Eine Reportage zum Thema wird in der fünften Ausgabe der "jungen bühne" (Erscheinungsdatum: 15. September 2011) veröffentlicht.
Interview: Elisa Giesecke
What is dance able to do with young people?
I would say, that it is one of the fastest ways to raise self esteem and it is an extraordinary way to develop social skills especially when you are working with many people in a small space. When you have to negotiate with them constantly, you need very sophisticated negotiating skills. It is a physical activity, emotional, spiritual, cognitive and social, so it is very holistic. It brings the whole person into some kind of harmony. And if you work in the way as I and my colleagues work, nobody has to fail. Everybody can succeed because there isn't a bench mark of technique or ability. It's about commitment, about believe in yourself.
Royston Maldoom inmitten seiner jungen Tänzer
What do you tell people, if they are anxious to fail?
I' don't have to really tell them, I give them the feeling for the first day that this is not an issue – and also that they don't fail. So, for instance, they are never criticized because they can't do something. They are criticized because they don't try to do something or because they are not respectful. Because I have to aim the end of the project, I have to give them something on the first day which is already on my mind they're going to do well six weeks later. Sometimes it is very difficult and they say „I Can't do this“ and I say „Why do you think you should be able to do this?“. I would never expect it at this point otherwise they would be some kind of genius.
You once said, "You can change life in a dance class". This sounds quite simple. What exactly do you mean?
Actually it is out of contest. What I really meant is, „You can change your life at any moment, if you focuse on the now and what is happening“. Maybe this dance class could be the moment. Dance is a particularly strong tool, but of course you can’t get away from the fact that it is about who is teaching. I wish I could say it’s just about the dance. But it is a combination of how it is taught and the activity.
So that this change can happen, what do you offer the adolescence?
I offer them total believe in their potential. I think important is a kind of attention to what is positive in them and at the same time a constant awareness of when I think they are playing or not doing their best. Sometimes, when it is necessary, I make a negative statement about their behavior – and I am not afraid to do that – but the minute I see something happening, I can be positive and the trust me because they have both sides of me.
Der Assistent probt mit den Kindern
And what do they have to bring?
They have to bring themselves. I don’t know who is coming, they can have all sorts of abilities, ages and experience. What they will need is the ability to take risk, the ability to put themselves forward into something new and not to be defeated before they start - and they need to bring a commitment.
But you don’t actually expect anything?
I don’t expect nothing because I know they will be superb, they always are. Sometimes they don’t reach their full potential, but then it is my fault because I have not found the key. Then I am a little depressed, but they will still amaze other people.
You work with so many people in one project. Why is that?
I do that for so many years now. I also worked with small groups, seven or twelve dancers. I have done that my apprenticeship all over and could still do it. But because I developed I suppose this experience in working with large groups I am not afraid of. I have been persuaded by a lot of people who said that is what I should do, because it is high focus. And of course you get bigger attention which is important for the projects to bring it into focus, people take notice of the work. I have colleagues who work often unrecognized in Germany or UK with smaller groups and under difficult circumstances.
Eine gute Basis ist schon die halbe Miete...
What is so special about working with non-professionals?
I did not go into work with non-professionals deliberately, it was by accident. But the philosophy I have came out of doing it. As an artist it is very stimulating to go into a room full of people and have no idea who they are going to be. None of them know anything about movement language, but they try to create art. I used to work with the Scottish Ballet or the Dance Theatre of Harlem which was great also because we had a common language. Now I work with people who might sit in a wheel chair or have a total lack of confidence – I don’t know who they will be. It is still arts, but in a different way.
Do you notice any differences between the nationalities in the way they are keen to learn?
There are many differences. When I work in Ethiopia, I can get a hundred boys, but we have to fight to get girls. That is a cultural thing. Obviously when I work in the northern parts of Europe it is more difficult to get the guys because of their fears and attitudes probably coming from the romantic ballet period, I suspect. But what I notice, in the so called “working countries” like for example Simbabwe or Peru the young people who cannot afford education because of the costs are desperate to learn. In the suburbs they come and want to know anything. Here in Western Europe education is provided and for many of the young people it is boring because the system is restrictive. But when I enter a room full with kids of different nationalities but of the same age they all have the same problems, kids’ problems.
Who is more challenging – boys or girls?
Often I don’t get enough girls who have the confidence to just put them out in their own space. They are reluctant to go there, and when they are adolescent, to work with boys. Sometimes it is hard to get them where I need them to be. Of course there are many exceptions. Boys take their energy and pull it back while girls often break the energy. They have it, but it is harder for them to bring it out. So I work with male and female assistants because a male person sometimes has a better access to the boys. That is a fact. In Germany we have a lot of young man who are not used to respect a woman very much. So as a guy I can say that is the way how it works and girls can do the same among girls.
The film „Rhythm is it!“ is very impressive because it doesn't only show the positive parts of your work but also the inner struggles the teenagers often suffer from. Sometimes that can slow down the whole working process. How do you deal with that?
I will get through even I have the feeling I won’t. It is extremely frustrating and tiring and sometimes you really wish to go. I don’t know if I could do it if I was a teacher. For me as a choreographer there is a performance in the end and I know I got to make it. That’s the difference, when the teacher really gets tired the artist kicks in.
…that is what keeps you going?
It is very important that I want to make this piece. If I don’t have the passion I can’t inspire them and I can’t keep myself going.
So there was never the point where you gave up?
No. I just don’t. Of course we are not always satisfied but we have a goal and it is important to pull the young people with you.
Ringel, Ringel, Reihe
In the film some teachers have a sceptical view towards your methods, because they think the teenagers already reached their limits. Is this a basic problem amongst teachers?
Yes, all the time. It is one of the most distressing things, but I have to deal with it. In so many projects the teachers say “You are pushing them to hard, they can’t do this” and I say “Of course they can do it, just let them work”. Afterwards they often cannot believe what they see. The kids like it, they get stronger but every 45 minutes, when they just found the key to something, the school bell rings. I told the teachers, “How can they ever be concentrated when you interrupt them”. It takes time to find together and to know how we are going to work today and every 40 minutes this damn bell goes. It seems crazy to me.
Stillness and seriousness are an essential part of your work concept. Can you tell why?
I call it focus, other people call it discipline. For me dance has to come from a place of absolute stillness. Only when you become aware of your body and listen to it you can start to dance. I do it with many young people because I realize that they never experienced silence. Sometimes it is a struggle for them to stand still because they are used to be noisy. This is where movement begins and this is the opportunity to experience yourself.
But fun is also important?
When kids say they want to have fun I have to ask what they mean by fun. What they are used to is diversion. It is nothing of any particular value. I talk about pleasure. Absolute pleasure comes from achieving something through struggle. Fun is not my issue and when the kids say, “it’s not fun”, I say “well, life is not always fun, but I want you to have pleasure and satisfaction”.
Ein bisschen Coolness gehört schon dazu...
Certainly there are many exciting moments you made in your work with young people. Can you describe one that was most impressive to you?
The moments that are really exciting are when you see an individual who has not engaged suddenly engaging. It can happen after the first day or a few weeks later, but suddenly there is this moment where there is this break-through. I see it here with a couple of boys and a couple of girls – suddenly they down something and everything is changed, how they are working, listening, moving, they have found themselves.
Do you know, if they want to go on with dancing?
No, mostly it is not an issue I will ask. But sometimes they will ask and sometimes I will just say to a particular one “if you want to go on this is an option, you have a really good chance”. But I am not a talent scout. The world is full of people with enormous talent who have done nothing and people without talent who changed the world. I have not changed the world, but from my point of view I regard myself as a person who did not have a big talent to dance quite clearly – I just loved it and committed myself to it. I struggled and struggled because of this lack of what you would call natural talent.
Based on your experience and knowledge: Which young age is the most interesting to teach dance?
I like to work with 17 to 25 year olds because I think it is probably the very last moment to make the switch in them. But of course I like to work with them all – or I don’t. It is the group. Sometimes the group is just odd and you wish you would do something else and sometimes you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get in.
Is this group a hard one?
No, while I am sitting here talking to you the people who assist me take over the work. Of course the kids are naughty sometimes, but they really want to do it.
How would you describe the type of dance you create with the non-professionals?
I would say it is what we call “Zeitgenössischer Tanz”, but it is influenced by my training which was during the 1970’s and developing in the 80’s. So I don’t use forms like contact improvisation, forms that came later when I wasn’t really dancing. So my elements are quite theatrical, real “Ausdruckstanz”, story telling. My friends say that I am a natural story teller because when I try to do an abstract there will always be a story at the end. I can’t help it.
You once said, you wouldn't like the word integration. Right now integration (of immigrants) is a big issue in Germany. How would you call it, what you are doing?
It is not integration I have a problem with. We only look at the problem of integration, we don’t talk about the challenge. We don’t look at the positive, we are too concerned about the negative. Integration is something that dance works really well for. But what I am trying to say, if you make the project thinking, I am integrating, you are probably going to fail. Just do whatever it is, provide a safe place, show that you are not stereotyping and create a situation where people don’t get the feeling of being categorized. People will integrate themselves if you take away the barrier.
Fotos: Matthias Baus