Reinventing the feminine

Lisbeth Gruwez talks about her new piece,  “The Sea Within”, for a group of ten female dancers 

Interview: Thomas Hahn

“The Sea Within” is a dance piece for a community of women sharing a voyage of mutual healing, through scenes of harmony, of aggressiveness, of floating, of rescuing and of celebrating. It is Lisbeth Gruwez’s quantum leap into a new dimension of choreography where the strength of the group and the presence of the individual push each other beyond limits.

Thomas Hahn: For “The Sea Within”, you have built a group of women who show some features considered as feminine, such as connecting and sensitivity, but also fighting and wildness. Was it your intention to comment on the image of women in society or even to change it?

Lisbeth Gruwez: I have no intention to be a feminist in the context of my work, so “The Sea Within” is not a feminist statement in particular. By our work on rhythms and landscapes we touched deeper issues. Women now need to reinvent themselves and to rediscover their true nature. Let us reinvent the power that we have as women. I wanted them to discover that there are both sides in them, animus and anima, in order to merge both and turn this into freedom. It’s about thinking in terms of energies instead of categories. As a result, there are all these individual identities emerging in our self-created landscapes. It’s like what’s happening in real life today, where you see so many new identities, still hidden ten years ago. 

TH: We can feel an intense connection between the dancers, although we discover them as such strong individuals. How did you achieve this?

LG: We did a lot of exercises such as meditating together. And we worked on the five rhythms that exist in nature, which include staccato, flow, stillness, spinning and the lyrical mood. Such exercises reveal a lot about someone’s personality. A dancer is always less good in this or that of these qualities but can be or become very good on others. By sharing this deep research, the dancers grew very close and developed deep confidence in each other. And they began to look equal in the rhythms that we created which then developed into landscapes. Our big challenge then was to turn this therapeutic approach into a dance language, through a poetic filter. We therefore practiced the Shibashi technique of Tai-chi which is wonderful for moving like the wind or like water. Tai-chi is spiritual, it is simple and it brings you in tune with the environment and yourself: the sea within! 

TH: How did you choose the dancers? 

LG: It’s always a very slow process with me because I believe that when you put on a good group, half of the work is already done. Five hundred dancers applied and we made a pre-selection of 124. I was interested in dancers with a strong connection to silence, with powerful presences and fragility at the same time. A good exercise is to make them run until they get tired and their faces start to hang. I always look for dancers who then get even more beautiful, whose faces become really shiny.

It’s like trance dancing. You share a repetitive movement and it takes you to something deeper.

TH: Some of them are outstanding to me, such as Cherish Menzo, who opens the piece with a solo where she completely distorts time and space. Or Chen Wei-Lee, who totally merges with the idea of the sea, the wave and water as such, or Charlotte Petersen who has the presence of a ballerina and is yet absolutely untypical. 

LG: Cherish Menzo has worked with Nicole Beutler and Eszter Salamon. She is the daughter of a goalkeeper who was famous in Belgian soccer and now coaches a team in South Africa! Chen Wei-Lee used to be an outstanding dancer of the Batsheva Dance Company. She has also worked with Jérôme Bel and runs her own company. And Charlotte Petersen is a German dancer who was trained in Amsterdam and at Staatstheater Mainz. 

TH: Did you go through a lot of discussions, and about what kind of topics?

LG: I don’t like to discuss a lot. That’s for theater. We went for experiences and we shared those experiences in the group at the end of each day. We have various archetypes inside us, so it’s about finding the balance between them and how we can feel connected to each of them and to their nature. We talked about the tribal individual who wants to be free and liberated but has a big desire to be part of the group and of something larger. It’s like trance dancing. You share a repetitive movement as an individual and it takes you to something deeper, it transforms the environment and your place in it. 

Voetvolk / Lisbeth Gruwez

The Sea Within

17.8., 21:00 | 18.8., 19:00 | 19.8., 21:00 | HAU2