Friday, the prémiere for Hans’ new piece, Celestial Commute in the church of Les Brigittines in Brussels. The lighting of Giacomo Gorini, impossible for me to capture on camera. Anyway, some pictures:
In Brussels for a week, staying with Hans Van den Broeck and seeing the prémiere of his new piece Celestial Commute. This morning I finally made it up the squirrel stairs to the mythical rooftop garden. 31º, blue sky empty of clouds, warm air, the silence that comes from being on the fifth floor above the city. It is epic.
A pile of new books; more photos & a podcast from Stockholm; the delightful ‘Straayans Virginia & Francesca of VNS-FUCKING-MATRIX in Berlin; off to Brussels next week for Hans’ premiere … (the terrible, terrible thing that is Mette Ingvartsen’s 69 Positions (I wanna call it 69 Shades of [something offensive]); the almost as-terrible Xeno-Feminism Manifesto Launch (hashtag-haley-joel-osmet-i-see-white-feminists-dot-gif); close brackets) … head==explode!
Sometime in November, Hans emailed me and asked if I’d like to help build him a new website. “Of-fucking-Course!” He arrived in Berlin shortly after for two weeks, where we sat in Alte Kantine Wedding every day for quite a few hours. We started with putting together a framework for each project, and once that was up, I linked him to my laptop web server, him sitting on my right adding all the text, me bashing out code.
It took a pause from January ’til early-April, then another ’til May 15th, when we fiddled with the DNS and splurted it out into teh Interwebtubez: SOIT / Hans Van den Broeck.
Hans was someone I heard about when I was a student, They Kill We (Eat, Eat, Eat) the name in my head when I was bunking off to the library and reading Ballet International. I thought it sounded like the coolest shit out, and knew I was going to move to Europe to be in the middle of all that. Hans himself I met on my first trip to Europe, as a DanceWEBber at ImPulsTanz in Vienna where everything I’d imagined and hoped for on the continent was ten million times better. I didn’t do Hans’ workshop—stupid uninformed decision—but along with meeting Anna Tenta and Ivo, getting drunk with Hans on an all-night, cross-Vienna bender (I dunno, it might have even been two or three nights … those last few days …) was the formative experience for me at the festival. And that’s amidst seeing Jan Fabre / Troubelyn, Emio Greco, doing workshops with Frankfurt Ballet dancers, generally 6 weeks of unrelenting Mind=Blown!!!
I got to work with Hans on my final arrival in Europe, again at ImPulsTanz. He, Anuschka, Ivan, and Estelle snuck me out one evening for surprise Viennese birthday celebrations. I started regularly going to Brussels; it became a mandatory pleasure for drinking and eating, talking for hours together.
And I always thought his old website, the one he’d hand-built in iWeb—images with picture frames, odd sounds, text scapbooked around in different colours and sizes—I always thought that was one of my favourite websites ever. Because it looked like him; when you arrived, it could only be him.
When Hans asked me to design and build his new site, I said straight away, “I fucking loved your old site, it needs to be somehow like that, how it looks, the feeling of it.” We ransacked his scrapbooks (so many scrapbooks!)—one thing Hans is very good at is archiving, every work had at least enough, and for the more recent ones, far far more than we could possibly use. Then we got serious and dry: How to build a site that can be arranged in myriad ways while also having a manageable editing interface?
Ja, of course it’s in WordPress, and of course I used Advanced Custom Fields. Early on, I realised Flexible Content in ACF was the way to go. CSS gives amazing power to change design and layout, but not the order of things; jQuery and PHP can do that but not in a simple, flexible, drag-drop, non-code way that’s part of the editing process. Flexible Content fields for text, images, video, quotes, whatever could be dragged into any order; then I added some selectors for images, to change their alignment and size, which was the final key in building a structure that could result in a design where every page is somewhat different. Headings and the work info sidebar are exceptions to this, though it would be trivial to extend the structure to shift those also around wherever.
Then there was things like the coloured squares next to work titles, generated from categories and slapped together in some probably unholy mix of PHP, jQuery, and CSS. Or the video page. When Hans saw how videos are laid out in the WordPress admin editor, a grid of thumbnails, he said, “Yes. I want that! Can I have that?” It turned out to be pretty easy, just overwriting the standard WordPress video playlist shortcode for the video page in a function (using the admin editor code as a template), then arrange it all pretty like. The background images are just taking FlexSlider, stripping it down, then again using some styling.
What else? The randomly cycling quotes? Also ACF, PHP, some jQuery, including collision avoidance detection so the quote doesn’t run under the menu. And the menu uses an extremely nice piece of jQuery, BackgroundCheck, to compare the background colour to the menu and swap between light, dark, and neutral states so the text colour remains contrasty (not always but enough that I thought it was worth using).
The font is Klartext Mono from Heimatdesign via Fontspring … Oh! and the index page quote was a placeholder that remains for now because Hans liked it. It’s from Mechthild of Magdeburg.
Crazy intense 2 weeks working with Hans Van den Broeck in Berlin. Sleep bike design (climb) eat repeat. Off to 5 hours of Volksbühne on Sat.
This is a very tardy review of the one show I did see in Vienna at ImPulsTanz. I’d planned to see two others, but the first coincided with getting from airport to apartment, and the second, following a bike-sprint from Arsenal to Schauspielhaus, suffered the fate of late arrival. That latter was Jérôme Bel’s Jérôme Bel, a performance I’ve only seen parts of on video, which nonetheless had a significant influence on my work.
Lucky third then. Hans, of course I could not miss seeing a Hans show, and double lucky only a roll down the hill from Arsenal to Kasino. Outside I find Ivo, who was looking very healthy and relaxed, having moved to the hills outside Sophia; inside, behind the desk were Hans and Giacomo, and on stage Anuschka and Jake. Present only aurally: James Brown (no, not that one/yes, that one). Inside was late, as Dasniya and Florian shuttled themselves post-workshop (I was the early ticket collector), so my seat was exactly in the middle of the back row, where I got to stretch out above all the others squashed in.
The Lee Ellroy Show, then. Hans had been in Los Angeles with Anuschka and discovered that terrifying writer: James Ellroy. My discovery of Ellroy was as a student in Melbourne. A flatmate had a thing for crime fiction and introduced Ellroy to me, starting with the L.A. Quartet, moving chronologically backwards to L.A. Noir, and proceeding forwards again via American Tabloid. On a plane from China to somewhere (or the other way, not that it’s important), I picked up The Cold Six Thousand. I never read his autobiographical My Dark Places then or subsequently; his fiction was disturbing enough without venturing into that. In Melbourne also, I had a chance to meet him when he was doing a reading around the time of the L.A. Confidential film. My flatmate came back with autographed books; I was far too intimidated of him, or his persona as objectified in the inside-cover portraits, him leaning on a wooden chair with seated Pit Bull.
I haven’t read him for years now, but I do have a distinct memory of the emotional and psychological trajectory that occurs like a leitmotif, one where the pressure and stress on the protagonist (usually in first-person) rearranges itself, as if looking into a scene reflected in mirrors which suddenly shift and displace the viewer’s sense of self and certainty, It’s like vertigo, or waking from a nightmare, where it’s only after, once one has surfaced that the inchoate horror of the preceding pages reveals itself. These waves and drownings would repeat through each novel until the protagonist would put enough of the pieces together to drag himself clear, though not without damage.
I mention all of this because Ellroy seems largely unknown, at least amongst the audience of The Lee Ellroy Show; I mention it also to describe the feeling of watching the performance, and how it illustrated that very particular horror which is an Ellroy novel.
So, first: lights! There are few lighting designers as talented as Giacomo Gorini. I can think of only a couple—Henk Danner for Emio Greco, and some of Frankfurt Ballett—that are comparable, and I would watch a show for his lighting alone. He not only designs, but gets up the ladder, hangs the lamps, operates the show (with beer and cigarettes), which says plenty about his personal artistry and just how uncommon a designer he is. Second: sound, the very-much alive James Brown’s fitted like a film-score with the lights and Dirk De Hooghe’s plastic-walled box set. Third: Anuschka and Jake. Anuschka wearing a dress! I’ve never seen her wearing a dress in six years!
It starts as a long, uncomfortable anti-climax: Jake as Ellroy at a book-reading, or perhaps Jake as a Ellroy’s character in 1950s’ Las Vegas; Anuschka either way as the compère. Canned laughter repeats and cuts abruptly. Ellroy as a boy, or again a character—who is always a stand-in for Ellroy—rides in circles around the transparent walls on an old bike. The walls hang and shine like curtains in an abattoir. Each moment of Jake as Ellroy as the protagonist as authorial stand-in is in tension with Anuschka as Ellroy’s mother, murder victim herself, murder victim in the book—either already or imminently—lover or potential lover, not quite betrayer, always there as a mute signifier and witness to herself, never entirely trusted or forgiven.
This is Belgian dance, so they do in fact dance. I’ve seen many brilliant dancers in Han’s works: Ivan Fatjo in We Was Them, Lars August Jørgensen in Messiah Run, and of course Anuschka in everything. Jake and Anuschka together is dance that makes me smile and say, “fuck, yes!” There is dance where the movement, its quality, the bodies doing it are not so far from mundane, most of the audience themselves could, with some preparation, perform no better nor worse. This is not that. This is transcendence of corporeality that comes from dance having so thoroughly infiltrated the person that they are irrevocably changed. It is virtuosity. They collide, fling together, apart, flailing, wrapping themselves around each other, falling and collapsing, now delicate, now explosive, terrifying, there is an inevitability here, as if we can almost see into the future, and when we arrive and look back it seems there was no other possibility. This is choreography.
Hans’ works are cinematographic and have become more so since working with James and Giacomo, who have strong filmic influences in structuring light and sound across scenes and the entire work. I saw the Staatsballett Berlin performing Onegin recently: both works have progression and development over time of a narrative drawn from a novel, and both use choreography and dance to do this. This may seem a superficial comparison, but it does represent the history of dance and its continual involvement in narrative storytelling (as different from “a bunch of things happen on stage and we the audience get to create our own story”, or straightforward conceptual dance). Hans is one of the very few choreographers I’ve seen who manages convincing narrative performance, in no small part by the highly talented people he works with.
On that, a couple of criticisms: I was speaking with someone after—a well-known Berlin performer whose work I also like—who hated it, who thought it was old and tired and unoriginal ’90s Belgian dance of which the world has seen enough. It made me question my own perception, not the least if somehow in the last few years I’ve become old, my critical faculty is only good for ballet, and this new generation understands the world in a way I can never. By comparison, I see the current autobiographical trend in dance as a very late arrival at the Tracey Emin party, absent critical self-reflection. I did agree with him in part on the process towards nakedness, which is a habit of european dance generally. Even flipping this, so the ending was the clothed resolution of a prior nakedness would lend a different reading.
Writing this, I was thinking of British playwright Howard Barker’s Death, the One and the Art of Theatre:
A theatre which honours its audience will demand of its writers that they write in hazard of their consciences, for writers are paid to think dangerously, they are explorers of the imagination, the audience expects it of them. If they think safely, what is the virtue of them? Do you want to pay £10 to be told what you knew already? That is theft. Do you want to agree all the time? That is flattery, and the audience is always flattered, which is why it has become so sleek.
An honoured audience will quarrel with what it has seen, it will go home in a state of anger, not because it disapproves, but because it has been taken where it is reluctant to go. Thus morality is created in art, by exposure to pain and illegitimate thought.
It’s not simple as that, particularly with the last 15-ish years where racism, misogyny, homo- and transphobia are given free rein under the aegis of ‘freedom of speech’, ‘post-blah’, ‘irony’ and with simultaneous resistance of groups targeted by bigotry to (the idea of) “exposure to pain and illegitimate thought” being presented a priori as neutral or unproblematic. Much as I no longer read William T. Vollman, Neal Stephenson, the classics from Hemmingway to Miller to the canon of Anglo and American literature, I haven’t read Ellroy for years: I’m looking for some other perspective, perhaps something of a Deleuzian Minority reading (and self-as-audience) project. I do however find in this quote something of what draws me to Hans’ work, as audience, as performer, as friend. I also think Hans is one of the rare people who manages to be choreographer, director, artist simultaneously. It occurs to me now that he is close to Falk Richter in this, though personally I think Hans is a vastly superior, thoughtful, more considered, and interesting artist.
A week in Vienna and no photos until today. Two years ago, Dasniya and I stayed in Mayerhofgasse; this time, we could see our old apartment from the rooftop garden of our new one. Yesterday seeing Ivo in the morning, then Hans at Café Prückel, and Guido for dinner. Today, after returning my bike to Arsenal, lunch with Hans, Giacomo, Dasniya, and Florian, at the café around the corner with the vomiting man fountain. Yesterday also was expressions ’14, where we made some strange shibari performance thing for 6 1/2 minutes. After lunch, finishing packing and off to the airport with Jared and Angela. In Berlin, unpacking, and dinner with Emile who is making AMG sounds while blasting through town: the shortest measurable duration in the universe is the time between us seeing each other and laughing. We also agreed next year shall be us at Nürburgring 24h in Mayhem t-shirts.
And so, one photo from Vienna: the view from the rooftop garden, all 360º (plus a bit of overlap) from the chimney cleaning platform above the terrace. North is slightly to the right of the circular blue table. I spent less time here than I wished.
Brussels! (That is all.)
Another week gone. That makes three. We spent this week in Volks Oper Wien studios, where I rehearsed with Hans for Settlement in 2008 on the same street as the hostel Ivo and I along with all of DanceWEB stayed in, in 2003. Tomorrow we move to Kasino Theater for a week or so. Rehearsals are going well, by which I mean steadily; every day we make progress, and there has been none of those airless days where it feels the work is a vast, empty husk. Progress towards what, I’m unsure; there’s enough made of Fest, and enough ideas for it to become many different works. Sometimes in trying things it loops back on itself and spits itself out into a previous line or scene, sometimes repeatedly until we get slightly lost. Other times old ideas that came and went within the space of a single rehearsal, quick enough to have been written into and erased from the script, get remembered and resurrected – or remembered and discarded.
There’s three scenes now, the first is the shortest and for the moment the most certain, it hasn’t changed much in the last days (we’ve also been working mostly on the third this last week) except for some detailing, blocking and choreographing, working on the delivery. The second is still in flux. It also hasn’t changed so much in the last week, though there have been some large cuts of bits and pieces, rearranging of things, and it feels like for both scenes there’s more of this coming up.
The third scene though, that’s where all this looping and concentrating on things has been going on. I can’t really say if any of this is what Ivo wants or imagined it would look like or if any even will remain. Perhaps we’ll get to the last week and in a frenzy he’ll rewrite it into something we’ll all agree was inevitable to happen in what we’re working on now and assuming will remain to be performed, and the rewrite is in fact the work it always had to be. For what’s there now though, some stuff I thought was pretty good turned up late yesterday (I occasionally clap at things when I think they’re convincing). There’s still some explaining to do, in order to get to that stuff – if it even remains tomorrow – and how and what that explaining is will determine how what happens subsequently is interpreted.
Yes, still being somewhat vague and ambiguous. Perhaps some photos in the coming days …