Dancing Beyond (18/6/2013, Volkskrant)

from: Volkskrant 18/6/2013

Tonight at the Holland Festival the Dutch première of Shirokuro of choreographer Nicole Beutler takes place. She explains how music, dance and light merge in the performance. ‘My love for piano is so big that I secretly always wanted a man who plays piano’, Nicole Beutler (44), choreographer, blurts out, and immediately regrets it. ‘Too personal.’ What she wants to say: the piano is the most beautiful instrument there is. ‘As a child I listened to my grandmother for hours. When she wasn’t ice-skating, she was behind the piano. Still the piano music that I am using in Shirokuro is not typical piano music: there is little left of the sound that is typical for the instrument. The pianist is banging on its bones, the piano screams.’
The pianist is Tomoko Mukaiyama. Tonight at the Holland Festival she, together with dancer Mitchell-lee van Rooij (ex-Scapino Ballet), gives shape to the modernistic Pianosonates 5 and 6 by Russian Galina Ustvolskaya (1919 – 2006). It will be physical. Mukaiyama bangs the keys so loudly, often with fists or underarms, that she regularly launches herself from her stool, her long black hair (a wig made of horsehair and real hair) flying back and forth like wild manes. On Van Rooij’s part the sounds pulsate their way out through his body.
Beutler calls Shirokuro a ‘dance concert’ and thereby adds a new colour to her heterogeneous oeuvre. Beutler, who studied literature and visual art in her native Germany before she came to Amsterdam to attend the School for New Dance Development, is difficult to pin down. The form into which she pours her fascination differs from time to time. She jumps from classical ballerinas to a singing dancer, to a dialogue between humans and dolls. From a dance film about elderly line dancers who do a flashmob, to a project about ballroom dancing with young dance students, next month in Julidans. To Beutler it is only logical: ‘I love things that I do not know so well, that’s why I am always looking for new forms and different logic.’
Still, there are also constants in the more than fifteen years that Beutler has been professionally active. She stands out in the Dutch dance because she recycles material. ‘Whereas generating new movements, coming forth from the body of that one dancer, mostly is the starting point for choreographers, I like to look at what already exists. From that I take the essence and that movement or feeling I repeat, intensify, scratch. In contemporary dance it always evolves around new new new. But new is an illusion.’
In the past few years Beutler has made productions that were thoroughly (and mostly very wayward) inspired by classical ballet (Les Sylphides, 2008), the baroque opera (Lost is my quiet forever, 2008), heroines from the theatre literature (1: Songs, 2009), minimalism (2: Dialogue with Lucinda, 2010), romanticism (3: The garden, 2011) or for instance Greek tragedy (Antigone, 2012). ‘I just love history,’ she says. ‘And classical languages. My mom was a bookseller, my dad a teacher in Greek and Latin. It is fun to understand the roots of something. If it wouldn’t have been such an elaborate work with cotton swabs, I might have become an archaeologist.’
The pianosonatas of Ustvolskaya – from 1985 and 1986 – fit Beutler well. She makes the physical character of the songs literally physical by having the pianist play flowingly and with a bare back, and confronting her with a dancer. A dancer that does ‘not dance to, but in the music’ and thereby makes the composition visible in movements. The sonatas have an ambiguity that Beutler recognizes: ‘They contain a lot of passion and desire. Unbearable, especially when you know what an isolated woman Ustvolskaya was. At the same time, it is also a carefully calculated work. A mirror composition, everything exactly on the note. Minimalistic, stern, with lots of repetition, nagging. Expressionistic and bare at the same time. That’s why Tomoko’s performance is punk as well as elegant’.
Because of her analytical approach and German gründlichkeit, Beutler has been called ‘the artist of reason and dissection’. A compliment? ‘I don’t know. I do know that I navigate between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, between considered articulation and emotion, intuition.’ Whereas a choreographer like Krisztina de Châtel needs composure because otherwise her impulsive side will take over, Beutler needs composure in order to reach her impulsive side. ‘Within a strict order chaos and complexity arise spontaneously. Clear communication is a prerequisite, but beside that there is definitely space for rock, thunder and awesome face paint in my performances.’
The literal translation of Shirokuro from Japanese is white-black. Beutler has called the performance this, and coloured it that way, because there are barely any grey tones in the music. ‘Ustvolskaya makes the piano roar. After a while there is a softer movement – a little salvation, beauty, hope – but soon she smashes this again. I asked myself: is black so horrible, or does it also possess something embracing? Is it not white that is empty, dead?’ Then, laughing and a little embarrassed: 'I have always been an idealist, have a mildly activistic side. Come on people, you can do it! I like to remind people of their power. And this music is definitely powerful.’
© Mirjam van der Linden