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Benjamin Vandewalle

Benjamin Vandewalle studied at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp from the age of eight to eighteen, but he soon found the world of ballet to be too rigid. He was subsequently admitted to Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's contemporary dance school, P.A.R.T.S., from which he graduated in 2006. "I am not concerned with dance, but with movement", stated Benjamin Vandewalle in an interview conducted by Wouter Hillaert in the book 20 years, 50 portraits, published on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of P.A.R.T.S. "Movement is one of the building blocks on which our reality is built. Movement creates a course in time, but also defines the space around us and even relationships between people". During the ten years following his graduation, he often worked with recurring themes, which he constantly presented in a different form: from more technological dance performances such as Point of View (2011) in which cameras were affixed to the dancers' bodies, to small-scale installations in the public space for just one spectator.

Vandewalle: I am not concerned with dance, but with movement

In his work Benjamin Vandewalle enjoys returning to the essence of theatre: seeing and being seen. The human view and perception are key. This is revealed, for example, in Point of View, in which the audience sees what the dancers see via projections, as well as in one of his first productions Inbetween (2007), in which Vandewalle, accompanied by Vicenzo Carta, dances in a space fringed with curtains and the audience peeks inside using binoculars.

In his work Benjamin Vandewalle enjoys returning to the essence of theatre: seeing and being seen. The human view and perception are key.

The 'peep-shows' Vandewalle developed work in a similar vein, but on a much smaller scale. In the interactive installation Théâtre de la Guillotine (2006) an individual spectator placed his or her head in a pitch black box. When the light came on, you found yourself face to face with a performer, intimately close, peering into your eyes. Micro-theatre for a single spectator. He reworked this installation into Inter-view (2014), which used the same principle. Human contact couldn't be simpler or more direct, but this experience still has a deep impact on the spectators, as demonstrated in this report on Iedereen Beroemd (a popular daily television program of Flemish public broadcaster VRT).

Benjamin Vandewalle has worked with the visual artist Erki De Vries on several occasions. Both share a fascination for anything to do with perception. In their first creation, Birdwatching (2009), perspective and orientation were turned completely upside down. The audience took their seats on a moving grandstand, while white walls moved back and forth on stage and dancers disappeared as quickly as they appeared. The ingenious combination of these three elements provided a dizzying experience that demonstrated the relativity of movement. "It's like sitting in the train and thinking that you are moving, while it is actually the train next to you that is in motion and you are still stationary", explained Vandewalle in the interview with Hillaert.

This was followed a few years later by the outdoor version of Birdwatching 4x4 (2012). This time a small group is driven through the streets in a sealed box. The spectators on the mini grandstand in the box can only look out through a window on one side, through which they see dancers moving through the passing landscape. An everyday reality experienced from an unexpected angle: it offers the spectators in the box an original experience. However, the accidental passers-by who did not buy a ticket also play an important role in Birdwatching 4x4. Not only are they an unsuspecting part of the urban film experienced by people in the box, they also see themselves reflected in a large mirror on the outside of the installation. Since each location is different and the movements of the ordinary man in the street cannot be directed, each performance is unique. This short film shows Birdwatching 4x4 during the Kanal Festival in Molenbeek.  

Benjamin Vandewalle also regularly teaches workshops at home and abroad. He worked with the dance course Nyakaza in South Africa, set up the Comfusao project in Mozambique and accompanied a student exchange from P.A.R.T.S. to Senegal.

He made two dance films together with the philosopher Jan Knops from Initia, and a group of primary school children from Molenbeek. (un)usual (2012) shows how he playfully dances with fifth year pupils in their classroom, on the school steps and in the playground, while a philosophical discussion ensues about precisely what dance is and why these children love to dance (or not). A year later, Benjamin Vandewalle created a real production with the same group, which was now in the sixth year. This extremely tough process was documented in a very moving film, Movements (2014). It effectively demonstrates how the children gradually overcome their fear of dancing and how they surpass themselves and discover that dance is more than just steps, but can consist of all kinds of movements, as a result of Benjamin Vandewalle's enthusiasm and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's moral support.

Vandewalle: In the public space the potential audience is vast, which means you can tour locally instead of travelling around Europe.

Over the next few years, Benjamin Vandewalle will not only be artist in residence at the Brussels Kaaitheater, but will also embark on a course as an urban choreographer. "In the public space the potential audience is vast, which means you can tour locally instead of travelling around Europe. Brussels is large enough! Over the course of several months I would like to create a major presence in the city through all kinds of small interventions. The city will be my rehearsal space", reveals Vandewalle.

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.