Date 1999

Publication Carnet



Company / Organization

Keywords studentschoreographersworkyearschoolgraduatesdancersbrusselssupportprojects

Perspectives after P.A.R.T.S. the first generation

Last summer the P(erforming). A(rts). R(esearch and). T(raining). S(tudios). in Brussels produced its first crop of graduates. This new school for choreographers and dancers was founded by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in the bosom of her own company, Rosas, and has been supported from the onset by the Brussels opera house La Monnaie, where Rosas is in residence. An appraisal of the results.

Those who beheld the first trial series of classes will be amazed that, in the record time of four years, the school is a fact. Not only has an imposing physical infrastructure risen from the ground, but the curriculum itself has a prestigious mien and is taught by a succession of instructors who have either danced with leading companies or made names for themselves as choreographers and/or teachers. The goal of expanding the programme beyond pure technique to include theoretical and critical training has been realised through a generous offering of classes in body training, music, theatre, theory and history. Another important part of the programme is the work created by the students themselves. In the first year this amounts to internal presentations that follow up workshops; in their final year students get the opportunity to present their choreography to the public. The theatre performance Only Now Does He Turn, developed by the first generation of students during a workshop with Jan Ritsema, also went public. Another achievement by this first generation was their collective appearance in Prometeo, an opera by Luigi Nono which Bob Wilson directed for the Opéra de La Monnaie of Brussels.

But what does the future hold for newly trained dancers or choreographers in Europe? The situation, after all, is not exactly a bed of roses. Opportunities for performing are few and far between, particularly in Brussels, with its very high concentration of young dancers and choreographers. Auditions, as a result, often draw dozens of contenders. Pierre Droulers once got over 200 applicants, and an audition for Rosas in the spring of 1997 brought in a record 580. In this ruthlessly competitive world, P.A.R.T.S. students have a distinct advantage. This has been demonstrated by the eagerness of companies across Europe to lure away its students, even before graduation. De Keersmaeker herself stated with obvious pleasure that the students from 'her' school did so well in the mega-audition that she herself selected three from among the huge turnout. But P.A.R.T.S. students were also popular with Wim Vandekeybus, Jan Fabre, Meg Stuart, Alain Platel and Hush Hush Hush, just to mention Belgian choreographers and companies.

This may be indicative of the school's ability to produce dancers and performers, but it isn't proof that P.A.R.T.S. also provides the ideal environment for emerging choreographic talent. In principle it is up to the students to develop and demonstrate their talents in one particular area. A remarkable phenomenon observed among the first generation was that female students made no attempt to create choreography during their final year, opting instead to contribute to the efforts of the males in their class who, without exception, did produce work of their own. The school's approach gives students the opportunity to find voices of their own and test out concepts before a larger audience - not unimportant exercises for fledgling choreographers who will have to make their way in the world armed with little more than an idea and perhaps a good sales pitch.

The four examples of choreography that appeared around the advent of summer 1998 were not exactly earth-shattering or unprecedented, but the practised eye could see that, despite the odd shaky moment, - several were rather special. Furthermore, the 'choreographers' among the first generation of P.A.R.T.S. graduates can count on considerable goodwill. 'Sometimes you get to thinking that expectations of P.A.R.T.S. graduates are a little too high', remarked Salvador Sanchis. But those high expectations were not sparked exclusively by the four productions that appeared before a relatively small audience. In fact, it is more the reverse: the school's success in getting its students' work on stages in the regular circuit proves that great expectations existed already for the first generation of P.A.R.T.S. Indeed, the school's celebrity founder played a role here, as did the fact that in a certain sense P.A.R.T.S. is the successor to the former Mudra school (which produced many renowned choreographers) under Maurice Béjart. Finally, the uniqueness of the experiment made an impact. There is not another training programme like it in all of Europe.

The school places high demands on its pupils. Possessing technique is not enough; a student is expected to form opinions - and to express them. And the word 'selection' is not used idly: of the thirty-plus beginners in that first year, only eight made the finish.

Perseverance is another requirement: the programme lays an enormous claim on a pupil's time and is extremely taxing intellectually. Each instructor appears to have exclusive access to the Truth, yet there is no syllabus to explain precisely what the training prepares you for or how it all fits together. The premise of the programme is that the student him- or herself is responsible for discovering the connection between diverse approaches, that study is a creative process that involves learning from many different masters. Support is provided in other areas; the school helps students in matters such as scholarship application and housing. It also has the intention of providing support in the postgraduate phase if possible. So far initiatives in this direction have been tentative due a lack of financial means. P.A.R.T.S. does, however, offer former students rehearsal space free of charge, conveys useful information to them about auditions and such, and is generally helpful where possible in matters of practical support. More ambitious projects are also planned: should they succeed in constructing a new auditorium in the complex in Forest, Rosas will have a production facility that allows it to support the work of young choreographers (P.A.R.T.S. students and others).

How are they faring, then, the first flock of grads? A few months after finishing they are difficult to track down, at any rate. One is in Lisbon, another in Munich, a third is returning on the night train from Paris. The only fairly rapid source of information regarding addresses and activities is the school. 'Contact with former students' is not just empty words, particularly as most keep on using Brussels as a base for some time. Artistic director Theo Van Rompay, however, remarked that it is often more exciting to work on the 'periphery' of the Brussels dance epicentre. He gives the example of Kasia Chmielewska, a former student, who managed to start up a group of her own in her native Poland, with considerable success.

Far from idle, P.A.R.T.S. graduates are caught up in a whirlwind of projects and offers. During their final year, the female students dedicated the bulk of their efforts to dance, and presently all are in search, in one way or another, of companies to join for a time. Julya Sugranyes has found a project in her native Spain, but will also participate in Elea: Spinghein which Arco Renz has choreographed as his final project. Stefanie Bodien is active in the same performance, and in the meantime has auditioned for Michele Anne De Mey and others. Erna Omarsdottir of Iceland and the Finnish Riina Saastamoinen still are involved in Salvador Sanchis' Less Than a Moment. Both have done a variety of auditions, and have been taken on by Jan Fabre for his new production, to replace Renée Copraij. Riina, in the meantime, has secured a project-based subsidy in Finland for a solo work. Erna also receives support from Iceland for personal projects. A performance with fellow student Thomas Plischke is also in the works. Diana Tomsova is also doing auditions. Another student, Susan Hengartner, left before completing her last year and now works with Va Wölfl, after having helped bring about Elea: Spinghein.

Of the male students, Kosmas Kosmopoulos is the most industrious. His projects and plans are divided among Belgium, Germany (Berlin, where he lives) and Switzerland. In Belgium he and ex-P.A.R.T.S. participant Annabel Schellekens set up the VZW Alkyonis Projects. Schellekens and he teamed up in making I Want to See Be Seen in Black and White. He has submitted a subsidy request to the Flemish Community, and is discussing with Vooruit of Ghent the possibility of presenting his piece, together with Schellekens, as a multimedia work including an exhibition and video elements. Last summer, during a workshop led by Rui Horta in Switzerland, he also created a work for three dancers, Preparing K. His contact there with Anna Müller could lead to an exhibition in 1999, and he has secured engagements with the Denise Lampert Compagnie. Finally, Kosmopoulos is presently involved in negotiations for an exhibition with Dock 11 of Berlin.

Salvador Sanchis possesses comparable drive. In Belgium he has hooked up with Patrick Sterckx's Kunstwerk, which now promotes his interests. To begin with, he has submitted a subsidy request to the Flemish Community for a project with Florence Augendre. Sanchis is additionally casting about for opportunities to play his P.A.R.T.S. project Less Than a Moment. His search brought him in contact with the CC Belem of Lisbon, where he was given the opportunity to choreograph a work for three young Portuguese dancers. In between he also performed a role in a film by Dorothée Van den Berghe. Sanchis has no immediate plans to return to his native Barcelona.

Arco Renz also regularly shows his face in Brussels, and will probably succeed in again putting on his final-year project Elea: Spinghein. Madrid and Amsterdam are options. During his studies he made the acquaintance of Bob Wilson, which led to an invitation last summer to work in Wilson's Watermin studio on Long Island. Wilson subsequently proposed he participate as an actor or dancer in Domus and Death, Destruction & Detroit #3. Compagnie de L'Alambic of Paris, under Christian Bourigault, has invited Renz to participate in a new creation this year.

One student who returned to his native city but still makes regular appearances in Brussels is Thomas Plischke, whose Curtain'd with a Cloudy Red appeared at the Theaterschool Festival in Amsterdam and was awarded the Philip Morris Scholarship. This scholarship consists of a 10,000-guilder donation to a promising young artist. The funds were pumped straight into preparations for a new solo performance in late 1998. This work in turn was done in preparation for a larger project scheduled for this spring, for five dancers (among them Erna Omarsdottir and Sylvia Ubieta of P.A.R.T.S.), an architect and a composer. Due to this hectic schedule, Plischke was forced at the last moment to decline an invitation to choreograph a piece for a small Brazilian company.

At the moment it appears that the careers of most of the P.A.R.T.S. students, all things considered (the path of a young artist is not exactly paved with rose petals) are coming along nicely. In fact, there have even been moments of l'embarras du choix. To their alma mater this is a point of honour: P.A.R.T.S. graduates should be able to find exciting work relatively quickly. If the school can continue to make this true, it will also be unique within Europe in that capacity.