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Peter Pleyer

In your workshop you worked together with books, mainly with dance history books. Why are they so special to you?

A friend of mine, who I was studying with in Holland, started a PhD program in the United States in 2002 and she sent me a list of what she had to read. I said to myself, this is fantastic; I want to be familiar with what people are writing nowadays. I was really hunting for articles to support my dancing and thinking. Then I also involved them in performances. It started with a trio that I made with two other dancers in Berlin. I brought books to the rehearsal room and they became the founding part of the process. The feedback was so positive that I decided to make a solo with books.

In the workshop you used books not just as objects, but more as a “body” of texts. How can text help us understand the body, and how does the body let us discover different aspects of the text?

What I usually make very clear in the beginning of my work is that I'm not a theoretician, I'm not an academic and I don’t read books in an academic way. I am an intuitive reader and an intuitive picker. This aspect is very important to me. Text can transverse history, can transverse feeling. Curling up with books holding them in our hands gives us the possibility that the door could be open for something else other than simply reading and simply moving. Of course I used text in a normal way too, when I studied acting. Now there is a conceptual wave of using text, and this method described above is my way of answering this wave, this fashion.

You say conceptual. I read that you have a really conceptual project, that you and your friends are researching a non-existing polish choreographer and dancer, Veronica Blumstein
.

When I was in an exchange programme together with German and Polish choreographers, we had difficulty communicating for the first two days. It was almost to the point that the meeting would be cancelled. Then an idea came up. What if there is a choreographer who was born in Poland, immigrated to the States?  So we created a fictitious person with a fictitious biography, and from this moment everybody was engaged in this fantasy and it became a very fruitful meeting. Veronica Blumstein really became somebody, a part of dance history – at least for us. And she still is.

How do you work with her?

There are theoreticians who research her work and try to understand how and what she created. And we are reconstructing a piece she made in '78.

So, who is she?


She is an artist, who migrated to New York in '68. She worked a lot with visual artists. She was interested in “viewpoint” theory of Mary Overlie. She only came back to Europe in the '80s to help the Solidarnost movement. Then she went back to the States, and didn’t come back until 2004, when this meeting with the German and Polish choreographers happened.

What gives you new inspiration?

Usually people, and warm-ups, and what is happening around me. Everything happens in the rehearsal room.

What do you teach to your students?

My style is eclectic, my knowledge is very diverse. It is always a question of where I am teaching, what is the institution, who are the students, what do they need? Basically I teach how to keep the body open and alive, and to be able to transmit what needs to be transmitted.

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Tamás Bakó

I've often met you as a dancer and a choreographer, you teach at the Budapest Dance Academy. Which one is the real “you”?

This has changed a lot in the last seven years. I've been very much attached to the school for the last three years because of everyday work. I've been working parallel with and rehearsing with Artus and I came to teach, also. I kept teaching yoga, improvisation, body-mind techniques and also dance-techniques in a traditional sense of the word. In the beginning a formal approach was stressed, all the choreographies had their fixed music. In the beginning, I placed everything into a more classical frame. The very first dance-lessons I taught were contemporary dance-technique lessons, but we did so many different things that it couldn’t have been just a simple “dance-technique’, it had begun to be filled by a kind of spirituality.

What do you mean by spirituality? Surely there is always inspiration from outside, though the dancer is working from his body.

As I see it, the body-mind techniques (whose roots go back to postmodern and contemporary dance) have spirituality and look at the body in a different way. A holistic approach explores the human being as a unity of body-soul-spirit, and we can reach this union only through examining movement not just training the body. This is present, and it was already present, at the end of 70’s and the beginning of 80’s. Though borders were closed, this information found its way in and became part of one's practice.

Looking from the direction of this spiritual wave, ballet-history has had kind of strange elements.

Sometimes things can lose their real meaning. Sometimes things become empty and then fill up again and then find their true meaning. These moments, when things grow, develop and then lose their inner essence can be pointed out in dance-history.

How about your life? Peter started his workshop laying many kinds of books out and then he began to speak about the history of dance and people’s history in dance. What is your story?


The birth of the Budapest Dance-school was determined by this spirituality. Sure there was a desire to move too, but Ivan Angelus the leader of the school is from the theatre. So what drove him from theatre to dance was conscious deliberation. It created spirituality around him and that is why he wanted to move. And after that moment he brought more to it and fulfilled the whole idea. I entered the school at that time. It began as a totally underground initiative, a “secret workshop”. And as we were improving our bodies there was always the question: "What does it mean to live as a creator"? "What is a creator? First I just wanted to dance very well; teenage energy didn’t take me to theoretical “high-hills”. I was trying to give form to that aesthetic that I thought beautiful.

What ideas have been crystallized during one-week TTT?

Everything had been written, I almost let go of everything. But this “letting go” is a good thing, because to be aware of your body also means to take ownership for all the skills someone has, and one of the skills is “letting go”. Let something go inside, keep it, and then, if necessary, let it go. It is good practice as a teacher, but it is an important tool in the dancer’s hand too. It also furthers knowledge. This school has improved a lot during its history. For now we have achieved the beginning of providing MA education. But I would still like to look at it as a workshop. In the very beginning, as a student I became a part of this work-shop and we received our knowledge from it.  Its freedom played a special role in how to reach that desired creativity, self-knowledge, independence, and health. I tell my students, I don’t know anything. I can only share how I understand, how I have understood the dancing myself.

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Susanne Martin

When you work on a piece, what inspires you?

Improvisation is my base, or my love, but I also like to consciously develop and to some extent control very specific contents. I use improvisation as the way of thinking about something. For example in this class here, we touched upon the phenomena of folk-dancing. This comes from the improvisational piece I currently perform with Bronja Novak from Göteborg and Katarina Eriksson from San Francisco. The base shared by the trio is contact improvisation, but that doesn’t mean that we do a lot of contact improvisation on stage. Even if we do not touch each other during the course of an evening, it is still the way through which we trust each other, relate and know each other. Folk dancing is our theme and the underlying question is how to think about cultural identity, how to think ‘roots’.

How do you choose your partners?


You meet people, like them, connect with them. In this trio we are all dancers, improvisers. But I also work with a German contemporary theatre group, and I am the only person with a dance background there. In that production I am a performer, an actress although that is not what I learnt. This is not a conventional theatre piece, but it is text based, so I had to study.

Is there a difference between how a dancer and howan actor approach text?


It can be very different. I am coming “from the body” and from improvisation, I have to memorize lines and I do it, but sometimes I change my lines, or want to change the rhythm to feel it more fresh, more right in the moment. If my partner comes from traditional theatre, she keeps waiting for the last word of my line (but I've already reformulated it).

So it is a hard time for them.


And for me as well, because then we have got into a mess and everybody starts to improvise.

How does text and dance live together in your praxis?

I did a couple of solos where I created fictional characters. I present myself as Susanne Martin, then I switch into somebody else, I play with identities, with reality and fiction and also use language. A lot of this comes from my theatre experience.

Who are your characters?

Mainly older people. So I play an old man, an old woman, or an old dance-diva…

We were talking about folk dance. But have you ever studied folk dance?

Very little and I wasn’t interested at that time. It was very far away from me. Now I look at it from a very different angle. I allow myself to enjoy romantic clichés like “oh, how beautiful, how they all do the same and understand each other and are such a community”. And I can admire the energy. And it is a beautiful hook to think about what I can identify with. Being a German? Being a dancer? Being an improviser? It is exciting to mix it all up, try on or fake identities. Somehow this is also a political statement. There is a lot going on about cultural heritage – here, now, also in Hungary! Everyone is trying to determine who is in and who is out, who belongs and who doesn’t belong to this cultural background. We go on stage and speak with an accent… Russian, Italian… My colleagues can do this very well. We talk about the country of Cranio Sacria, which comes from the Latin: Cranium (Head), Sacrum (at the end of the spine). And we become very nationalistic in our country.

What kind of productions do you like?

I get easily bored of productions in which dancers are beautiful and the moves are beautiful. Why should I watch this? I need something that tells me “I am showing you this because… “, something that engages me as a watcher. I also experiment on how to treat my audience. If I want the audience to love me, I also have to love them… I might shake their hands, say "hello", explain stuff, or ask then to give a hand with something. I want something personal, just like in life.

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Viktória Varga

How do you connect your dancing and teaching practices? Who are you really?

I cannot separate the teacher and the dancer in me. Maybe the reason is that I have never ever been a company member, so I have never ever had to leave a group. When I teach, I want to give everything that I know. Sometimes it is the feeling, sometimes the technique. What is very important is to be aware of the condition of your body in every single moment, it is at this professional level that we can call someone a dancer. I am a person with specific knowledge. This is what I'd like to pass onto my students.

Is there anything that you will take away from the one-week TTT workshop that you will apply to your lessons?

The most important thing is that it gave structure to my existing knowledge. I am an intuitive person, so everything – feedback from the others, the overall look of dance and movement – helps me to form an opinion about my own work. I was highly attracted by Susanne’s lesson. She was talking about how to feel as a dancer, a performer, and an artist. During her lesson I realized that these three aspects have to meet in one single person. If I don’t get one of them for example in a dance-lesson I will feel the lack of it. Since I am intuitive-type, this kind of realization rarely develops into a conscious base in me.

What do you like to give and to get from a performance?

These are two different things. If I would know it I would go for it all the time.

What inspires you?

It can be only my relationship with others, and the energy of the people surrounding me: personality/individuality, communication, my feelings.

Usually you work with teenagers. What do you teach them?

I teach them to be open to themselves and the world, to dare to acknowledge everything in their reality. And of course at the same time to have their knees stretched and to shift their gaze without falling down. Every lesson contains some kind of creative work which is either a fixed or a semi-fixed improvisation. Sometimes they have to build from inner feelings and moments, other times I give (for example) three fixed movements and let them create, just like forming words into a sentence using only three words. Sometimes they are totally free to do anything that interests them. There are endless exercises.

What is your way as a dancer and a teacher?

Awareness is very important for me now. It has many levels, I have to develop myself but also keep my spontaneous side, too.


Dorothea Rust

You started your workshop with the anatomy of the feet…

Right from the beginning, when I started with dancing, back in those times I was already interested in the feet. We are human beings who walk on two feet, unless we are sleeping we spend all day standing on them, we are touching the floor through them. And sure, in dancing you move also on all fours. I think the contact between the floor and the feet and other body parts transfers lots of information into the body. Standing and moving on two legs, the feet are the only direct contact to something else outside of us we always have. When we sit, which is what most people do a lot nowadays, we have this contact also through the sitting bones. To become aware of this contact gives a foundation. You have to start somewhere – I start with the feet – because the body is complex and there are so many parts. Maybe each of us has one body part that is “closer” to oneself than to others. Maybe for me the feet are such a part.

And how can you integrate this special approach in your performing practice?

Dancing is all about playing, working, overcoming, becoming friends with gravity. We are exposed to gravity because we live on the earth – this is a huge issue. Gravity really can put weight on our body and over time it can also damage the body. We have to deal with it, thereby as a dancer it is important to become aware of the small shifts/movements in our body and the way our body moves through space. It helps us to understand that the impact of gravity on our body and life it is not only destructive. Gravity itself has many aspects; it also allows you to spring up in the air, to bounce off the floor and then let yourself back into the floor, get in touch with the floor, working with gravity, out of gravity. My artistic work is about a many layered dealing with gravity. Weight is also metaphoric, to carry something is metaphoric. My works are living images. I use, I carry different materials like fruit (apples), branches, stones and I move with it. Sometimes my “weight” is very colorful, sometimes not. It has many different meanings.

So your way of thinking is conceptual?  Or there are also performances based on choreography?

I had studied visual art, too, and as a dancer and a performer I went deep into the field of art. I work from my moving body in my pieces but I wouldn’t say it is choreography. It has a structure, it has a scenario, I choose material, I see how it affects my movement, how dealing with the material feeds back onto the “moving self”. Very often I work in outside and public spaces, not on a theatre stage. I do a lot of site specific work. Space is an important agent, it has an impact on my performance, I spend as much time as I can in and with the space. Then I deal with the situation as it is. I also work with voice words and sentences. Spoken text is very powerful – that is another weight. If you put a sentence on the scene and you do something, you move in a certain quality, it can really become “meaningful”, and text will not be just a “text”.

What does the body mean to you?

Everybody has a body, it’s the single most common thing we share with other beings (human and animal) and even everyday commodities and natural material. An actress works with the body, too, but the focus is more on feelings, emotions on narration. But for a dancer there is only the body. It is your instrument, it is honorable because it can be injured, hurt. In our society of technology body is disappearing, it is becoming more and more a virtual one, I don’t know what this means.

Someone asked you at the workshop, "What is the difference if you carry an apple, a potato – or if you carry a laptop?

With this machine you get to another, a virtual world. So it transforms the act when you carry something mechanical. I am not opposed to it.

It is true, but where is the body in the virtual world? What can a dancer do with a virtual, non-existing body?

That is a big question. I keep working with these existential matters. We have to eat, we need food (e.g. fruit, vegetables), and we need to drink, we need to sleep etc. We function through these natural materials and desires. Is the body disappearing or is the body just transforming into something else? I don’t know.

What do you teach to students?

To be excited about movement and moving, to feel the power through their body. To acknowledge the body they have and to know that you can (trans-)form it. You can change the image and your thoughts about it. Basically I teach how to get in touch with it and how to go back to the knowledge – you once had and still have (sometimes a little bit hidden) and not to stay with what others tell you about yourself and your body. You are the one who has to work with it, not someone else. You have to find trust in it. And you can do so many things! You can create with and through it. I think we lost a little bit the belief in the possibility of transformation. We need passion to create!

*****



Éva Karczag


In your workshop you taught something very important about awareness of the body. How did you develop this method of knowledge – if it is really a method?

Yes, it is a method, although I think of it as just my integration of techniques I have found important in my own training, including T’ai Chi, Alexander Technique, release technique, the influences of André Bernard and Ideokinesis and working with Trisha Brown and how her way of moving, and her thinking are still very present in my body twenty five years later. More important than the things I learnt about dancing from traditional techniques is that I have un-learnt them.

You presented pictures to us. One of them was a skeleton, very artistically laid out. In dance how can you use these pictures?


As I mentioned in the class, it helped me tremendously to be able to picture what is inside of my body, to understand its mechanics in a clear and simple way. I like to get my hands on as many kinds of anatomy books as I can, to find pictures in particular that speak the most about movement. I have a rather extensive collection of pictures. The feedback I receive from students is that it is always very helpful for them to be able to see these pictures – a view of the inside from the outside - and then to be able to imagine that picture when they begin to work. Similarly, I think touch is a hugely important element of being able to picture and sense what is going on inside our bodies. There are natural movers, people who move beautifully without any training, but I think that for any dancer it is useful to understand the structure of their instrument.

You had a very important sentence that “You breathe how you stand.” Is there a difference between dancers and non-dancers?

“You breathe how you stand, and you stand the way you breathe”. Yes, this is important. Sometimes non-dancers stand and breathe more freely than a person who has been trained as a dancer. Of course it depends on the kind of training they've received. Traditional dance training often binds the body, creating a kind of fixed form, within which the person then moves, and there are natural movers, people who have a natural sense of movement and who move beautifully without any dance training. Life comes with all of its positive and negative experiences and all these shape how we move and how we breathe. So, whether someone is a dancer or not, doesn’t matter.

I read an article about you and Gill Clarke. You emphasize how important it would be to give your dancing and body-experience to scientists as an example.

I think this information is helpful for everyone. We can all be taught to be more aware. We often forget that we live in this body and we are breathing. All of these are basic things. Many people sit much of the day behind computers, and don’t move enough, although we are made for movement, we are human animals. Movement is part of our heritage - it’s how we exist, how we form relationships with the space and people around us. If stimulating awareness and enthusiasm for a regular movement practice happens at a younger age it can follow the person through their life and support them. When I first started the Alexander technique, there were very few dancers who used somatic practices. It is only in the last 15 or so years that the dance world has picked up the fact that the Alexander technique, or Feldenkrais, or Body-mind Centering has benefit for the dancer. I would hope that in time, non-dancers also would realize how important and useful this information is.

Can you imagine working together with scientists?

I have not done that, but Susan Sgorbati, who teaches at Bennington College in Vermont, has been doing a lot of work with scientists. She is exploring the brain, and the way the brain learns, creates thought patterns, and how improvisational structures are like material manifestations of some of the workings of the brain.

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Gill Clarke

– an irregular „associative interview” –

Dance, body, virtuality

This week I had a dance that was virtual yet still through my body – my dancing fingers on the keyboard – copying and pasting lines from writings of TTT members, dancing a response to the individual written dances of the days (the workshops). Technology still seems like magic connecting us through space.

Understanding

Einstein wrote that ‘learning is experience, everything else is just information’and experience is something we engage in with our whole moving being. So there is a very real sense in which understanding is embodied, and not only in the head, as our scientifically dominated culture might imply. This has real implications for how we think about education and what it is to learn and how important action and movement are to everything we do, and how we make sense of the world. Which again should somehow empower us as dancers in feeling how dance, as the art of movement, as the discipline that focuses on tapping into, and developing a refined expertise in movement – should be more central in our cultures.

Science

We have a lot in common with scientists in our curiosity, appetite for investigation and desire to understand more about how this ‘self’ – our body, mind and imagination are animated in movement. A problem sometimes arises, though because we have come, culturally, to put science on a pedestal, rather than seeing it as one, of many, ways of looking at things.

Teaching and performing

My teaching is very much an integral part of my artistic and performing practice. It is essential to me to be present in the moments of exploration in the studio, allowing observations and questions to arise, and not delivering somehow pre-packaged knowledge. Perhaps there is one more aspect for now: our work, which might be much grounded in sensation, perception, and internal attention should always be seen within a wider frame of performance, even if we are not addressing that aspect all the time. Something important about retaining our awareness of relationship, our relatedness to others, to space, to world around us. And that this too is what is being communicated and seen/made visible in performance.

Beauty

I don’t think I use this term often, and not in relation to dance. If I think though of what attracts me, draws my attention – say in dance – it is an aliveness and personhood in the moment, that I am watching human behavior unfold, decision-making, noticing, awareness, attention, readiness, lively responsiveness, moment by moment adaptability, through the depth of the body and in relation to the world and people around. Choreographically it would be something more about a particularity, a single-mindedness of voice, surprise, being stimulated by ideas, or delighted by movement or structural, or conceptual solutions, or teased by questions posed yet not resolved, I think, more than a judgment of overall ‘beauty’ that would draw me.

Present project you are working on

I’ve just been co-writing a chapter about a pedagogical research project in Berlin, and we have just sent off our final draft. Just shown a four screen installation within a conference about Kinesthetic Empathy which felt very appropriate for how the work was trying to immerse the viewer in watching small details of movement within bodies, and rhythms set up between bodies. Then I am just about to lead another exploratory session for a company of highly technical dancers. So overall there is not enough dancing or time in the studio but all stimulating and worthwhile work. That is something Dorothea wrote about on one of the days: the range of roles that dance artists can take, and the value of dancers in training having a sense of all those possibilities.

 

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The interviews are made by Annamária Szoboszlai

 

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