marc vanrunxt

Marc Vanrunxt in Movement Research Performance Journal #39

David Bergé, oktober 2011

Marc Vanrunxt (b. 1960) has been active as a dancer and choreographer, mainly in Belgium, since the early 1980's.  He is a compatriot and a part of "the new Belgian wave" alongside Wim Vandekeybus, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Jan Fabre and others.  He is perhaps less known outside of Belgium, but one only has to own a distinguished eye to know that is an unfortunate fact for the world.  The worlds created on stage by Vanrunxt are triumphs in their exactitude, seismic register, and knowledge of the aesthetic world around them.  Photographer and frequent collaborator David Bergé, accompanied Marc to the Antwerp Zoo for a nice chat.  David says, "As a photographer I was happy to collaborate with him on Extraction, his 2009 production, a process that spanned over more than two years, out of which 2 or 3 weeks were actual studio time with the dancer..."

EXTRACTION, 2009

David Bergé (DB):

Back in 2007, when you asked me to collaborate on EXTRACTION, one of the first things you brought to the table, was LINE FORM COLOR, this book by Ellsworth Kelly.  About which Kelly stated “It was an alphabet of textual elements without text which shall aim at establishing a larger scale of painting, a closer contact between the artist and the wall, and a new spirit of art accompanying architecture.”  How does that relate to your choreographic approach?

Marc Vanrunxt (MV):

My goodness! That's a long time ago. But it’s true, LINE FORM COLOR is the alphabet of what is possible with line, form and color.  I think it’s a kind of catalogue for Kelly, as I understood it, it’s a work of art which he tried to publish already in the early 50ties and was only realized in the 90ties.  It has a didactic side as well, a way of showing the infinite amount of possibilities there are possible with form, line and color.  He goes from black and white to squares and circles, to the different colors and at the end towards a combination of colors.  We choreographers are lacking such a tool and that’s why we are so hopelessly seeking for other references.  We are lacking vocabulary with the art of dance and choreography.  To truly speak about dance and choreography we very often have to use or even abuse other sources like painting, photography, design and even cooking.

To me the oeuvre of Kelly is also a way of dealing with the concrete and abstraction at the same time.  There are no words in this book.  Kelly escapes the problem of language.  By suggesting topics or referring to content, I am doing the same thing, in my way .

To me dance is never abstract, because it involves real people however stylised.  I am interested in making the concreteness of the body on stage more abstract though: the movement of abstracting a concrete form, it’s like pulling something out of something else.  By this movement you get to a  certain essence and that is exactly what EXTRACTION refers to.  One takes something valuable out of something else then you redefine it and elaborate on it.

DB

In 1998 you made PRIVATE COLLECTION, a solo for the same dancer, Eva Kamala Rodenburg.  I remember when we first talked about EXTRACTION, you asked me to symbolically project these 11 years of choreographic material on Eva in 2009.

MV

You always drag your past with you.  Even by making a new piece every year, it seems to be impossible to get rid of my own past.  I use past experiences to learn from it and to rely upon, on the other hand with every new piece there is a desire for renewal.  Both elements should be in balance and that's a tough exercise.

DB

How do you usually relate to collaborators that are not dancers?  On what premisses do you invite them?

MV

My main drive is curiosity.  I am curious and very much interested in the work of other people: dancers, scenographers, make-up artists, photographers, designers,...  This curiosity is not on a personal level, but on a level of how they relate to my suggestions.  I am not into psychological stuff or games or even discussions, but i think i am very curious on how different people react on my proposals and suggestions to create something new.

DB

The music you use for the first part of EXTRACTION is Robert Ashleys’ In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women (1972).  In previous works you worked with the music of Morton Feldman.  Could you talk a little bit about your choice for these particular composers?

MV

OK, sometimes I discover pieces of music which haunt me for many years.  They stalk me and I start developing a love-hate relationship to them.  i throw them away and bring them back.  Sometimes i’m afraid it’s gonna be too difficult to find an entrance in, because I am often interested in non-dance music.

I dont want to use music as auditive wallpaper.  I want to do justice to the music, but

never with the aim to give a definitive listening or interpretation.  I just want to present one possible way of dealing with a certain compostion.  As an example, I worked twice on the music of Feldman's  NEITHER, the anti-opera he made with Samuel Beckett; one version called Antimaterie, in 1999 and 4 years later another one called Unspeakable with Kitty Kortes Lynch.  Even to me it was as if i didn’t recognize the music, I had found a new way to listen to it, to that incredible difficult piece of music.

With Ashley it is similar.  He evoques a same kind of thoroughness, which creates a lot of resistance.  When I started to work with Eva on the music, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to go through with it.  Some kind of miracle happened, I found out we would be able to come up with a valid and strong proposition, and answer to Robert Ashley's beautiful work of art.

To me its like a communication through his work, and it's same with Feldman.  Morton Feldman is dead but I am still dealing not only with the music but also with composer himself.  I admit it’s a one way direction.

DB

Do you use the structure of the music in order to structure your choreography?

MV

No!   Working with this kind of music involves guts, magic and lots of luck.  I never analyze the music as such.  Again, I try to impose or rather suggest my structure against the musical structure.  Choreography relates in a autonomous way to the structure of the music.  Exactly because I don’t want to translate the music, the notes, not even the content of the music.  And that is for me the key in the music of Ashley and Feldman; it lacks that kind of narrative,  this music doesn't impose a narrative.  In contrast to for example the Sacre du Printemps or the Bolero, in which you simply have to follow the structure or color or dynamic.  If you don't,  it becomes a statement on its own.  And I am not interested in this kind of statement.

DB

It is a matter of relating and taking position to that music, no?

MV

Exactly and there is never a winner.

DB

It’s not about the conflict.  Maybe it’s more about confrontation: bringing things together in one piece, like Pink Floyd and Ashley in EXTRACTION?

MV

Yes, it’s about composing and playing with existing scores. Sometimes I feel like mixing not only different compostions but also mixing different areas or two or more styles together.   For example, in 2002 I created a performance called Most Recent on the music of John Cage (50's avant-garde), Grand Master Flash (70's rap music) and Jim O'Rourke (90's ambient).

This kind of ideas are sufficient as a narrative for me.

DB

Talking about narrative, in For Sara, Mencken,.., Ashley used an existing text by John Barton Wolgamot, which is a vocal succession of the names of well known people and totally unknown people.  Of the dead and the living.  There must be a reason for choosing this piece related to the people, no?

MV

Well,  you get a large sense of history: there is the bigger history with Christ and Beethoven and Claude Debussy and Cyrano de Bergerac.

And there is also on a smaller scale, his friends, the name of his girlfriend or wife.  So you basically get a a mixture, a series of ghosts appearing and it seems to me that they are backing up Eva, the dancer in EXTRACTION.  She is dancing solo, but I feel that all those people back her up in an almost physical way.   After a while the electronic score of Ashley’s piece takes over and it somehow becomes more and more 'music'.  After a while the names disappear to the background.  It is impossible to actually listen to this 40 minute track without experiencing side-effects.  If you like it or not, you get hypnosed, you get lost, and that is the ultimate goal, that’s a gift almost, you get lost in this labyrinth.

DB

Do you think my projections in EXTRACTION work in the same way?  As a by-standing figure for this lonely dancer?  How do you see the variations on that photo <<printed here>> projected in the frame of the solo?

MV

It’s always a shock when your projections appear.  I see it as a layer.  I consider choreography as an act of layering, as if constructing a building with different floors and compartments, rooms, cellar, ground floor etcetera.  As a choreographer you build and you construct and i think the projection is another layer to this construction and at the same time it is a important source of light as well.

DB

The dancer doesn’t react to those projections.

MV

True, it is a purely visual stimulus for the audience.  It has the ambition to throw the audience out of the performance for a second, in fact, by suggestion to look again, to refresh.  The same with Ashley, he paves the way to start hearing different things, it’s not a story but you get the freedom for floating. Your projections are a wake-up call, a way to refocus on the performance, to add another layer.

LAMENTATIO, 2009

DB

Can you talk a little bit about presence and emergency in relation to Lamentatio?  Another solo for another woman.

MV

Marie de Corte has a very strong presence and at the same time she is very consciousness of the effect that presence.  She has an amazing appearance, strong eyes and in fact Lamentatio is all about that.  The movements really are inferior to her appearance.  We need the movements to structure the piece and they stand for the action.  But it’s really about showing Marie in a way that she can show herself.  It’s about pushing, about putting pressure on (the presence of) the dancer.

Sometimes I make pieces which are overloaded with historical references (like EXTRACTION), and in other pieces (like Lamentatio) I try to not refer to outside things.  In Lamentatio I tried to work as direct as possible trying to have no filter between the audience and the performer, which is of course an illusion.

And this illusion is the fact of being touchable or approachable on stage.  But of course a performer is never approachable as long as he or she stays on stage in the lights.  To me this solo is about Marie haunting the space, taking the space step by step in high heels in a beautiful black dress.  She is exploring the space, controlling the space, as if ignoring the audience.  Whereas at other moments she is front stage watching at the audience, on the edge of the stage.  It sounds a little childish but the edge of the stage is a very important spot, almost a holy place for a dancer.

DB

You mean the place where audience goes into stage or the whole periphery of the stage, including the walls (or curtains)?

MV

The walls as well, it’s like going to the place where you go from light to darkness, where the eyes meet each other.  You could call it a flat screen.  Touching these fragile edges.  It has to do with the edges of different dimensionalities.

My work is always an exercise in reduction.  Marie as a person happens to be the opposite, she is basically a wild animal.  At the same time she is interested in the qualities of my work, and this is where we find each other.  This resistance creates an interesting tension within her body and in her eyes.  The very basic movements become so difficult, not only because of their simplicity but also because of the really killing follow spots in her eyes that makes every step a risk.

To me here lays the essence of performance art: creating a journey through these fields, both physical and mental, which i design for the dancer.

DB

and for the audience

MV

exactly!

A SENSE OF HISTORY

DB

You have a broad choreographic practice, spanning over different formats such as black box pieces, interventions in museums, in open air, ... how do these smaller scaled formats relate to your black box stage pieces?

MV

I would call them chapters of the same story.

DB

Could you find another word for story?

MV

These stories are proposals, suggestions with a sense of history, and with a sense of destiny or direction.

Let me think... Sometimes you look at a dance piece and you know from the first five minutes where it’s gonna end, or what it’s gonna be.

I’m rather interested in this zone where there is a possibility for something else to arise.  Like in minimal and repetitive music.  You know its gonna be the same for ever and ever but it COULD change with one snap!  The power of suggestion and creating possibilities, this  is a very rich field.  It’s about teasing and tickling the mind and creating expectations.  And this is a very important aspect in Feldmans’ music: it continues forever.  And when you think it’s finished, he continues even more for half an hour.

It is about dealing with proportion and expectations: giving a twist to a certain expectation and by doing so you get a different outcome.

In a way it’s related to how Martin Margiela or Comme des Garçons cuts a dress.  You think you recognize the dress as such, but there is a twist, a different cut and you can never be sure.  It has to do with cutting and patterns...

Actually Feldman's titles are full of references to textiles and carpets:

Crippled Symmetry, Patterns in a Chromatic Field,...  There you go, it is all about COMPOSITION.

There is this sense of desire to deal with regular things in a different way.  I am not interested in inventing strange or even interesting movements; to me it’s rather about giving a twist to familiar movements.

DB

It makes you uncomfortable for a moment and in this zone

things can happen for you?

MV

Yes, there you put it very clearly.