Interview avec Scott Jennings, 13.11.2018
L'immersion dans la culture de travail des danseurs dans le studio de répétition "Lichtburg" est un élément très important pour comprendre comment interpréter les pièces de Pina Bausch. Dans la première partie de son entretien, Scott Jennings revient sur sa récente série de spectacles, la présence sur scène étant comme "une invitation à la recherche". Il a commencé à danser très jeune et a fréquenté certaines des meilleures écoles de danse contemporaine d'Angleterre. Ses premières impressions du travail se sont faites à travers des vidéos, à l'âge de seize ans, qui l'ont intrigué. Joindre la compagnie était une énorme responsabilité, il décrit les nombreuses approches pour apprendre les pièces aujourd'hui, et comment grandir dans ces rôles. Il aborde avec respect les détails et les approches nécessaires à la maîtrise d'un rôle.
La version originale de cette interview est en anglais.
Table des matières
Café Müller und Sacre November 2018
These last ten days, eleven days, performing Café Müller and Sacre. [Have you] any new insights come to you, that you lived in the last week or so?
It’s always a huge trip, and a big journey to perform these two pieces. I think this time - beforehand I’d been working elsewhere, and I haven’t been dancing so rigorously so much beforehand. I had an injury in my leg in the first week of the rehearsals. So I was out almost one week, not rehearsing, actually not doing much on the leg. For me the first period of the rehearsals was about, ‘Ok, what’s my body telling me, and what do I have to do that I can still be fit enough, and ready enough to do these two pieces?’ So that would be the first thing. Secondly, I wouldn’t say I had some kind of huge new insight, but of course every time I revisit the two pieces in this programme the work becomes a bit deeper; my own journey, my own understanding of how I relate myself in the work, and how I relate to the other people in the pieces too. A part of it for me is just being fit enough, and present enough to be able to perform these two pieces. The other part of it is thinking about the whole thing as a continuous journey, that each time is a new experience, a new try. We speak about this a lot in the rehearsals for both pieces: both pieces have many challenges; many things are about an attempt or a try. Either each time you try a movement, or each time a scenario or a situation occurs, that is a new attempt, and a new try. Sometimes perhaps it fails or it doesn’t work completely, but it is always about this new try and this want or this commitment to keep trying. So that is a big basis for me as well, in both of the pieces: the continued search, and the continued try. Some evenings I finish the programme and if I am dancing both pieces I think: ‘Actually I didn’t find it so hard to live through the two pieces. I finished with more energy than I started it’. And sometimes I finish the programme and I am done. That’s also interesting: how from one day to the next you have such a different experience of doing the same thing. Of course, there are many factors in that. I’d say those are the few of the main things.
Tanzausbildung an The Brit School und The Place, London Contemporary Dance School
So maybe you can tell us about your dance education, coming to dance, coming to be a professional.
I started dancing around the age of six or seven years old. I grew up in a small town in the south-east of England and I started to dance at the weekends in a theatre school. During this time at the theatre school I also studied singing and theatre-acting alongside dance. In those first years I was very much interested in theatre and singing; the dance wasn’t so present for me at first. Over time I started to realize I liked to move. I am interested in working with the body. So things started really from there. At that time I was studying jazz dance. I was into musical theatre. I did a lot of tap dance too in those early years. As I got a bit older, I found out about a performing arts school that’s based in Croydon, just outside of London, and you can enter the school at 14 years of age. I auditioned for this school, called the Brit School and I was accepted, so I did four years worth of academic studies as well as vocational dance training there. It was at the Brit School that I first started to hear this word ‘contemporary dance’, and ‘contemporary theatre’. I started to become intrigued about what it was, what it meant. It was at this school that I first heard about the Tanztheater Wuppertal and Pina Bausch. So through my four years at the Brit School, I realized I would like to focus on contemporary dance, and I was accepted into the London Contemporary Dance School in 2006. And then I completed a degree program at the LCDS, which was three years long. Let me talk about the training at the school. As I journeyed through the school I became very interested in improvisational work, and I started to look at working with video, working with some friends in contact improvisation. I had somehow in my mind that that was the way I might go when I finished the school. As I finished I found myself working for Matthew Bourne in his Swan Lake, which put me on a different path. Nevertheless it was a great one to start my professional career, to go into something that was very demanding physically, performing the same piece many times per week. It gave me an experience of touring and travelling, and gave me a lot of life experience as well as professional dance experience.
When I finished that I fell into freelancing, after not really knowing what I wanted to do. So I started to touch a little bit in making my own work, but that became difficult because of funding and money, so I did some small projects with some friends, made some small duets with a friend of mine. I was working out of London, mainly in England, doing different projects, working for different people as a freelancer. And I worked briefly in Düsseldorf in 2011. Then in 2012 I auditioned for the company here, and since then I am here in Wuppertal.
What kinds of training did you have, such as ballet, modern, improvisation, composition?
In the first school I was at, it was a very broad range of dance that was taught. We would do everything from jazz, musical theatre, tap, ballet, contemporary dance, some folk dance even. Then when I moved on to The Place, in the first year it was set up so that each day would begin with two technique classes, as they called them, so it would be a ballet class and a contemporary technique class. At the time I was there the contemporary techniques were Cunningham and some kind of release-based work. The ballet training wasn’t necessarily classical; it was somehow given as ballet for contemporary dancers. That doesn’t really mean anything. It had a classical basis to it, but it wasn’t a strict classical ballet technique. We had some teachers that were from a very classical background, then we had other teachers who would’ve been at NDT, or had had a classical training, but then worked in more contemporary companies. The release-based teachers were very varied, so that was a more open field of technique somehow. The afternoon studies were also very varied. We would study, for example, improvisation into performance, contact work. We would do a lot of contextual studies, dance history. We had some courses in music, music for class. I also did a course on voice, using the voice. The average day was set up like that: you would have these two technique classes in the morning, then these contextual research-based, or performance-based studies in the afternoon. As the course went on, there was more freedom to choose what you were interested in, honing in different ways you could shape your training a bit more. That’s when I started to pick up a video camera and learned how to use Final Cut, to edit, and started making my own video dance things. I did a lot of contact work with one particular friend of mine. We found quite a nice connection, the beginning of the third year; then we worked regularly together. Some performance studies: we learned some repertoire from Cunningham, also a piece from Siobhan Davies, who is a British dancer and choreographer. I also did a biggish course about voice and performance in dance in the final year.
From my feeling it was quite a well-rounded training, that suited me. There was this freedom, as I said, as the course went on, that one could choose how they wanted to shape the training. Still it didn’t become so closed that other things were forgotten, or completely shut down.
Then as far as performing possibilities…?
We had fairly regular performance opportunities, because the school has its own theatre; the building has a theatre. The building is actually called The Place; The London Contemporary Dance School is inside this building. Parts of the building are open to the public. There’s a café and a theatre that’s open from one side of the building, and the school you enter from the other side. The students at the school have fairly regular use of the theatre. We would have our own choreographic evenings. We would perform pieces of rep there. In the third year for the final project we would have some choreographers come in and make new pieces on us that we performed in the theatre. I loved having that theatre there because there was lots of other artists coming and performing there and using it. The whole building was a hub for not just young artists – also a lot of mid-scale companies would come and perform there, use the studios to rehearse, or be around the building. It was a nice way to already meet people, to be able to see a lot of things, right on the doorstep. And also perhaps see someone in the café and start to speak to them, or to become interested in what was going on. This worked well for me as well. And Sadler’s Wells was just down the road from the school, which was also great.
Künstlerische Identifikation mit Pina Bauschs Werk
Tanztheater Wuppertal: which pieces did you see first, and how: video, theatre?
The first thing I ever saw was The Rite of Spring on video, which was probably when I was sixteen years old. That was in the context of a dance history lesson, so it was coined in history sessions. Then I saw it live, Café Müller and Sacre at Sadler’s Wells. I think it was 2006. I could be wrong.
I remember I was just a poor student, so I had a ticket that was (laughs) in the very back of Sadler’s Wells, perhaps in the second to last row. Everyone was like this big (gestures: small people) (laughs). Still it was special to see. It’s always a special program to see for many people. If I remember right Pina should have been dancing her role in Café Müller, but she was sick, so she wasn’t performing, and I think it would have been the only time I could have seen her performing live. Because I was sitting so far away in Sadler’s Wells the formations in Sacre were…. It’s incredible to see how (gestures: formations onstage) the forms appear and shift, and dissolve, and come back. I remember the piece touching me, but not in a way I would have experienced had I been in the front row, or a lot closer to the stage. There was something raw and human about the work for me at this young age, that already interested me, but I perhaps didn’t know why. My sixteen-year-old self was thinking: ‘This is high art. This is something that I don’t know about, so it must be interesting.’ (laughs) So these were my first two interactions with this programme: first on video, then at Sadler’s Wells. Then I didn’t see the company until 2012, before I came to Wuppertal.
In 2012 during the Olympics there was a very large programme being performed. I looked up and listed the pieces, in chronological order. I’ll just read all the titles and then you can comment. It was always alternating from Sadler’s Well to the Barbican.
Viktor, Nur Du, “… como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si …”, Ten Chi, Fensterputzer, Bamboo Blues, Nefés, Água, Palermo Palermo, Wiesenland. Which pieces do you remember?
Can you say them once more?
Viktor I saw yes. I remember for sure.
Nur Du was at The Barbican, was it?
Yes. Then Nur Du I saw.
[“… como el musguito”? Saddler’s Wells] No, I didn’t see that one.
Ten Chi, no.
[Bamboo Blues, Barbican] No.
Nefés, also no.
Água, I don’t think so.
[Palermo Palermo] Yes.
[Sadler’s Wells Wiesenland] Wiesenland, yes.
Now listening to all of those titles, now that you work in the company, can you imagine within a month, doing all of those pieces? What kind of logistics, and also for the dancers, what that would mean? Maybe you can comment a little on that.
Not actually. (laughs) If I think about it in one way, it would have been super special for me to take all those pieces through London, being from London. But logistically and if we think about what all those pieces demand, from each one, that is a pretty incredible schedule to [achieve]. Not everyone was in every piece, but I am sure many people were in a lot of them. That would have been something, yes. I don’t imagine actually how they did that. I didn’t really think about that while I was watching them. (laughs) It is just like: ‘Fantastic, yeah.’ Trying to see as many as I can.
So at that point, it certainly made an artistic impression on you. Maybe you can talk about that, and how it was different from other things that you knew up to that.
I’d heard in 2009 that Pina had passed away, and when I found out that there was this huge artistic happening for the Cultural Olympiad, and I saw the company was performing all of these pieces, I thought I should try and go and see as many of them as I can. One because it is a great opportunity to see the work, and two because I was wondering if the company would even carry on much longer after Pina’s death. It was quite intense, actually, to see a lot of intense pieces, and to digest them all in one short period. If I were to think back then to my younger self, at sixteen years old having heard about Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, thinking that there is something raw and human there for me, this then was somehow confirmed. The human side of the work was very evident to me, and very intriguing to me. Also the mix of dance and theatre was something that interested me and captured me, and the fact that it’s a dance theatre company, but made up actually just of dancers. When I related this to myself, I was thinking to myself: ‘Well somehow that is what I’d like to do.’ I am trained as a dancer, but I have an interest in theatre, working with the voice, and text. Somehow I was already imagining myself [in the work], or somehow I wanted to have the experience from the inside. When one watches those pieces, many of the pieces from Pina, you become so overwhelmed by images, emotions, stories, scenes, sets, costumes. You are somehow bombarded with a lot of these things, ideas, reminders, that I wanted to have that same experience from the inside, which, now after being here for six years, isn’t of course the same, because – that’s a cliché, but it’s the magic of theatre – when you experience something as an audience member you have the freedom [of focusing]; it is not the same as film where the camera tells you where to look. But at the same time, in theatre things are crafted in such a way that you get a certain experience which once you’re the other side, that experience is somehow not so strong. Does that make sense?
It is almost like I had somehow the feeling of, if you were to watch a film, and then you would work in a film. Once you’ve worked in a film you see how things are made; you see the thousands of cameras around you. It was a bit like that, the magic, the experience that I had as an audience member, I wanted to have on a stage, but of course one can’t have that. (laughs) And at the same time there’s a different magic, a different intensity, a different beauty. But it was from watching the pieces, and feeling so much, and being hit with so much, and being a dancer myself, that made me think: ‘Yes, I want to try that from the other side. I want to be involved in that.’
And also I noticed a lot of the men were also quite of a slim built and quite tall, and I realized I am also like that. (laughs) Maybe if it is anything about aesthetics and looks I could perhaps fit in. (laughs)
Vortanz und Lernerfahrung
That will bring us to the audition. Maybe you can [talk about the process].
So I applied for the audition. I was invited to Wuppertal. I think the audition was just two days. ‘Just’ two days! I mean, two long days was enough. I came here with a friend of mine. We flew from London. We stayed at this hotel just down the road: the Ibis. Like all the auditions everybody gathers outside the opera house, and there’s just this swarm, this mass of... It was just a male audition, so hundreds of men just waiting outside the opera house. (laughs) We went down to the Lichtburg and it was a long line of men walking through the city.
It was two days of very intense... It was a lot of information. It was a lot to learn. There was a lot to give, also. The first day we were learning bits of repertoire, phrases from different pieces, taught by different dancers. It was quite rigorous: learn something, perform it all together, perhaps show it in groups; that’s done, then the next thing. It was the whole day, I don’t remember how long, perhaps a class at ten, finishing at six or seven in the evening. The second day, I think it was already a smaller group of people. We did our own warm up in the beginning. Then we did some more rep for the first part of the day. Then we had to speak; we had to talk about ourselves. We had to do some tasks based on the repertoire, speaking, vocal tasks, then some tasks that would mix some movement and speaking: movement and voice together. Then I remember I had to leave early, or I had to leave at the time that it should have finished, but they went a bit longer. (laughs) I had to fly back to England and take the train to Wales, where I was working at the time. I said to Dominique, who was the director at that time: ‘I am sorry but I have to leave, otherwise I miss my flight.’ He said: ‘Ok. Go and get changed, but come back in the studio before you leave.’ That’s what I did, then I put my head in the door, and they quickly called me over to the table. They asked me if I had any near future plans. I had a few, but I said: ‘No, I don’t.’ (laughs) Then Dominique just said to me: ‘Ok, don’t make any plans.’ That was something that [meant] I felt I could be considered. There was a possibility. Then I left.
Another thing. On the first day I had this black zip-up, long sleeved jacket on, not so much an outside jacket, but one that kept me warm. They asked if we wouldn’t change our clothes, because they get confused who is who. I remember as they day went on I was so hot, and I had this jacket on, and I never took it off because I didn’t want to change the clothes. (laughs) Halfway through we had a break and I was so red. My whole head was soaking wet. I went outside to smoke a cigarette, and Dominique was there. He said: ‘Why don’t you take your damn jacket off?’ We had this little joke about the clothes, which Dominique and I still laugh about now.
Erste Tage in Wuppertal, Repertoire lernen
I left. I went back to England. I was working in Wales. Then some weeks later Robert [Sturm] called me and said, ‘Would you like to join us?’ I said, ‘Most definitely.’ It was only a few weeks later that I [started]. I don’t remember the date of the audition, but I remember my contract started on the first of November 2012. I came a couple of days before, and as I arrived, the company was stuck in New York, because there was a hurricane, perhaps? They were performing at BAM I think. Then there was this hurricane or something and they couldn’t fly back. I was supposed to be staying with Fernando Suels. He called me the day before and said: ‘Hi Scott, it’s Fernando. I am stuck in New York. I won’t be there to let you into my apartment.’ So I was worried I didn’t have anywhere to stay. It was fine, someone organized the key from Fernando’s place and I got in there.
The second day I was here, I went into the studio with Dominique and Bénédicte – alone. No one else was there. At that time, there was a thought to bring Renate back. They had some videos playing of Renate. Dominique and Bénédicte said: ‘If you want, come to the studio.’ I was expecting perhaps just to watch these videos, and suddenly I was running around, trying to learn some of this movement from Renate, which was great, but I was just nervous I think. I was expecting this buzz in the Lichtburg with all of the other dancers, but no one else was there. (laughs)
But you never did Renate, right?
No, in the end for some reason it didn’t come back, I don’t know why.
Do you remember which piece you learned to perform first?
First piece I ever did was Fensterputzer in Monaco. That was in December of 2012. I remember no one had left from the previous [production]; the cast hadn’t changed. Paul White and I both came around the same time, and they kind of slotted us in to the piece. So we did the ensemble things – which was really nice, because it wasn’t so… We were both very new, but it was nice to get into something, and just feel the energy of the company in one of the pieces. To get on the stage was nice.
Still, the first season was completely overwhelming because they put both Paul and I in a lot of pieces, which on one side was great because we weren’t just hanging around and waiting to be involved. We were in at the deep end, so to say. But the amount of stuff we had to learn, and not just practically learn, but somehow the time and the intensity for me to get into the world of Pina’s work, the way the pieces exist, and how people exist in the pieces was also a completely different thing. Also in my mind I was thinking: ‘Shit, now I am working in the Tanztheater Wuppertal! There’s no time for fucking around – excuse me. This is what you’re being asked to do, you better do it!’ That was more what I made on myself.
The first season was very intense. Because I was in so many pieces, I had to learn so much rep. But also because I just landed myself in Wuppertal, I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak any German, I was looking around thinking: ‘What is this strange city?’ (laughs) It took me some time also to find my own life here, and the balance of that in the beginning alongside the struggles with the work, my external struggles shook me up a bit. It was also the first time I’d ever lived somewhere else, other than in the UK. I’ve been other places to work, and to visit of course, but the feeling that you’ve moved your life, you transferred everything, and it feels a bit more permanent, was a new one for me.
The workload never really got less intense over the years, but I started to find my way better. It became easier for me to put myself into new pieces, because I already had a good sense of the world, if you know what I mean: the world of the pieces; the structure of the pieces. Still as the time went on, I started to do some bigger roles, then of course that demanded something else.
I started to speak onstage in German, and other languages; it was another challenge… It needed me to ask something else of myself. It was different from the first couple of seasons.
Could you identify something that was very different in the posture of the performer in a piece, that was different from previous work that you’ve done, that was maybe challenging or a discovery?
One thing I found difficult in the beginning was that often to find… Often something might be asked of you, in terms of a posture or a way of being, or a way of existing, in a certain piece or a certain scene, but it wasn’t ever so easy to say, ‘this is what it is,’ or, ‘this is exactly how it should be.’ It’s more like a taste, or a sensation, or an idea. One’s interpretation of that could then be different to what’s then seen from the outside – and it still is, I think; it just gets a bit easier the longer that you’re here, but sometimes things are not so black and white. It is then hard for the rehearsal directors or for the people that are teaching roles to say: ‘It’s just this and this.’
That for me was difficult, because I often felt I was kind of swimming, and floating, and sometimes going onstage, thinking: ‘Ok, well I kind of know how this should taste, or the smell of this, but I don’t know if that’s reading or not. I can only go with my feeling, or something practical, that I should be sitting like this, or like that.’ There was this nervousness, or this unknown feeling in a lot of the performances I did in the beginning, of being there and thinking: ‘Well, who knows? This is just a try. I am sure I will be told if it’s not how it should be.’ I think that’s also what is so special about the work too, that it’s not so easy as to say: ‘You do this, and then you do this.’ It’s something you find over time. You find with a deeper understanding of the work, and with a deeper understanding of yourself as a performer and as an artist. Another thing was that, of course, because Pina wasn’t there, there was the knowledge, and the ideas, and the interpretation from the whole company, that was overwhelming sometimes. There was always a rehearsal director or someone leading the rehearsal, but when it was a rehearsal with the whole company, or everyone involved in that piece then each one would try to help with their own information and their own insight or their own journey, which is never to be disregarded, but, when you’re trying to take the first few steps and suddenly you have all these different insights, it becomes almost too overwhelming and you end up being unable to do anything, because every time you were to move, you have another thought. That was overwhelming as well.
Another thing was to perform a lot in a formal suit, which I’ve never done so much. I’d also never performed in any pieces that had so much set, or different things that can affect the way you perform. There were many things that I had to get used to. Also just with the workings of the company, even more so in those first years when I was here: the working hours were ten to two, then six to ten. I wasn’t used to this at all. I was used to finishing work at five or six on a standard day, then of course with performances working later, but specially in the winter months when I was first here, this was terrible for me, because I was so overwhelmed and exhausted I would just sleep in the afternoon. Then I would have to wake up and go back to work. Then after the evening rehearsal I would somehow get this second energy. Then I wouldn’t go to bed for hours, and then I’d wake up in the morning completely tired.
But it’s amazing also what you can get used to over time, or how normal things become when you’re in a certain rhythm for a long time.
Learning all of these pieces, were you asked to learn some specific person? Is there somebody you covered for?
In the beginning not so much. In the first couple of seasons it was more just ensemble roles. I took a variety of people’s roles, but they were normally smaller roles. And then the first role I took from Lutz was in Nelken, which felt like a step for me, given the opportunity to do something that was a bit more present. It’s a very particular character too. Because – perhaps in the way I look, but – personality wise I am not so similar to Lutz actually. And all these roles, for me, when I see them, they’re from him; they are him. It was a very nice challenge to take over his role in Nelken, because the piece had to be true to what it is, but also I didn’t want to be standing there being Lutz, so it took me some time to find a balance: giving the piece what it needs, giving this character that it needs, this character that made it, but also standing there as Scott and not as Lutz. I am sure I did many shows feeling the wrong balance of that, but it’s a nice way to find that balance by just doing the shows. It’s just about a trust from both sides, from oneself and from the outside, that sometimes you can be onstage not being completely comfortable; it gives a sense of vulnerability, which is also important in a lot of Pina’s work. This vulnerability, a sense of insecurity, gives a flavour or an essence that is important in the work, to an extent. That’s not to say you go onstage a complete mess. For the experience to be onstage and to be there and to be committed, and to be present, but to be still a little bit vulnerable and unsure is actually a big learning curve for me in this company.
Then I started to learn some of the roles of Dominique. I did Café Müller. I did his role in Gebirge as well, and in Vollmond. Most recently I did the role of Lutz in 1980.
Fokus Café Müller
Maybe we can concentrate on Café Müller. How did you come to the role? When did you realize that you were going to learn it? And how did that go, the process?
I remember Dominique and I went for a coffee at McDonalds next to the Lichtburg, and he spoke to me about the idea that he would like me to learn his role in Café Müller. It wasn’t clear to me that I would perform it, but at the same time I knew that he’d done his last shows, so I was thinking: ‘Ok, there’s a high possibility that if I learn it I could do it.’ Then we started the rehearsals, practically, in the sense that we watched the videos for the content, movement content, and we started to learn the basic content of the piece. If I remember rightly, we just worked the two of us for some time. Then some of the other guys started to come in. And it started in a kind of practical way. Then from doing it and experiencing it in the rehearsals some things started to come naturally. Other things, now still, are not quite there. There are still a lot of discussions, things that Dominique and I talk about that are his wishes for the piece or for me. As I said in the beginning, this idea of trying or attempting, and keeping the journey alive, is something he talks about a lot.
Especially in Café Müller where things repeat; things like the lifting and the dropping of the woman is one thing that, of course, repeats, but in the section that we call ‘Winter’ where I run a lot and have this series of movements each time for example that I run and perform this movement is a new try. Something about not giving up: quite often I find myself unsatisfied with the way that I do that. But to be able to accept it, and again the next run is another try, and another attempt. This idea already gives something to the way that it should feel, and look perhaps.
A lot of shifts and a lot of developments throughout my journey in that piece have been very small. They are very detailed things, in terms of the posture, or where the shoulders are, or where the head is for certain things. Sometimes practically, because Dominique was not as tall as me, for example when I watch videos of him and Malou, or him and Azusa, the height difference for the kiss is not so different. With me actually to kiss her I have to have my head quite low down, and that of course gives already a very different posture in the neck and the shoulders, when one is hunched over. So there were a lot of things like this, different bodies, because of the height, that straight away for Dominique gave a different image when he looked from outside. So a lot of small adjustments, a lot of fine work.
Also what is interesting about it is that when they created it, and when Pina was performing it, Pina would give feedback and critique to the other dancers from her feeling of being inside the piece, whereas now Dominique is outside, giving the feedback. Sometimes I would feel something, I would make a decision in the moment, or have a certain feeling, and Dominique would read it differently from the outside. And I don’t know, but I question how that was different in earlier years when Pina also existed in the piece. I question, perhaps, for example, if Dominique was also onstage in a different role, let’s say, how his experience of each performance would be, in comparison to him being on the outside?
In Café Müller I worked a lot with Azusa, and I didn’t do it so much with Ophelia. We did a few performances, I think maybe in Wellington, Ophelia and I, and it makes a difference to have a longer journey with a certain cast, or a better understanding of each other, somehow. Yes, because you also have to grow together inside of the piece. Each one has his own journey, but it is also about how the group works, how we work together, and how we feel together as a cast.
From the creation process of the piece: what do you know about that, or what was transferred to you from that?
Almost nothing actually. Some of the early rehearsals Malou was also there. But I never had a sit-down conversation with anyone that told me, ‘this happened like this…’ No, it started from a practical basis then I found my own way to do things, or way to sense things, and then that was somehow adjusted or added to by Dominique and the other members of the cast or the team. I didn’t have so much from the background. And that was actually with a lot of the pieces.
From learning a new piece or stepping into a new piece, I didn’t – actually in the beginning I often didn’t want too much input about how it was like, because I think it is nice to go in more open and a bit more on a clean page. Then once you start to get in it is nice to hear the stories from different people. And as I understood, and as I hear from many people, Pina didn’t speak so much about why this was like this, or this should be like that. So again, these stories are great to hear but they are just people’s personal interpretations and experiences. I think what is important is when you go inside a new piece you start to build that up for yourself. When they don’t sit quite right within the piece, someone will tell you from the outside. But I think it is important to allow yourself that freedom to go into a piece like that, otherwise you feel like a body existing in something that’s already… made –
I don’t want to go into a new piece just feeling like I am a replacement body. That’s what I am trying to say. One way not to feel like that is to make some decisions, or some thoughts and experiences for yourself, and then see. If they don’t work, you will be told they don’t work.
One more thing about Café Müller and this evening. How is it for you to perform both pieces in one evening, with such different demands?
Yes, they have very different demands, but at the same time they are both physically and mentally very intense pieces. I am thankful that Café Müller comes first in the programme.
For this evening the stage is, of course, first prepared for Café Müller, and we all come and exist in the space beforehand. A standard way for other pieces is that we all take a warm-up class together in the studio, or in the Ballettsaal, and then you do the piece. But with Café Müller each one warms up on the stage, and we exist in the space before the performance starts. I think that is something that for me is very important: to be there and to sense the space a little bit before, and also have enough time to prepare yourself physically and mentally for that piece.
I could get very nervous about doing this piece, because during a performance week we would have critique, corrections, every day, and sometimes there’s a lot of small critiques – and sometimes big ones, but sometimes I might have a list in my head of things that didn’t quite sit right from the night before. So for me it’s about finding a way to digest these, and to try and be aware of them, but of course not going through the whole piece just getting crazy with all these things that didn’t work from the night before. What I find difficult often is having a lot of things to think about, but not letting them become so present that then you don’t fully exist in the work, because you’re thinking, ‘Oh no, I should be like this and not like that.’ (gestures) That’s something that’s heavy for me – or it can be. Some days I deal with it better; some days I think, ‘If things don’t happen that should happen, then so be it. You can have another try the next day.’ And some days I am really stuck with these small details and they become kind of heavier on me.
And then doing The Rite of Spring afterwards – actually I prefer to do The Rite of Spring; in this series I didn’t do Café Müller in the last three shows. I realized from the past couple of times doing this programme that it is not good for me not doing Café Müller. Because doing Café Müller, coming of stage, you’ve had the experience of being onstage. You’ve already been through something. I feel myself very grounded, very weighted. I take a shower. I get changed. I try to keep myself warm and then Sacre starts. So there’s not so much time to think, to get too much in the head, which actually I prefer. Otherwise I think the evening is almost too much. And when I don’t do Café Müller, then two hours before Sacre I am completely crazy: ‘Am I warm enough? How am I feeling?’ I prefer just to put the Sacre pants on, put the Sacre hat on, and then go for it. And I can trust that my body and my mind will just be there. I feel that I have that trust somehow. To round that up: I prefer doing the full evening – although it’s much harder, heavier on the mind and the body – than just doing the one piece. And again I think it’s the same for Sacre: there’s a lot of corrections. There’s a lot of struggles with the things you can do with a normal dance floor. You think, ‘I got it,’ then you get into the earth and there is piles of earth and…
Again it’s about the attempt and the try. It’s a very, very rewarding programme to do and it always feels like such an achievement to finish a block of performances of those shows.
I’d like to go back to that and talk about the different space between having the walls and between having the plexiglass, things like the ‘Winter’, just being compressed into this space and further compressed until you are against that wall. How different is that?
The version with the plexiglass doesn’t feel so enclosed and yet, like you say, in the ‘Winter’ it can be difficult with the glass version because often in the ‘Winter’ when I run, sometimes you run and there is actually nothing there that would stop you. One thing that is hard practically is you don’t have the wall to push off of; in the wall version you can use that to give you an extra bit of power. Also the glass pieces are so much harder than the walls, so when we throw each other on the wall it is terrible for the body, because they have no give to them. When you hit into the walls they bend slightly. You also have this noise, which I think it is somehow important. With the glass you don’t get any of that. With the walls you have the doors too, so it feels a lot more like you enter the space, and then it’s very intimate and closed. But at the same time it is harder for me with the walls to feel still in the piece when I exit, because with the plexiglass you can still feel and still see what’s going on in the space.
And I believe, correct me if I am wrong, the version with the walls also has a roof, doesn’t it? No? Ok. I had the feeling there is a lot more (gestures: ‘enclosure’). The feeling is like that.
Yes. And I think the doors add something to the version with the walls for many characters. They make sound that you don’t have when the doors aren’t there. Actually when I watched the glass version on a video, it looks a bit more intimate than it feels, because of the way the lighting is designed. It still somehow gives it an edge, gives it a perimeter, still outlines the space. But when you’re there you don’t sense that so much – I mean there is curtains – especially at the front of the stage where there is no curtain; you’re onstage, but actually it still feels very open.
I think the main thing is just something about this intimacy and this feeling of being more contained with the walls. And the walls are a lot more comfortable to throw yourself into than the glass is.
We just finished here in this space a photo exposition of the 40 years of [Café Müller]. Did you see new things or did you experience some levels that you [weren’t aware of before]?
Yes, a lot actually. There were a lot of photos that I’ve never seen. There were some photos of people dancing some roles that I never knew that people did. There was one picture of Pina dancing her role, and Helena dancing the other role which I never knew happened. There were a lot of pictures of Dominique and Malou that I’ve never seen, a couple of pictures of myself that I’ve also never seen. (laughs) And all of those photos of the other Café Müllers that I’ve never seen at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t see all of the videos of the other pieces, or even the one version of Pina’s Café Müller that I didn’t see fully because I didn’t have that much time. There were more things in the exhibition that I hadn’t seen than I had seen. It was enough to see all of those things. Also this advertisement for the chairs in the entrance. I didn’t know that. And the picture that we looked at with the chairs in Rio, I also hadn’t seen that before. And I didn’t know all of the details of the original ideas for the project, all the things that should be there. I knew some of them, but I’d never read all of those details. That was fascinating too. It was a very nice insight. And I bumped into Dominique halfway through. We had some things we were talking about, discussing from the previous shows, and then we were looking at pictures of him and Malou and he was saying, ‘Look at this, look where my leg is,’ (laughs) somehow light heartedly, but it was interesting to see. From the brief bit of the video I did see over there actually many things were quite different, in terms of timing. I don’t know if it was more open at that time, some of the ideas. I believe that as things develop and go on they become more refined or more set, naturally, I think. Perhaps Pina changed some things. It was interesting to see how different some things were.
I think now setting up the space, the placement of all of the chairs is somehow so methodical, almost mathematical. From my perspective the role of the man that moves the chairs is the most complicated of all, because each move of a chair has an effect on something that happens afterwards. What I did hear from Dominique and also seeing the video that was over here, was that it originally wasn’t like that. It was much more just a reaction to allow someone to move or to pass, and then things were just dealt in the moment. Of course there is that now; sometimes there are chairs in the way and that’s a part of the piece. But it seems like the placement of the chairs really became a thing over time, which is interesting.
As of this season you are a guest now. You have other challenges that you want to pursue. Can you talk about that? Also in which pieces are you set to come back for us?
I decided I wanted to step out as a full time member and be here as a guest in order to pursue other interests of mine, to work with other people, potentially to open up the possibility and to give myself some time perhaps to work on my own creations, and give some time to leading and facilitating workshops and classes. This is the first season that I am trying that. Since the beginning of the season I did Full Moon, I did this period of Café Müller and Sacre, then I will be on the tour of Dimitris’ new piece in Athens, then I am back in Wuppertal in January for 1980. I will play 1980 here and in Hamburg, and then February in London with Dimitris’ piece and July in Paris with Dimitris’ piece. This is what I have planned for this season. So in terms of Pina’s work it’s just 1980 in this season. This is the first season that I will be not here all of the time, then I am going to see how it feels to get busy with some other things. Perhaps it makes me feel a bit more present when I am here. It’s a lot to be in this company, for many people I think. Just a little period to refresh and to do something else I think is always good. In the coming seasons it’s still unsure, but I am open to discussions and conversations about what might happen.
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