Investing in a
new dance generation
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Credits: Joshua
Culture Program of the European Comission

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Benjamin Vandewalle studied at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp and graduated at P.A.R.T.S. in 2006. During his education, he created several works such as Théâtre de la Guillotine and We Go, a duet with Vincenzo Carta. In 2007 the duo collaborated again on Inbetween. For the performances Birdwatching (2009) and One/Zero he worked closely with visual artist Erki De Vries. In 2012 Benjamin Vandewalle creates Birdwatching 4x4, a location version of the original Birdwatching.

Benjamin Vandewalle also performed in Studium (2010) and Still Animals (2012) by Tuur Marinus / Busy Rocks. He is guest teacher at the KASK in Ghent and also created Point of View (2011), a guest choreography for Passerelle. Benjamin Vandewalle is active in South-Africa and Mozambique, where he collaborated with the dance programme Nykaza, and initiated the project Comfusao


RITA NATALIO: Benjamin, you are about to premiere a new work called “Point of View” and you have gained an international recognition with your previous works. Can you tells us more about your work. Can you start form from the experience of “Birdwatching” and “Birdwatching 4x4” that you just presented in SPRING festival last May?

BENJAMIN VANDEWALLE: The main focus of my work, generally specking, is based on perception and how we perceive the world. The way we perceive the world affects the way we act in the world and the way we think about the world. I am interested in the practice of meditation, in VIPASANA. Vipasana is all about observing yourself, your thoughts, physical sensations and your emotions and how they connect with each other. Focusing on the breath, we can focus in all the micro movements inside your body.  This intense practice can lead you to get in touch with the impermanent nature of your thoughts, to get in touch with the fact that there is no solid self or fixed self, but a cluster of micro events. For instance, how we perceive reality is like a film. A film cut up in images and thoughts that create an illusion of a whole. The whole principle of Vipasana is about that. Through practical experience, you gain knowledge. It is not about reading about it, it’s about physical experience.
In the same reasoning, I try to create for an audience a physical experience were they can for instance experience the concept of relativity, in this case, the relativity of movement. In “Birdwatching”, for instance, your position in space and how you move in space, completely determines how you perceive movements. So the perception of movement is depending on your position in space.

RITA: This makes me think about the concept of @PARALAXE@ where, due the movement of an observer, there is displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object

BENJAMIN: In the piece I am doing now, the audience is sitting still and we’re actually “taking out they eye balls” by using a camera and filming the dancers. Once again, the illusion is created through the movement of the dancers, movement is transformed and the dancers seem to be weightless. 
As for “Birdwatching” there is a big physical experience for the audience. For instance, in the end of the piece the audience is turned around. The dancer is standing still but the walls and the audience are moving around. What they can see in the dancer’s movement is the movement that they are physically going through.

RITA: I would ask you an ambiguous question. In fact, as I got in touch with your work, I perceived a slight, almost invisible line between two different scenarios. One is connected with Vipasana practice and it is about exploring perception, I mean, a certain “mutability” of perception. The second is about a physical drive to create “illusions”, the power of faking and creating holographic sensations. In fact, one can see your work both as a research on awareness or about creating illusions. What do your think about that?

BENJAMIN: Well, when you mention the word “illusion”, I prefer to think that I am creating reality, because an illusion is “equally real” to the reality we live in. The reality that we live in can be also called an “illusion”, a construct of certain elements in a certain space in a certain time. The soon as you shift it, you would be creating an illusion, but for my point of view it is equally “true”. So it’s about creating this specific awareness.

RITA: And do you see a relationship between your work and cinema?

BENJAMIN: It’s funny, because I never had the intention to go into cinematic installations but as soon as I started choreographing not only the dance but also the way the audience looks at the dance, I immediately felt into cinema.
In fact, you immediately start, like in the history of film, to create “devices” that function like cameras. Cinema is mainly about choreographing the way people look at things, it creates stories and meanings out of how the watcher is moving in relation with the character. So, ending up there – in cinema - is a natural development of my work. Actually I did already a piece in the past called “One/Zero” where the lights are always going on and off, and when they were ON you would see the dancer still, and only when they were OFF, the dancer would move. The final result was something like a very slow stop motion film.But normally everything is very analog, the more “low tech” the better. Only in my new piece, maybe I am using more hi-tech technologies. I count with the language of the audience that can create free associations with the world of film (that is already internalized) . Features like zooming and panning are in the bodies of spectators. 


RITA: One could say there is an attempt to create a “sensorial cinema”!?

BENJAMIN: Yes maybe. I remember that once a critic wrote that my pieces are 10 times better that any 3D film! (laughes)


RITA: I will maybe get more “metaphorical” now, but you don’t have to agree with me. Let’s take “Birdwatching” as an example. For me, this piece touches a constant redefinition of borders: borders between interior and exterior, movement and stillness, dance and architecture, dance and cinema, etc. We perceive this “slide” between borders as the core of the work.  We are, as spectators, inside this sliding. In fact, we get “inside” a mechanism of sliding, and there is nothing “outside” of it. My metaphor would then be about “contemporary society”. Contemporary society is also a mechanism without “an outside”, constantly redefining borders.  Isn’t Facebook, for instance, precisely acting like this?


BENJAMIN: Well, the connection that I can do with your proposal is the piece that I am doing right now. In “Point of View”, my new installation performance, a camera is attached to a stick and the stick is attached to a dancer. And so, when the dancer moves and the camera turn around, it seems like the camera is jumping, while the dancer is actually standing still.
What I find interesting is that the movement, the choreography, is a result of a collaboration between the performer and the watcher.  In “Birdwatching”, for instance, there is this similar coincidence between the dancer, the audience and the walls.  And the “meaning” – as in your metaphor about “contemporary society” – is in between more that one element.
Olufar Eliasson has a very nice quote where he says that “the potential or the quality of a system is seated in its capacity to present itself as a construct or as a model, rather then as a truth“. I think it is a very powerful idea.