(English translation by Springdance)
De Dansvloer reveals a different side to Springdance. Choreographers Meg Stuart and Jeremy Wade provide the Workweek for 45 choreography students from SNDO (Amsterdam, NL), P.A.R.T.S. (Brussels, B) and Folkwang Universität (Essen, GER). The delays caused by the Icelandic ash cloud have somewhat postponed the start, but soon after everyone has arrived, the group is starting to fill up every corner of the small studio at De Dansvloer. Meg Stuart has started this Tuesday morning by doing a warm-up that will generate energy. They suck up the energy from the floor and build on it until it explodes in a burst of kinetic and auditive energy. She appears to have turned the three groups of students into one in only a short while. Together they scream and shout; jumping, bending over, waving their arms, filling the studio. I sit up against the studio wall, watching them, and feel an urge to join in.
The Workweek at De Dansvloer is all about encounters, development, and exchange. It is an opportunity for students to meet other students. By working together on the range of assignments set by Meg Stuart and Jeremy Wade they get to know the others, their methods, their styles, their ideas and thoughts. Meg Stuart started the day by stating that she wants to use this week to work with the students, guided by the assignments: “I work while I'm teaching”. She will not teach them what she already knows, but what she would like to find out: “I teach what I want to know, I teach questions”. She encourages the students to seek out the limits of her assignments, but warns she will also ask them to return to the essence regularly. An hour later, Jeremy Wade and Brendan Dougherty, who regularly composes and performs music with him, have also arrived and after lunch the group is divided into two groups for the rest of the week. During the afternoons that follow, both groups will be working alternately with one of the choreographers.
On Thursday afternoon Jeremy Wade gives a group of around 25 students the following assignment: "You’re in a social environment where there’s a great number of other people, with whom you feel uncomfortable. You’re nervous, on edge. Every movement startles you; other people’s movements as well as your own. You’re hypersensitive and tense. You’re getting warm. Every now and then you express a sudden frustration". It is fascinating to see how the students slowly become wrapped up in this make-belief situation. Only a few minutes in, and I myself start to move awkwardly and to shrink from anyone who comes too close. Brendan Dougherty’s music is becoming ever more fretful. I stay close to the wall and slowly shuffle over to the other side of the studio to get a different perspective. My notes are more scribbled than otherwise because I am shaking slightly. I take of my cardigan and sit down on the floor. And then Jeremy Wade indicates that the exercise is over. Joining the students I shake off the tension.
Jeremy Wade’s pointers are almost psychological. He will describe the situation in which the students find themselves and the way this makes them feel, and then their movements, expressions, and sounds will follow on from this as if automatically. Often his pointers will be ambiguous: “You've just won 20 million euros in the lottery, but you don't want anyone to know”, “You've taken ecstasy by accident and you're at a funeral”. This ambiguity leads to a clash of emotions. Looking at the students I notice how the simplest and smallest contrasts often work best. Slight changes in facial expressions and a few movements of only a person’s hands often turn out to be more convincing than making swooping gestures with your arms and jumping up and down for joy followed by standing in a corner as if caught in the act. His approach this week differs from Meg Stuart’s. He is more in control and uses assignments he has used before. He is clear and precise and his assignments are fun to do. With Meg Stuart the students really have to work.
Meg Stuart is working on 'systems of support' during this workweek. How do you support someone? In a literal sense and metaphorically, psychologically and physically. When you support someone else you are less occupied with yourself; you live for someone else. Meg Stuart has a third of her students find a certain state of consciousness, which they have to hold onto. This yields short bursts of repeated movement; people who get stuck in some way. Then the others have to find ways of responding to this state. And it turns out that it is difficult to hold on to the same state of consciousness when someone else starts moving along; it is not just the movement that adapts, but the state of consciousness itself seems to change when a second person joins in. The question Meg Stuart plays around with is how you can truly support another person’s state of consciousness. How can you start a duet without abolishing the mood of the solo?
The students and Meg Stuart find out things about 'systems of support' together and therefore there are evaluations after most of the assignments. Together they try to find out what works and what does not, and why it works or does not. This way of working implies on the one hand that students have to be a little more patient and that they have to sense the direction Meg Stuart wants to take; she is not always very clear. On the other hand she really offers them some true insights into her way of working by doing things this way. They learn about her methods by tinkering with them. She will try things out, test them, by giving her students pointers such as “see how they can support you, if you need him/her”, “sense the space around you”. Now and then her pointers become more metaphorical, for instance when she says “measure not like a doctor, but more like a mad scientist”.
“Performance is about giving things attention” Meg Stuart says in a short intermittent evaluation. And this is what she wants to achieve with her sizing up and measuring. Measuring makes the dancers devote attention to themselves, the other person, or their surroundings, without immediately allocating a meaning to them. This means that meaning will arise in the spectator’s head the moment the dancers enter into a relationship with each other or their surroundings. Contrary to Jeremy Wade, she works with physical pointers instead of psychological ones. The students can decide for themselves if they want to leave things at the physical state, or if they can reach a certain mental state as well. But eventually it is all about communicating with an audience. It is one thing to reach a certain state, but to answer questions such as “How do you relate to this state? How do you communicate it?” is another.
The two choreographers each have a distinct approach. The students have not only gotten to know each other during the workweek, but they have also been introduced to different methods of working. By setting to work with these themselves during the week they have developed new skills in a short period of time. With Meg Stuart the students have talked about physical consciousness; with Jeremy Wade they have worked on mental awareness. Too much time spent in the studio with one of these choreographers and you will end up getting stuck inside your body, or inside your head. On Friday afternoon one of the students asks how you can recall a state of consciousness during a performance, how to bring this state of consciousness to the stage? “It's about trying to convince yourself of your state. Physical tasks help for me,” Meg Stuart replies. It is easier to re-invoke a physical state than a psychological state. Certainly without Jeremy Wade around to help you do it.