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Arco Renz / Kobalt Works

On his artistic journey choreographer Arco Renz likes to sail against the current, between disciplines and cultures. As a child he followed dance training in Bremen, yet went on to study theatre in Paris after completing his secondary education, to make the transition once more to dance, training at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels. He was among the first generation of graduates in 1998. In his choreographic work he concentrates on a 'third space' between Eastern and Western forms of movement and energy. His interest in the East was triggered during his studies in Paris when he saw Japanese Noh theatre and Chinese opera and became acquainted with martial practices such as Qigong and Tai Chi. During his first journey through Asia in 1994, he became fascinated with the energy of Indian Kathakali dance theatre – it could enthral him for hours. It triggered his search into how to generate energy and communicate with it on stage.

On his artistic journey choreographer Arco Renz likes to sail against the current, between disciplines and cultures.

Arco Renz's performances are very physically demanding: also in this sense he explores he also uses them to explore boundaries and resistance. He often derives inspiration from coincidental encounters. In 1997, he made some crucial contacts when touring in Asia as a performer and assistant to theatre maker Robert Wilson. Over the years, he has built up a wide network that includes major theatres throughout Asia, and worked with performers from places such as India, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Java. In 2012, the Fleming Alexis Destoop filmed his iconic solo Heroine (2005) for the Taiwanese dancer Wen-Chi Su.

In the creative processes he assumes the role of catalyst and guide rather than choreographer, and prefers to start without any pre-established principles, with the individual freedom of the performer.

In his contacts between East and West Renz consciously avoids the pitfalls of exoticism or post-colonial stereotypes. He does this by employing a number of targeted choreographic and organisational strategies. In the creative processes he assumes the role of catalyst and guide rather than choreographer, and prefers to start without any pre-established principles, with the individual freedom of the performer. A shared space is created as a result, based on fundamental principles such as time, breath, gravity, spirals and inner strength. It is striking how light, projections, costumes and the set act as equal players in his performances. Arco Renz talks about 'abstract dramaturgy': from the individual physicality, perception and the affect of each performer he seeks fields of tension between individuals and scenic parameters (light and sound etc.) in order to facilitate a shared transformation.

Moreover, Arco Renz is an initiator of forms of cooperation such as Monsoon, a platform that regularly brings together artists from various disciplines from the East and West in Flanders/Brussels or in Asia. An edition will be held in Antwerp in 2017.

Sometimes, Arco Renz seeks a relationship with dance history, whether it is Eastern or Western. In 2011, the choreographer worked in Phnom Penh with Amrita Performing Arts, on the revival of traditional Cambodian dance and music following the devastating period of the Khmer Rouge. Arco Renz introduced the dance students to contemporary dance forms and worked with some of them on his production Crack (2012).

Mirth (2002)

Mirth may not be the most famous of Arco Renz's works, but the video images effectively illustrate a number of his work principles: Eastern and Western dancers side by side in an undefined intermediate space, with a universally recognisable language of movement. Here the light, a valued player, connects a vertical (western) and horizontal (eastern) experience of time and space ranging from lines to a grid. The work of Arco Renz demands considerable physical and mental stamina from the dancers: energy, concentration and tenacity are also the basic principles of Mirth. The source of inspiration for the production was the view of the writer-philosopher Albert Camus on the tragic fate of Sisyphus. The latter outwitted the gods in Hades and was able to escape his death. Their revenge was inevitable: as a punishment he had to push the same boulder up a steep hill over and over again, for eternity. Camus extracts Sisyphus from his perennial role of victim. On the contrary, he assigns him the status of a hero because Sisyphus consciously chose life and derived pleasure from it. Transcending suffering could also be applied to these dancers in their self-chosen, on-the-spot stamping attrition of beauty.

Eastern and Western dancers side by side in an undefined intermediate space, with a universally recognisable language of movement.

EAST (2016)

Since he founded his organisation Kobalt Works in 2000, Arco Renz has created, with some long breaks, three solos for himself in which he physically steers all past experiences through his (changing) body: States (2001), 1001 (2010) and EAST (2016). The latter was commissioned by the Korean Asian Arts Theatre as part of their project related to colonialism and exoticism. Officially EAST is a solo, but once again the fragment reveals the extent to which light, sound and the set are equal players in Arco Renz's universe. The central position in front of the stage occupied by the young Vietnamese composer Phu Pham, whom we see behind the mixing deck, constitutes an absolute added value. In their first collaboration for Hanoi Stardust he stood at the back in the technical space, here his energetic trance represents a stunning counterpart to the dancer - Arco Renz - on stage.

Initially, for EAST Arco Renz wanted to hark back to the historical dance material of Ruth Saint Denis and Ted Shawn, the founders of American modern dance and fervent supporters of orientalism. Renz abandoned this idea when it became clear to him that with their view of the East and their movement material he would not be able to achieve anything more than a superficial representation. Therefore he returned to a speech made by Kung Fu master Lee Kong, with whom he followed a workshop in Hong Kong. He told him that a strike in martial art is in fact a vibration that passes through the entire body in zero seconds. In EAST Renz extended this concept into vibration as a worldview, as a source for transformation, as universal movement. The long sticks with which he works in the first part provide the principle of vibration with a visual boost. At the same time their horizontal nature represents the externalisation of the Eastern worldview.

EAST could also be read as a statement about the relationship between man and technology. Once the techno music and lighting disappear in the second part of the performance, they crystallise on the dancer's body in a techno outfit. A swelling universe of inflatable spheres emerges around him, of which, in the final phase he becomes an integral part.

Author:
Lieve Dierckx

Lieve Dierckx is a theatre scientist. She writes about dance for various media, theatres and choreographers.