The Alchemy of Dance, Architecture, and Healing

Yeah. Okay. Got it. We’re on. Welcome to the psychitect is in today. I am really thrilled to meet with Stephan. And Stephan, can you introduce your whole name of your firm and just, the full title of your business? Yeah, so my name is Stefan Jovanovich and I run a interdisciplinary company called Studio Stefan Jovanovich. And I’m based in London. Yes. Great. And we had the fortune to be liaised by a fellow somatic experiencing professional. As I’ve told some of my audience members, I work in the trauma recovery modality of somatic experiencing, and so does Stephan and also work in architecture and design. And when this fellow somatic experiencing professional met you in London on a training, we thought, Oh.

Really kismet to be able to meet other folks like you around the world that are working in the somatic and architectural space . So I just wanna have a conversation around the connection between our bodies in space, and you were giving me some, a beautiful background when we talked earlier about your work and just how you came to find this exquisite connection between healing body and space.

Yeah. Yeah. And perhaps not too dissimilar to your own trajectory but perhaps in a slightly different order. I originally studied in architecture and through architecture, came to the performing arts, and from the performing arts came to therapy. And the world of healing and trauma recovery. So intuitively or not what I’ve found and have developed over the last many years is that space where design, architecture the creation of worlds, And spaces that we inhabit on a daily basis where that meets the body and the body’s story and history is through the performing arts.

And so it’s a big melting pot for me. Yeah. And has been. And I, yeah, I often. I, when I first started designing stage spaces or spaces for performance, I had this realization that, I can’t quite do this authentically if I’m not performing myself or embodied myself in the way that I think of design.

And so that led me into a kind of self taught journey through dance and theater. And as I got more and more into. Performing and then later choreographing and directing. I started seeing so much. Trauma history coming up in studios. And history is used as material to generate, at the end of the day, entertainment for other people.

Yeah. And I think that was the key turning point for me of realizing, Oh, I need tools to work with this and. Negotiate what a safe space might be within the performing world, which is what led me to somatic experiencing and family systemic constellations. And now it’s, I can’t differentiate between any of these things.

I know. And now it feels like all in the same vein, doesn’t it? It’s so integrated. And I think to us it really does have that common thread, right? The world of dance move. Theater, the architecture of performance the healing trajectory of intergenerational trauma in constellation work, yet to our audience members and for people that are just like, What is all this stuff?

We sound like we might be on a whole nother plane on no pun I think maybe to break it down to these modalities of what we call somatic experiencing is a trauma recovery modality that works on healing trauma through completing defensive responses, right? What we know in trauma recovery is that it’s not a cerebral process to discharge embodied trauma, right?

. And so to explain somatic experiencing much like other modalities like emdr this work is particularly special to me, to you and I because it support. The authenticity of what the body needs to do to recover versus what we can tell someone to do. So it’s a very empowering process, I feel.

So just to kind of lay out the groundwork, dance and trauma therapy, it’s like these movements are so embodied. So can you speak to the connection even as you started your journey of even dance in the somatic work? Yeah. As you were speaking, I was remembering my first introduction to somatic experiencing and.

It being described as, or rather a question being asked of how do you create a space where the body feels safe enough to tell its story? And of course, as an architect at that point, I was thinking quite literally, what is that space? Or what can that space be? Where the body feels safe? Which, you know, I guess safety is always relative to some extent.

And and then I think what happened for me was dance as an art form that happens in specific spaces, oftentimes black boxes, theaters harnesses this real power to move through trauma without using language so much. Yeah, and I think that for me is, has been a key underpinning to my own journey and the work that I create of how to create movements.

Choreography narrative that doesn’t rely so much on the cognitive linear language based way of understanding the world, but rather on a more intuitive to of sensation based somatic approach, which I guess is one of the key. Foundations of somatic experiencing of how to work through and with the reptilian brain.

The oldest part of ourselves. And I think if we can do that through movement where we can access some beautiful. Neuro pathways that otherwise might very quickly end up in language or words get shut down. Yeah. And what I hear from our previous conversation, the theme of how language and constructs can sometimes.

Prevent us from connecting in our truest vulnerable selves. And so this is a pathway through somatic work and dance that we’re just really working with the true unconscious, if you will, or our true, authentic responses to our experience of self and space. If I’m summarizing that, Yeah. The way that you were.

Yeah. And also it makes me think of this, the space of dreams. Yes, the space of archetypes that can speak across cultures and across histories and across time. And, uh, I think for me it, it’s also very visual discipline. You see things that might evoke something within your nervous system.

Whilst you may not understand fully what it is that you’re seeing, but there’s still something happening in the body. So registering it. Yeah. And perhaps it really speaks to the child part of ourselves that I find and kind of almost pre languaging structures where there’s a very immediate reaction or.

Or slight response or curiosity that emerges. Yeah. And I think I find that really beautiful and interesting space where to meet audiences. Yeah. Just also seems like that is what even performance or acting. Where many actors, and I’m not an authority on this, that want to get to that space, right?

To, to really be in that playful, creative, sensory, responsive, intuitive curious place that’s not so, you know, blocked with ego or the language. So much of performance training. Is trying to connect in that. So when you talk about the reptilian responses and the inner child responses and archetypal connections, I love that because often when I do somatic experiencing work I, as we do in se, you work with the image as part of a.

Part of the way to access the body and working with that dream image or any image, that just is like, why is this, why does this image come up? And part of trauma is maybe it’s could be a flashback that keeps coming up or there’s a residual part of a dream that is asking to be explored. Yeah.

Yeah. And I find it to be such a beautiful process of connecting those two worlds. So I love how you describe that even as a performer and the art of dance. I dance for enjoyment. I’m not a professional dancer and, I love learning about the origins of modern and all the different beautiful dance modalities that are out there.

How do you think like when you do your work, when you perform, is this simple? Like, when I’m working with somatic experiencing, and let’s say somebody’s going through like an undulation of really kind of discharging some powerful early trauma. And it’s like it’s own movement, right?

Would you say those kind of natural trauma movement sequences can be like a dance art in its own right? When you dance, or what would that look like? Yeah. I think you, yeah, you bring up an interesting edge in the work, which is, how to distinguish between therapy and performance and I think we’re also currently in a time period where, let’s say ritual and ceremony are very fashionable within the performing arts and dance, and myself included, participate in this movement in a way. And what I found is that one has to be really careful as to which modalities are used into what?

In to what intent and what is the process kind of within a cast or with dancers or actors, and then what is the process with an audience, which might be slightly different, because someone buying a ticket to come and see a down show might not necessarily be coming for a group processing session of their personal trauma.

Right, and that’s really helpful to distinguish the intention Yeah. Of all parties in this container. Yeah. Yeah. And so your question about, you know, does the pendulation of trauma or I guess experiencing an activation and then self or co-regulation within a performance space. I think what I found is that it needs to be facilitated and possibly somewhat scripted, unless it’s fully improvisational, and perhaps that’s where it starts to differ a little bit from a somatic experiencing session in that, I’ll work a lot with the performers for them to be confident enough in the scene or the kind of ritual that they’re offering to audiences, but will be very intentional with the sequence of it so that if we do introduce something that might create activation within an audience group. Be it through the sound score or the type of dancing or the type of visceral scene, what might one might witness. We also have to make sure then that what follows is some form of space where the audience can discharge something that’s been activated. So in that sense, almost the structure of the show would be quite scripted and we’d make sure that any kind of audience engagement stays within a window of capacity that doesn’t push anyone beyond their comfort level, but rather I think focusing on how to make sure everyone feels included and perhaps challenged at different moments.

Yeah. That’s really important to hear you describe how a healing intention would be put forth in a performance, the art of performance space, particularly of theater or a dance performance. It seems like to me it always would be great to have that, you know, container of managing activation and pendulation and release in a safe container of performance.

It just seems like that would always be for you to go into, whether you’re choreographing it or directing it or performing yourself. In film, they’re always wanting to get therapists on set or you know, people watch movies and entertainment to go through their own emotional journey and catharsis, so I just think it speaks to giving it this container that art can be healing.

Oh, absolutely. Yeah and I think that’s where I would look at it very much from the point of view of family constellation work, which is for that container to be as safe as possible and offer a space where experiences can be respected and happen. And by that I mean wholly different experiences in an audience. Someone might be loving something and someone might be really struggling with something. How to include all of that, I think is really important to step back and be a facilitator rather than a director, which means placing the ego of the individual aside and really feeling into what serves the system, what serves the current group that’s here. Every audience is different, every audience that Constellates for any show is different from one day to the next. And how does one continue to adapt to that and to hold that without an agenda necessarily that everyone has to feel a certain way by the end of it.

Yeah. It’s not really so prescribed or I can’t really script that response, nor would we want to, right? We want everyone to subjectively take what they take from experience to art, and that’s so beautifully explained. Now just to kind of break down for our audience, what is family Constellation work? If you can give like a quick synopsis and some frame of reference as to how it connects with somatic experiencing.

Yeah, so the family constellation work that I trained in originated from a psychotherapist called Bert Hellinger and became quite popular in Europe in the eighties onwards where groups of people would come together as a kind of group therapy session and someone would present a issue, be it family issue or an ancestral issue or a personal issue, and then strangers in the room would step into what is called the field and represent a person’s family or family members or country of origin or fear or love or whatever is relevant to the story. And then what plays out as a kind of narrative arc, where the facilitator holds quite a spiritual and phenomenological experience, where something gets moved in the client’s meta field, and they get to work through a trauma that perhaps they wouldn’t be able to address in real life, or whatever reason. And I think many constellations actually follow the narrative arc of a story in the way that there’s kind of a problematization of an issue that moves towards a climax and then a resolution, which many stories follow traditionally. And so, The Constellations facilitator kind of holds that arc in the way that it’s offered and held. And also sometimes the client really needs to experience the issue, and the gravitas of the issue that they’ve brought, before they can fully integrate or metabolize what the resolution might be of the story. So it sits between psychotherapy and spiritual practices. There’s the long lineage of constellation work that originates from cuo traditions from South Africa. And then there’s multiple variations of it that have developed since the eighties around the world really. And I think most recently have been featured on Netflix, on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop episodes.

Great. Well, I’m happy it’s making it there. She’s absolutely great at finding the great work. She really sources it and I’m happy she has because this line of work, I’ve known about it for so many years and I’ve always thought this is powerful work that doesn’t even get the recognition or, you know, so many people in the mental health or even just, you know, people don’t really know about.

I mean, I think it’s something that, Whether one’s a therapist or not, it’s a training that should be part of life’s journey for any walk of life. Cause there’s something so essential about being able to see the world and one’s history through the systemic lens that I think is especially important today and can really offer so much, I think, collective healing that’s necessary.

It’s so true because it really puts us in a collective lineage and to really empathize with others’ experiences and gives that space to really connect in someone else’s story.

Yeah, which is, you know, going back to your comment on why people might watch films or why. Why one might go see a dance or theater show or engage in any kind of storytelling. And I think the Constellations work does that in a pretty literal and direct way where not only do you get to engage or uh, rather spectate in real life stories, you actually get to participate and embody other people’s stories, which, almost never coincidentally will be something in your own life that’s wanting to be worked through or seen when you get asked to represent someone’s mother or daughter or sibling.

Yeah, I feel like it should be part of our fundamental education, you know, to have these kind of workshops. It would be so wonderful to have that in our formative, empathetic experience years just to be able to cultivate that. We do that through food and sensory. We experience people’s worlds in ways that transcend all of our constructs that come to be. And what I also appreciate when you’re creating a piece of art or you’re writing something, as the creator, you are holding a space, right? You’re holding a space for something to play out, always I think. Whose writing will responsibly wanna hold what that creative project is really doing as it almost like, you know, on the outside, but also kind of creating that safety. I guess it was just a thought that came to me. Also like, what do you think about when people are really into horror films or, someone said once that you’re almost going through you’re safe to kind of feel the panic, the rage, in a controlled space, like a horror film kind of lets you go through this somatic trajectory, but you almost have control over it knowing you’re okay as the viewer.

Yeah. Which I guess is the tool of the screen. Well, that horse is not going to necessarily come out, there’s a very clear boundary.

So ,there’s safety when we experience art, it’s made the screen maybe not as much live theater, that’s such a different.

Yeah, I think there’s a few more variables there of the possibility maybe of something going wrong is more present in the room, right than, I don’t know, a power cut or the screen going blank. I mean, not to say I still think that even a film can evoke so much somatically that then might need integrating later.

Especially if someone’s watching a resonance story. Of their own life on screen. Whereas I think in the theater or any performance arts space, when we start to edge into this world where. Part of us trusts that the social script is still valid, that the contract is there, that is not written anywhere, but that we trust, you know, that we won’t get attacked or Have an awful experience or be made, do something we don’t wanna do.

Right? Yes. That’s what I was trying to say, or thank you. That’s what I was thinking is, and that’s almost when we do somatic experiencing with our clients, or you do family constellation with, you know, a group. It is creating a safe setting, a safe container, just like film and theater might that.

You can play out and recover and express and move knowing you don’t have a perpetrator that you can’t, you have to stay in, fight or flight or dissociation with. Yeah and I guess, there’s been different histories, maybe more in live art or which had a big movement in the UK where certain boundaries or fourth wall really do get broken. And and it does do something. I think that moments like that speak more to kind of shock. Trauma almost in the way that a nervous system might react to something that spurs to deconstruct almost social laws that they’re expecting when they walk into a space.

Which I think opens up an interesting also reflection on, you know, we have socially embedded understandings of what we’re supposed to. In specific places. . That’s right. How we’re supposed to behave in a theater or in a cinema, or queuing at an atm. That’s somehow in, in the body already.

That’s true. Queuing in the ATMs. could be a little fight or flight sometimes. Yeah. But yeah, it’s so true. And I’d love to bridge that into I know, Gosh I can’t stop talking to you stuff and it’s like you’re somebody. You know, makes my interview process go longer cuz I just wanna glean more insight into when you’re talking about social constructs and as we talk about the architecture of space and are embodied or embodied space.

Can you give us like, Example of how or something you did in a theater or set or performance space, how you designed that or with all this in mind? Like what principles would somebody who’s designing Yeah. A performance. Space for a dance TRO troupe. . . Yeah. I mean, I can speak about my most recent work called Drumming in the Hall of the Mountain, which is actually an outdoor performance work. And that sets up a whole other set of questions around design and how do you design.

How do you use theatrical design outdoors to guide audiences? And it’s probably been the most challenging work I’ve had to do to date. And what I’ve realized is in this show, we really use the city to frame that theatrical experience. And proximity to the cast. The cast go in these kind of 30 minute promenades through si of where the performance is happening.

And it’s almost like there the performer has a huge responsibility of. Really harnessing the attention of the audience as they maneuver through streets or by a river or over a bridge as they arrive to a space where the kind of climax or action Oh, I love those kind of, Yeah. Is there a name for that?

When you experience live theater moving? I love that. When you’re out of the, Yeah. It’s called, well most people call it kinda Immersive Theater . Thank you. Stop. I sound eloquent until that, Yeah. Immersive, Thank you. Which is kind of, yes. Albe, maybe it can also not be immersive.

But still Well, what comes up for me, what I love about what is the title? Of this piece you created the long one Drumming and the Hall of the Mountain . Well, I mean, there’s just so much in that title. . Yeah. Yeah. And enough said , but to me, I sometimes let, I, I like to be free in space and Yeah. You know, sometimes I think, ah, just sit in the theater for two hours, you know?

Yeah. But I always get, What comes up for me is like, oh, sounds like such a, such an adventure to, to be drumming in the hall of the mountain. Yeah, absolutely. And I think to answer your question about principles I’ve really had to think about, you know, how do you sustain attention and how do you construct a narrative arc in.

Essentially public space where it’s not a controlled environment like the black box is. And what I employed was scores. Scores of ritual. Scores of ceremony. Okay. And. And you know, the way that you would give someone a ritual to do, whether it’s a ritual of shedding or encounters or meeting a past self or I don’t know.

I mean, there’s so much, you know, ways of magically transforming and it’s its own Yeah, absolutely. And so there’s a very kind of clear. Ritual structure, essentially where audiences are offered a set of actions and tools to go through and use. Where at the very beginning, they’re invited to think about something that they want to shed in their life at the moment.

Something that no longer serves. And they’re given these branches to represent. That thing. And they’re then taken on this wild journey as they watch these these four performers transform and took these archetypal, fully costumed creatures kind of spirits from another. Another realm, another plane.

And the spirits then collect these branches and they start a massive fire. And the audience then watch, watch it burn. And so it’s a kind of, It’s really simple score. And of course there’s dancing and there’s live music, and there’s everything that dance and theater offer, but there’s a very tight framework that’s offered to the audience as to what they’re there to do and how and with who within this kind of fantastical realm.

It sounds amazing. For lack of better therapeutic artistic words. , I mean, after coming, out of, you know, Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur. I think that would be really wonderful to be casted in that, you know, to see what to shed. But it sounds like the, to be in the open space, you’ve created ritual as the program, right?

Like you’re scoring. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I know I’ve taken more of your time and something important I wanted to still touch on, cuz we had a great conversation around, because your work really does cut so much of the barriers, the constructs language in how we heal as a collective, but also in marginalized groups and how Yeah.

In the queer community, L G B T, how you really Yeah. Have described your work in a way that was really inspiring to me. So I’d love for you to just touch on that. Yeah. So yeah, a lot of, the audiences that I try to engage are. Amongst a queer community and the neuro diversion community, um, and really create spaces where yeah, I guess marginalized identities can feel that they belong.

To bring in with kind of key constellations principle is, you know, how do we allow for belonging to happen in society? And I think what you’re referencing and what we spoke about previously was this term that I really love which is, Dry Cleaners of the Soul. Yes. Which comes from a writer and performance artist based in Berlin called Richard Aslan.

And it really talks about the history of queer identities being used by society, kind of society with a big S To process their, where it’s trauma through ritualized actions. And so to make that simpler, the rest of society comes to the, you know, queer identity with their dirty laundry. And it’s the kind of queer archetype that heals it and gives back.

The kind of cleaned, the impressed clothes, and it really speaks to the to the core importance of queer identities within society. As I think in a way the magical people or Yeah, and different cultures have different terms for this. And so in some way, I, that’s what I strive to do with the shows and the performance is to offer that space for ritual action that, that comes from queer histories.

And in that way also really claims that space not as to Perhaps no longer as a kind of marginalizing identity. But as an identity that’s I think bridges difference and diversity. Yeah. That, I mean, I just, I have chills when you describe the dry cleaner. Of the universe, right?

Is that what the phrase is? Of the soul? Of the soul? Yes. Yes. Even better. It really, it gives me chills because it resonates. I believe my body always has chills when it says, Ooh, there’s something so powerful about Like just having a whole shift in perception around what this archetype means.

Yeah. And how to really honor and embrace and value what this community is doing for us. And yeah, bringing forth in our collective healing needs. And I just think it’s really. A new perspective that I’m really Yeah. So grateful to learn from you and how you Yeah. Support and engage this process in your work.

. And what that said as we wind down, What, where can I’ve been on your website? It’s fantastic. And there’s some Videos that we can watch of your work. And is there information as to events or workshops? You’re in London. I wish, I hope you come to Los Angeles at some point.

That’s good too. That would be wonderful. It’s kind of the comp. A lot of London people love it here. Yeah. Yeah. I know . Yeah, Mo all of my stuff’s on the line. You can see. Yeah. Trailers and films of existing work and Yeah. And I’ll often post about upcoming shows and workshops and we’re about to go on tour with this new show.

Oh, you are going on tour. Yeah, for now, mainly UK and Europe. But who knows, maybe, maybe we come to the West coast as well. And yeah. Can you stream it? , I just think, you know, we always can stream things now, right? Yeah. I think it’s. Maybe that would ruin it at the cost of like not going with the times.

I’d say I, I’m quite a, I think certain experiences need to be experienced in person. And there’s something Yeah. Sacred about that. Yeah. Amen to that. Let’s not stream it.

Well, Stephan, I am so grateful for , the opportunity to talk to you, to experience all that you do and evolve in our healing life and in our artistic world. It’s such a, powerful, unique blend in your work and I’m so inspired by what you do and I’ll give, What is your website?

Is it just your name, just so people know where to find you? Yeah, it’s just my name. Studio stuff jovanovich.com. And same on Instagram and other social media. . So yeah. But yeah. Really. Yeah. Thank you for having me. It’s been lovely to connect with you and talk about. Different planes. Oh, I could go on more

I could go, we could go on many other dimensions. I just so love talking to you. So let’s, yeah, let’s please, let’s stay connected and Absolutely, let’s keep this conversation going because it inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing and architecture, embodiment and healing. Yeah. And the arts and really, Supporting humanity.

All people. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Okay, Take care. Appreciate our interview and you, and see you down the road. You soon. Okay, bye.