"You can't separate the senses, but isn't that what we normally do when we make art?" Martin Creed is most famous for winning the Turner Prize in 2001 with the lights going on and off every five seconds in an empty exhibition space (The Lights Going On and Off, Work No. 227). His paintings and objects are equally simple and clear in shape. On the phone from London, Creed explains how he set to work with five dancers and his punk rock band on Work No. 1020 Ballet, which will be performed at the Akademietheater during SPRINGDANCE.
In 2008, Martin Creed sent athletes dashing along an 86-meter stretch across Tate Britain's neo-classical sculpture galleries, every 30 seconds, all day long, for four months (Work No. 850). Visitors were strongly advised to look both ways before crossing the hall. "At a certain point, thinking about my work, I realized that everything I was doing, painting and sculpture, involved the movement of my body. I decided that to move was the most important thing to do. So instead of using my movements to make work, I wanted to make a work which involved people moving."
After the runners in the Tate, Creed started to think about making a dance performance. Wanting to break down the movement into more tangible bits, he decided to work only with the five core positions of classical ballet. He ascribed each of these a musical note, and with that, affected the musical score. By limiting the dancers to the five positions, Creed establishes a tight framework in which to examine the changing effects of time, speed and direction. Work No. 1020 Ballet uses ballet movements, video projections, and songs with lyrics like "What's the point of it?".
"As a title, ballet is kind of misleading. The performance is a big mixture of all kinds of things and when it is performed, there is the possibility of flexibility, seeing those things together whether they are music or dance or chat. There is a chance to do the one more than the other. There is not just five ballet dancers on stage, but also five people in the band, the musicians. To me the movements of the musicians are just as important as when one of the dancers crosses the stage using the classical positions. It is the mixture of things that I like.
Of course, ballet as a form of dance was already defined in my head. It is recognizable to me. But ballet is also absurd and funny, if you compare it to how people move and stand around generally in their lives. You could spend your life in bed, but if you get up, the work that ballet dancers do is rather extreme, don't you think? A ballet dancer is standing up straighter than anyone else. It is an extreme example of the work of living. That's what I like about it."
How did the working process go?
"Well, I had a week alone with the dancers, before we started working together with the musicians. I could learn about their practice, try out my ideas and see the reality of it. Things like the fact that dancers get really tired after standing with their arms up in the air for five minutes. The reality of a dancer is quite different from what you get from a book on ballet. I think that by only using the five positions as a common denominator, all the other things stand out more. In a way the piece came out rather two-dimensional. The dancers are more or less the straight lines and the musicians the wobbly ones."
Isn't performing in theatres very different from having an audience in a gallery?
“Well, a gallery is also a kind of theatre, but people are free to move around, to go and leave as they please. It scares me a lot in theatrical work to have people trapped in their seats. They might not like it or get bored, they cannot leave or they might feel inhibited. So, my model for a theatre show is similar to the way I would invite people to come around to my house to have a look at the work I have been doing. You might start with saying hello, try to talk about something. We do have a structure and we go on stage prepared, but we also go on stage to see what happens. So we change the length of things, or combine them in a different way. I don't believe it is possible to know in advance how things are going to feel. It is my role to find this out during the performance. I asked the dancers to not play a part, I want them to be themselves, like the musicians. They wear what they want to wear, they just do their job. Most of the rehearsing is done during the performance, life on stage. It is all rather flexible. This flexibility is what I am looking for."
Is Work No. 1020 Ballet similar to your other work?
"The songs and dances are rather defined, in terms of formal composition it's similar to the paintings, nothing is hidden. The ballet is not about a perfect performance, like getting through the material and coming off stage. We are really trying to be open and to make something live before an audience. It is about the way it comes together. I don't really have a goal and definitely I have no solution to the problem of how to make anything that is worth making. Why would a dancer stand in one way, and not in another? And why would anyone want to watch that? I want it to be entertaining, but I think it is very important that the performance doubts itself.”
About Martin Creed
Martin Creed (1968) was born in Wakefield, England, in 1968, and grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. He lives and works in London and Alicudi, Italy. Creed is known for his pared-down works; often the result of a rigorously conceived formula or structure within which the work can move and interact with those witnessing it. He has exhibited his work extensively worldwide and his musical compositions and performances have often featured in or run parallel to his visual works. In 1994 he formed a band with which he performs regularly.
Fransien van der Putt is dramaturg en journalist. Ze schrijft voor Cultureel Persbureau, werkt als freelancer voor EGPC, publiceerde over dans voor het dansmaandblad Notes, maakte vijftien jaar een radioprogramma voor Radio100 en was actief in vele projecten in theater, dans, nieuwe media en journalistiek.