Raimund Hoghe speaks with White Bird’s Walter Jaffe

For TBA:09, PICA asked our friends in the arts community to sit down with this year’s festival artists and talk about their work. Walter Jaffe, Co-Founder of White Bird Dance, had the chance to ask Raimund Hoghe about his piece, Bolero Variations, and his approach to dance.
Raimund Hoghe Bolero Variations
Walter Jaffe: I have seen several versions of Ravel’s Bolero performed by different dance companies (Bejart and Ballet Biarritz, for example), as well as by the ice skaters Torvill and Dean’s famous version, which won them the gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. You have said that it was Torvill and Dean who inspired you to create Bolero Variations in 2007.
Why Torvill and Dean? Were you familiar with other dance versions of Ravel’s “Bolero?” What was it about Torvill and Dean’s version that led you to create your work?
Raimund Hoghe: Since my childhood I like very much to watch ice skating on TV. And when I started to work on Boléro Variations I remembered the legendary “Boléro” version from Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and I took this as one of the starting points of the piece. In the 80’s, Trovill/Dean, made a kind of revolution for the dance on ice and if you watch the video today you have to say it’s still a very strong performance. And they are beautiful dancers – as well as the Russian ice skater Evgeni Plushenko. He did also a wonderful “Boléro” version on ice and I adore him. For me he is one of the greatest dancers, and when we did our rehearsals I showed the dancers the two very different “Boléro” interpretations on ice – and they liked it a lot. Of course we all knew the “Boléro” from Béjart and we watched several times his version with the phantastic Russian dancer Maya Plisetzkaya. I have shown this materials to the dancers as an inspiration. I’m never interested in copies but I think it’s important to remember quality and a special level. We should to be aware of some great pieces of art from the past.
WJ: I’m fascinated with your creative process. I know that you were a writer for the German weekly “Die Zeit” and served as a dramaturge for Pina Bausch from 1980-1990. Since 1989 you have created your own theater/dance pieces. You clearly inhabit worlds beyond strictly dance–literary and theatrical worlds as well.
What were the steps in creating Bolero Variations? Did you envision it originally as a large work or did it develop over time?
RH: From the begin it was clear that it would be a group piece. With three of the dancers I’ve worked already before and I wanted to continue the collaboration with them – Ornella, Lorenzo and Emmanuel. But it was also important to integrate new dancers in the group and it’s wonderful for me to see that they get along together very well.
WJ: How did you work with your performers, 5 men plus 1 woman (including yourself)?
RH: In a way it’s very simple: I play some music and I watch the dancers. The important point is that they can connect them self with the music – and if they can’t I have to find another music.
WJ: Were you the choreographer, creating the “steps” for your company or was it more of a collaborative process with your artists? Or do you see yourself as a director and conceptualist, bringing together different themes and performance styles into a single work?
RH: Only very few times I make proposals for a movement. I’m interested in the different movements of each dancer and how they react on a piece of music. As Maria Callas said: “If you really listen to the music – the music will tell you how to move”. This is also my experience and my work is to create an atmosphere in which the dancers can listen to the music and to look inside. There is no pressure and no judgement in the first step- I just watch the dancers and film every rehearsal. Later I watch the material again and select some movements.
WJ: How did you select the music, which encompasses different versions of Ravel’s Bolero as well as other bolero music, classical and popular?
RH: I’m very interested in different versions of a piece of music – for example Ravel’s “Boléro”. In the performance we have a piano version, a version on traditional Japanese instruments, another from Benny Goodman and at the end also a version with a classical orchestra. I discovered all the different version during the rehearsals – and I found much more than I can play in the performance. This research is always very exciting for me and I love to discover many things during this process – for example that you can find boléros also in “Swan Lake” and in Tchaikovsky’s work. And not to forget the South American boléros – one is sung by Doris Day “Be mine tonight” (“Noche de Ronda”).
WJ: Gestures play a central role in Bolero Variations, especially hand and arm movements. In fact, the work really calls attention to the small movements of the human body, not just the legs and feet, but the entire body. Do you agree? Can you discuss the role and significance of human gesture in your work?
RH: When I started to create the first solo for myself, Meinwärts (1994), I was watching many videos from singers and how they move – for example Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, and I was very impressed how they moved there arms and hands. Years later I also looked to Maria Callas, Peggy Lee, Judy Garland and other great singers and I discovered that the great singers are also great dancers because they are very well connected with the music and aware of their movements. And I mentioned this before: the dancer has to be connected with the music – if he is not connected it’s only artificial and I’m not interested in this. I’m fascinated when I feel that a little movement can tell a big story. If I could it express with words I would do it but I can’t – and therefore I do my work with dancers. Otherwise I still would work as a writer.
WJ: Each of your six performers–and I call them performers because I see them as actors as well as dancers–has a unique appearance and a unique style of movement. I think one of the strengths of Bolero Variations is how the personalities of these six performers shine through, despite the fact they don’t say a word–and much of the time, they move extremely slowly. Can you talk a little about how you choose your company of performers? What are the qualities you look for?
RH: All the dancers I work with are very strong personalities with a different background, different nationality, different age, different education, different religion, different sexual orientation and for me it’s important that we accept the difference. I like the difference between the dancers and that you can’t compare them. I hate competition on stage and I think it’s important that we can communicate – with all our differences.
How I find the dancers? How do you find a love or a friend? I meet a person and I’m interested in the person. I don’t make Speed dating and I don’t make auditions – I trust that I will meet the people which I should meet in my life. And I’m very thankful that I can meet beautiful people and work with them – and I
want to show the beauty of them with the audience.
WJ: Some will call Bolero Variations minimalist. I call it expressive and focused. I found the experience of watching the piece for two hours mesmerizing. I honestly did not want to leave after it ended. Are there any words of advice you’d like to share to your prospective audience on how to approach Bolero Variations?
RH: I don’t ask for anything – I just want that people are open and not afraid of their own feelings.
WJ: I want to conclude by noting your long collaboration with Pina Bausch. Although we were expecting Merce Cunningham’s passing, we in the dance world were truly stunned by the sudden passing of Pina Bausch. Both were giants in the world of contemporary dance. You worked with Pina for 10 years as her dramaturge, and you have also indicated in a recent interview that your work is actually quite different from Pina’s. Could you tell us briefly how the years working with Pina Bausch contributed to the development of your own work? What are some similarities as well as differences?
RH: I was working with Pina in the 80’s and I feel very much connected with this period and her works in the late 70’s – without the big video projections. I was very impressed how she could express with her dancers human feelings, fear and love, desire and violence, life and death. Another important experience was her behaviour during the rehearsals. When she asked the dancers her questions she never judged immediately – first she accepted every answer, wrote the answer on a paper and didn’t show what she liked and what not. She gave everyone the feeling to be accepted with his answer – and with this feeling the dancers lost their fear to express something from their life.

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