The New European Dance

Article excerpt

The European dance scene still celebrates the urge to invent and experiment. What's new is the transformation of the role of the choreographer, in a hierarchy where the dancer is now ascending.

Revolution is expected in the world of art, and in dance, the latest trend may very well be antidance. But, then again, the art of movement once again changes its path and invents new names and style-describing labels. Change is a healthy sign, and organizers, critics, and theater and festival directors welcome new artists. The European audience is less influential than American ones because dance depends less on box office acclaim. In European countries like France, Belgium, Austria, and Germany, the political and economic support for dance gives certain companies permanent residency at fully funded theaters, where they can develop a signature style and deliver new performances on a regular basis.

Some troupes are repertoire companies that use different choreographers, but most are headed by their own choreographers, whose names are their faith. Companies and production units such as Damaged Goods, Ultima Vez, O Rumo do Fumo, and the Frankfurt Ballet are synonymous with their respective choreographers: Meg Stuart, Wim Vandekeybus, Vera Mantero, and William Forsythe. These European-based groups represent quality and provide frequent programming in theaters and festivals throughout the world. But lately, choreographers tend to give more credit to their dancers for individual input and collaboration in the creative process. On tour, pieces may evolve but often without the presence of the once-so-mighty choreographer instructing the dancers.

Choreographer as 'Deejay'

"Today the choreographer is more like a deejay," states Damaged Goods dancer Heine R[inverted question mark]sdal Avdal, who has worked with Brussels-based choreographer Stuart for four years. He explains that the choreographer is someone who gathers movement material from the dancers and edits the result. With the choreographer working as a consultant for a particular group of bodies and brains, more responsibility is left to dancers to make their mark on a performance. This increased belief in the dancer as a creative artist--not just a performing artist--is implicit in the formative structure of many of the most successful companies in Europe today. Indeed, these companies have been formed by dancers who left their masters because they wanted recognition.

For example, Vandekeybus formed his group Ultima Vez in the mid-1980s after years with fellow Flemish artiste terrible Jan Fabre. (Fabre sees himself as a servant of beauty, but many have left him to form their own constellations. The multidisciplinary Fabre, once known for grand- scale productions of Gesamtkunstwerk-like dimensions, now concentrates on gallery exhibitions and outdoors installations of his metamorphic sculptures of insect graves and bacon columns. He also does solo choreography. In fact, he recently choreographed a solo for Vandekeybus, who, with several Bessie Awards from New York and extensive touring in the United States, has attracted the attention of more Americans than Fabre himself has.)

The mixing of film, an energetic saxophone-based score, and rapid dance-evoking inspiration from the martial arts is the trademark of Vandekeybus. His group Ultima Vez has influenced a whole generation of performers throughout Europe. The many falls and otherwise demanding physicality in his performances have led to constant changes in staff, but Vandekeybus always searches for collaboration and cocreation with his dancers.

Another successful Fabre "walkout" is Italian Emio Greco, who gained critical acclaim for his innovative late 1990s trilogy Bianco, Rosso, and Extra Dry. In these he removes himself from rational body language to bend and shake his limbs like a shivering Pentecostalist. Today, Amsterdam-based Greco stands out in the otherwise modest ambition of Italian contemporary dance. …