2015-2016 | That disgusting thing called intimacy | Performer & Maker

by Sally O’Neill and Tuva Hildebrand

that disgusting thing called intimacy is a choreography of desire and rejection, expectations and failures. A multi-disciplinary performance questioning the constitution of power structures, sexuality, gender and success embedded within popular culture, arts and politics. A space where you are allowed and challenged to see and be seen.

Promotion video prior to performance at Jersey City Theater Center, April 2016

that disgusting thing called intimacy has previously been presented in different iterations at Jersey City Theater Center (NJ, US), Theater aan de Rijn (Arnhem, NE), Center for Performance Research (Brooklyn, NY) and Dixon Place Theater (Manhattan, NY).

Pictures by Max Lakner from Jersey City Theater Center March 26th & April 2nd, 2016

Through humor, provocation, improvisation, choreography and spoken word Sally and Tuva strives to break down expectations on gender and performance steered by popular-culture and media. The performers put themselves through task-based improvisation and choreography in extreme physical states, performing and decomposing the identity of a woman and femininity. By pushing boundaries and creating an anti-spectacle they allow what is underneath the performance to unfold itself and blurr the line between fiction and reality. That Disgusting Thing Called Intimacy complicates and redefines the expectations on women as well as the performer and power-structures within the institutionilized space of the theater.

In “That Disgusting Thing Called Intimacy” we use satire as a tool to comment on roles people play to get affirmation. By pushing normative sexual behavior to the extreme, we show the absurdity of conditioned mating habits and abstract it to de-sexualize the sexualized body. The structure plays with codes of theater to challenge the audiences expectations of themselves and the performance. Somatics, spoken word and movement are used to explore authenticity and boredom feared in digitilized culture. Through improvisation and sensational experiences we create inter-dependence and exchange power between audience and performer. The audience becomes aware of itself as individuals and as a collective.

This interdisciplinary collaboration examines how the definition of identity based on gender is used as a tool within consumerism; how the body as an object and the portrayal of sex and power-structures within popular culture leads to violation and lack of intimacy. Sally and Tuva are interested in exploring how the binary semiotics and linguistics reproduces itself and how to find systems where one can break free from these definitions. Their process explore methods to co-exist with each other and the surrounding by erasing the identity that one has constituted of oneself and others in order to earn institutional validation.

Full performance at Dixon Place, New York, 2015

Comments from audience members after the show at Dixon Place, Dec 2015
“Wow wow wow. That was. Bold. Brave. Authentic. Cohesive. Entertaining. Upsetting to some. 2 people walked out of the theater. Beautiful. Successful. Watchable. Daring. Aggghhhh. Real. Connected. To the audience and the space.”

– Tracy Einstein (teaching artist, actor)

“Loved your performance last night! I went with my friend Irene Siegel who has worked with doing physical theatre and movement based performance. We were talking for awhile afterwards about the brilliance of your show and our sincere wish that you can do it again. The delicate balance of innocence, exploitation, authenticity and gender constructs among SO many other thought provoking concepts you wrote into the story in such an accessible and often humorous way was so inspiring. Your work stimulated really fabulous conversations and I hope you can keep them going! Thank you for your insight, brains and talent! Brava!” – Mary Catherine Donnelly (teaching artist, Organizer of New York Fringe Festival and Theater Director at United Solo Festival)

“Wow, you really put yourselves out there. It was very brave, open, honest and smart. I like the sense of humor you bring out of each other” – Eva Karczag (Trisha Brown Company Dancer, Teacher, Body Mind Movement Practitioner)

that disgusting thing called intimacy in residence at Theater aan de Rijn and Generale Oost, Jan-Feb 2015:

Excerpts from performance at Theater aan de Rijn, Arnhem (NE), Feb 2015


TDTCI was created with support by Generale Oost Production House (NE) January-February 2015 and Jersey City Theater Center (NJ, US) November-December 2015.

Artist and collaboration bio:

Sally and Tuva’s collaboration started unknowingly on a commuting train in 2004, when they both attended the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Malmö, Sweden. Only to reconvene ten years later through numerous of Skype conversations, this project commenced with a 5 week full-time Artist-In-Residence in the Netherlands in February 2015 and is still emerging. Their major questions today are: What is authenticity and is it possible not to perform in life, art and work? How can we use theater and dance as women’s rights activism? What is and how can we practice feminism today in life, in collaborations and on stage?

Sally O’Neill grew up in Sweden with an American father and Hungarian mother and is currently based in Lund, Sweden. She began her dance training at the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Malmö (2001-2007), Lunds dans och musikalgymnasium (2007-2010), and later studied at Budapest Contemporary Dance School (HU) and ArtEZ Hoogeschool voor de Kunsten, Arnhem (NE). Sally collaborates with artists from different disciplines, has worked as a choreography assistant to Nicole Beutler as well as performed and showed her own work in Brussels, Budapest, the Netherlands, Malmö, Berlin, Armenia. She has been an artist-in-residence at Art and Cultural Studies Laboratory in Yerevan, GlougAIR in Berlin and Generale Oost Produktion Hus, Arnhem (NE).

Tuva Hildebrand was born on the island Hven between Sweden and Denmark is an actor, dancer and maker based in New York and Sweden. She began her dance training at the Royal Swedish Ballet School (2004-2006), Lunds dans och musikalgymnasium (2006-2009), while performing on stage since 1993 in her mother’s circus troup and in a wide range of professional and amateur theater productions. Tuva later studied at Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds (UK) and at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater (NYC). She has presented her own work since 2009, in Sweden, UK, Serbia, Netherlands and NYC, with her first evening-length show ‘L’Intacte’ premiering in Sweden and Belgrade (S) in 2009. Tuva also works for Stacy Grossfield, Heather Kravas and acts with the New Scandinavian Theater Collective. She has been an artist-in-residence at Jersey City Theater Center (NJ, US), Generale Oost Produktion House, Arnhem (NE), Kulturni Centar GRAD (European Center for Culture and Debate), Belgrade (S), and Landskrona Teater, Landskrona (SE).

Unedited writing from the research state of That Disgusting Thing Called Intimacy

We live in an individualized separated society. We have ultimate freedom. We say yes to fluid identities. Mass-personalization.

Capitalism and consumption culture tells me that I can be exactly what I want and that I am in control of my own life. I have to create an “I” that is like no one else. To create my unique “I”, I have to separate myself from the rest of the world to not be a result of my environment. I am not a part of my environment, I am myself. Every one else can be whatever they want, because I am not responsible for them and they are not affecting my “self”. I don’t take anyone else in, because I don’t want to become a part of them. Everything is accepted.

To create my own “self/I”, I separate myself physically and mentally from other organisms and my environment. I act from the image of my “self” that I have created, rather than reacting in inter-dependence with my environment. I feel lonely because the “I” is not created out of physical experiences, but out of self-conscious mental choices. My artificial “I”, is a result of choosing among artificial means I am offered by society to build up my personality, and it makes me feel empty because it is not a result of physical contact.

I create my “I” in order to be a part of something, be seen, be accepted. “Society” tells me in an early age that I have to “be something”, that I have to be “myself”, that I can be “what I am” – which makes me extremely left alone in creating this self/I/something. “Society” then gives us the means with which we can create this I. We define ourselves by the way we look. By the way we smell. By the way we talk. By the way we walk. By the clothes we are wearing. We define ourselves by our gender, our sexuality and our style. We define ourselves by our political opinions. We define ourselves especially by our education and our results. We are rewarded in society based on our merit.

Consumption culture offers me the “cures” that will make me feel like I exist and are “something” even though I am not acknowledging my “self” as a part of my surrounding. It offers me education, goals and “the right way to success”. It offers me money as a door to “freedom”. It offers me pseudo-activity such as recycling and charity so I can feel better about my place in the world. It offers medical treatment, ritalin and prozac as an answer to my emptiness. It offers me drugs and many other addictions where I can lose control. It offers me a tinder-app and one night stands as an answer to my loneliness. It offers me a virtual reality where I can be acknowledged by millions of people who have never met me physically, and feel love theoretically but not in practice. It offers me buddhism and new age, which makes me be able to pay money to feel good and still be disconnected to everything that actually makes up what I am.

Consumption culture creates a global knowledge about how one should be. It create needs in order for me to buy their products. It forms my view of me as a woman and of a man.

If I don’t create this unique “I” separated from everyone else then I won’t be a part of the system and I won’t survive.

I am told that if I don’t define my identity, I am nothing, I won’t exist, and I won’t be seen or loved. I won’t be “happy”. The more I “make” this defined “self”, the further away from my real self I get. These false identities I adapt to are far from my physical and biological true needs. I am told to constantly be stronger, which makes me identify myself as weak and strive to create a “better” identity. We hold our real feelings and impulses inside to live up the identity we have created. We are told that we are never enough and therefore use “society’s” cures to be better.

This state of feeling weak and depressed is the most adaptable state, in that state we will do anything and change identity in order to be seen, successful, “happy”. When I think it is ok to have a fluid identity I think it is ok to constantly consume new things to create the renewed “self”. This state makes us the biggest consumer and the biggest producer.

To tell us “to be what we are”/”to be myself”, is an advertising campaign to make me define myself. It destroys everything that connects me to the world. It destroys everything in between, indefinite and indistinct. It does not allow boredom or passionless. It wants registered bodies and well-ordered space. It wants us to be in control of ourselves so they can be in control of us. They want us to constantly work and be passionate about work, success and the creation of the “self”. If we are bored we might take each other in physically, be attached and lose control. We might be more passionate and attached to what surrounds us, than our “selves”.

To fail, to be bored, to lose control shows us that the hypothesis of the “self” is beginning to crack. It is a way to break the expectations of the self and prove that it is only a hypothesis, it is false. Our inapt-ability and fatigue are problems from the point of view that wants to subjugate us. Then medicine and police is the only way to control us.

However a certain illness is good for “society” because then they can categorize our potential and productivity. They can make money by giving us the cure and making us addicted to the authority.

Existing. If no one knows I exist – do I exist? (Therefore the permanence of the self is something we have fallen for because if our identity is displayable – people will know I exist without having to co-exist with them).

To exist is to acknowledge that you are a reaction to your surrounding. To allow yourself to be a part of your surrounding. To say yes to inter-dependence. To acknowledge that there is no real defined self I can display on cue. There is no individually composed self. Our “self” is a shared living existence from which emerges with my environment.

Freedom. Today we live in ultimate freedom because we have the opportunity to do anything if we make the right choices and work hard. We live in freedom because we are in ultimate control over ourselves. My life is up to me and therefore if I do right I will have the freedom to do what I want. Which means if I create an identity, an “I”, that lives up to all the different social norms or even that is super radical, then I will be accepted, popular and seen and I will have money. That’s it.

We’re in constant control in order to maintain the defined made up “self”. To be in control and interact with organisms that are in control, makes us be able to follow the structure, of how to behave and how to define the world, that we already know.

Nothingness/boredom. We are afraid of silence, stillness and nothingness because that gives an opportunity for the surrounding to be a part of your being and then the hypothesis of the “self” will crack. Your “self” will change, but you are not in control of how. “A neurotic talk in order to not be seen and for a change not to happen”, as Zizek mentions.

If nothing is happening, I am seen and I cannot control how a person is taking me in. I give the person a change to change my reality and introduce the unknown. I am faced with my own fear of being someone, and my own self-consciousness, self-knowledge if I chose to not take the other person in. In stillness I give the chance for something to happen in co-existence with the person who sees me. I give them a chance to affect the way I carry myself or see myself. When nothing happens I don’t know what will happen next. When I don’t know what will happen next I am scared.

When I do nothing I leave a person with their own fear of being someone, of performing, of losing control. When we are doing nothing your made up self is talking to you, not me.

Falling. When you fall you involuntarily lose control over yourself. You fall in love, you open up and give your “self” to that person and allow your existence to be changed by that person’s existence. You allow yourself to be a result of your environment. You can choose to fall – drugs, orgasm etc. Zizek says falling in love is an traumatic experience because you lose control and let go of your hypothetical self and you end up in the unknown. It is in that unknown there is meaning, it is in that unkown a change will happen. We have to fall and lose control in order to see someone else and be inter-dependent with that person.

Your surrounding can also make you fall when you end up in a reality you have never defined before. When it is not following your expectations and you have to create a new definition. When new knowledge has been born.

Loss of control. When you lose control you allow yourself to live in co-existence, inter-dependence with your environment, individuals, organisms etc. Society don’t want to lose control, to get attached or to “fall madly in love”, as Zizek says it. Excessive pleasures is losing control, it is seen as foreign and disgusting until we learn how to do it with control. We are only allowed to lose control under the mask. If we have any ambiguous meanings, undefined meanings – that is losing control.
The fear of the unknown, the fear of what we cannot define. We define things to order it and understand it. Fear because we don’t know how to interact. Fear because we don’t know what to expect from ourselves. Fear because we don’t have control.

To interact truthfully we have to lose control and define something new. If we are co-existing together, we are undefined – when we are undefined we have a meaning.

Initial idea with the work-in-progress title “Don’t Tell Me To Be Myself” [2014-2015]:

What is it “to be oneself”? Everyone takes on identities to survive in a capitalist system, but are even we as performers living in a paradox?
We will explore the simple phrase but complex action, of “being oneself”. What does it mean and is there such a thing as the self? What is the ‘self’ in relation to ‘reality’? One may say that the human’s search for happiness is the search for the self. In the moment of euphoria one let’s go of one’s self-consciousness and behave instantly without any intermediate state of thinking. Maybe there is nothing to achieve, only to let go of?
One actor, one dancer, and one musician. Behavior, movement and sound are all inherent primitive human needs that should not be a privilege based on one’s past.
We will let time pass, to allow things to happen, not to make them happen. By giving up our awareness to our senses and rooting our work in set and instant improvisation we look for authenticity in an unconditioned physical body and mind. We hope by sharing this intimate exploration to evoke reflection and awareness as well as encourage the audience to take time to disconnect, to connect, to be, to let go, to trust, and to communicate.

We are ephemeral, we can never be the same and we have no identity.

Tuva & Sally