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Usury and Zen - Greco and Scholten bet high with premiere Extremalism @Holland Festival

Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten rehearse their new show Extremalism in Marseille. The two dance companies under their direction, ICKamsterdam and Ballet National de Marseille, have merged for the occasion: 30 dancers on stage, six authors and designers in the auditorium, and the crew of technicians is also made up of Amsterdamers and Marseillais. They are working together on the biggest production Greco and Scholten ever made.

Pieter Scholten holds office on the terrace

Rehearsals take place in the theatre of La Friche Belle de Mai, a sort of Western Gasworks site in the former cigarette factories (Gitanes, Gauloises) on the north side of Marseille's old town. School gardens, a huge skate park, free radio: veryupping seems to have passed La Friche Belle de Mai by - although there is a very good restaurant. Marseille has suffered little from so-called gentrification anyway. That's what makes the city attractive. People are direct and open, the city is one big frayed edge.

Pieter Scholten: "Marseille is a city of extremes. At a mayor's VIP party during the jazz festival, Emio and I stood face to face with IMF managing director Lagarde. At the same time, people here were skimming the bins for food and goodies to sell in Quartier Nord the next morning. The poverty in Marseille is shocking. The Ballet National de Marseille was very distant from the city, we are going to change that. We want all Marseillais to recognise themselves in the company." And so the new BNM held auditions in the famously 'difficult' Quartier Nord district.

Théâtre du Merlan, Marseille

Scholten: "Théâtre du Merlan is a kind of Meervaart. Anyone could participate, as long as they lived in Quartier Nord. In the end, we invited three dancers to come to BNM's house for a few days, which is in Quartier Sud, the posh part of town. But we didn't manage to really make arrangements with these three. It will take more time, but this exchange was a good start."

A former student of mine, now back in her hometown to take over the work of independent choreographer Geneviève Sorin, is impressed. Léa Canu Ginoux: "They are energetic. Within months, the B of Ballet had disappeared from the logo, the M of Marseille now dominates. That's encouraging."

Yet it is by no means Greco and Scholten's intention to turn their backs on ballet. Emio Greco: "It is precisely interesting to engage with ballet. It has huge appeal. You reach a huge audience with it. Our approach to dance is partly based on ballet. In Amsterdam, we continue our experimental work. In Marseille, we relate to tradition. They are two lines within our work, complementing and challenging each other."

poster Boléro Two Around town, I come across posters from Greco and Scholten's previous programme at BNM. Two and Bolero are among the first works created by the two dance makers during their now 20-year collaboration. Greco's equally masterful and unyielding solo to Ravel's all-too-familiar music was rehearsed and performed with orchestra by the entire company for the occasion. Also Le Corps du Ballet was recapped and rewritten with BNM (see a nice video editing). Parts of these 'sketches', as Scholten says, appear in Extremalism. But also material from the duet Extra Dry plays a prominent role in the new production.


It is the first week that dancers from the two companies will come together. Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurdsson, who worked with Björk and with Stephen Petronio, and Dutch designer Henk Stallinga, whose impressive light sculpture Chain Reaction becomes part of Extremalism, are hard at work. Pieter Scholten: "I don't know where it's going at all yet, it's such a big project, it requires so much coordination. It's really a matter of finding the right connection in 'the heat of the moment'."

Rehearsal Extremalism La Friche Belle de Mai © Clifford Portier
Rehearsal Extremalism

The parts rehearsed, on the days I am there, look austere, intense and offer a kaleidoscopic view of Scholten and Greco's work in recent decades. Scholten: "We are rehashing and quoting material from all these years. After all, it's about all these new people becoming familiar with the intense commitment of the work. For them, it's new. For us, it's just a matter of getting back to the essence."

The 'tableau de la troupe' as manifested during rehearsals looks relaxed and does not display the outward self-consciousness that often marks large dance companies. The dancers are mostly hard workers, searching for their place in an immense sea of movement. The sections are long and intense and demand a lot from the dancers. Dancer Kelly Hirina: "Emio's approach always takes a huge amount of getting used to for dancers. As a dancer, you have to figure out for yourself how to approach the work, find your own way through the material. Ballet people are used to being in control via technique, being above the material. That doesn't work with Emio and Pieter."

Extremalism, Ballet National de Marseille, ICKamsterdam © Alwin Poiana
Extremalism, Ballet National de Marseille, ICKamsterdam © Alwin Poiana

Smiling confirms Pieter Scholten That it is indeed relaxed, relatively then. "It's also new for us. With the big group from here, we have had to work from the outside in, from the form, which is weird for us. The work has to be written out, as it were, which we never did. It always remains a form of improvisation, no matter how many times something is performed. The six ICKers have that background, of course, but they have only just arrived. They don't yet know the current choreography, the exact phrases. In Extremalism the two ways of working, from the inside out or from the outside in, come together."

Composition and editing coincide

Greco and Scholten's performances do not follow the old pattern of a dance production, where a choreography set to set music is created in a studio and then provided with lights and scenery at the last moment, in the transition to the theatre. Composition and editing coincide. Everyone needs time to figure out what can and cannot be done, fit and wring, aesthetically or technically, and whether the final choice should then be for the wringing or the fitting. Greco and Scholten decide last, but often revise their decisions. The work is never finished.

On the choice of composer Valgeir Sigurdsson, he says Scholten: "It is important that Sigurdsson combines electronic and acoustic music, has a feel for pop music and is familiar with the workings of a dance performance. He previously wrote and played live the soundtrack of Architecture of Loss for Stephen Petronio." At dinner in the evening, Sigurdsson remarked how much he enjoyed Greco and Scholten taking the time to look at the relationship between music and the other elements together. With Petronio, his composition was finished before he could start working in the theatre. Then there is a busy discussion at the table about what exactly the musical and theatrical contribution of Jodie Landau will be the young American singer, who will perform a 'song' to be composed by Sigurdsson during Extremalism.

Extremalism Ballet National de Marseille ICKamsterdam © Alwin Poiana
Extremalism, Ballet National de Marseille, ICKamsterdam © Alwin Poiana

Usury and Zen

Repetition, rewriting and self-quotation are typical of Greco and Scholten's working methods. Dance material and themes weed their way through their oeuvre. Besides the more personal proliferation that speaks from the work: the high stakes, the extreme demands Greco and Scholten place on themselves and their collaborators, and the constant pressure that this puts on all collaborators, there is also a broad societal proliferation that appears in Extremalism emerges.

Asked about the role of resistance within such a large group, which always focuses on common material and moves in a common direction, says Scholten: "We have not yet decided whether we will actually work with solos and duets, as in Corps du Ballet because of its ballet tradition. Perhaps the group as a whole will be the sole protagonist of Extremalism. The large group mirrors society. Resistance as described by Camus in L'Homme Révolté has become very complicated. Everyone wants everything: conscious living, yoga, healthy eating, not polluting, but having your smartphone and laptop at hand all day and a fast flight connection. It is an untenable split, a rat race, where many people are left out. It is also a trade-off that Emio and I have to make personally: can we carry such an institution, assume the position of power and at the same time stay true to our artistic commitment? Ultimately, supervisory boards want to see attendance figures and balanced budgets. Whether you have pushed boundaries artistically and socially is of secondary importance. A new kind of dehumanisation is taking place. There is a huge proliferation of attention and feeling. I think the resistance now is to admit that you don't know, that it is important to give room to doubt and fatigue."

Chain Reaction by Henk Stallinga in rehearsal
Chain Reaction by Henk Stallinga in rehearsal

During rehearsals, several scenes stand out where a single dancer breaks away from the group, sometimes facing another dancer, without much else happening. A certain idleness or zen seems to manifest itself amid the bustle, rather than drama and conflict.

The work Chain Reaction by Henk Stallinga nicely mirrors the principle of the large contiguous, but always disintegrating into endless parts, group. Simply constructed from loops of light, the parts move in relation to each other as in a chain. The individual links sometimes look tight, but in their mutual movement, they also get messy. It ensures that the huge structure does not function as a theatre sculpture cast in concrete, but becomes a fragile appearance that recalls a very organic ordering principle. It seems key to all aspects of Extremalism.


Extremalism, world premiere Holland Festival, 12 June Theater Carré, also to be seen on 13 June, 20:30.

On 12 June, there will be a preliminary discussion moderated by Ariejan Korteweg and including Johan Reyniers and Peggy Olislaegers on the present, past and future of dance, seen from the perspective of Greco and Scholten's twenty-year careers. Starts at 19:00.

After Amsterdam, Extremalism can still be seen in Montpellier and Naples in June. For tour, see website ICKamsterdam and Ballet National de Marseille






Fransien van der Putt

Fransien van der Putt is a dramaturge and critic. She works with Lana Coporda, Vera Sofia Mota, Roberto de Jonge, João Dinis Pinho & Julia Barrios de la Mora and Branka Zgonjanin, among others. She writes about dance and theatre for Cultural Press Agency, Theatererkrant and Dansmagazine. Between 1989 and 2001, she mixed text as sound at Radio 100. Between 2011 and 2015, she developed a minor for the BA Dance, Artez, Arnhem - on artistic processes and own research in dance. Within her work, she pays special attention to the significance of archives, notation, discourse and theatre history in relation to dance in the Netherlands. Together with Vera Sofia Mota, she researches the work of video, installation and peformance artist Nan Hoover on behalf of Author posts

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