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Dance and music merge in Gesamtkunstwerk SHIROKURO

Holland Festival Holland Festival ,,I like to use the word 'Gesamtkunstwerk'. Light, space, matter, body, sound: it all belongs together. Each aspect forms an essential part of the whole."

Choreographer Nicole Beutler prepares with pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama and light thrower Jean Kalman ahead of the Dutch premiere of 'SHIROKURO', at the Holland Festival on 18 June.

,,I have never identified exclusively with the word choreographer. I make theatre by any means within my reach. That is a need in me. I like to push against the boundaries between different art disciplines."

Music plays a big role in her work. She is not concerned with movements to sounds or music supporting dance, but with dance and music as an organic whole. This resulted in performances such as 'The Garden' with an exciting combination of dance, music and text, and the vocal performance 'Songs' with Sanja Mitrovic.

So I had a deep-seated reason to want to work with a pianist for once.

,,I am a big fan of the piano. My grandmother was a pianist and I learnt to play the piano myself. So I had a deep-seated reason to want to work with a pianist one day. Through Janine Dijkmeijer, my former manager, I came into contact with Tomoko Mukaiyama. We decided to start a research project."

They did not know each other, but it was immediately clear that they touched, shared the same groundbreaking artistic desires. Mukaiyama does not stay on the piaono stool, but dances herself in 'SHIROKURO', with dancer Mitchell-lee van Rooij.


,,We experimented with music by different composers. Beethoven, Ligeti, Chopin. The main thing we focused on was the dialogue between music and dance: how does that combination work? Do they become one or separate? Do they respond to each other? Are they each other's response? But with these composers, it was all not radical enough. It wasn't kicking. Then came Tomoko with Galina Ustvolskaya, the sixth piano sonata. That music was a shocking discovery. The music itself, but also the way you perform it, is so physical! It's more than just music.

What the body does and what the music does become completely intertwined.
We looked at the sheet music: the notation is a beautiful drawing! That notation is already abstract art. And Ustvolskaya knocks down borders."

Mukaiyama also experiences the physical inij this music: "Normally, if something is to be played loudly, a composer writes a forte sign, one f. If it has to be really loud, there are two f's, fortissimo (ff) or at most three (fff). But Ustvolskaya writes seven times forte (fffffff). That is very, very hard! You need your whole body to do that. To play that, I use my fist, my wrist and my elbow. It's top sport. It hurts. I keep deep blue spots from it."

"I wanted to incorporate the notation into the performance," says Beutler. ,,I wanted to analyse it and translate it in such a way that Mitchell's dance embodies it perfectly. From the beginning, I worked on him becoming the music with his dance. When Tomoko starts dancing with Mitchell, they, the pianist and the dancer, are completely equal forces. Not as you often see, one leading the other, but a dialogue between two forces, the music and its embodiment. When we had that going for us, we called in Jean Kalman."


For Kalman, too, Ustvolskaya's music was new. ''A discovery! A shock! It grabs you, drags you along and makes you think about music in a new way. I designed the light in constant dialogue with Nicole and Tomoko. When I do something for the stage, for me it's always about the totality. The conversations with Nicole and Tomoko were never just about the light. Always also about the music, the space, everything."

"The composition is not about painful physical experiences, but is a spiritual quest.

Besides its physical qualities, Ustvolskaya's work also has spiritual sides. Jean Kalman thinks of monks meditating under a roaring waterfall. ,,The composition is not about painful physical experiences, but is a spiritual quest. Our project also contains something of the search for a mystery, for spirituality. For my lighting design, space is something that holds a mystery. You don't know exactly what is going to happen. This is how the audience sits in the room. It expects music and dance and has an idea about what it is going to see. But then comes 'SHIROKURO', a disruptive experience. Ustvolskaya's music alone makes you wince. So does the performance as a whole."

Apart from Ustvolskaya's sixth piano sonata, it also features pieces by Robert Schumann, totally the opposite of Ustvolskaya. The performance's title, 'SHIROKURO', is Japanese for 'White and Black'. Extreme contrast is key. Mukaiyama: "We were looking for music written for the piano, melodious and of great beauty." With Schumann comes a totally different physical response. "Dancer Mitchell listens with his whole body and improvises to the music," Beutler explains. "A lot of the movements are fixed, the beginnings, the spatial structure, but in his dance there is also a freedom, to go into the moment, so it seems like he is listening with his whole body. This is what he does with Schumann. The contrast with Ustvolskaya intensifies the listening."

Good to know
Shirokuro by Tomoko Mukaiyama, Nicole Beutler and Jean Kalman. Dutch premiere on 18 June in the Grote Zaal of Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, start 20:30. Tickets 17.50/ 20.00/22.50/25.00. Information: Holland Festival

Maarten Baanders

Free-lance arts journalist Leidsch Dagblad. Until June 2012 employee Marketing and PR at the LAKtheater in Leiden.View Author posts

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