info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

anouk van dijk: an introduction in three acts

philipa rothfield: interview, anouk van dijk, chunky move


Anouk van Dijk (second from right) and dancers in rehearsal for An Act of Now Anouk van Dijk (second from right) and dancers in rehearsal for An Act of Now
photo courtesy Chunky Move
A GRADUATE OF THE ROTTERDAM DANCE ACADEMY IN 1985, ANOUK VAN DIJK, THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF MELBOURNE’S CHUNKY MOVE SPENT THE NEXT 10 YEARS AS A LEAD SOLOIST FOR ROTTERDAM DANCE COMPANY AND AMANDA MILLER’S PRETTY UGLY DANCE COMPANY. IN 1998 SHE FORMED ANOUKVANDIJK DC, HER OWN AMSTERDAM-BASED COMPANY WHICH HAS PERFORMED WORKS AROUND THE WORLD, OFTEN WITH A STRONG FOCUS ON EXPLORING THE AUDIENCE’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE DANCERS.

She has created works with German writer-director Falk Richter and has developed major site-specific works. For the 2012 Melbourne International Arts Festival she is creating An Act of Now, which will be performed in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Philipa Rothfield met van Dijk to discuss the choreographer’s Countertechnique methodology and its relationship to her work.

act one: the choreographic relation

I am interested in the different ways in which a choreographer works with her dancers. Susan Foster has written of “the body for hire,” a term usually associated with project-based work. The body for hire is seen to be already trained, already in possession of the requisite skills. It presumes that dancers are somehow prepped in technical terms. While every dancer has a history, a training background and performance experience which they bring to the situation, the work itself may provoke a mode of development on the part of the dancer.

Anouk van Dijk has developed a particular approach to movement, which she names Countertechnique, something she has been developing over 20-odd years. Countertechnique is movement methodology based upon Alexander technique, in particular its strategic invocation of directions in the moving body. While the Alexander lesson typically focuses on everyday activities such as sitting and standing, Countertechnique offers a range of perspectives upon a more dynamic palette of activities. It is a set of strategies which can be utilised by the dancer, offering multiple critical perspectives (“a toolbox” of options) to allow dancers to expand their field of possibility and enhance their corporeal agency. It is task-oriented. Dancers do things and observe how they move, invoking particular elements of the approach. Countertechnique is formulated to augment the dancer’s critical abilities, supplying a horizon of potential thoughts, ideas and anatomical insights.

To what extent is van Dijk offering this approach to those dancers who will perform in her upcoming work, An Act of Now? In response to my question, she takes me to the studio. She has brought with her a master teacher (Nina Wollny) and a senior teacher (Peter Cseri) to work with the dancers. Wollny has been working with van Dijk in performance and on Countertechnique for over 10 years. Van Dijk calls Wollny over and asks her what she is working on. She says that she is thinking about the distance between her sit bones and her heels, and is working on her back which is stiff from jet lag. Later I watch Wollny roll a dancer’s head around to give her a sense of the distinction between the skull and the neck. The dancer then tries to differentiate the spine and skull on her own. Taking on physical insights is easier said than done. The morning is a time of ritual and repetition. For those who work in a classical idiom such as ballet, the terms of engagement are clear. But if the work is about the production of difference in the body (new skills, new habits), strategies other than repetition are called for. Countertechnique is clearly on the table here. Teachers assist the dancers to work on the material. Van Dijk also speaks of the mix of people selected for this project, the younger ones learning from the more experienced dancers. So there are a number of senses in which the work itself offers a mode of development for the dancers. She wants to enhance the agency of the dancer in performance because “a dancer with no agency dies”.

act 2: between the idea and its action

I wonder about the relation between thought and action. What sort of thinking is at stake in this (and previous) work? One mode of thought has been raised above. It is about the ‘power of thought’ in the body, and is embedded within Countertechnique .There are two further lines at play in van Dijk’s thinking. One is historical and cultural. The way she puts it concerns the ways in which thought processes affect our bodies: what’s happening in the world and how does that affect me? For her generation, life was framed as a matter of choice. Feminism emphasised the importance of women’s careers. The 1960s opened out the sphere of possibility, in part a result of post-WWII prosperity, in part the result of 60s radicalism. Today the horizon is less rosy. We face a collapsing social system, a globalised network, a complex interplay between the self and the environment. A brainstorm ensues:

Stimulus: body-environment
Response: subjectivity, unconscious influence, warm spaces, cold spaces, open/closed, seductive, manipulative, culturally determined spaces, biased spaces, the space of doctrine, eg, religion
Stimulus: agency
Response: assumed consensus, habitual patterns in following, manipulation of language determining values, gender(less), need for control, loss of control, need for balance, breaking balance, assumed freedom, freedom within an historical context.

The question then is how these ideas translate into dance. For van Dijk the dance work is not a mere representation of issues nor is it a mirror of the social but is rather an attempt to physicalise thought. The social, cultural and historical is thus an impetus, an inspiration and not actual content. This leads her to pose the question: how do I translate that into a physical state? How do I shift this sense of the socio-historical into a movement-based language? An Act of Now is one such attempt to look at the body-environment relationship in physical terms. Is this dance or theatre I ask? For van Dijk, performance is always already theatrical in that it is expressive and is for an audience, but physicality is her medium, her art.

act 3: an act of now

If all performance is theatrical, what about the spectator? How does the audience relate to and experience the work? There is a tension here, between the spectator’s freedom to perceptually roam and the choreographer’s desire to direct attention. Van Dijk has in the past played with this tension, working the contrast between distance and proximity and selecting locations other than the void of the black box. Each site calls for a particular mode of attention. An Act of Now will be performed in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, inside a glasshouse. While the audience is positioned outside that space, they will be supplied with headphones. The intention is to (virtually) locate the observer inside the glasshouse, through the intimacy of sound.

The idea of headphones in An Act of Now is to suck the audience into this constructed space, a glasshouse filled with smoke, to virtually enter its shifting play of actions, tasks, projects. The dancers are in rehearsal now. It is for them to negotiate the range of available choices, posed within the structure of the piece, the set, the time and space. Anouk van Dijk enters rehearsal aiming to aid the agency of the dancers, to affirm and enhance their options, yet steer them towards the qualities and possibilities she would like to see.


Melbourne International Arts Festival: Chunky Move, An Act of Now, concept, choreography Anouk van Dijk, performers Peter Cseri, Leif Helland, Stephanie Lake, Lauren Langlois, Alya Manzart, James Pham, Niharika Senapati, Nina Wollny; Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Oct 17-27

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 31

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top