Samantha Shay is a director of theatre and film, performer, producer, and teacher. She creates multi sensorial poetic landscapes, reminiscent of a living dream. Her work is at it’s best, a collaboration between the body and its senses, performing on the body like a welcomed hallucination. She is the founder of internationally recognised artist collective Source Material, and frequently collaborates with musicians to make films, including K Á R Y Y N, Katie Gately, JFDR, and Sóley. 2016 marked an initiatory time in her career when she premiered of Light, which garnered the attention of artists such as Marina Abramovic, who mentored Shay through the process, and Björk, who listed her as one of her artistic inspirations in The Guardian after attending the premier. She then headed to Poland to premier A Thousand Tongues in the world renowned Theatre Olympics as part of the European Capital of Culture 2016, a co-production with the Grotowski Institute. Most recently, her work has been performed at RedCat, HERE, and the San Francisco International Arts Festival, and she is currently making her first short film in collaboration with Dancer/Choreographer, Danielle Agami. Samantha holds a BFA in Acting from CalArts.
“It is strangely common that somehow I end up at the helm of a project surrounding something deeply personal to an artist. Often I’m part of the moment in which a wall collapses, and, if we (artists & audience) are lucky, powerful work is created, and in my personal hope, there is a kind of personal integration the artist experiences in making the offering.
Waltz was a quick timeline – Katie asked me to do the video right around Thanksgiving, and before Christmas we had shot the video. There was something about how personal it was, and yet so fast, that made me realise its possible to make something deeply personal and cathartic without a big struggle. When the collaborators meet with reverence, mutual respect, and ferocious devotion, there is a kind of emotionally agility that makes traveling anywhere possible.
When I work with a musician, there is a wide spectrum to feelings about being filmed or photographed, and Katie expressed that she didn’t feel comfortable on camera. The day of the shoot I asked Katie if she wanted to be challenged as a performer or not, and she practically demanded it of me. What resulted was absolutely magnetic. She willfully and bravely let her walls collapse in front of us, and this video, to me, is a powerful portrait of her.
Working with Bobbi Jene Smith was also something I learned a lot from. We have a shared language from our work in the dance world, so it was easy to improvise and create material quickly. I recognised how she embodied something Katie expressed in her music. If I experience Katie’s composition as this kind of unhinged variation on overwhelm, Bobbi creates that physically. If Katie’s composition feels like loss, locked into a certain kind of phrase, or a pace that illustrates heartache, Bobbi takes that and runs with it in how she relates to physical gravity. All of the choreography was improvised based on me challenging the two of them with imagistic language and prompts. Bobbi became Katie’s keener, mourning and grieving what Katie carried around, and the dynamic tension between Bobbi’s motion and Katie’s stillness is the duet. At one point during the shoot I said to Bobbi “Think of something you want to give to Katie, and Katie, do your best to receive it fully”, I could feel the air in the room seize a bit, because I started to feel what this video was about, and perhaps, why we make art in the first place.
It also goes without saying, that this album is about Katie’s mother, and Bobbi gave birth two months ago. There was a bit of witchcraft in this one. Katie said the song is about trauma and disassociation, and I think somehow, making this video was the next part of that – re-associating to the body, being seen, and catharsis as an act of resilience. Some kind of birthing.