A man and a woman take the stage. Beyond the physical space that separates them, exists the gap of a generation. How do these two individuals relate to each other? What transpires from their connection? Does their performance style comment on two different moments in dance history? And as viewers, what do we project on their relationship? Orthopädie or not, performed this coming Saturday at ODC by Swiss artists Meret Schlegel and Kilian Haselbeck, raises some of these issues. Schlegel, Haselbeck and I sat together to talk about their collaboration as choreographers and performers.
Marie Tollon: How did you two meet?
Meret Schlegel: I was working at the Tanzhaus in Zurich when I saw Kilian in a piece by Philippe Saire, and noticed his very strong presence. Shortly after, I invited him to do a residency. A year later, my successor at Tanzhaus came up with the idea that the dancers who were part of the beginning of the contemporary scene in Zurich should be visible again. She wanted to showcase younger and older artists in the same program, with each presenting 10 minutes of work. I thought that if this project is about generation, I would want to collaborate and create new work with somebody younger and different than me. I asked Kilian if he was interested. We talked about the piece and started working on it. We first performed a short piece in January 2012. We continued to work together and premiered its longer version [the one to be shown at ODC] in March 2013.
MT: As two different generations come together on stage, this piece highlights differences in style, language and movement quality. What did you each learn in this conversation?
MS: I’m not as strong and as fast [as Kilian], and dancing with him led me to ask the question: “Where is my strength?” I realized that power and strength can come through presence, not just through muscle strength.
Kilian Hazelbeck: This piece encouraged me to slow down, to take my time, and also to realize and be confronted with what will happen when I get older. When older, you need much more time to learn new material, your eyes need more time to adjust to light changes, etc.
MT: What were the important questions that this piece raised for you?
MS: The main question was “How close can you get when you meet someone, and what comes out of it?” We were always clear that the piece was not about defining the relationship between us, that we leave this open for the viewers to define it themselves. It isn’t a piece about the social/sexual parameters which are so strongly embedded in our society. It is about the meeting of two dancer personalities with different movement qualities.
MT: How was the choreographic material generated?
MS: For me, this piece was about taking risks and being curious. “What happens with me when I get challenged by him, but stay present?” So it wasn’t about saying to myself that I’m too old and I can’t do this [particular scene]. I was preoccupied with the change of my skin, which I can’t do anything about.
KH: We had no music for most of the creative process. It only came in the last week. I researched music and a song in the soundtrack of Tarantino’s Django Unchained caught my attention. Musician Matthias Frommelt sampled the song and we used it at some point in the piece.
MT: What was the role of dramaturge Nicole Gabriele Schöpfer?
MS: She helped us put the different pieces together, always pointing back to our first ideas. It was important to have an outside eye who helped us transition our first short piece into a full piece.
MT: What artists have influenced you?
KH: Michael Jackson! I saw him perform and dance when I was 10 years old and I wanted to do the same!
MS: I loved watching ballet but it felt like it had nothing to do with me. My approach to dance was through visual arts and music. I was dancing in the museums as a kid, because of their big open space. I came to San Francisco in the seventies and was highly influenced by the spirit of collaboration and performance art.
MT: This piece is also about two different generations of dancers. What do you feel has changed between the time you Meret, started to dance and now?
MS: I feel that dance has opened up. Those dance forms considered marginal, such as street dance, are now influencing contemporary choreographers. No longer are you just a ballet dancer or just a modern dancer. You have to be all of it.
KH: …and a performer, and an actor, and a musician and a thinker too!