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Marc Vanrunxt / kunst/werk

At the beginning of the 1980s, Marc Vanrunxt was on the verge of what would, in retrospect, be chronicled as the Flemish Dance Wave. In 1982, he assisted Jan Fabre with the choreographic material for his eight-hour breakthrough production Het is theater zoals te verwachten en te voorzien was. For Vanrunxt this production was an eye-opener with regard to the power of real time compared with the stylised time of conventional theatre. During this period the choreographer had contact with other artists from the Antwerp (visual arts) performance scene, including Danny Devos and Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven (Club Moral). The high punk content and directness of performance continue to shine through Vanrunxt's work to this day. He retains the spectator's attention with extensive repetition, the far-reaching elaboration of a particular theme, endurance, here-and-now concentration and the punctual use of camp and kitsch.

In the early days Vanrunxt's work received less attention in Flanders than in the Netherlands. His training in German and Eastern European dance expressionism with Antwerp's An Slootmaekers probably had something to do with it, because this was diametrically opposed to the postmodern dance idiom that Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker brought back from Trisha Brown in New York. Her work was an immediate hit in Flanders. The down side is that, in a protective reflex, a leading segment of critics and programmers elevated De Keersmaeker to the norm. Vanrunxt was 'out of date'.

Tinkering with time now appears to be a strong creative component in Vanrunxt's work: precisely the question of what time and duration could mean in dance and performance, constitutes one of his focal points. Averse to trends and hypes, he continues to steer his distinctive course, even when the ‘fragmentation’ of the body was the watchword in dance at that time, and when his view of dance - which inevitably links core, heart and spirit - was referred to in an interview as a 'totalitarian' vision of the body. Over the years Vanrunxt has exchanged the urge for manifestation and the autobiographical from his early career, for an often meditative, timeless universe, focusing on the energetic space between the spectator, performer, movement, music and scenography. He describes his work as abstract expressionism - not as a bridge to Central European dance expressionism, but to the stillness in the work of composer Morton Feldman or to a visual artist such as Barnett Newman from the New York School – to which John Cage or Philip Guston also belonged.

Tinkering with time now appears to be a strong creative component in Vanrunxt's work: precisely the question of what time and duration could mean in dance and performance, constitutes one of his focal points.

From the end of the 1990s, Vanrunxt's work in Flanders acquired a new impetus with an ongoing series of solos for performers such as Marie Decorte, Eva Kamala Rodenburg, Gaby Sund, Rob Fordeyn, Igor Shyshko and others. Vanrunxt worked on pure presence with them, in time- spaces moulded from movement, music and light. Since Antropomorf (1998, with Alexander Baervoets) Vanrunxt introduced other choreographers, disciplines and idioms in his group works. This confrontation preferably takes place as late as possible in the work process, or even on stage. In For Edward Krasinski (2010) for example, he invited the choreographer Salva Sanchis, to independently prepare a dance solo to the same music – Triadic Memories by Morton Feldman – that was to be danced simultaneously and through Vanrunxt’s solo on stage. The two versions first came together right before the premiere. A zone was created in which you feel that it can all go in any direction, and where the performance element comes into play.   

This clip comes from the production Raum (2007), a long, drawn out choreographic piece in two parts, in which very little, and a great deal happens at the same time. All those present, all the media used each unfold in the space in their own way. Even the audience, which was seated between the dancers and the musicians in this second part of the production: for just a moment in the clip you see a spectator on a chair in the semi-darkness.

Raum exemplifies the embodied, layered time-space that Marc Vanrunxt is able to create: a meditative space that emerges from being totally focused and aware in each moment of the movement. The choreographic process supports this approach: in the clip the dancers slowly circle on their axis with minimal changes in speed compared with each other. It's no coincidence that Morton Feldman is Marc Vanrunxt's favourite composer: it is music that never pushes or pulls in a certain direction, and also generates an open space of a fabric of sound. In Raum Feldman's music is played live by Champ d’Action - Patterns in a Chromatic Field in the first part and Crippled Symmetry in the second.

Raum thus incites a reflection on (shared) stage space. On the one hand this space is a place of ritual during which, in the clip, the light plan - also a valuable player - chisels the intensity of the dancers. But while the spectators keep to the space they've been allocated in the shadows, and the musicians remain in front of their illuminated music stands, artists-scenographers Koenraad Dedobbeleer and Kristof Van Gestel shamelessly violate the established boundaries. They walk in and out of the spotlight, engage in acts that appear everyday and ritualistic, artisanal and artistic all at the same time. They do this throughout the production. They walk off and on to place, replace, remove their objects, spread out pieces of fabric on the ground, or as in this clip, use them to make garments for the dancers. In turn they pull open time and space, do not introduce theatrical time, averse to the conventions of stage codes. As a result of this desecration these conventions are, paradoxically, highlighted all the more. Their interventions expose another key question: how do external circumstances change the same movement - or, what indeed is movement?

Raum exemplifies the embodied, layered time-space that Marc Vanrunxt is able to create: a meditative space that emerges from being totally focused and aware in each moment of the movement.

In this Dune Street Project (2014) Vanrunxt engages in an intense and equal collaboration with an artist from a different discipline. This installation-performance represents the first of three location projects with Katleen Vinck, a visual artist who also trained as an architect, intrigued by the temporality of performance. For Dune Street Project she created a here and now, immovable installation in the 13-metre high space of the former substation of the Antwerp Electricity Company in Antwerp's Duinstraat, where she works and lives.

Her well-considered positioning of the various components of the installation - vertical, horizontal, lateral - provide the space with a remarkably harmonious rhythm. The construction is a 'listening' installation in which the bowl-shaped objects serve as sonar for the performer. He is seldom seen on stage but Marc Vanrunxt performed in this production - for hours, three days in succession, in natural light. Displaying the body while not wanting to do so has been a conflict in his work for a long time. Here this element returns in his veiled, almost priest-like garment and in the way he reveals virtually nothing but his back.

He takes the same course each time, intensely concentrated, as if each step is the very first one, in a slow, advancing ritual with small movements, while by evening, the light fades. Alternately kneeling and stretching upwards he echoes the verticality of the space. Throughout we hear the rhythm of the soundscape: a hypnotising cadence of sound that continuously swells and wanes. The concentration, on this place, of matter, duration, movement and sound create a hyper-attentive zone.

Author:
Lieve Dierckx

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