Let’s dance! Brussels’ scene gets moving again - part II

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PARTS - Theo Van Rompay - Benjamin Vandewalle (c) Tine Declerck
Published at 29/04/2021
By Mylène

A new generation of dancers is unveiling its talents in Brussels. Driven by the freedom and artistic diversity of its contemporary scene, the capital is a real hub for dance and performance.

To mark International Dance Day, we wanted to explore what makes Brussels' DNA so unique. Deprived of a stage for more than a year, dancers, choreographers, students, companies and cultural institutions share with us their vision for dance and their plans for the future. Meet the people who make dance's heart beat so strongly in Brussels!

Benjamin Vandewalle
choreographer and dancer

How do you define the DNA of Brussels' dance scene and what are its distinctive characteristics?

If I had to summarise it, the operative word would be diversity. First of all, because Brussels is a very international city, but everyone knows that! Brussels' diversity is not only 'geographical', it is also expressed in its various artistic genres: we have Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who is famous internationally, but also a very lively underground scene. Between these two 'extremes', there is a real diversity of artistic offerings and each is very well represented.

Can you describe your institution's relationship with dance in three words?

Contemplative. I like it when art creates a space where people enter into a form of introspective meditation and open themselves up to things that are unknown.

Sensorial. Dance touches all the senses. It touches us through our skin, through the sound of our bodies, through touch... not only through our eyes. It has so many dimensions

Interactive/participative. I particularly love it when the audience's body is also involved in the choreography, when it is not just passive. Dance must also take place in the body of the audience.

"Working with students and new generations, I have been able to measure how much their work is driven by urgency, the urgency to be relevant. Their approach is more committed, more radical perhaps. Their artistic offerings engage with contemporary issues of which they are very aware. They urge us to get involved "

Benjamin Vandewalle, choreographer and dancer

How have you reinvented yourself in recent months? And how have you continued to nurture your relationship with dance?

Actually, I have been working non-stop for 15 years, so taking a break for the first time in so many years was pretty good! Instead of creating, or imagining another form of dance more connected to the period, I chose to abandon myself. To accept this moment, and to reflect. To establish a more contemplative relationship with dance. Now I realise that new seeds are germinating.

During this long period, I also gave a lot of lessons to young dancers in the process of forming their artistic discourse, so I was active in the transmission of my art!

What do you see as the new challenges for the dance scene in Brussels in particular and elsewhere?

Lately, working with students and new generations, I have been able to measure how much their work is driven by urgency, the urgency to be relevant. Their approach is more committed, more radical perhaps. Their artistic offerings engage with contemporary issues of which they are very aware: gender politics, inclusivity, global warming... They urge us to get involved and not simply accept certain things anymore!

(c) PARTS - Trisha Brown - RPS (c) Tine DECLERCK

Annie Bozzini
General and artistic director of Charleroi Danse / La Raffinerie

How do you define the DNA of Brussels' dance scene and what are its distinctive characteristics?

For me, above all, the notion of DNA brings to mind origins and history. If I were to summarise, I would say that the dance scene in Brussels has a dual heritage: firstly, the long tradition of ballet and secondly, the arrival of Béjart and his school. Aside from its grand guardians, dance in Brussels is characterised by its extreme diversity: artists of different geographical and cultural origins who love the permeability of artistic genres.

Can you describe your institution's relationship with dance in three words?

We are a passionate, professional and sensitive institution. We evolve around these three characteristics, we cultivate the passion of the gaze while remaining professionally anchored. All of this is permeated by sensitivity!

" We are a passionate, professional and sensitive institution. We evolve around these three characteristics, we cultivate the passion of the gaze while remaining professionally anchored. All of this is permeated by sensitivity! "

Annie Bozzini, General and artistic director of Charleroi Danse / La Raffinerie

Charleroi danse / La Raffinerie - Ateliers hip Hop et contemporain pour enfants avec Julien Carlier © Caroline Lessire

How have you reinvented yourself in recent months? And how have you continued to nurture your relationship with dance?

Strictly speaking, we have not really reinvented ourselves. We have continued to work and host artists in residence. Our large and airy spaces have allowed us to remain close to the artists. What we lack is the audience, that has been the real challenge! Being unable to interact with the public is extremely difficult. We exist so that the works can meet people and free their imaginations! These encounters contribute to the construction of a collective imagination which, after a while, will be gone. With live performance, we agree to enter someone else's universe... and that gives us a boost! These last few months have condemned us to inhabit only our own universe, which isn't always enough!

During this period, we also collected the testimony of 11 artists from the Brussels scene. In the Artists' Words is a series of portraits giving them the opportunity to express their point(s) of view on the pandemic.

What do you see as the new challenges for the dance scene in Brussels in particular and elsewhere?

Generally speaking, dance is under-resourced and underestimated. This is particularly true in Belgium, where Brussels is considered to be the dance capital. This is rather contradictory! There is a striking imbalance between the influence of the dance scene and the level of funding…

Another challenge is the art's presentation and touring on a European and global stage. Usually companies are very mobile and travel all over the world. Recognition often comes from outside and from international tours. Today, the pandemic and travel restrictions are challenging this ecosystem. Belgium's performance distribution network, although significant, remains limited in relation to the intentions and the offer. It is essential to find a local performance distribution network, to raise awareness and help Belgian cultural centres reinvest in the issue of live performance, whether it be dance, circus or theatre.

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