Martine Dennewald in an interview with Xavier Le Roy
You will be performing two pieces at Theaterformen, UNTITLED (2014) and LOW PIECES. Both pieces open with a conversation between the artists on stage and the audience in the theatre. What makes this exchange important for you?
In LOW PIECES the conversation is a way of presenting the performers as a group and the audience as a group. At the same time it is a situation in which everyone, performers and audience, can act as individuals. The conversation emphasises the diversity of the persons gathered, which changes every evening. For us as performers the discussion is not about agreeing about something or working towards a goal, apart from the agreement that we will open the performance with a conversation. This situation invites the audience to observe themselves and ask themselves what they expect to find here, in the same way we observe ourselves on stage. We perform the first scene as human beings. Later we become formations whose "behaviour" might be associated with the animal kingdom or with botanical, mineral or mechanical structures rather than human or humanlike circumstances. Therefore, the first and last scenes create a kind of "human" frame for the other scenes in which we re-negotiate the human condition and transform it into "inhuman" constellations. The dialogue scene lengthens, prolongs the moment in which everyone is present, in which everyone is ready, it prolongs the moment a little before the light goes out to announce the start of the performance.
In UNTITLED (2014) the dialogue arises from the instructions that I have given myself. My main objective is not to start a dialogue. The stage situation demands it - it arises from the situation. But it cannot be ruled out that silence will set in. I open the play in way that can lead to a discussion. In contrast to LOW PIECES I am alone on stage.
The dialogues are important in both pieces; they position us in the present situation and highlight the specific possibilities the theatre offers - i.e. we cannot speak with the performers in the cinema. I invite the spectators to re-negotiate the customs, conventions and rules produced by the random theatre community. In both pieces it is important that neither the audience nor the performers know what will happen, or do not know what they are supposed to say or do; this enables them to become conscious of their awareness and to observe it. In an ideal situation the audience will become "permeable", a condition that will permit them to see, hear and speak without prejudice.
In the discussions you invalidate one the basic theatrical conventions - that the person on stage speaks, the others listen and watch. Why do you feel the need to challenge the parameters of a performance?
I want to create situations in which our self-definition is challenged - in the best case this is exactly how we can achieve a self-defined state. It means that the space in which we are located cannot impose its rules. There are always several spaces within a space. These spaces can be occupied in different ways. In doing so one must find out which forces are at work and what type of world we erect for these spaces. I am mainly interested in creating individual ideas and space layouts that are contrary to the expectations.
Your new piece is called UNTITLED (2014) - this leaves a contextual reference frame open. It also lives up to the fact that you keep us, the audience, hanging in the balance in many of your pieces.Sometimes I cannot even differentiate between a marionette and a human being. How do you accomplish it, and what is your objective?
I attempt to create spaces in which things are unspecified in order to provide room for the above mentioned room ideas. The situations that my pieces bring forth are meant to be vague instead of saying: "Look at it this way and not in any other way, understand it like this and not in a different way..." It is a kind of resistance against procedures and opinions that inspires us to make hasty commitments.
One might say it is a criticism of the temporal control that rules our everyday behaviour. We are often only willing to do or give something if we are given a guarantee that we will get something else in return. Both of these moments are interlinked by this barter. The limbo in my pieces can counteract this mechanism, scrutinise our perceptual patterns, and make them visible so that they can then be changed.
How do you decide the duration a performance, and the length the individual scenes will have? What is the inner dramaturgy of the scenes in LOW PIECES and UNTITLED (2014)?
The length of each scene is determined by its content and its form; there is no standard rule. In LOW PIECES the duration is sometimes based on the tonal composition that we hear when we perform the choreographic movements; sometimes the duration is determined beforehand. Some dark phases must last longer than the time we need for the preparation of the next scene. This ensures that they do not become convenient transitions but are perceived as stand-alone scenes instead. This gives the audience time to reflect and adopt a distance to what they have experienced. Other scenes are determined by the amount of time needed for the choreographic development, because the sequence of the events is determined on impulse and changes from one performance to the next.
In UNTITLED (2014) the duration of the first part depends on what happens during the conversation, and I try to let this part flow into the second part. The audience sometimes ask me to get to the second part. The first part must be long enough for certain unexpected events to take place. The duration of the second part depends on how quickly contact with the first marionette is made and then, when the music sets in, on the duration of the recording. The last part is determined by the music recording that I hear (of which the audience are not aware) and the technician ends the performance with a blackout ten minutes after my first hand movement.
All of theses descriptions are somewhat sketchy, but they give an impression of different options regarding the duration, which influence the dramaturgy together with the function, the content and the form of every scene within the choreography.
LOW PIECES is a collaboration with many internationally renowned choreographers and dancers. How did you select the participants?
LOW PIECES was created between 2008 and 2011. At first we started work at the Centre Chorégraphique National de Montpellier with five participants from the "6 Mois 1 Lieu" project - a platform with 18 artists who spent time together and shared a space over a period of six months to work on their research projects together. Every participant directed their own project and had to take part in two other projects. We selected the first group for LOW PIECES from these18 persons. During later work phases the original participants were not always available so that, in the respective cities in which we were, we asked acquaintances to participate. There are now approximately one dozen people who can perform LOW PIECES.
Do you use a particular method or technique in this piece? For example in the enactment of non-human conditions?
Immediately after the first scene - the conversation - our movements in LOW PIECES are linked to the sounds that we hear independently of each other on the headphones. We try to synchronise every movement with a sound. Every single part of the body must move independently. When one part of the body moves the rest of the body must keep still. This is obviously impossible, but it is our goal. It ought to look as though we have been put together out of unconnected parts - in a way that the human body does not function. The sequence of our movements must not conform to a predictable logic.
In scene six, for example, we sit with our backs to the audience and distribute the weight of our body asymmetrically so that the audience cannot see the heads of the performers. Then we freeze in this position. We imagine that we are rocks in the wind; we produce the sound of the wind by inhaling and exhaling.
I have only pointed out two examples, but every scene has sequences of movement tasks and ideas that produce the desired quality of movement and that will detach them as far as possible from human movement.
Photos: SELF UNFINISHED © Katrin Schoof . Portrait Xavier Le Roy © Emma Picq