German choreographer Arco Renz, winner of the 2012 ZKB Patronage Award for choreographing Crack in Cambodia, held a week-long dance workshop for dancers from the HCM City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO) at the end of last month. He speaks to Culture Vulture.
Is the workshop you did with HBSO similar to last month's workshop in Ha Noi?
Last month I held a workshop in Ha Noi with the Viet Nam National Opera and Ballet (VNOB), but it was different from this workshop. With the HBSO, it was a more pedagogical workshop. The workshop in Ha Noi was in preparation for a joint production.
You will rehearse a new production with selected dancers from VNOB in September? Can you tell us about it?
The rehearsals for this production will start in August. It will be a dance performance with five to six guest artists of VNOB about "survival" and the classical form of ballet, how these two relate to each other in today's world. Ballet is a highly aestheticised form of classical dance. I want to investigate how this language relates to today's context, in particular the phenomena "survival" and "crisis".
The performance, approximately one hour long, will be rehearsed for two months. The production will premiere at the fourth European-Vietnamese dance event called Europe Meets Asia in Contemporary Dance Festival at the end of September.
What do you think about Vietnamese classical dance? What is your modus operandi at the workshop?
I have seen the VNOB perform and met with dancers during the workshop in Ha Noi. It is a ballet company with a long tradition. Since the mid-90s they have also presented contemporary dance and modern dance.
Therefore the collaboration with me will not be the first time they work with a contemporary choreographer.
But my approach in this collaboration will not be of neo-classical nature. I am not redesigning a language based on the vocabulary of classical ballet. I will confront the movement of ballet using a detour. That means I'm working on creating conditions around the performer – conditions of time and conditions of space. Just like all of us, we live in a context, we live in a society, that society has rules, customs and laws and the individual has to deal with and negotiate with this environment.
Together with the composer and light designer, we are creating a framework for the dancer that she or he has to negotiate with.
The choreography is a negotiation process that I create indirectly through the prevailing conditions of time, space, and movement. I am not "teaching" choreography. The dance is created by the dancers themselves during this negotiation process.
I'm not a teacher, I see my role not to teach the dancer, but to create a dialogue with them. We discover together.
Art is not something you can teach like a set of rules. The rules or technique are not art. Art is a process, and I invite the dancers to create and develop a process together.
Any comments about the workshop with HBSO?
This is a very diversified and large group of 20 people of different ages and technical skills. The atmosphere in the workshop is very good and the people are very concentrated and curious to discover places that they do not know. This is an inspiring atmosphere.
What attributes make your choreographies successful?
I do not think in term of success when I create a work. Of course I'm happy if the performance is viewed by many people. I would like people to have an experience that engages the senses as well as the mind.
A successful performance is a performance that stimulates discussion. A performance can invite us to take a different perspective. Mostly people like ballet because it is beautiful. I would like to explore ways to go beyond the beauty of ballet's form. — VNS