If dance in Brussels is international then Vera Tussing is the prototype of transnational identity. The German choreographer followed classes with an English ballet instructor in Freiburg, left for England at the age of nineteen to follow a course at the London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS), and came to live and work in Belgium immediately afterwards. The mix of Europe is intertwined in her body and her life.
During a student exchange at Pact Zollverein in Essen she met a group of students from P.A.R.T.S.. This awakened her curiosity about dance in Brussels and about working there. "I always had some trouble identifying with the work with which I was confronted via my studies at the LCDS. I suspected that I just had a completely different sensitivity and interest in the physical and creative approach to productions in general," she explains. After her studies (2005), she sought out Benjamin Vandewalle while he was still studying at P.A.R.T.S. and she continues to tour with his piece Birdwatching 4x4 today.
Tussing was introduced to Albert Quesada (another P.A.R.T.S. alumni) and created Trilogy with him in 2007 – a choreography in which they explore musical structures. Listen with the eyes: that's where they wanted to lead the spectator. For the dancers, dancing did not mean ‘to’ the music but ‘in’ the music. The dancer-choreographer worked as a freelancer for several years in Great Britain, Belgium, Spain and Germany. "But to me, Belgium appears to be the place where the work I want to create can grow in a way that I have never experienced anywhere else." Though Tussing does maintain strong ties with the UK and frequently travels back and forth.
With regard to the question of how the senses operate in performances, in Icarus Project (2010) three dancers provide both an auditive and visual experience of movement on stage. In Move Me (2012) Vera works with foley sound, a procedure in which sound effects are created (usually in post-production for films) and a world of corporality is evoked. With YAHNY (2012) she continues this study: how are sounds and images associated in our brain and how do they influence each other in different circumstances? “YANHY was an extremely difficult process. To a certain extent I never moved on from the research phase. But, of the four creations I produced in the past five years, YAHNY is decidedly the piece to which I return most often intellectually."
It's about the pleasure of collaborating, communicating and performing - and it facilitates a closer, more intuitive experience with the audience. The listener determines the route.
Sound Bed (2012) was created at the same time as YAHNY, but in this performance the artists placed the focus on pleasure, for themselves as well as the audience. Sound Bed has a 'listener' ride around on a bed, eyes closed, accompanied by moving speakers – creating a type of physical experience of cinematographic sound editing. "It's about the pleasure of collaborating, communicating and performing - and it facilitates a closer, more intuitive experience with the audience. The listener determines the route. The piece's structure is relatively simple, but the complicity all the greater, deeper and more complex. Sometimes as performers we disappear for eight hours in the same, highly meditative series of actions." The performances of Sound Bed take place outside traditional theatres: in the entrance of Central Saint Martins, in Kaaistudios, in the bar of Beursschouwburg, in Museum M in Leuven, etc.
Vera Tussing’s performances are sensory and conceptual at the same time. "I have no issues with the fact that some questions that form the basis for my work are so simple, such as: Can you feel dance? Can we create a dance piece that can be felt, sensed? Can we create auditory pieces? My body, my instrument of knowledge is the means with which I respond to these questions and engage in dialogue. In my work there is a strong emphasis on the sensory, but this is not unusual. I suspect that a certain focus provides the spectator with a more sensitive manner of observing him or herself - at least if we're lucky." She doesn't see a contradiction between the rational and the sensory in this respect. "Our brain processes sensory data too."
Tussing: "A work only truly exists in connection with the audience. Rehearsals only serve to identify the strategy for achieving this."
Sun, Sun, Sun (2013) analyses the fundamental choreographic principle of togetherness: how does the individual performer's physical change or change of position influence the other performer? What impact does this have on the group as a whole, and also the audience? The Palm of Your Hand (2015) explores tactility. The audience is arranged in an ellipse, as if the spectator's skin demarcates the dance space. High fives alternate with classical dance moves that are experienced up close. Great intimacy results and strangely enough, no embarrassment whatsoever. In November 2015, a day after the attacks in Paris, the production was performed at Dansmakers in Amsterdam. "There was an incredibly intense energy at the time, among the four performers as well as the audience. I can still feel it to a certain extent." It is one of her favourite performance memories. "A work only truly exists in connection with the audience. Rehearsals only serve to identify the strategy for achieving this."
In T-Dance (2014) the dancers move around on stage using bamboo sticks held between each other’s shoulders, torso or legs. They perform their movements with the utmost care: with the slightest lack of caution the sticks clatter to the floor. Kinetic communication: “T-Dance requires extreme intensity. You get to know each other really well by performing this piece, and vice versa, this feeling of familiarity enriches the work. The audience also shares the absolute focus. It's a pleasure to behold. It says a great deal about what focus does to us.
Tussing: "We spend a long time exploring how we can achieve this tactile dialogue. For me, touch, proximity and encounters constitute the fundamental elements for discovering who we are, how we co-exist and what we fear."
Vera Tussing seeks the audience's participation, but not in an intrusive manner. She is not a fan of participative theatre. "All too often not enough thought goes into it," she believes. "I think it's extremely important that all encounters in a piece depart from negotiations and agreements." This is the challenge in Mazing, her most recent creation for November 2016 in STUK. "We spend a long time exploring how we can achieve this tactile dialogue. For me, touch, proximity and encounters constitute the fundamental elements for discovering who we are, how we co-exist and what we fear. It's quite a task, I realise that, and perhaps we will not be able to fully meet this challenge. But I love the possibility of working towards these moments, even those fleeting seconds, in which performers encounter the audience. I observe a very strong social component in working with dance in a performance.”