What If Your Body Turns into a Sculpture?: Interview with Sasha Waltz on “Körper” at SIFA 2019

Have you ever imagined dancers’ bodies turning into sculptures, as if time stood still? This is the impression of Körper (Body), the signature dance performance of this year’s edition of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Choreographer Sasha Waltz (SW), Artistic Director designate of Berlin State Ballet, is renowned for her multi-disciplinary productions, blurring boundaries between different art forms. She talks to Winnie (WC) about the human body vis-a-vis time, and the cross-over between stationary installations and movement in dance.

Photo: André Rival

WC: There is a “sculptural” quality to Körper’s choreography where naked dancers congregate and disperse, stack up and break apart. The human bodies become raw material to construct art installations.

SW: Yes, Körper is a clinical investigation of the material body, dissecting the human body in body systems like the nervous system, bone or skeleton, and finding specific movement idioms which depict these systems.

The inspiration comes from the Jewish Museum in Berlin where we were drawn to the display cases for the exhibits. So I started to look at the human body as an object in a museum… a sculpture, freezing time for short episodes, so that the bodies almost leave their materiality behind.

WC: Time is a unique highlight of Körper: since its premiere in 2000, it has been performed over 200 times globally.

SW: I developed Körper together with 13 dancers, and most of them have been growing, changing and aging with it for 19 years. This is very special and brings new perspectives to the piece, for example on age and mortality.

One of the dancers told me that I could wake her up at night and she would be able to perform instantly – this is how much it has become part of her.

WC: It’s amazing how the dancers have internalised Körper, although it must not have been easy since the troupe come from varied backgrounds.

SW: I’ve always been interested in breaking up or crossing artistic boundaries, and working at the edge between installation and performance. As a company, Sasha Waltz & Guests have collaborated with over 300 guest artists on 80 projects, including choirs, composers, video artists, instrumental soloists etc. The diverse range of artists bring their own personal histories and artistic backgrounds which enables an energetic exchange that also expands your own horizon.

WC: Speaking of expanding one’s horizons, do you look to other choreographers for inspiration?

SW: As a young adult, my inspiration was the easy Expressionistic modern dance of Mary Wigman. My teacher studied with her and passed that fascination on to me. Another important inspiration was the Judson Church movement and its founder Trisha Brown.

WC: I do see traces of Expressionism in you – uninhibited and provocative, in pursuit of an anti-Classical kind of “naked” dance. While Wigman said no to pointed shoes, Isadora Duncan even abandoned both shoes and clothes! It’s no coincidence that Körper’s dancers are mostly naked; it intends to stimulate the audience to ask questions about their own bodies – and how they can be “naked” with themselves, right?

SW: (While watching Körper), the public should ask themselves: Who am I? How do I feel today, in this moment, inside my body? How do I get in touch with my inner self? What are the problems I have and how can I accept them, to make peace with my body?

Photo: Bernd Uhlig

These are some uncomfortable questions as we look inward at ourselves, to scrutinise, to overturn and disrupt ourselves. In fact, this is essentially what contemporary dance does. As Waltz puts it, “It can touch you very deeply, speak to your subconscious and even to your soul.”

Körper by Sasha Waltz & Hans Peter Kuhn runs 31 May – 01 Jun, 8pm, at Esplanade Theatre. Tickets at $40, $60, $80, $100.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This post is sponsored by Arts House Limited.

About the author(s)

Winnie Chen Dixon is a corporate marketer by day, and multi-disciplinary artist by night. A trained keyboard player, she enjoys a variety of art forms: drama, dance, drawing and photography. Such versatility cultivated her passion for integrated arts: Winnie believes in the integration between art forms because they are inherently connected, and serve the same mission of educating and inspiring people. Having studied arts criticism in Hong Kong and arts management in Italy, she now specialises in dance reviews. Her works are published in the International Association of Theatre Critics, Hong Kong Dance Journal and various mainstream media.

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