Departures and Arrivals



Rita Natálio

RITA NATÁLIO - What is "Schönheitsabend" about?

VINCENT RIEBEEK - Me and Florentina Holzinger were invited by Anna Wagner and Eike Wittrock to the Julius Hans Spiegel Center in Freiburg. The departure point of this creation was an archive they introduce us with choreographers from the early Twenties who have worked with exoticism in Germany. In these works, depictions of non-Western cultures are highly subjective and can perceived as politically incorrect. Me and Florentina decided to deal with appropriation of these materials. From the original archive, we focused on performance couples who used the reference of the exotic as a disguise to portray queer entities on stage. We made some connections between their biographies, the roles they portrayed and our personal history. This led us to the story of Scheherazade, a ballet originally danced by Nijinsky (at the time, lover of Diaghilev, director of Ballets Russes) and Ida Rubinstein, queer icon of her time. Nijisnky was famous for his androgynous presence with which he transformed the image of the male ballet dancer forever. Ida Rubinstein was not considered “one of the most graceful dancers” of her time but she was admired for her strong manly presence.

The Scheherazade ballet fascinated us because, in this ballet, the male dancer embodies the love subject, with a lot of role play between traditional gender roles, especially for that time. We wanted to place ourselves in same lineage as these performance couples, and enter a world that is exotic to us, in this case, the ballet dance in itself. Then, we decided to structure the show as a dance evening in those times, divided in several acts or parts where different dances are presented to the audience. In “Schönheitsabend”, we begin with an interpretation of the ballet Scheherazade in the first act. In the second act, we focus on the artist behind the scenes, a more intimate view of the artist, and also we deal with the “exotification” of ourselves as artists. Then, as the story of Scheherazade ends in a huge massacre, our third act imagines a continuation of these two souls as a deer and a flower that meet again in a magical forest, perhaps like a reincarnation.

RITA NATÁLIO - The first act of the piece “Schönheitsabend” presents an adaptation of the original Scheherazade ballet. But, after a while, this memory of ballet dance history is replaced by a "pole dance" choreography. Comparisons betweens both choreographies become natural to us spectators as if there was an equivalence between each constellation of values - the sexual male-female clichets of ballet and the sexual male-female clichets  of pole dance. Do you think one dance is the future of the other? What were your intentions in terms of dramaturgy?

VINCENT RIEBEEK - We struggled in rehearsal with the clear divide in physicality between the male role and the female role in this ballet piece. But if you look at the actual story of Sheherezade, it is the male part who is objectified by the female gaze. When the ballet premiered in Paris in 1910 it was a huge scandal. In our case, we didn’t want to recreate this specific scandal but we wanted that our dance can be as provoking as it was back then. We danced the first part of the original choreography, the first duet between the slave and the sultana, and the moment of the pole dance act comes immediately after, considering the original story where all the other slaves join for a huge party full of drinking and orgy. I wouldn't say pole dance is the future of ballet  because the two are not necessarily linked. But we found a link in how it deals with the presentation of sexuality in a more contemporary way, a model that refers to what we now live in out party culture.

RITA NATÁLIO - Together with Florentina, you have created a trilogy where dance meets pornography, pop culture, body art performance from the Seventies, big stage effects that are re-contextualized in the smaller dimension of the contemporary dance stage, etc. Why are you interested in these issues and why do you bring them together in your works? How would you describe the universe of Vincent and Florentina?

VINCENT RIEBEEK - Our universe is full of oppositions and our collaboration is not based in compromise, thus the complexity of each work is created with our dissonant voices. We first started working together because we were close friends and that was the foundation of our work.  Little by little, each show required us to learn a certain skill and it demanded a consistent practice. As we are not trained dancers, our relation with dance technique was developed from this performative perspective, which means that we had to deal with the embodiment of certain techniques, rather then a superior level of execution and success. Nowadays, it seems important to claim a space in a dance environment, to perform technical dances with bodies that are not molded by an academic dance formation. We place ourselves in this environment, but our mere anatomy is not invited to be part of this. In this way we celebrate the marginalized.

Considering my formation, I myself come from a commercial urban dance background. I also worked with theater and as a little boy I hoped to be a background dancer for Janet Jackson. Big stage effects are definitely part of that dream. In our works together, me and Florentina like to dream big and dial back to reality only when we really have to. Our production house, CAMPO and the team of experts who support us during our creative process are the ones who help us make our wildest imaginations a reality within the restrictions of a black box theatre.

Both me and Florentina share the urgency to challenge ourselves, which drives us to extreme situations by manipulating our bodies. I like to think of my body as an instrument but my fascination with it goes beyond dance alone. One of my fascinations is to learn how to control certain natural body functions and to manipulate them as theatrical elements. In many shows, I learned to control my digestive system, my blatter, I can basically do almost anything on a music cue by now.

Considering the performance art references, I was not totally aware of the history of performance art in the beginning, but as Florentina is from Vienna, people started to make a connection between our work and the Viennese body art scene in the Seventies. Nevertheless, I think there are big differences: we don’t look for the “shock factor”, we try to turn something you think you don't want to see into something you can't stop looking at. Also, we don’t produce one time events, we tour our shows intensively, and several nights in a row. For us, ’extreme actions' are on the same level as any other choreography. Off course, that sometimes the line between what is theatre and what is reality is less clear, because things are “really happening”.

RITA NATÁLIO - Why do you think it is important to bring these issues - eroticism, queer, camp, pornography - to contemporary dance? As we both know, it is not so common to focus on sexuality and to recreate porno environments in contemporary dance. Do you think this distance between both universes as to do with the fact that sexual and gender performativity is not considered as a noble subject to research in dance ? Sex/gender is still a tabu?

VINCENT RIEBEEK - There are not many places where there is the openess for me to do that. I have dreamt of making shows and performing arts as long as I remember and I am extremely grateful that our work got embraced by the dance community. I see a big change in how queer sexuality is presented in mainstream media. Much less then a tabu, sex and gender become more and more an open topic.

RITA NATÁLIO - To finish with, I would like to propose you to describe your present moment as an artist.

VINCENT RIEBEEK - I will soon start a Master formation at DASARTS in Amsterdam. I’m looking forward to a period of much creativity and “boundary-less” exploration. Besides that I am involved in several new projects for the next season including a new collaboration between me and Florentina, again on invitation by Eike Wittrock and Anna Wagner. I don’t want to say too much about it but it’s a circus project with a lot of great artists involved. I’m very excited with the future and the projects to come. This summer I will be teaching a workshop at Impulstanz Vienna with visual artist Jordan Wolfsson as well as presenting the show Body and Freedom. It will be the first time people get to see my new nose after a rhinoplastic surgery! Right now, I am in my home in Berlin getting inspired by the city, enjoying the spring.