be open to the personal. What results is always a surprise; the unexpected is a delicious reward for attentiveness.

My projects so far have been diverse, underpinned by this generous definition of choreography. To describe my last five full-length performances is to dive into a fox’s multiplicity/duplicity:

  • Praxis : a dance-theater satire based on unsolicited advice, Marxism and 1950s advertising
  • Darkling : a solo dance that evoked the medieval mind in a flickering, interactive light, all embedded in a kind of radio play of original poems and music
  • Geographica : a site-specific sound and performance installation and dance duet based on 1880s American landscape painting, visions of the Middle East, and the sublime in dance, philosophy and poetry, with personal FM radios to hear it all
  • Fox vs Kingdom : a puppet-satire-feast based on a violent medieval beast epic that skewers greed and hypocrisy while creating a wild, handmade world
  • Overlook : a solo performance in the form of a historical lecture about 1920s artists and utopians that turns into dance, poetry and memory

All these projects come out of a process of research and magpie collecting – historical, philosophical, narrative, visual, musical sources. I respond to and critique contemporary society, either through direct satire or by plunging us into another time, giving us a way to feel the difference. At the root level, I ask the urgent question: “How do we live? How do we continue?”

Right now, I am fascinated by the power of the voice, of stories, fables, epics. I am in awe of the insatiable need we have as human beings for narrative. I am enamored of archives, historical finds, of uncovering stories, both personal and ancient, and using those as bait: I try to give a clear thread for someone to hold onto, to follow the story from the past to today.

At the same time, more than ever, and in direct opposition to story-telling, I revel in the wordless, visceral power of abstraction, dance and our raw, pure voices. The very “uselessness” of these seem so essential to us as human beings, and to me as an artist. Somebody in motion, in song: it’s so simple and yet so incredibly moving to us. Why?

So I create and nurture frames to make possible those physical, in-person connections, improbably overloaded with all sorts of things, and I invite people to take some time out to be with me, in this suspension of reality. On a good day, we might even find a state of grace, and a spark of shared surprise and even, delight.

– Hélène Lesterlin, on April 6, 2016