Eenvijfvijf at the end of the world

For six days, urban dance collective 155 (eenvijfvijf) is secluding itself at the SAM Decorfabriek in Maastricht. Seen from the city centre, it is located jut across the railway tracks, but it could just as easily be the end of the world. Which, to 155 member Erik Bos, makes it easier. ‘We are so far removed from where all the excitement is that it doesn’t feel that much like missing out.’

Most of the boys haven’t been outside all day today, nor yesterday. And that is precisely the point. SAM Decorfabriek has become a creative lab, where 155 can collectively brainstorm about their next show, Controle, a collaboration with Maas theater en dans, which will premiere in the fall of 2020.

At last year’s Dutch Dance Festival they won the Prijs van de Nederlandse Dansdagen Jong Publiek (Dutch Dance Festival Young Audience Award). The award is a cash prize for the dance company with the best pitch. Erik Bos: ‘We were competing against two other nominees, both companies that pitched a complete show. We asked ourselves: what do we really need? Time to do our research. To not have the pressure of a looming performance, to not have to worry about logistics: where will we premiere? Where will we go on tour? Do we need to apply for more money? It is a bit like with primary scientific research. Not: you are working at a pharmaceutical company, how do you create a new painkiller. But: what would happen if you were to fire a laser gun at the medicine cabinet? It is not about the end result – the performance – it is about the process.’

This creative lab, dubbed klein beetje controle, gives them the chance to try things out. ‘It gives us room to experiment, to fool around, without the pressure to achieve. Here we can just try some new stuff, even if we think it won’t go anywhere. These things happen during regular rehearsals as well, but then they feel like lost time. Or even worse: we won’t try it at all, because we think beforehand it will probably fail. But if we do have the time to delve deeper into this ‘maybe not so brilliant idea’ we may end up with something brilliant!’

Once inside, the SAM Decorfabriek feels like an indoor camping ground. There are a few tents standing in the corner where the seven cast and crew members sleep at night. There are two working toilets, and there is a portable shower cabin that looks like an oversized Barbie shower. There is catering two times a day – serving lunch and dinner – so they only have to venture outside – if at all – for smaller groceries.

How do they like it, being holed up in here, almost 24/7? ‘It is not that different from usual.’ The boys from 155 like hanging around together. They are more like friends than colleagues – most of them have been working together since high school – who just enjoy making stuff together. Everyone has multiple roles. Thomas van Kalmthout performs but also makes videos, dancer Jakob Witte also does sets. ‘What about me?’ Liam McCall wants to know, another close friend/colleague who came over for the day. ‘Liam has many talents. Especially in love.’

Erik and Liam are trying out a new sketch – Erik calls them ‘floepjes’ – on a long conveyor belt. While Erik is treading the belt like it is a runway, Liam keeps putting clothes, shoes, and accessories on it like he is stocking shelves in a supermarket. Erik tries to put everything on mid-stride – or rather, mid-vogue. In front of them Jakob and Thomas Bos (Erik’s twin brother) are tinkering with a miniature dirt bike. The bike is part of their current show, Motors, from which they will be performing an excerpt at the Gala of the Dutch Dance Festival on Friday (and which will be touring until November 30).

The usual working day at the Decorfabriek is from 10 to 6 (dinnertime). After that they take things as they come. Fun fact: the conveyor belt is then turned into a dinner table. ‘Yesterday we worked until 11:30, the day before that we just chilled out and watched a movie,’ Marjolein Saelman chimes in. Saelman is responsible for 155’s press & publicity, and she is also staying at the Decorfabriek for the whole duration. Will it be another movie night tonight? Erik Bos: ‘Jakob wants to try something you can only do in the dark: we want to use a stroboscope and see if we can move in the same frequency so it looks like we are actually floating over the conveyor belt instead of running.’

The best part: you can watch it all, 24/7 from a live-videostream (that can be accessed through the websites of The Dutch Dance Festival and 155). One camera is aimed at the stage. Another at the technicians. During the night the camera is turned towards the tents, so you can even watch them sleeping. The live stream was part of the original pitch, says Erik Bos. ‘A research lab is usually closed off, so we wanted to make it interesting for the audience.’ On Sunday at noon they will open their doors to the public. ‘We don’t really know yet what the format will be. Maybe we will show them some ‘floepjes’, some experiments we have been working on. Or maybe we will let the audience decide, which music and which experiments they prefer.’ One thing the audience shouldn’t expect: excerpts for the coming performance. ‘That would defeat the whole purpose of this project. We are not working towards a performance. Not yet. What we do hope is that after Sunday, we will have some of the framework, a clear idea of the direction the show will be taking.’

One part of this framework is already clear: the use of conveyor belts. ‘We wanted to add a big physical obstacle on stage. We want the whole stage to be made up of conveyor belts.’

And there is a broad theme in place: Controle will be about having and losing control, and about the performers getting into their thirties. ‘All our pieces are about us, in a way. But we also try to make it current. Our last work was about growing up and making choices. There is a baby on the way, you are getting kicked out of your squatter’s apartment and have to start paying actual rent. Coming into Controle, what I have noticed, is that these days, in life, in politics, with climate change, it seems like we don’t have any control over any of it. You can go live in a cardboard box and eat only vegan, to fend off global warming, but it won’t help. You could go vote, but it won’t matter. That is what it feels like, most of the time, also in our field of work. You have to be a freelancer, you have to work for very little money. We have been doing this for quite some time, but there still is no stability, no certainty. Right now, we have work, we tick all the boxes to apply for subsidies. We are young, we are urban, we draw in young audiences. But it could be over just like that.’

klein beetje controle. 155/eenvijfvijf. Open House. Sunday October 6, noon. SAM Decorfabriek, Maastricht (entrance at Meerssenerweg)