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Ann Van den Broek / WArd/waRD

Choreographer Ann Van den Broek is doing well on the international stage: her work has been performed, a.o., in Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Taiwan, France, Germany, Great Britain and Canada. She studied dance at the Rotterdamse Dansacademie (Codarts, until 1991) and went on to dance for a long period with the renown dance company Krisztina de Châtel (Amsterdam, 1991 - 1998), in addition to working on projects as a dancer for the Elisa Monte Company (New York, 1990), Galili Dance (Groningen, 1998) and Charleroi Danses (Charleroi, 1998 - 2000).  

Van den Broek is fascinated by human behavioural patterns and emotions. She tries to understand them by exploring how they are manifested in the body.

She founded her own organisation in December 2000: WArd/waRD. From then on she has focused entirely on creating her own choreographic work. From the outset her work derived considerable inspiration from her long career as a dancer and the specific dance language she has developed. Van den Broek is fascinated by human behavioural patterns and emotions. She tries to understand them by exploring how they are manifested in the body. How can you read fear, loneliness or desire in the body - devoid of any facial gestures? This is what she examines with her dancers. Initially she takes one emotion as the basis. Co(te)lette (2007), for example, focuses on lust.

(* A dance film was also produced of Co(te)lette by the British director Mike Figgis, available for a fee via iTunes)

The video depicts three dancers seductively swaying their hips. Caught between desire and fulfilment, they run their hands through their hair, grinning, riding the floor, go crazy to the pumping music or slap their buttocks. They wear high heels, ultra-feminine clothes and have mastered all the steps and poses that belong to the stereotypical image and vocabulary of female lust and seduction. At the same time their acts are somewhat unreal. This is due to Van den Broek's choreographic approach: the dancers perform the movements with obsessive repetition.

By placing what is often instinctive behaviour in everyday life in the compulsory straitjacket of an exceptionally strict choreographic structure, Van den Broek plays with the tension between emotion and ratio.

The production was preceded, as is the norm for Van den Broek, by a long work process. Depending on the emotion she wants to explore, the choreographer gathers references from everyday life. She meticulously studies the corresponding behaviour, analyses movements down to the finest detail. She uses this as a basis to develop the movement phrases. It explains why the spectator feels a sense of recognition. Because the movements originate from their everyday lives they feel alienating at the same time, yes, mechanical. By placing what is often instinctive behaviour in everyday life in the compulsory straitjacket of an exceptionally strict choreographic structure, Van den Broek plays with the tension between emotion and ratio. Another tension that plays a role in Co(te)lette is how on the one hand, the women appear alienated from their own bodies, while the piece is also extremely physical (and extremely demanding on the dancers), that it requires ultimate physical control.

Naturally Co(te)lette is also a wink at the position and role of women in our society. The crude title alone invites you to make unintentional associations with figures such as the French erotic writer Colette, feminist discussions about the female body as a commodity, or the taboo related to female lust desires.

The choreographic piece We Solo Men (2009) is the counterpart of Co(te)lette: a 'male' piece for six dancers.

In We Solo Men the dancers also sit caught between two poles:; the will to entertain on the one hand and the inability to communicate on the other. Here too you see the same power aesthetic and choreographic strategy: typical behaviour and recognisable nervous tics and movements from everyday life are closely examined in essential phrases by the dancers' obsessive repetition and performed in an increasingly rousing rhythm, until the movements feel empty and meaningless. A personal story forms the basis of We Solo Men - this is also a distinctive characteristic of Van den Broek's work. As the basis she took happy memories of her brother, ten years her senior, who suffered from mental problems and died young. I SOLO MENT (2008), an interwoven double solo about the desire for contact, is also a production that he inspired and is highly autobiographical. In Q61 (2011) she focuses on loss and grief. The title refers to the plot number of her deceased brother; the production was also performed in a cemetery, under the title ‘Q61 Cemetery’.  

More recently Van den Broek has created productions about colours: after The Red Piece (2013) came The Black Piece in 2014. This did not represent a new direction as such. Also prior to this, each production had a colour as far as Van den Broek was concerned (Co(te)lette is pink to her, I SOLO MENT green, etc. ) ‒ she simply didn't refer to them in this way. However, The Red Piece and The Black Piece represent a pivotal point in her journey. Previously the starting point was a single emotion, such as lust (Co(te)lette). The colour came later. Now the choreography departs from a colour that often opens up a spectrum of sometimes contradictory emotions. For example, black is the colour of new wave, gothic and punk. Black can provide security as well as evoke fear and references to passion, aggression or secrets. Above all black is a radical colour, a counter-sound - and thus the colour of Ann Van den Broek, because she reveals herself to be as radical as she is black in this production.

Now the choreography departs from a colour that often opens up a spectrum of sometimes contradictory emotions.

The audience sits in the darkness and only glimpses the dancers now and again, such as when the light is briefly switched on or when the choreographer, who walks in between them, illuminates them with a torch. A cameraman also walks in between the dancers, you can follow what he films on a screen. It provides an additional element. Van den Broek's work is extremely detailed. Details such as textures of fabric or facial expressions are not always visible, especially to spectators seated far away. With a camera you can get up close and highlight things. In The Black Piece the camera provides additional layers and perspectives. You look at a screen and see something that happens next to you for example. It has a disorientating effect. Naturally, Van den Broek also plays with the idea of the camera as a voyeur. At the same time the camera images make you curious about what you can't see: a strange awareness in our over-mediatised society in which nothing appears safe from a camera anymore. This production won Ann Van den Broek a 'Zwaan'  - the dance Oscars of the Netherlands - for the most impressive dance production of the 2014-2015 season. The panel's report reads: "Like a camera obscura Ann Van den Broek uses pricks of light in unfathomable black scraps to make five tormented bodies visible. The chain of associations and emotions this conjures up, affords The Black Piece fabulous depth. You want to follow everything, even that which you cannot see." This reveals the ability her work has to totally captivate us.

Author:
Julie Rodeyns

Julie Rodeyns is an art critic (including for <H>ART magazine, Bozar The International Selection) and an arts mediator. She is the founder of Matchbox, provides training courses and consultancy in art mediation and is a visiting professor of 'Active Art Education' at University College Odisee (Brussels).