I happened to meet Paul Zivkovich through my current boss, dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I’ve watched Lois photograph Zivkovich twice over the past two years I have been at the studio, once during my summer internship and again once I moved to NYC. I immediately noticed his innate desire to take risks and the intense physicality of his movement vocabulary. When I started thinking about people I wanted to interview for this project, Paul Zivkovich's name immediately popped into my head - I’d witnessed his stunning collaboration with Lois in studio and knew he had a strong performance background. Upon meeting with him to interview, I learned much much more about his collaborative spirit and the inspirations behind his work. A driven and intelligent artist, Zivkovich's work delves into movement direction and understanding body language in a way I hadn't thought possible before.
Zivkovich grew up in Canberra, Australia and trained as a gymnast before studying dance. He started out with a youth dance company (QL2 Centre for Youth Dance) before heading off to Queensland University of Technology. After two years, Zivkovich joined Australian Dance Theatre under the direction of Garry Stewart, and toured up to seven months out of the year, all the while dabbling in short dance films and tackling many side projects. Departing from ADT, he soon found himself in Europe, working for Rafael Bonachela, Akram Khan, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui - for Cherkaoui he also served as an assistant choreographer for the feature film Anna Karenina. It was after Anna Karenina that he landed a job with Punchdrunk in the New York City production of Sleep No More to play Macbeth and the Porter. Originally planning to stay for six months, he found himself staying for a full year.
"New York City is such a special place. I was living in the East Village. It felt really creative. A lot of neighbors were either filmmakers or photographers - I really enjoyed its village atmosphere and felt inspired living there and being apart of it. I simply fell in love with that, and the work with Punchdrunk was challenging in a very different way than anything else I had ever done."
Of performing in Sleep No More, Zivkovich said, "It felt like a roller-coaster - there's no pauses or breaks, there's no backstage, there's no wings, there's sort of no 'off-time'. That's maybe not completely different to performing on stage, but it felt like this gate you opened at the beginning, or a ride that you can’t get off of until the end, and that felt really daunting and challenging and wonderful all at the same time."
Beyond the intense physical nature of the work he did in Sleep No More, there was an added challenge for Zivkovich in the acting. "For sure the duration is a lot, a three hour performance - it felt sort of impossible. Certainly playing Macbeth... I think it was daunting to play someone so physically and emotionally relentless. For the most part, Punchdrunk casts dancers to understand and embody emotions and states clearly, and along with crafted movement vocabulary and careful direction, I was able to enjoy the act of playing other people and deliver characters with physical and emotional arcs."
After a year performing in Sleep No More, Zivkovich went back to London to create and perform in another Punchdrunk production; The Drowned Man - A Hollywood Fable. He remained there for a year and then once again returned to New York City, this time accepting a role as a rehearsal director for Sleep No More. It was at this point that Zivkovich's collaborative nature began to really flourish, allowing him to further deepen his work with Lois Greenfield (Zivkovich and Greenfield had started their working relationship in 2004 while Lois collaborated with Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) on HELD, a dance inspired by Greenfield's imagery where she photographed the dance live onstage). Taking on the role gave him more opportunities to interact with new collaborators.
Speaking on his work with Lois Greenfield, Zivkovich remarked, "I remember coming to New York on tour with ADT in 2005 and then 2007. In 2005, I stayed after the tour to explore the city a little more, and Lois and I scheduled a shoot together, so in a way I felt unleashed from ADT- the images weren't tied to the company. It was me as an individual working with Lois and that felt liberating. And again in 2007, I found myself in New York independently and we shot together - I wasn't working with any one company at that point, so that was the second time we worked intimately.”
“Our shoots together since then took place when I moved to New York in 2012. Until then, it felt a little like.. 'You're in town. I'm in town. I've got the studio space. Let's jam. Let's play,’ and I enjoy working like that, particularly with someone I've known for so long. But it’s been wonderful to be both living in the same city and enjoy the more ‘planned’ shoots, without time restrictions etc. And I think the biggest joy was knowing we had both matured as people and artists since we first met, and that naturally feed into the work we were making together, and still does.”
"I think I'm a wild card," Zivkovich shared, "I'll flip around and do something a little bit more off center... her work borders that so much for me. You sort of know what you're going to expect, but she kind of tilts it a little bit, and she inspires me to do the same. That's why I enjoy working with her."
In addition to his ongoing relationship with Lois Greenfield, Zivkovich has recently made more time for himself to develop his own work and forge meaningful connections with other artists. One look through Zivkovich's Instagram and you'll find a carefully-curated exhibition of photos taken by many of the people Zivkovich has collaborated with, along with sketches and illustrations by artists inspired by these works. From the surreal, faceless images of Zivkovich by Ben Zank to the sculptural black and white photographs of him by Matthew Tyler Priestley, Zivkovich showcases his range and unique sense for body language and movement in front of the camera. He says "Instagram's sort of been this ugly beast, but I've started using it more as a work space rather than a personal one. It gives me a platform to show what I've been doing and working on with people."
One collaboration of note is Zivkovich's work with Jon Jacobsen, a Chilean multimedia artist. "I threw a concept at him in the middle of last year that was, in a nutshell, what was happening in the coral reefs around the world. I was watching a lot of documentaries about nature in general, but the bleaching process that’s happening with coral reefs really struck a chord. I believe it was a time-lapse video that caught my eye, where it sped up what was happening to these reefs, something like five days in a minute, so you could see the rapid decay that was occurring. So I threw this rather vague idea at Jon to see what his brain would make of it. We went back and forth for many many months on some ideas, and at that early point it was anything: some poetry, some writing, a song, or more visuals. We then started to Skype each other and that inspired more conversations - we both knew by then that we wanted to collaborate together on something. Jon ended up coming to New York later that year. We shot the project up on my rooftop, but of course in the images you don't really get a sense of location or any one specific environment. We ended up producing a series of nine images, titled ‘The Great Barrier’."
Zivkovich's work with Jacobsen didn't stop there. Steering away from the prior project to try something new and facilitate growth, the pair's next project focused on memory and nostalgia. Zivkovich, as the subject of Jacobsen's work, described the series as "invasive" and "much more about the texture of the skin, scars, and bruising on the skin." The project became extremely personal for Zivkovich as his aunt passed away just as Jacobsen and Zivkovich had completed the shoot.
"We were working with pictures of my family, aunties, uncles, my nana, my mom & dad... some of the images are black and white because of when they were taken, and some of them are more recent. We explored ways where these images could emerge in the skin, or hide in the creases of folding flesh, causing the skin to bruise and sweat. Perhaps it’s something about regurgitating and devouring memories to cope with grief."
This second project with Jacobsen is currently in post-production.
Zivkovich hopes to continue to work in this way, and New York City offers opportunities for him to do so. He has spent the past five months placing an emphasis on producing his own work and work with others. "I recently began making a short dance film, it’s still early stages but I am very excited about it. I feel so fortunate to be in a position where I can still pay rent and have the time and energy to collaborate with others and fulfill creative ambitions."
To learn more about Paul Zivkovich, you can visit his Instagram.