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A Movement Ritual at Beşiktaş Square

 As part of the public space performance series of the 5th edition of iDANS, two former dancers of Wim Vandekebus’ company Thomas Staeyert and Raul Maia present The Ballet of Sam Hogue and Augustus Benjamin. Claiming Beşiktaş Barbaros Square as their rehearsal space, they invite the public to share the making of their unique movement vocabulary for two consecutive days in a total of six sessions. The artists responded to Gurur Ertem’s questions about their specific movement language which enables bodies to communicate without the use of symbolism.

G.E: In your artistic statement, we read that The Ballet of Sam Hogue and Augustus Benjamin is an ongoing artistic process based on the development of a “non-representational kinetic movement system”. What exactly do you mean by this phrase?

Thomas and Raul: When we speak about “a non-representational kinetic movement system” we refer to a performative ritual that is based on the exchange of movements between performers in a systematic way. What makes it a system is the constant exchange of kinetic information (and to a certain extent) dependency on the other performer. Almost every move, or at least certain characteristics of each movement are in direct relation to the movements of the other performer. Because this process of perceiving and reacting happens in real time and remains a stable constant throughout the performance it becomes a systematic reality.  Kinetic means very simply, that what we are processing and reacting to is movement. It’s our substance of exchange. Non-representational relates to our focus while performing: it means that we are not at all focused on how a certain movement might be read from the outside. We are also not representing any kind of pre-agreed meaning or idea. We are focusing on sensing and reacting within the universe of the unspoken, instead of re-presenting or re-enacting something we would be able to name in our minds. We like to think that we are creating the possibility and the audience is creating the meaning. This kind of teamwork is what binds us and the audience.

How can it be envisioned as both a as a staged performance (in the traditional black box) and as a site-specific performance? Is it easy to cover that distance granted that the parameters of attention and theatricality are entirely different in these two separate contexts?

Our work can be envisioned both for the black box as well as for stage precisely because the system itself does not contain meaning and is not tied to any specific format of presentation or context. Meaning comes from the systems exposure to the people and their reaction in the context in which the performance occurs. So we like to think that the system functions as a container and a facilitator of meaning, it is like a principle with many different applications instead of a pre-agreed representation of an idea and therefore can be envisioned for multiple contexts and output mediums.

 It is true that the parameters of attention are completely different and that changes a lot of how people will perceive the work. But that is for us a very exciting thing. The theater is somehow a hermetic space and allows us to redefine reality from scratch because there is a common agreement between the artists and the audience that allows us to do so. But the street, the “real world” allows us to be in a direct artistic interaction without any previous agreement with our audience, that means that we dive into an unknown space of perception and interaction that will be in direct dependency with chance and uncontrollable elements (both for us as well as for the audience). To be exposed to what is not controllable is present in our work on many other levels so these elements of unpredictability are very welcome in the work. On another level, people who go to contemporary dance festivals or venues are in their big majority people who are themselves connected to contemporary dance in one way or another. So we are simply very happy to imagine that a certain amount of the people who will cross our performances in public spaces will have a chance to get in contact, experience and maybe even question that there are different ways of processing reality, even if they don’t understand it or look at the whole duration of the performance, as most of us probably didn’t the first times we went to the theater with our parents. For many of us the meeting with this unknown world had important consequences in our lives, we would be very happy to be part of that process for others on whatever scale it happens.

To what extent are you going to be integrating the very particular crossroad that is Beşiktaş Barbaros Square into your performance?

The particularities of our intervention on the square will mostly be decided spontaneously on location and are related with aspects such as space limitation, visibility, a certain poetic dimension of a location and physical characteristics of certain locations that help us structure our interventions in space and time. So we do not really work so far with the history of the place or any other referential aspects of places. Those aspects are simply not the focus of our work so far because we don’t work from the point of view of interpretation, or reflection of referential knowledge.

Are you going to be conducting some research before you claim it as your “rehearsal space” for the development of your movement vocabulary? 

The research we conduct is simply to “hang out” in the square and let ourselves be inspired by what we see. From that direct sensorial contact we start scoring our interventions, further developing different aspects of what we have been working on in the past as well as new dimensions of the work, which the place itself seems to suggest to us. We also took our precautions to be informed on what might offend people so that we don’t confront peoples believes, traditions or political views as our work is not aiming to directly provoke any of these.

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