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Interview: Anouk van Dijk about ANTI—GRAVITY


Having performed her hugely successful Complexity of Belonging at SPRING 2015, Dutch  choreographer Anouk van Dijk and her Austrialian company Chunky Move are returning to SPRING. This year she is presenting ANTI—GRAVITY, a show inspired by clouds, which she made in collaboration with visual artist and filmmaker Ho Tzu Nyen. Anouk van Dijk, who is one of the few foreign artists working in the Australian arts, has been the artistic director of leading dance company Chunky Move since 2012. Prior to that she led her own company in the Netherlands,  anoukvandijk dc, and shortly before she left for Australia she was awarded a Gouden Zwaan for her contributions to Dutch dance.

For starters, we’d like to know when and where your love of dance started…

“It wasn’t until I was 15 that I became really interested in dance. I saw a professional dancer in a studio where I was taking amateur classes, and he exuded this energy that drew me towards starting a career in dance. I graduated from the Rotterdamse Dansacademie, now known as Codarts, at 19. So I have been working in dance ever since then!”

Chunky Move is well-known for its artists’ collaborations. For Complexity of Belonging (2015), Van Dijk worked with Falk Richter, a famous author and director from Germany. For ANTI – GRAVITY she is working with one of the most prominent visual artists from Singapore, Ho Tzu Nyen. The range of partners like Richter and Ho Tzu Nyen all influence her outlook on the world. 

How did you and Ho Tzu Nyen end up working together?

“Actually, I came across Tzu’s work online. I was looking for inspiring images for another show when I found some images of his work. I was immediately intrigued. Who is this artist? What does he do, is he a filmmaker, a visual artist, a writer, director? In 2015 I met Tzu in Berlin, where I was touring with Chunky Move, and we hit it off instantly. I proposed we make a show together, to which he responded: “Oh but I don’t know anything about dance!” So curiosity became the starting point for our collaboration. Tzu is like a ‘pool of knowledge’. For every new project he conducts extensive research, resulting in intriguing conclusions. We decided to take his many years of research into the role clouds play in human life as the point of departure for a new show. Tzu became kind of like a ‘visual dramaturg’, and we worked closely with scenographer Paul Jackson to blend lighting, sets and visuals with dance. And Tzu was involved in the sound design as well, working with composer Jethro Woodward.”

Clouds on the stage. What does a show like that look like?

ANTI—GRAVITY is made up of a string of poetic visual tableaus which form a kind of a visual reflection on questions such as: what is gravity, what is weight, what is weightlessness, and what are the elements that generate clouds within our atmosphere. People tend to see all kinds of things in clouds. In painting, clouds are often used as a metaphor for doom or love, or as a ‘portal to the soul’. With this in mind, the dancers embody the earthbound creature on stage. And the stage is a kind of cloud machine.”

How will your audience perceive this cloud machine?

“The show sees the dancers testing their strengths against heavy rocks, smoke, water, wind, reflections and projections, and this physical interaction will heighten viewers’ awareness of  their own gravity. We are very much tethered down to the planet. Which is a good thing, our connection to the earth. But people are forever longing to rise above this down-to-earth reality, or striving to do so. There are many ways to achieve it, you can dream or do drugs or even go skydiving. These are all efforts to feel liberated from the earth. And it’s hard work to free yourself from gravity. That is where the link with dance comes in. Dance is very hard work, too; the sense of lightness or release it can bring is hard to achieve.
I think for Dutch audiences it will feel like a very exotic show. It unfolds at a very slow, almost meditative pace, which makes you float along, as it were, with the slow drifting of a cloud. In the second part the whole thing is unleashed, elements that were highly structured at the start now all begin to rattle and shake loose. This then evolves into a moment of complete surrender and ecstasy, a celebration of the fact that all things are connected and can relax in a giant cloudburst. And the final stretch of the show gives you a very serene, almost medieval tableau, as a reflection on the way we relate to the pressures of our own existence.”

These pressures of our existence and the influence the Western world has on the way we see ourselves is Van Dijk’s main inspiration.

How does your work express these pressures?

In the case of ANTI—GRAVITY we focus mainly on how we can absorb and value the world immediately around us, and on the wealth we have within our reach and that we can easily lose ourselves in. All we have to do is look up, like the famous Dutch Masters used to do centuries ago.
Dance tends to use more universal concepts, such as time, space, mathematical concepts and music, but I always depart from what is happening in the world and how those events are affecting us on a deep emotional and physical level. I always take into consideration how I want to relate to those kinds of things in dance.”

What dance forms do the Chunky Move dancers practice?

“The dancers all practice my movement method, the Counter-technique, which is completely interwoven with the way I work. It is a movement system that offers dancers the tools to make optimum use of their bodies and give them more freedom during dancing, regardless of style or circumstances. We use the Counter-technique in rehearsals and shows, and also as a mode of communication among ourselves. The technique has been around for more than 20 years and I developed from questions such as: how to train the body for the physical demands of the age, how can we change the way we think about the body to accommodate the training, and what are my thoughts about the body while dancing. An alternative was becoming necessary for the techniques of the past that were getting out of touch with the demands and desires of contemporary dancers. Plus, it was important that professional dancers would regain a sense of pleasure in their daily training programmes! The profession is hard enough as it is. Today there are more than 30 teachers worldwide teaching Counter-technique.”

What is your dream for the future?

“I don’t think in terms like that. A view or a desire can give you a sense of direction, it can give you energy, but if you think about it, the steps you take to get there are the most interesting part of the journey. If the day has offered me new insights and been inspiring, it will have an impact on the next day, and bring new dreams which will also be corrected over time. This is a creative pattern that is forever changing, just like a cloudy sky will never repeat itself.”

• You can see ANTI—GRAVITY  on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 May at Stadsschouwburg Utrecht. Click here for tickets.

• Meet Anouk van Dijk on Sunday 20 May after ANTI – GRAVITY, during the After Talk, an intimate post show with the artist, fellow audience members and dramaturg Merel Heering (admission free).

• Ho Tzu Nyen also made the video-installation The Cloud of Unknowing based on his research into clouds. The film features eight hallucinatory portraits of characters in an apartment building who all encounter a cloud. See The Cloud of Unknowing 17 – 21 May (ongoing) in the Hekmanfoyer at the Stadsschouwburg (admission free).

Photo: Sarah Walker


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