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Koen De Preter

Koen De Preter is a choreographer and a performer. He studied at Fontys Dance Academy in Tilburg (the Netherlands) and has produced numerous creations in association with different performers and companies, often in the form of a duet. At the beginning of his career, he produced a number of creations under the auspices of fABULEUS (Leuven). As a performer he has worked for various international companies and choreographers, including Raimund Hoghe, Sasha Waltz & Guests, Fanny & Alexander and Keren Levi.

One of De Preter's latest productions, To Belong (2016), was a creation in association with Theater Stap, about the spirit of unity, in which De Preter worked with performers with a disability for the first time. In 2015, he initiated a major location project during the Zomer van Antwerpen summer festival in which a park was transformed into a place of creativity, dance and music. J O U R N E Y (2013), a duet with the 89-year-old dancer Alphea Pouget earned De Preter international recognition.

The pursuit of technical perfection or virtuosity is not an objective of De Preter's work. It revolves around the search for and display of natural movements that exude an honest beauty.

Dancing is a daily passion for Koen De Preter, as it is for many, but to him dancing also embodies fundamental encounters. Therefore his choreography is always a gathering of personalities. The people with whom he collaborates are not, or not just, virtuous dancers, but people who have a story to tell through their presence, the way they move, their background. It is no coincidence that De Preter calls his work a search for the human dimension. By this he doesn’t mean that man is the measure of everything, but that the human is more interesting than the superhuman. In other words the pursuit of technical perfection or virtuosity is not an objective of De Preter's work. It revolves around the search for and display of natural movements that exude an honest beauty. An interesting, and in fact also logical consequence of this basic principle is the choice of professional as well as non-professional dancers, which means that the emphasis is on the expression and appearance of the dancers, which play on the audience's emotions.

The movements that are performed in Koen De Preter's productions are characterised by simplicity, but they often succeed in moving us because of the theme of the production, the dancers' joy in performing and their interaction. Recognition also plays a major role in the choreography as well as the themes that are adopted. Whether they relate to fame in 15 Seconds of Fame, the desire to belong somewhere in To Belong, or bridging the generation gap in J O U R N E Y, each time Koen De Preter asks us to take a different view of the dancers, of people with different backgrounds, ages, etc. It questions our prejudices about how a contemporary dancer and dance production should look. He forces the spectator to think less in terms of success and failure, and to look for beauty in the small, subtle and the human. It is a challenge for the audience to take a different perspective, but also a challenge for Koen De Preter to encounter different types of dancers with a different background, other knowledge and skills and take a different pace into account, as a dancer and choreographer, without wanting to differentiate between high and low art, between the trained and untrained.

The clips that are described and shown below make it clear that Koen De Preter does not seek out obvious performers for his productions. He opts for dancers and bodies that often do not fit in with a particular concept of beauty. This choice also influences the choreography that arises from it, which is evident in both J O U R N E Y and To Belong. He always challenges his dance partners to move in a different way than that to which they are accustomed and does not force them into a straitjacket; each time he reveals their personality.

In J O U R N E Y Koen De Preter questions the obsession with presenting predominantly very young and taut bodies in dance, also to criticise the obsession with youthfulness in contemporary society. It is a question that other choreographers, such as Ugo Dehaes in Women, also presented and one that continues to intrigue. It also points to the lack of reverence for old age and of appreciation for the wisdom of experience. Here we see De Preter dancing with Alphea Pouget: a young dancer-choreographer alongside an experienced dancer (an octogenarian). The clip consists of images of rehearsals, which demonstrate how the dancers come together. We don't often see a duet between young and old in dance. De Preter bridges the gap and displays a moving fusion, with no generational conflict. Naturally there are physical differences that are also visible, and that is how it should be: De Preter's movements are fluid and impetuous, Pouget appears more vulnerable, but nevertheless powerful too and above all, self-assured.

To Belong is a first collaboration between De Preter and Theater Stap, a company that produces theatre with and by people with a mental disability. The production is about the desire to belong somewhere and how sometimes it is not meant to be. The choreography in To Belong, and especially the free dance that is alternated with serene, simultaneous movements, is reminiscent of art brut, or naive art. It is not a constant in Koen De Preter's work, but is consistent with the way he creates and with his dance language. The dancers are given the freedom to clearly demonstrate their own way of dancing. The improvisation, which is an essential part of the rehearsal process, can also be seen in the end result. De Preter choreographs, but ensures that the dancers are able to retain and reveal their individuality. Moreover music plays a distinct role in this, as well as other productions. The pieces of music follow each other in rapid succession: different genres and rhythms. It charges some scenes and naturally provides recognition, due to the mostly well-known music.   

Eline Van de Voorde

Eline Van de Voorde is a freelance dance and theatre critic and works at the Museum Dr. Guislain in Ghent.