Go Deeper

Only Sleeping revealed! Niki Cousineau talks about her upcoming show

Posted April 13th, 2010

Recently I caught up with Niki Cousineau of subcircle and asked her some questions about Only Sleeping, their new show which premieres at the Performance Garage (1515 Brandywine St, April 29 – May 1, 8pm). Niki, along with Jorge Cousineau, directed and conceived the piece. She is also the show’s only “live” performer as her co-star, Geoff Sobelle, appears only in video form. Only Sleeping was partially developed at our very own Live Arts Brewery artist residency program. Tickets are available online.

Niki, what’s your role in subcircle, and what’s your role in Only Sleeping?
I co-direct subcircle with my husband Jorge. This means that we share artistic ownership over all the projects. I choreograph and perform plus take care of all the administrative aspects of running a company. Jorge co-directs and is responsible for all design aspects, usually involving video, set, and lighting, and sometimes sound. In this case, we hired Mike Kiley to create the score.

What is your pre-show routine?
I like to have a lot of time pre-performance in the space, not reviewing or going over choreography but just being in the world of the piece, even if it’s just lying on the floor and stretching. I don’t have a standard meal other than to not eat too soon to show time and nothing too heavy.

How did you come up with the name Only Sleeping?
The name Only Sleeping came from the Beatles song. We used that song for one section of the piece, which is kind of a pinnacle moment in the work. We no longer use the song however. Mike Kiley wrote a new song, which contains the feeling of the original.

Where did the inspiration from this piece come from?
Originally we started with the title Pieces from the floor and the focus was on the edited out moments of your life. Could we make a piece using existing film and filling in the edited out moments with live performance? What happens in those moments that are edited out? The idea of the piece changed a lot as we began working on it. We realized we weren’t really interested in having existing film in the work, though we did use it a bit in the development process. Geoff and I weren’t able to be in the studio together in the early part of the process so we developed these characters who corresponded via email, letter, video and photos. It was a really interesting way of working. This aspect of absence became really important in the work and the correspondence as well.
Now the piece is about that inner dialogue of what to do next, about choice. It’s about re-doing the tiny moments and waiting for signs of what the correct choice is. It’s about a character who has this inner editor. Is it herself or actually a memory of someone else?

How do the live and video components of this work interact?
Geoff Sobelle appears only in video. I appear both live and in video. It’s used a variety of ways and projected on multiple surfaces. We are using pre-edited video as well as a live feed. I can interact with the video, refer to it, and even enter into it to interact with Geoff’s character.

You site the themes of loneliness and detachment as being part of this work. What do you find artistically compelling about these themes?
I’m compelled by the isolation of being a human—that we are all in separate bodies, these containers that make it impossible for us to truly know what it is to be the other. I’m always intrigued by moments in public spaces when groups of people sit together whether on a train, a bus, or in an elevator. The way in which we perceive others and how we feel others are perceiving us. I wonder about how people who are alone in the world—how do they make decisions without clues from people around them? How to decide what to do if you don’t know what your role is?

Conceived and directed by Niki Cousineau and Jorge Cousineau with dramaturgical direction by Geoff Sobelle. Video and set design by Jorge Cousineau, music by Mike Kiley, and costumes by Maiko Matsushima. Performers: Niki Cousineau and Geoff Sobelle (in video form). Only Sleeping will be at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, April 29 – May 1, at 8pm. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 students/seniors/dance pass holders. Purchase tickets here.

Photos of Only Sleeping courtesy of the artist.
Photo of Niki Cousineau by Jacques-Jean Tiziou /

–Josh McIlvain