Creating under Corona: Keren Rosenberg

For over a year, corona has been dominating our lives. How has the performing arts world been coping? What has it been like to work under the restrictions? What has changed in terms of ways of working and ways of mediating the work to audiences? How has this impacted subject matter and dance vocabularies? An interview with choreographer Keren Rosenberg who will be premiering two chapters of her performative novel Going Primal during the online edition of Moving Futures.

What have the past thirteen months been like for you?
Well, I got a dog! Canines aside, it’s been quite a transformative experience. The night they announced the first lockdown I was performing in France together with Oona Doherty. There was this feeling in the air: we are going to wake up to a new tomorrow. I had just started with the Nieuwe Makers Subsidie from FPK, we’d just held an audition, we had a premiere planned, and then everything just stopped. My instincts were telling me to retreat, to regroup and re-evaluate and see how to continue to create and share my work in these uncertain times. I decided to pause my Nieuwe Makers trajectory for three months to do just that. That’s how my idea for creating a performative novel with different chapters came about: Going Primal.

Can you elaborate?
Originally, I was supposed to make several stand-alone projects with the Nieuwe Makers. Which is how it usually works in our field: you work towards a product, you share it, and then you start again. But during my short hiatus I realized I wanted to build on this one idea that excited me the most – Going Primal – and create different experiences within it, where one performative experience flows into the next, like chapters in a book. Each chapter in Going Primal is a performative experience that revolves around two questions. First, if we were given the possibility to create a new space, what kind of space would it be? Second, if we were to de-layer our skin, free it from all social shells and externally imposed roles, what would we discover underneath?

Does this de-layering, this listening to the energies and vibrations in the body, tie in with your artistic and physical movement practice that you call Body-House?
That’s right. The Body-House concept came to me in 2013. Due to an injury, and complications after surgery, I temporarily ended up in a wheelchair. I was 33 at the time, a dancer in my prime, and my body suddenly felt like a foreign entity. So Body-House started as a means to really listen to my physical self again, to approach the body as a vessel that carries energy, which in turn interacts with the energies surrounding it. Over the years it evolved into something bigger, to something I not only use for myself, for my own wellbeing, but something that can be shared with audiences and the people around me. I now begin each performance with a Body-House session, as an open invitation to the audience to energetically connect with the piece. I really want to strengthen the bond between artistic expression and wellbeing.

What experiences can we expect from you during this online edition of Moving Futures?
I’ll be presenting two chapters from Going Primal. The first, Chapter 2: Punk Your Spirit, already had a physical presentation last November. Now it will be shown as a special virtual film experience. It focuses on three individuals – dancer Nik Rajšek, musician Richard van Kruysdijk and myself – unleashing their spirit, but I think for this version the voice of filmmaker Nicola Cavalazzi also really comes to the fore. The second, Chapter 3: Re-Connect, was a happy accident. It was supposed to be a physical experience, an immersive communal dancing act, where we would go outside to non-urban spaces in the city and claim them with our bodies. When it became apparent that this wouldn’t be possible, we started a collaboration with an online performative platform in Berlin (AEJAA) to create a virtual immersive communal dancing act, together with artists participating live from Berlin, London, Athens and the Netherlands. Re-Connect consists of three parts: I will start with a live Body-House session with students of ArtEZ Academy, followed by a live performance of me with drummer Gerrie Spaansen, culminating in a virtual rave with producer/DJ Bias playing live from Greece and video artists Christos Atzin (Germany) and Cavalazzi (UK) manipulating images taken directly from Zoom. It’s really quite exciting!

It sounds like corona has clearly affected your work, but not necessarily in a bad way?
Oh, definitely. I’ve had to embrace uncertainty, and go look for other, hybrid forms of performing. It’s also forced me to further define my Body-House practice, so that it can now stand on its own. Later this week I’m going to teach Body-House to students at ArtEZ, the same place where five years ago I taught Gaga (the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin of Batsheva Dance Company, ed.). I feel very grateful. Also, I got a dog!

Keren Rosenberg at Moving Futures
22 April Chapter 2: Punk Your Spirit | 29 April Chapter 3: Re-Connect | 25 and 29 April: live Body House Sessions