Raimund Hoghe, Chat: Theme and Variation
Posted by: Dusty Hoesly
Raimund Hoghe, in his noontime chat at PNCA on September 12th, stated that collaboration and accepting difference are central to his choreography and dance work. When collaborating with other dancers, Hoghe uses a hospitality metaphor to describe their role and his: they are invited to his place and they are free to express themselves, but they can’t change the furniture. “You don’t destroy someone’s house, but you can leave,” he said. Company members adhere to his vision but within that they are free to experiment, to find inspiration, to be themselves. As one dancer said about working with Raimund and in his shows, there is a harmony of nature (sound and movement, personal interactions in rehearsal and on stage) and each dancer’s ego is sublimated to a common goal.
In creating works, Hoghe admires Peter Brook’s formulation. “I don’t create the works,” he said, stipulating that they are made collaboratively in rehearsal, as different music plays and dancers see if the music moves them. The role of the choreographer is to “create an atmosphere where things can happen,” so Hoghe claims he “creates the atmosphere but not the work.” He also noted that “something comes through the music into my body” but that each person adds their personal memories and associations to the music, so “the music speaks to each of us differently.” He films every rehearsal to later see how it looks, picking movements or gestures that he thinks would work well in the show. “So it’s not just the emotions but also the distance,” he said, calling himself a “participant-observer.”
Working in a multinational company (no two members even live in the same city) is a source of strength, he says, noting that they work in English. When asked how he sought to resolve the problem of missing one of their dancers (Nabil Yahia-Aissa, whose passport was held up by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), he said he felt very sad and considered getting another dancer, but ultimately Hoghe decided he couldn’t replace Nabil. At the end of the second part of Bolero Variations, “it’s very clear he’s gone,” as a shirt and pile of beans sits on the stage. He observed how the U.S. bureaucracy can kill some artistic exchanges through visa issues and that a “random inspector says how long you can stay in the U.S.,” noting also that each dancer in his company received different lengths that they were allowed to stay here.
When asked why only one woman performs in the show, he said that she “represents all women for me.” “It’s hard to put anyone next to her because she’s so strong.” They are not together on stage very much during the ballet, with him exiting as she enters, for example. In this way, they are counterpoints for the show. He comes on stage not wearing shoes but later sports shiny black shoes, which are later buried in a mound of lentils on stage. She, on the other hand, wears the same shoes throughout.
“I don’t like competition on stage,” he said, noting how he emphasizes “accepting differences” during rehearsal, within the show, and outside the theatre. Even as the different dancers do their own thing on stage, it coheres as a whole. There is, he said, “a sense of unity yet it feels like solo performances too; there is an individual story but also a whole story, a community.” His collaborators should not be devoted to him, he said, but to the music, theatre, art. He made a point that Holocaust victims did not play for the Nazis but for themselves (contrasting his work from Cats, which is made for an audience). “Theatre is part of a ritual to share time and space together… and maybe to enjoy” them together,” he added.
His final questions dealt with his body as physically different from other dancers (Hoghe has kyphosis, resulting in what is often described as a “hunchback”). When he was 15 or 16, he was typecast in Shakespeare plays as the clown or similar figures. After working for years as the dramaturg for noted choreographer Pina Bausch, he choreographed his first solo dance in 1994. He said he has been called “ugly,” “small,” and a “Jew,” in reviews of his work. To transform the world from such small-minded attacks, he affirms that he is “open to every definition of beauty,” including if people choose to use Botox or silicone–as he said, “who are we to judge what is beautiful?” Placing his work in historical context, Hoghe, a German, noted that the Nazis didn’t accept difference, killing Jews, homosexuals, and the disabled, among others. Even now there is a debate in Europe about aborting 8-month old fetuses if they are found to be disabled, or setting them off to the side of the nursery, he said. He is against this position, which he calls genetic engineering. Still, he insists that presenting his body on stage is not therapy. “People are not shocked by homelessness, violence, or hunger in Africa, but they are shocked when I take off my shirt,” he noted. He can take off his shirt on stage and audiences act respectfully, but “not at the swimming pool.” Referring to his back, he said, “I find beauty in it too; it’s just a difference.”