Q.: You are about to leave Scaubuehne and to become free-lance again. Nonetheless, Jochen Santig mentioned in a discussion a few days ago, that you are still going to perform in Schaubuehne. Isn’t it a strange “co-habitation”?
S.W.: The situation is like this: we are going to become an independent company, but we are going to work in co-operation with Scahubuehne; it is a very special model that we have developed with the Schaubuehne and with the Senate, that is with the city, and it will run for one year, and then we shall see how we shall continue. In this way, we shall be free to do a lot of other things, not just in Schaubuehne, but in other places as well. We shall be a totally independent company administratively and financially.
Q.: How is the company going to survive? Are you planning to “line-up” for a subsidy from the state?
S.W.: I would say that the whole construction regarding the company is very-very complicated. The subsidy will still go through the Schaubuehne and from it it will come to us, but as we are an independent group, when we are going on tour for example, we shall have nothing to do with the Schaubuehne. Also, the project we did last summer at the church, as well as the Dialogue project at the Palast der Republik, were both made possible through subsidies we received from a very special source which is for very special productions, and we are planning to apply for it again. The opera I am now working on is financed through that too; we also plan to find theatres which would like to invest in co-productions with us, theatres that we have worked with in the past or others which can become completely new partners. It will then be a mix between the money we shall receive from the Scahubuehne as collaborators, the extra-funds from the city, and co-production money.
Q.: You will probably need a rehearsal space. Will you still be using the church where you performed in the summer?
S.W.: Maybe we shall perform there again at some point, but this should rather become a kind of an open place for exchange…We have a rehearsal space in our contract with the Schaubuehne, which will be our studio for one year.
Q.: You said that the city might help your company; do you believe that Berlin helps dance? In Greece for example, we seriously doubt whether the city authorities do anything worthy for dance…
S.W.: Well, there is special funding and they always try to change the ways they are supporting dance. There are different strategies and various discussions on that, and I can tell you that sometimes I feel it’s O.K., and that I also have a lot of criticism about it, but if I compare it to the American situation, I think ours is quite fantastic! It depends from which perspective you look at it. There isn’t really existing an independent dance company, I mean a modern Ensemble in Berlin, but there are lots of independent small groups. However, there is not an Ensemble for contemporary dance, and this is really what we are trying to do…What I think is important, is to give to the dancers a basic structure like studio space, some administrative help and some basic funding; I think this is really important. To my opinion, this is the essential policy that should be followed.
Q.: You mentioned earlier that there are a lot of good things that are being done by the city authorities regarding dance, but that you also have a lot of criticism on several issues. What these issues would be?
S.W.: A lot of times they dispense with what could be called “flexible money”. Berlin is in a very bad financial situation, therefore whenever there is a cut, it always concerns money for “immediate” and “spontaneous” projects, and although this is always a small amount of money, nonetheless cuts very often focus on this kind of funding. It is taken out very quickly, without hesitation, while big budgets for big institutions are –surprisingly- easier to keep. They would readily give more money to an already established organization, like for example, the Scahubuehne, than support a new structure, like we would be as a company. They are very hesitant to do that. They should help to support new structures and new developments and not to keep the old dinosaurs alive…I think that they should restructure the theatre system, and there are things that are being done in this direction, but not enough.
Q.: Does the general situation you just described have anything to do with the ability to tour and to show work of small independent companies?
S.W.: I think that touring has to do with the quality of the work of each group…There are many people who tour internationally, like Xavier Le Roy, Anna Hubert, Thomas Lehmen, and there are smaller groups which do tour in Germany. I don’t think that touring has anything to do with belonging to a special network or with promotion; it solely has to do with the quality of the work of an artist. As far as I can judge from our personal experience, in the beginning we had no support, we just started from zero, and we were touring; there are systems that are really supporting artists in the beginning of their careers, like the Goethe Institut. It may help to “diffuse” the work, and to show it in different places. Then it is also important to build up relations with theatres and so on. What I also criticize, is that a lot of money and effort is given to the preparation of pieces that are going to be performed three times and then they are over! For me, the piece has not even started after three times, it is nothing! It has just come out and then it has to grow, to develop and then it becomes a piece. I think that the same amount of energy that goes into the production should be also given to tour this piece, but this, requires a change of mentality. To not just focus on the product, but to the experience of the stage, of playing, of developing a piece further through performing it, and of course there should be money and the possibility to do that!
Q.: Going independent might mean a need for special arrangements for all sorts of reasons: for example, how are you going to support the touring of big works, yours or others’ who are joining you in your company? “D’ Avant” could be an example to that.
S.W.: Well, you chose a piece which refers to a very complicated situation as far as the performers are concerned, as they have a very tough schedule in different countries, but what I can say is that we shall keep the works in our repertoire and then we can present them on different occasions…
Q.: Does, going independent, signify any other changes in style et.c.?
S.W.: There is a change at the moment, as I am working on an opera; Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell; it is really a change! I am going into mythology and so on, I work with live music, old music, an orchestra and for the first time, with a libretto, with a narrative. I mean I have worked with narratives before, but which were created by me. So, I think that there is this big change at the moment, but then afterwards, the next project will refer to “Inside Out” and it will be a further development of certain things already present in that piece. But all this is happening and I don’t choose to do these things on purpose, thinking: “I shall change my subjects because I am leaving the Scahubuehne”. No. It is a co-incidence: the Scaubuehne did not want to produce an opera, and as we are now already independent, we can do this project.
Q.: How is it to work with this “old music” and a libretto?
S.W.: In the beginning I feared it might be a strong limitation, but I think that it can be an opening and I hope I shall experience it as such: we have the characters, a rich story-line that “nourishes” the characters, the music, the structure…It is a very rich base to play on…It is also different for the dancers; you see, we usually start from nothing! I mean we have the concept, I explain the concept and have certain physical ideas, I have a musical structure, or a very clear set, as I often start with a spatial idea and then we try to develop all the physical qualities, so that they will acquire meaning. Now, though, it is shocking somehow, because we have a character and there is already meaning in this character because of the story; there is a reason to the things that are happening and it is different because usually we have to find the meaning, so that there is sense to what a character does.
Q.: Does this strict narrative leave you any possibilities of abstraction?
S.W.: I try to keep an abstract level but to also keep the narrative. I also don’t go back to the libretto all the time, because it is very intense and short, but I try to go back to Aeneas and where he comes from, and to see a little bit the historical context and understand a little bit more the libretto and the action. I think that in a way I am trying to make a fusion of my older and more recent works in this production.
Q.: What do you expect from your audience?
S.W.: I try to make them question things and experience something they will think about or even better, something that they will sense. I am very interested in making them more sensitive to things and perception…In the fun culture of this world, I would like to be on the opposite side, but also to not just address people’s intellect; I would like to be a sensitive and sensual “questioner”.
Q.: Have you been radical?
S.W.: I try to go as far as possible to renew my vocabulary, and to not repeat myself. I have always tried to develop a new language for each piece. At the moment though, I feel that I have a wide vocabulary and I want to deepen certain parts of this material. I’ ve never done that before. I’ ve always said “O.K. we have done that, let’s move on to something new”.
Q.: What is your “vocabulary” made of?
S.W.: I work with physical contact in various ways and then I give different qualities to my material. The most significant part of my work began in 1999 when I started to work at the Schaubuehne, in big spaces, with many dancers. I still find that interesting. I also like sculpting the space through the body figurations. I would say that my work method is improvisation, it’s a very big source, and I really start from the qualities of the individual, of the dancer, to whom I don’t impose my own thing. I want to keep their uniqueness alive.
Q.: What are your influences?
S.W.: In the past I would say cinema, but not any more. Nowadays, influence comes from daily life, newspapers, situations that you observe. The strongest influence though, for me, comes definitely from the visual arts.
Q.: Do you feel part of a certain tradition of german dance, and which tradition is this?
S.W.: I think that I relate myself more to the American postmodern dance. I studied it and it is part of me, but I also relate myself to the german modern dance of the ‘30s. I recently started to also understand something that had deeply influenced me in the beginning of my dance education in the choric parts which I create. When I see books with photos from that period, I feel somehow related. My dance training was also with a Wigman student. I mean I do Dancetheatre no? But somehow a different Dancetheatre, another mélange, a new mélange.
Q.: I can’t help asking your opinion on the tradition and people of the german modern dance of the ‘30s…
S.W.: Wigman was the most striking figure; there were other significant artists as well, but I think that Wigman’s work influenced many people through her students who took her doctrine to the States, because they had to leave Germany somehow…I think that she had a very open mind regarding movement and she worked with improvisation, not with rigid forms; she was also starting from an inner sensation and not from the outside form. I invited Susanne Linke, who is now 60 and who had studied with some of those people, to one of the Dialogue projects, and although we have had a different education, she at the Jooss School and me with a Wigman student, I felt aesthetically connected to her very strongly.
Q.: Any criticisms?
S.W.: I am not a historian and I don’t really spend my days thinking about these things…These choric things, could, and they did become totalitarian somehow, but they were absolutely not started from that idea. It was a very different period…Naturally, sometimes you see some work from that period and you say “Oh my God what is this”, but I think they all departed from a very different state of mind. Working with big masses, is something I must watch out, and I watch-out myself. The danger is when big masses attain uniformity. Then you can take advantage of mass hysteria and manipulate people. Maybe there were certain people who felt fascinated by totalitarianism, but as an overall I think that those artists did not have this frame of mind, and Wigman definitely belonged to this latter category. Then, if you also take the case of Gret Palucca, if someone sees how she developed the idea of movement in her school, I think, it all refers to the freedom of expression. There were some beautiful things in the ‘30s, like movement in the nude, for example, that fascism “developed” in another direction. Return to nature was used in the frame of an ideological distortion of the original idea.
Q.: Since we spoke a lot about this city, let’s end this talk, with it: how does it influence your work, if at all?
S.W.: It does, and has actually influenced my work a lot! I have worked in many different spaces and this city has entered my sets and my concepts so many times…I always relate to certain spaces and confront myself with finding a way to respond choreographically to them. It pushes my way of thinking and influences me deeply.
Ballet/Tanz, October 2005
Ballet/Tanz, October 2005