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Ugo Dehaes / kwaad bloed

Dancer and choreographer Ugo Dehaes performed his first dance steps at the age of eighteen. After a year full of workshops he began his studies at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's dance school P.A.R.T.S. He worked for three years as a dancer with the choreographer Meg Stuart before developing his own productions.

Ugo Dehaes' first productions are characterised by the pursuit of 'transforming the human body into a thing'. In his debut production lijfstof (2000) the two dancers found themselves in a box that was too small, which meant that their faces were not visible and their bodies appeared to be nothing more than hunks of flesh crammed into an inadequately sized container. Its successor ROEST (2002) confronted two dancers' bodies with a large machine that manipulated them.

Ugo Dehaes has an extraordinary fascination for duets. He has already created different choreographic pieces with two dancers, of which couple-like (2006) is probably the most well-known. This duet, danced by Ugo Dehaes and Keren Levi, toured Europe for several years and represents the energy and intimacy between a man and a woman. The following video clip clearly demonstrates how they attract and repel each other, a traditional theme in contemporary dance. A few years later (2010), this duet was the subject of a remake, specially aimed at a young audience. The next clip shows a compilation of both performances.

What if we let four pairs of dancers dance the searing passion of a relationship? This was the starting point for Grafted (2012), in which four duos danced the same movement material, but each in their own way. They embody Tolstoy's famous opening line in Anna Karenina: 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' Since then, one of the duets from Grafted has also toured on request as a location dance performance. Along with his partner, actress Guylène Olivares, Dehaes even created a dance duet that is performed in living rooms. This performance is not only called Intimacy (2013) because the spectators sit so close to the performers, but also because they are witnesses of the relational perils that are danced here. After 'the body as a thing' from his early career, the emotions between 'real' people became the main theme in Ugo Dehaes' later work.

After 'the body as a thing' from his early career, the emotions between 'real' people became the main theme in Ugo Dehaes' later work.

Dehaes has received the most renown for his twin productions WOMEN (2010) and GIRLS (2013). The first production features eights dancers aged between thirty and sixty. Dehaes deliberately chose this age category because he wanted to demonstrate that slightly older women are still excellent dancers. As a result of their (life) experience they evoke a completely different emotion and meaning among the audience, which increases the recognisability. Therefore dancers do not have to be young and athletic per se, as stipulated by the unfortunately dominant perception. At the production house fABULEUS Dehaes created the prequel GIRLS some years later, in which the same - madly difficult - movement material was danced by young girls aged between ten and fourteen. Although they perform the dance sequences faultlessly, the girls sometimes feel too young for certain movements. In several of the frivolous seduction scenes we seem to glimpse a harbinger of the women they will later become. As revealed by the following comparison on video, Dehaes opted for minimal scenography in both productions: no decor, no music and only the breathing of the dancers as a structural choreographic element. The colourful costumes from GIRLS contrast sharply with the black costumes worn by the dancers in WOMEN, as a result of which the girls retain a naivety and playfulness despite their serious and abstract dance language.

Productions by Ugo Dehaes and his company kwaad bloed have always adopted a single core idea as a starting point, which is subsequently elaborated in a radical but at the same time, accessible manner. For DMNT (2015) this was the personal story of a family member that declined as a result of dementia. This dance production was an attempt to translate the 'forgetting' into movements. Thus a universal and familiar theme, but reshaped in an abstract form.

Dehaes also developed workshops around almost all his productions, for amateurs and professional dancers. He is involved in even more participative projects: he regularly freed up time during a year to dance in the studio with Shan, a mentally disabled girl; he coordinated the Redance project in Zinnema, in which he got amateur dancers to recreate a scene from the work of professional choreographers, and produced a choreographic piece for youths from Flagdancegroup Symbolica.

Productions by Ugo Dehaes and his company kwaad bloed have always adopted a single core idea as a starting point, which is subsequently elaborated in a radical but at the same time, accessible manner.

During the 2015-2016 season he organised Off the Wall, a series of workshops and a boot camp in which young hip-hop dancers were confronted with contemporary dancers, out of a genuine interest to expand the dance medium and in the pursuit of cross-pollination between the two genres. This also gave rise to the dance production RATS at fABULEUS, in which eight hip-hoppers from Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia engage in a dialogue on stage with a single contemporary dancer. The following compilation clip offers a brief glimpse of how the Off the Wall workshops went.

Here's a tip: you can watch complete performances of various productions on Ugo Dehaes’ Vimeo channel.

Author:
Filip Tielens

Filip Tielens works as an artistic collaborator at Destelheide and as a theatre journalist for different media such as Klara, Theaterkrant and Cutting Edge. With his art critic collective De Zendelingen he has developed various projects in which many different opinions are unlocked using a multimedia approach.