08 Dec 2023
Mon 03 Sep 2018
How do we find common ground with each other? In an attempt, one realizes that there are differences that need to be taken into account, hurdles that need to be overcome, different perspectives with which one can look at a certain situation or event. It seems to be one of the most difficult, yet most important endeavours everyone wants to strive for nowadays.
A ground where it’s common for everyone to join and get together, is the dance floor. The Belgian choreographer Benjamin Vandewalle created a piece together with dancers Kobe Wyffels and Hannah Bekemans, who both are part of Platform-K in Gent, a dancing platform which trains disabled people in dancing, as well as creates opportunities for them to work with choreographers from the working field, like Benjamin.
In one of your previous statements this piece for you is about going ‘From common ground to common experience’. The common ground you, Hannah and Kobe share is the love for dance. What was the common experience you three had during this process?
Benjamin Vandewalle: I think in their essence the experiences will always be different for everyone, but when we were dancing or performing together, the common experience was that throughout the research, I was always looking for a place where we were meeting each other eye to eye. We were all on the same page and I tried to make sure that the hierarchy would be as horizontal as possible. Of course, there was a choreographer and there were performers, but we were always looking for a place where we were very much in the moment and explored what we would create together in different constellations as peers.
The piece is divided into five different parts. Why did you find it necessary to make the division and what is the red thread that kept the piece together?
There are five playgrounds, common grounds, which are very different from each other. They differ between being composed and being completely improvised. It was a kind of playground for us to explore the different possibilities and qualities. The common experience in these cases was always very specifically related to chemistry between the different constellations of performers. It
was about meeting each other and finding the common ground.
We are all very different from each other, physically as well as in terms of characters. Kobe and Hannah also had different experiences throughout the process. We didn’t have dialogues where we were exchanging what’s new for them or certain experiences that they had, but one can observe and guess from the outside. I definitely think that I pushed them a lot in dancing by creating a frame work where they consciously or unconsciously could really develop their dance language. Therefore, I was able to stir them in directions with the musical help of Fulco Ottervanger to places, I think they haven’t been before, just because the frame has never been created for them for that to happen. Especially the duet that they have, is something very new where they found each other in a very slow, concentrated and articulate way. There’s a big power in that.
The red line was the meeting that took place in all of those constellations. There was a hunger in all three of us to play with the body.
There is a usage of media and projection in Common ground, which creates different perspectives for the audience and creates different layers within the piece. What was your reason behind that?
The projection is something that I use a lot in my work in general: installations, video, framing. It was a conscious choice right from the beginning to use something that belonged to me and my artistic background, which also literally helps to frame and box things or certain scenes, so that they are supported. Small things that you catch on camera can sometimes become almost invisible while performing. Yet, they become meaningful watching it on film. There is a certain focus, with which the material can stay itself, instead of being overlooked because of its fragility. It’s a tool and a way to support the work.
What was the personal inspiration to create this piece?
I was invited by Platform-K and I liked the challenge of creating something that I haven’t done so far. At the same time, I’m going back to what I used to do eight years ago, which is dancing.
I don’t have the tendency to create dance pieces when I’m on my own. The dance pieces where I’ve succeeded in creating, were the ones where I’m dancing and I have another body that I relate to and that creates the dance itself, which is the case in Common ground. It’s a way to create dance that is meaningful, because it turns into a real instrument, with which I could collaborate with Hannah and Kobe. Why dance? Because the direct line of communication with them was through the body. Dance is a kind of vehicle to be in a relationship with them.
How was your experience of creating the piece while performing in it yourself?
I haven’t been full on dancing for a long time. I was more focused on making installations and frame work, so now to rediscover my body together with them was really interesting. I had help from a very good outside eye. Charlotte De Somviele was really helpful in that way. The nature of the piece is not of a choreography that is so complex that it’s very hard to get an image of how it looks like from the outside, but for me it works the best when I’m in the piece myself. I like to feel the energy on stage, rather than sitting statically and being in verbal communication with the dancers; this is actually very challenging for me.
When you went out to look for common ground, what were you hoping to find?
From experience, I already know that when you start with certain intentions for an end result, it never goes as planned or develops as organic as it could. Your desire of what you want it to be and what you want it to become in the end, is overpowering the magic of the surprise during the process. It kills the creative process and the chemistry in the studio.
The only wish I had was that this piece would become organically what it is today. Having a process where there’s an openness in the studio and a way to capture and frame it in a very playful way without pressure to produce something scripted, but being in the moment and working together.
Hannah and Kobe are already so gifted in who they are that my task was more in harvesting the potential that was already there. They themselves are already a proposition. I didn’t come into this creation with the idea of what do I want to create, but more with the curiosity of what can be made. What can be created in this situation? What is being proposed by their dancing and their being? What is already there? These were the questions that led the process.
What was your favourite experience during the process?
The most interesting part for me was to witness the individual processes of Hannah and Kobe. Especially Hannah, is in my opinion, the master of improvisation. She has something that we
as artists train for years, which is being genuinely in the present moment and being conscious that there is an audience, but really doing it for herself. She is busy with what she is doing and not with showing or presenting herself. It’s also a part of her condition, which enables her to concentrate deeply on what she’s doing. I never had to tell her anything, just: ‘Hannah, dance!’, and she would go and she would continue and continue and continue. I can watch for hours and still discover new material every time again, up to a point where I was asking myself: ‘Where is this coming from?’
Do you think there is enough inclusion for disabled people in the dancing field?
No, I think in Belgium it’s really shameful in terms of what’s being offered. Platform-K also had problems with maintaining their subsidies, but they found a way to keep going. If you compare
it with other countries like the UK or Germany; they’re further advanced in this kind of projects. I also think that especially the theatre is a place, where it’s possible to showcase the beauty of differences and practice inclusion. Disabled people can really contribute something strong to society and I think theatre is definitely a place where you can display that. Theatre is a way to give more people a chance to meet each other, a medium where that kind of meeting is very interesting, because it’s about the body, a presence and being on stage.
Do you think there is a receptive audience for inclusive dance?
Absolutely. Many reactions were similar. People love it, because they realize that the first ten minutes they are busy with Hannah and Kobe having Down’s syndrome, but afterwards they forget about it and that’s why I’m so proud of this piece. It’s not about disabilities, it’s about three performers. Each in their own character and their encounter. This was also a conscious choice from the beginning, but I’m happy that it also translated like that.
What can we learn from your experience of encountering each other?
This is up to the audience to decide, but for me it’s also just the question of how to encounter life. I sometimes see Hannah and Kobe as masters in how to deal with life. Of course, they have challenges like all of us, but there is something about the way they are dealing with life that is refreshing. They are not busy with the question why. Why am I doing this? What is the purpose? The purpose of life? They’re in life and they are without filter and without border. This is something really beautiful and inspiring. I think it’s a humbling experience and it puts you in your heart energy as well. It’s also about caring. They require a certain sense of caring. You’re placed in your heart energy and that’s what they do with their environment around them. It’s also what kids do.
They are big grown-up kids.