What was the incentive behind Sacre?
It was not an easy decision to create my own version of Sacre. There are already wonderful and very contemporary versions of it, such as Pina Bausch’s Frühlingsopfer. However, after both Michel Franck from Théâtre de Champs Elysées and Valeri Gergiev from Mariinsky Theatre asked me to create a version for the anniversary of Le Sacre du Printemps (as a co-production with Mariinsky Theatre), I could not resist. I then realised that much of my previous work, for example Continu, Jagden und Formen and Medea had already circled around notions and themes present in Sacre: group dynamics; the individual and the community; forces of nature; sacrifice and rituals.
What research into rites and group dynamics did you undertake in preparation of Sacre?
I travelled to Kolkata, India to learn more about rites and rituals, which was a very intense and touching experience. But as I have been drawn to the subject of relationships between groups and individuals for a few years now, earlier pieces and works have certainly also influenced my version of Sacre.
What was your inspiration behind creating a world-class company?
I am inspired to collaborate, to discuss ideas and to solve problems together. It’s interesting to develop different artistic languages by traversing the diverse fields of choreography, performance, installation, opera or film. Every genre begets a new form.
With having over 300 artists and ensembles from 25 countries collaborating with you as guests, is there any country/company/person you plan or hope to work with in the future?
Someday I would like to work with Dutch fashion designer, Iris van Herpen.
What challenges do you face in your contemporary performances, if any, especially with such innovative choreography continuing on from the German dance-theatre movement?
Every new piece is a challenge. It involves starting all over again and learning a new language out of nothing.
What also remains challenging in our times is the status of art itself in society, and the value attributed to it. Dance has a difficult position in society. My work is intended to give the art form of dance the value and recognition it deserves.
It is one art form that can react immediately to the present and interact with the subconscious of the audience, touching them on a very deep level. This is what distinguishes dance from other art forms. The closest art form is music in that sense, but dance also incorporates abstractness through the performer, which you don’t find in music.
What drove your company to the success of being named the official Cultural Ambassador of the European Union?
I have been very happy about this award, since travelling, cultural exchange and being ‘on the road’ is a great part of our work. The contemporary dance scene itself is very international – dance has a common language. The broad international network of fellow artists and partners we have been collaborating with in the past years has had a huge impact on the opportunities we have been offered. I feel that all this is a part of our work and lives, and being the Cultural Ambassador of the European Union came as an acknowledgement of this.
I feel a responsibility for cultural exchange, peace-making and communication, in areas within and outside the European community. I think the identity of Europe has to be reinforced and strengthened, but also redefined. Europe is facing huge problems that question our identity. I believe that we have to keep the borders open, that we need to embrace people fleeing war zones or famine. We need to remember times when Europe was also experiencing war and was given opportunities of rebuild after World War II. How can we now let other regions participate and share in our value systems of democracy, free speech, religion, social security and respect?
Your underwater operatic version of Dido and Aeneas looks incredible. What inspired you to create this?
Dido & Aeneas (2005) was my first choreographic opera. I wanted to create a new kind of fusion of dance, song and music. I love Purcell’s music and its diverse layers of very deep and strong emotions. The tragic love story between Dido and Aeneas has been the starting point of my work and can be found in the images I created. The idea of the tank came from finding trying to find an image that represented the Mediterranean, because the story is set there.
What are your tips for aspiring dancers and choreographers?
Follow your inner voice, step over your borders, accept fears and keep practicing.
‘Sacre’ is performing at Sadler’s Wells for 3 days only, from 11 to 13 November 2015.
Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4TN, 020 78863 8000
Interview conducted by Ellie Griffiths