Favouring and Falling by Melanie Suchy

Favouring and Falling - Opening Event 'Mapping the Field' by Melanie Suchy at Tanz Webköln, 23rd Nov. 2012

A studio at the “Musisches Forum“, quite at the end of the German Sport University´s huge area. Diane Ershout welcomes nearly 20 guests to her first public event. Adequately nervous she states that “it is an experiment”. She has been working as choreographer and pedagogue in Amsterdam for a long time; “highly political”, she indicates, always balancing between the scene´s different trends and groupings. A dauntless one. On the back of her short leather jacket one can see a bar code. Presumably it says: I want to change something. The Dutch who is fluent in German will be working as Guest Lecturer at the Institute for Dance and Movement Studies (Institut für Tanz und Bewegungskultur) until summer 2013. She teaches young people who all have different fields of study; they are provided an insight into the wide world of dance. “Mapping the field” provides practitioners´ thoughts on their work and the genre itself – questions allowed. It is a great idea to give everyone who is interested the opportunity to participate (with help from Tanzsociety). Maybe it helps to refresh a discourse which often got caught up in clichéd expressions and the whining of professionals.

In her introduction Diane Elshout, who is well-acquainted with Bruno Listopad´s work, highlights his intellectual influences that either did or still do affect him; Listopad will point out some of them himself later on. Supported by PowerPoint she intelligibly maneuvers through the recent ideological history of art: from Marx, Duchamp, Freud to PopArt, Brecht, Artaud, Butoh, and even Guy Debord´s “Society of the Spectacle”, Baudrillard´s “Simulacrum” and André Lepecki´s “Exhausting Dance”. Market, art, life, it is not easy; that is why their relationship always tends to be susceptible to ideologies, generating critics to deal with it again. The attending choreographers complain about a discrepancy between “satisfying the market, meaning the organizers or theatre directors” and “remaining true to oneself”.

Obviously Bruno Listopad has always remained true to himself by consequently questioning himself. In the discussion´s second part, one can note this kind of strictness, almost a suffering, when he talks about his life and work; it is mostly noticeable when he summarizes his thoughts theoretically. Apart from that, this small man, dressed in black, born in 1976, is a lively, even humorous narrator.

„Paradox in the house of guilt“

He presents a video excerpt from this choreography (2001). It was his first commissioned work for a strange company, Krisztina de Châtel´s company to be precise. There are three dancers in a kind of closed space, scarcely lit, a game of nearness without much commitment. Sometimes two of them are dancing in unison or sitting next to each other, then they part again, often being on the floor, nudging each other´s hollows of the knee or grabbing one foot. Another one follows the impulse, bends his arms to form an arc like in classical ballet; but there are also legs and arms that are stretched and swiftly rotating. Highly virtuosic, reminding of Forsythe, big gestures with almost soft details, extremely agile, unusual pirouettes. Somehow directionless. He has never explained the strange title, Listopad hesitates when being asked by Diane Elshout. It is very personal: He felt paradox when being in the theatre; to him the given service and structures were contradictory. “Actually the house of guilt is the body”; there is an intentional Christian connotation to this, but he refuses to say more about it.

As a child of five or six years Bruno started dancing. “Not so much to the music” he explains, it was “rather the shape of a room or corridor” that made him dance. When he went to his first dance lesson (age of 11) at the conservatorium in Lisbon, he told his mother: “We are not actually dancing.” To him this definition of dance was disputable and incomprehensible. And yet he stayed, since the school was located in an interesting part of the city, filled with people from film, music and theatre. “My actual classes took place outside of the school gates”. Once he was invited to a six-months-course for professionals in Northern Portugal; its extraordinary artists inspired him. When he came back, school felt even more disappointing. He took a break from his education and joined the academy in Cannes; after that he went to Unna to participate in Heiner Müller´s production called “Hamletmaschine”. Handled bones. The director was Nada Kokotović who is now living in Cologne. The young Portuguese was impressed by the work´s intense physicality. At the Academy of Dance in Rotterdam he was given the freedom he needed aside from regular classes. At the age of 18 he staged “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge“ (1995). An empty red dress, space for projections, developing characters, a game of light and dark, structure and interruption – “a celebration of decay”. Bombastic military music and women in high heels. Yes, he was inspired by Pina Bausch, he saw one of her pieces when he was 16.

To Japan and back again

Did he always want to be choreographer? He briefly ponders. “I wanted to dance. But not the way I was taught to dance.” He remembers the drill in the early morning, always the same and always just bits and pieces. Later, in Rotterdam, it all started again – Graham technique and so on. At the age of 18 he was fascinated by a documentary that showed Kazuo Ohno dancing his “L’Argentina”. The old man being an old woman. He was impressed by the all-round emphasis of the Japanese Butoh dance; it was about existence, life, “not as a concept but as certainty”. So many realities centralized in one body, so many layers, simply more than just one man. Later he was taught in Japan which led to him dissociating from Butoh. A sip only reaches the surface, he realized. Still the distorted body, the expressionistic combined with the academic did and still do influence Listopad´s ideas and research on motions.

At first the choreographer based his pieces on topics; once it was the famous picture of a crying man which was on a postcard he found at the museum. “Jesus loves you” he called the duet which later became a quartet – even more abrupt and intense. Topic: fall and failure. Broken relationships. Dysfunctional. “Jesus” was simply meant to be trivial comfort. When a crying woman came to him after a performance he felt bad and started creating pieces with less affect and topics. “I was never able to define the relation between content and form, between inside and outside. There was always a gap; it feels like failing” he states. He realized that he would never be able to fill this gap and thus now focuses on the issue of this impossibility. For example the impossibility of directly conveying the dancer´s experience to the audience. The disruption he experienced as an artist in institutions and theatrical structures.

Give them space

He briefly shows a videotaping of “Spectatorship” (2009). Three dancers fumbling with stuff on stage – ropes, foil, getting entangled. Above all they do not have faces, only scraggy wigs and rubber masks. This was a question to spectacle´s economy, thus, to virtuosity, style and brand, Listopad explains. A question to “the market I serve in the Netherlands”. If he had served the image others had come up with, he would have felt like a puppet. It could have served him as well as harmed him. Again a paradox. So he tried to get rid of everything that was done– “de-skill, de-school”. Forget, unlearn. Reaching the limits of the “system”, his field of work and of the institutions; will there be still money? Is this dance? Listopad refers to Jacques Rancière´s criticism on the paternalistic fashion of the theatre reformers Brecht and Artaud. Because of that he wanted to enable the audience of “Spectatorship” to be as active and free as possible with their thoughts and ideas; thus, he avoided every reference. In another piece he mocked the longing for understanding by using hyperboles. He sees his work as experiments which are not used to confirm any aesthetics, but to “fight for an artist´s space to continue exploring”. Everything is always about “displacement and resisting“, about transforming. “Dance already is the relation with someone else”. He mentions that this bit shocked the mainstream of dance in the Netherlands. But it attracted a curious audience that has not been in touch with dance before. “Art enables people to get rid of clichés and dogmatic concepts”. But since this kind of liberation also becomes a structure after a while, it needs to be reinvented over and over again.

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