Moving the Mirror - Marcin Cudo - Vorschau© Photo Marcin Cudo


Moving the Mirror

Wie spiegelt der zeitgenössische Tanz in Polen und Deutschland die Veränderungen im Demokratisierungsprozess nach 1989 und die wachsende Beziehung der beiden Länder wider? Wo ist die Energiequelle, mit der junge Künstler*innen ihre oft feministisch, queer, utopisch und politisch motivierten Projekte ins Leben rufen? Die Arbeit berichtet von einem signifikanten Wandel von traditionellen autoritären Strukturen hin zu egalitären, demokratischen Arbeitsweisen, bei denen Gestaltungsweisen, Geschlechterfragen und Institutionskritik das Feld der Choreographie wiederbelebten.

Peter Pleyer unterrichtet und tritt regelmäßig in Polen auf, er arbeitete 2010 als Dramaturg mit Marysia Stokłosa, und er war 2018 Mentor für Künstler*innen des Soloprojekt-Programms der Art Stations Foundation. Die Performance Moving the Mirror, mit Beteiligung polnischer und Berliner Performer*innen entstand 2016 in Kooperation der Art Stations Foundation und dem Center for Contemporary Art – Ujazdowki Castle.

Künstlerische Leitung / Choreografie Peter Pleyer
Tanz Caroline Neill Alexander, Aleksanda Borys, Oliver Connew, Ivan Ekemark, Anna Nowicka, Paweł Sakowicz, Marysia Stokłosa
Art Direction Michiel Keuper
Kurator*innen Joanna Leśnierowska (ASF), Agnieszka Sosnowska (CSW Zamek Ujazdowski)
Produktion Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Art Stations Foundation by Grażyna Kulczyk /Stary Browar Nowy Taniec, Mica Moca Berlin

Moving the Mirror - Wroclaw 2016 © Photo Marcin Cudo
Moving the Mirror - Wroclaw 2016 © Photo Marcin Cudo

In Between Festivals Reflektionen / 2016

Moving the Mirror
A Talk

between Agnieszka Sosnowska (AS), Joanna Lesnierowska (JL) and Peter Pleyer (PP) at the atrium office of the Nowy Teatr Warsaw.
In Between Festivals Reflektionen

JL I would suggest to give some background for the project. How it started, what happened and what is the history behind it?

PP O.k., so, once I got money from the Hauptstadt Kulturfonds Berlin to make the piece „visible undercurrent“ in 2014 I understood I could be a supporter artist in choreography in Berlin. I asked myself what would be a project that I liked to do the most. I really want to bring some german or Berlin dancers and polish dancers together to collaborate on a performance, and it should be a substantial group, more then 5 people.
Through my involvement in the polish dance scene in the last 20 years, and in the last 7 years mostly with Joanna in Poznan, I had met dancers that I really wanted to work with. Most of the time when I go teach workshops or companies or when I am invited to coach young dancers and choreographers, I meet dancers that I say, wow, when ever I will have money and a project I will ask you to work with me.
And that was the starting point of making a group piece that includes both Berlin and polish dancers and deals with their experiences and biographies and stories in their local, national and international scenes.

JL But can you talk more about your relationship to Poland ? Because I think that is the background of the project, thats for me the starting point.

AS Yes, why Germany and Poland and not any other country ?

PP (laughs) I think I am talking about LOVE a lot in my work and that is also why I want to work with polish dancers.
I first was invited to Poland in 1997 Hanna S. to the Lublin Dance Festival to teach and perform my work with Eszter Gal, and from that moment on I was in love with polish dance and with the polish dancers i met in that festival.

AS What was the dance at that time ?

PP There was already a sense of community through this festival structure, people knew each other and supported each other and I saw a lot of skill in dancing, there was a lot of dancers that knew how to dance, and i thought the choreography was not so interesting but the dancers and how they were living as dancers, how they were giving their heart to dance, that was something that always struck me as special beautiful. Already then I saw that the majority of choreographers were male, routed in a very traditional technique somehow and that decisions were made from a very hierarchical point of view of the companies leaders and the festivals directors which was something very foreign to me in the dance world that I was in. I do have a problem with power, not only a personal dislike of power structures in institutions from my upbringing in Germany and in a very straight family, but more so I was coming out of a dance education at the European Dance Development Center in Arnhem (NL), where I was taught a lot of techniques, body work methodes, philosophies about the body and a lot of knowledge about making choreography that was egalitarian, that was striving towards democracy in the making, democracy of space and of body parts, in the voices to be heard in a group, a spectrum, a company.
And that is still really relevant for me now and for the process of MTM, as underlying principles of my choreographic work. The next crucial moment in my relation to the polish dance scene was when the german government supported some years of cultural exchange between Poland and Germany. Büro Kopernikus and the curators Edita Kosak and Sabine Gehm invited me as a german moderator to a choreographic exchange between german and polish artists in 2005, by that time not many people from Germany had been in Poland and seen polish dance so they asked me for that job. And then it was there that Veronika Blumstein was born. Which became a thread for me to move back into my choreographic work and later into the body/mind festival of Edita Kosak in Warsaw, where i met Joanna for the first time in 2009. From this meeting began a whole other chapter of exchange of my artistic work and my pedagogic work in collaboration with the then Art Stations Foundation in Poznan.

AS And Veronika Blumstein was that artificial figure with a kind of a false narration showing an imaginary history of some connections of polish and german ….

PP Yes because …

AS She appeared because there was really no common ground

PP Yes, really, at some moment on the second day of that meeting, we said, lets go home everybody, because we are coming from different planets, we are coming from different traditions from different believe systems of the body and of what dance is and could be. When i think back now, it was not so different for the german choreographers then to the polish choreographers of today, all of them where educated in the Netherlands or Belgium, as before the HZT in Berlin, there was no real contemporary dance university in Germany.
And then within a night of vodka and beer this figure was born.

JL As a common ground.

PP A fictitious choreographer that has more then one tradition and through this imagination all of our phantasies went wild and started to bloom. She was more like a catalyst for real ideas and real meetings, discussions, collaborations and reconstructions of her imaginary work.
And that became interesting also for curators, there was a whole festival under Veronikas name, „moving exiles“ in Bremen and also K3 in Hamburg invited Veronika to open the new choreographic center at Kampnagel in 2007.

JL Which is now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

PP That was really quiet incredible. And with the reconstruction of her work „dancing queen meets walkmanwords“ I was invited to the body/mind festival in Warsaw in 2009, where on a panel of directors of east European dance houses I saw Joanna for the first time. This marked for me a shift into female leadership, as all of these dance house directors were women, and i thought this is a change to allow for other voices of collaboration. The other thing i remember well from that panel was, that all of these women had different sources of money for their dance centers, one had a real good relationship with the major of the town who gave her money, the other from the ministry of culture, one had a festival in Canada that she would always budget in a way that she could collaborate with her center in Zagreb, and you, Joanna , had this private money from the Art Stations Foundation by Grazyna Kulczyk.
Then the next step was the work on the solo-project you invited me to coach in 2010 in Poznan. And my position as curator of the Tanztage Berlin Festival in Sophiensaele from 2008-14 allowed me to always invite the presentations of the solo-project, with the help of the polish institute in Berlin, to strengthen the connection between polish and Berlin dance.
Especially with Anna Nowicka and Aleksandra Borys who I then coached, there is a strong ongoing relationship and they consult me, i consult them.
The other strand is my teaching in the alternative dance academy in stary browar nowy taniez, where i met Pawel Sakowicz in 2015. Also all of the berlin dancers in the project i met in teaching situations. Ollie Connew through „smash“ Berlin, Caroline Alexander through „p.o.r.c.h.“ in Ponderosa and Ivan Ekemark through my guest professorship at the HZT Berlin.

JL The special case in this cast is Maria Stoklosa, you met also through poznan but..

PP Yes, Marysha I know since a longer time, because she was working in Berlin with Jeremy Wade, where I saw her perform in Sophiensaele in 2006, but really to know I got her in her production „The Right Hemisphere“ also at stary browar

JL Where I recommended her a dramaturg…

PP …and that was me. This collaboration started a very fruitful dialogue that is continuous until today about work and how we see things, and it lead to the invitation of me being a dramaturg for this insane Chopin project that represented Poland in the World-Expo in Shanghai in 2010, with 12 dancers and 70 musicians.
So in this linage MTM attempts to go through these generations of dancers in Poland with Maria, Anna and Aleksandra, and the „youngest“ is Pawel.

JL What I found interesting from the beginning was that instead of working on your history with Poland with the different polish artists, you really wanted to make a project that would link the Berliner scene with the polish scene, although literary there is no, especially after you left Tanztage Festival. If you could talk a little bit about the idea of literary „moving the mirror“ which is a very interesting way of looking at each other and reflecting on history and community through the eyes of the other. you know what i mean, this project could have been easily a project of you working with polish dancers on this history but there is actually a very important part of the Berliner community involved, and were does this necessity come form to really have people meet each other? is it coming from the fact that there was before no relationship ?

PP I think that bringing people together, that role of the mediator, is very close to me,I love to bring people together and I don’t need to be the leader of a pack but to be part of instigating a meeting and making parameters for the meeting that it can run smoothly. Contemporary dance, and maybe that is a generalization, is international, it is the language and the power of the body, which it is not dependent on national language, its not depending on building a territory around spoken and written language, but building a territory around the body that makes it easy for everybody to work together in different countries and different national circumstances. This is a big advantage that we need to put into the argumentation.

AS But can you imagine that this meeting could be build around something different then improvisation, as you use improvisation as a very important tool in building the performance of „moving the mirror“ ?

PP Yes, I think the meeting could happen in all different place and with all different methods as well, but when we go into the methodology of „moving the mirror“ and say „improvisation“ would be much to general and random. It underlies a lot of ground work in methods of improvisation, methods of composition and methods perceiving choices and supporting choices. and these very specific methods, Eva Karczags „Anatomical release“, Nina Martins „Ensemble Thinking“, Mary Overlies „Viewoint theory“, Stephanie Skuras „Politics of Methode“, Nancy Stark Smiths „underscore“, Lisa Nelsons work on perception, Contact Improvisation and Barbara Dilleys „Contemplative Dance Practice“, made it very easy for the dancers and Michiel Keuper, who did the scenography, the transient sculptures, to meet. That is where the cat bites its tail, where the structures and methods make it easy for the performers to meet.
Contact improvisation is one of the techniques i use a lot not only as a physical form but also in a way of understanding collaboration, understanding space and understanding dependency on each other to make something different then what you can make on your own.
Touch is a very easy tool to meet, you can get very intimate very fast through touch, and not only in contact improvisation but also in the very specific body work of Eva Karczag (anatomical release) that i use, where we open up the possibilities of movement and articulation through touch. In the text „politics of methode“ stephanie skura expresses that we need strong independent dancers, performers who have their own life, their on inner life and their own outer live and they can express that towards each other and in relation to the audience. Ollie Connew, one of the Berlin based dancers in the project, said that it was an incredible experience to include the audience in the performance through this understanding. We are here together in that room we are doing this together, you are witnessing what is happening at the moment that it is happening, it is not prefabricated for you to consume, it is a participation, a collaboration, like contact improvisation: we lean on the audience and the audience can lean on us, metaphorically, we could not do it without each other but together.

JL Yes, I see that improvisation is one of your main loves and tools, but the other part is your work with history and the linage of not only improvisational but also choreographic practices through the 20th century. Can you tell me, do you have your own methodology how two work with that? how could you describe your work with the history in your choreographic practices and especially in „moving the mirror“ ?

PP At first mostly through other mediums, I usually provide a wide array of books, videos, dvds articles, magazines and online sources. After presenting this sometimes overwhelming amount of sources i find out what is resonating with the group or with the individual performers, through talking, then dig deeper for specific examples, tasks, scores or people. It is really like laying out a wide range and spectrum, for people to pick and choose their interest. I never tell them what to do exactly, but i can hint towards people and methods i came in contact with through my education at the „European Dance Development Center“ in Arnhem(NL) in the early 1990s.

JL It is very interesting to hear that history in your work is more a living history. We have a tendency, also in art, when we are doing work on history we are going further a very long distance to a time and period that we are investing in and research and then we bring it back from death. While in your approach, what i appreciate very much, you bring back the notion of understanding that history is now, that we actually all stand of the shoulders of our colleagues and that its layering in our commune consciousness as artist and also as audiences. You bring it back as a very alive heritage that I found very important, especially working with young artists. In Poland we suffer a lot from missing any just description of our dance history which its tracing back even to the beginning of the 20s century, but we just simply do not know about it and nobody has written any serious research or published any book about it. There are so many blind spots in the history of polish dance that i found it very important that we take our recent history serious and make sure that it doesn’t disappear, that it will not share the fate of our ancestors from the in-between wars or the generation before 1989 that was doing interesting works but just because being behind the iron curtain they are even forgotten in their own country. Often the new dynamic of artists and curators are not aware and have no source of getting that information but it is very interesting to understand that notion the history is alive and we have it all in our dna and blood cells.

PP What resonates with me when you say this is towards documentation ephemeral performances, And what was a new thing for me in „moving the mirror“ was including the visual art into the „contemplative dance practice“ which i used as a tool of composing. It was the first time I invited a visual artist, Michiel Keuper, to meditate with us, to warm up with us and to make transient sculpture, sculptures that appear for the while of the performance and then also disappear like the dance disappears. The documentary outcome were many incredible fotos from the process and performance. Now I can take a foto of „moving the mirror“ and describe in detail the process, the methods, the relationships and describe what lead us to that.
I think that working with photography and working with visual art in the performance was a big part of „moving the mirror“ especially because we were in a fine art setting, in the museum of contemporary art at in Warsaw

AS Coming back to the issue of history, what was striking and very present was building community which is not anymore national. It was very strong what appeared on stage in the words of the polish choreographers, that its hardly to say that they are polish from their national identity. They are meeting the others already on another level because they all did not study dance here in Poland, and that history of polish dance is not their point of reference and also for the Berlin dancers and artists that you invited are from Sweden, New Zealand, USA and the Netherlands. how do you touch upon the notion of history ?

JL the history of the body

PP I want to say that I am a kind of a specialist in the history that started with and after the „Judson Dance Theater, which is in the canon of contemporary dance now since some time, also in Poland through the Remix program that brought attention to Merce Cunningham, Carolee Schneemann, Anna Halprin, Deborah Hay, Yvonne Rainer. In my education I have danced and studied with artists that were past that history, a period I call the „post judson avand-garde“. I intensively researched that for my group work „visible undercurrent“ in 2014. I want to bring to attention all the methods and body practices that dancers and choreographers have formulated in that time which are only in a very few history books. That is were my passion for collecting books and magazines comes in, especially the „Contact Quarterly“ magazine (from 1975-now) and the „Writings On Dance“ magazine from Australia. Most of these artists are still alive so it is a very living history, and in fact i had a very nice email conversation after the project with Eva Karczag, Nina Martin, Stephanie Skura, Nancy Stark Smith, Lisa Nelson and Barbara Dilley, reporting to them that we had worked very successfully with their methods and they were all extremely happy that their work is continuing to inspire dancer and choreographers, through my teaching and making work.

JL Most of the cast In „moving the mirror“ you have been teaching before in different workshops and schools.

AS Was this a problem for you, that you were the older wise man in „moving the mirror“? I remember that you were reflecting about this. What is now your remembrance of it ?

PP There are two important things, one is the teaching aspect in my work. A journalist wrote in a portrait of me and my work, that she sees a „pedagogic eros“ in my work, a certain need and want to teach. With that comes a natural authority that people see in me, without me being authoritarian teaching from the top down, but rather horizontal.

JL Yes, I think the way you approach pedagogy and teaching is based more on sharing than on the old school ignorant mastering of skill.I see your care, your fascination and your love in supporting the development of your students, even involving them in your artistic work. The way you teach creates a certain bond in love and respect which is in my view less a master figure then a father figure that I see whenever you come together on stage with your dancers.

AS How do you see the figure of a leader in this situation ?

PP What came up in some of the post performance talks we had in Wroclaw one of the dancers said „you gave us all the freedom so we could do whatever we wanted as performers , and we could give whatever we wanted to give to the process. But it was still very much your piece and your instigation“. I think that is true and shows a certain hierarchy, I initiated the project, I brought my interest and informations, I brought the scores, this way of touching and intimacy, the way of looking at each other , seeing each other and in the performances the open relation and attitude towards the audience, all of that is very clearly my world. But the all of the performers said that they had never the idea that they had followed blindly my leadership.

AS That resonate strongly whith my first experience seeing your work in Berlin. on the same weekend seeing a different work with a very strong choreographic gesture, telling the dancers exactly what to do and how to execute a strict movement score, and the next day I saw your piece and it was a totally different world, I remember that this was for me very strong especially having these experiences so close to eachother.

JL I think that Peters understanding of collective work is actually providing us an alternative scenario of how we can be together, not even work together, but simply be together, especially in this harder times that we witness. For years, also due to the infrastructural problems and the financial problems of the polish scene, but not only polish scene, artist were en masse doing solos being very much concerned about their own signature and language. Now we see a moment in which people more and more tuning to be together not only work together but also support each other on a personal level and fight for better conditions for the whole community and art form.I actually do see a very important social responsibility that our art form has or should represent towards the community especially now in Poland, but not only, facing hard time coming for contemporary art and dance. In last decade we were able to develop in a luxury of our studio and situation an amazing laboratory of practice that allowed people to be together, to understand each other better, to share and exchange though a lot of somatic approaches and improvisational technologies.We generate knowledge that is actually not only a knowledge that helps to create but, I believe, is a knowledge that helps us to live. And that this is a moment of a call, knock knock knock! (knocks on the table with her fist) that is the moment of a so called check up of how much we believe in what we preach. Peter, you had a amazing performance with eszter gal called „practice what you preach“, and i love this title because it represents a lot for me what is necessary now. If we really do believe in the way we spend our last decade developing the skills of alternative ways of working with our bodies and our souls it is now even more the time to share it with our communities and societies, and this is why i found „moving the mirror“ and in general your practice in poland so important. Because nevertheless the excitement on an aesthetic level and the artistic proposal it does have this importance of a meeting and sharing, an alternative scenario on how to be together in the hard times we are in. And at least I do believe, although artists hate to hear that , this is a kind of duty of ours now, to pay back for the last years we have been given a chance to develop these practices to spread the virus of these practices in our society, because i do believe that even a small percentage more of us would really practice this somatic, improvisational, contemplative practices our global energy would actually be different and that maybe we would not face that nationalistic thread that is all over, not only in Poland, this virus is spreading all over the whole world. And it sounds a bit naive when i hear myself speak like that but I really strongly believe in it.

PP Agnieszka, i also remember the very first talk we had in the cafe in Berlin after you had seen „visible undercurrent“ in Sophinesaele, where i myself for the first time articulated strongly, that
„love“ was a motor in my work, and i had the same feeling that it was awfully naive, and esoteric

AS But for me that was so obvious and it opened many things, because it was also the first time i heard somebody speaking strongly about „love“ as a methodology of building choreography, and it was beautiful and it opened many things in my life.

JL So you do not find us naive ?

AS No! because I had seen how it is working, I felt so good sitting in the same space with you, because it is not only about love between the performers but what happens to the audience, when you do not build that border between the stage and the audience, it is really like this love is spreading, the energy that is building on the stage is going further beyond the performers. That is something extremely strong for me in your pieces, and then telling that you work so strongly with love really made sense, because i have seen it working. It is not just worlds, its the change that it makes.

PP Often times when people talk about love and world peace and…

JL ….when they preach it and don not practice it!

AS yes!

*PP*… you have the feeling this takes away from the artistry, the art making, then it is „healy-feely” or „touchy feely“ and that its „nice for them but not for the audience“. I hope that that is different in my work, where i ask from myself and from the performers to not make artistic compromises, to keep an artistic integrity.

AS Yes, and „love“ is not the only component of the work.

PP No, and for me it does not take away my artistic integrity or that of the performers, and the therapy and spirituality and healing is a huge byproduct or even part of the foundation but does not take away the art for me.

JL So, love is the answer ?

PP maybe especially in times like this, its true, but its still a weak branch

JL delicate, fragile

PP On the other hand some of the rightwing backlash and some of the nationalistic backlash, I think are building against the huge growth of all these other freedom believes, laughter, love, that is strongly articulated by so many in the last 30, 40, 50 years, since the feminist movement, since the sexual revolution. I do see the personal freedoms are growing and that many more people are speaking out. So then there is this defense mechanism in the rightwing to be louder and stronger, almost as a last back rear onto their weak backward legs, and hopefully a weak defense of all the old white men attempting to contain the critical mass of feminists, queers, people of color, artists, poor, everybody that is fighting for more rights and freedom.

JL Which is another important element in „moving the mirror“, pointing out that the recent dance and choreography history is mainly made by female and queer artists. and that is a topic has never been real discussed here in Poland, it is much more present of course in international discourses around the development of choreography. Can you reflect a little bit on that issue and how did you succeed in transfer this issue through the showings that we had in Warsaw and Wroclaw?

PP For this I need to go back to my first experience with performing „practice what you preach“ in Russia in 1998, where we state to the audience during the performance:“ this is a man and a woman dancing together, and the images you might have could be romantic, but we want to inform you that Eszter is a straight woman and Peter is a gay man“, and just to hear this shifted the perception of the audience, opening possibilities to read the piece differently and look away from narrative into space, timing, physics, energy or any other sensation of being moved.
Since the start of my artistic life, in teaching and performing it is part of my mission, I want audience to know who I am, who we are, the identity of the dancers is a big component of the work, to have that articulated in the process and the pieces is for me important, so that intimate moments without hiding who you are, can occur.
And often I am looking through this gender or identity glasses and take a snapshot to analyze situations. For instance right here and now. Who is invited to this dance-showcase here in Warsaw ? women and gay men. And Joanna, who was invited to your last Malta Festival dance program in the summer ?

JL Women and gay men.

PP So i think there is still a lot to be articulated about that as people are reluctant to do so. In „moving the mirror“ it was for instance playing the music of Karol Szymanowski and Pawel talking about, that there has been a gay polish composer that is actually celebrated in the country for his patriotic music, as a big cultural figure.

JL With a shadow put on his private life

PP but in his time in the 1920s it was not hidden. He was quiet open with his life in Zakopane.

JL Coming back to reflecting about the overall project and witnessing the showings in Warsaw and Wroclaw I imaging „moving the mirror“ to become a perforative series and photographic essay. there are examples of photographers following a group people over 10, 20 50 years. This would allow us also to witness the life and the conditions change and how this is influencing us as humans and artists. And so when „moving the mirror“ form now on meets every year. and this personal stories that artist shared in the piece, this little narrations that are part of this big history background, the conditions of the aging body as much as the conditions that are provided through the external situation, arts and politics, relationships. It would be so incredible to see what is happening to us in the span of a longer period of time. How much the situation is changing for contemporary dance or not changing at all. How much these mirrors are changing, how much they deform, get dirty over the years and how we help each other to clean them, actually.
That would be a dream for me, to have this project continue that way.

PP Wow, as i hear you say this you are opening up an exiting vision. And as we are sitting here in this atrium office of the Nowy Teatr in Warsaw with all that space and all that air around us, I even think that for something grande like this we could even find financial support.

JL For me it really was having this value of the not only one time thing. When you opened the door for audience it was so clear that it is for something that is continuous, that has some structure, a bond, but that the meat of it and spirit of it is in a constant transition and transformation according to the energies of people in the room including the audience.

PP Imagine how fantastic it would be in ten years looking back…

JL …yes in a choreographic essay…

PP …and see what has happened with Ivan or Caroline…

JL …or Ollie…

PP …everybody.

JL Where we are, are we still in Berlin and Poland?

(AS,* JL*, PP take a deep breath)

PP Wow!

JL Amen