Joke: »Tilting« is an essential word in the vocabulary of promise me, a word that has strongly influenced the movements. Not that the dancers are tilting the whole time. It rather indicates an intention. In the sense of daring to stand in the middle of things. Not giving way, not fleeing, but walking the middle line. Staggering, tilting, at the risk of losing your balance. Recognising the nuances. It is a force to be on that middle line, in that ever tilting intermediate zone. promise me is about taking risks and letting go of certainties, that’s how we put it. On paper, that sounds hollow; in reality, these phrases refer to an attitude, a way approaching life that requires you to be strong. Our motto for this performance is: risk rather than stability. Curiosity above fear. Togetherness above self-preservation.
Kwint: We improvised around the slogan »I have never done it before but I think I can do it«. This introduced a mentality within the group that was decisive in the creation process. It is a practical sentence that helped the children to find the right intention. Which inspired them to create images and movements. We always stay far away from philosophic discourse during rehearsals. We hardly talk to the children about the themes, but we translate them in a purely physical way. Gradually, they start feeling the themes in their bodies, simply by dancing them. We strive to situate our work in this intermediate, dual zone. Is this for a young audience? Is it dance or theatre? Is it beautiful or is it gruesome? Is a ten-year old body dancing authentically or manipulated? To us, these are not pertinent questions.
promise me: I hear a demand in that.
Joke: It is an appeal. A cry, an urge for… For what exactly, I cannot put into words. I love the image of a hand grasping someone’s chin, to literally determine the direction of the gaze, to ask for attention. In that gesture, there is not only a demand; it is also a gesture of trust, because you don’t just touch someone’s face. It is again a dual demand. »Give me so much trust and security that I can feel completely free«. I think the world really needs this, people who can and may stand in their own strength. And not derive their strength from an assumed identity, from the group to which you belong, from a dynamic of us/them. When you quit thinking like this, you may find a vitality that, I hope, is contagious.
For a year and a half, we have also been preparing a future project with Palestinian dancers and children. Residents of the West Bank and Gaza. This project also influenced our rehearsals. promise me has an undertone of resilience and resistance. »Don’t abide by what is presented to you, and take responsibility for what you do«.
Your work is always inspired by the visual arts. Are there any works by artists that have inspired you for promise me?
Kwint: Michaël Borremans’ series »Fire from the Sun«. Young children smearing each other with blood. On the floor you see human parts. What struck us is not the horror of these scenes, but the curiosity of the children about their own and each other’s bodies. Very animalistic. Then there are the paintings by Caravaggio, which combine horror and beauty.
There is the film Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame by Iranian filmmaker Hana Makhmalbaf, filmed in the Afghan village where the historic Buddha statues, carved into the rocks, were blown up by the Taliban. The film shows the willpower of a girl learning to read. The way the filmmaker portrays this willpower inspired us. How this girl deals with war traumas. Her will to live and her contempt for death. The film ends with children playing, supposedly holding each other at gunpoint. »Die, and you will be free«, a boy shouts. A sentence with which he confirms a rule: if you fall down, you can continue playing. It is a game, nothing more, but these paradoxical words can also be translated as: if you are afraid, you won’t get anywhere.
Joke: There is again the »Ode to my Scars«, in which the author quotes the poet Kahlil Gibran: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s yearning for itself. That too is a duality that all parents and by extension the whole of society must deal with.
And finally there is a quote from the Scottish poet John Glenday in a book about the work of the American photographer Sally Mann: You see it’s neither pride nor gravity, but love that pulls us back down to the world. Gravity is very decisive in a dance performance, and when you are lifted up you can move »like an astronaut in a space capsule« – that is how Zélie puts it. It was she too who said that promise me is all about love…
Translated from Dutch by Mieke Versyp