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RICHARD SIEGAL / BALLET OF DIFFERENCE

ON BODY

LEAVING THE COMFORT ZONE
Siegal’s counterpoint to uniformity is manifested in the details. When in ‘Made for Walking’ three dancers simultaneously lift their arms, each of them performs the pose in their own way: the tree-high Courtney Henry with loose joints, Claudia Ortiz Arraiza with a resolute stretch and Margarida Neto with delicately spread fingers. Siegal does not smooth things out here but lets his dancers shine through their individuality.
In ‘BoD’ and UNITXT the movements appear extremely stylised. And yet Siegal reflects the zeitgeist – this becomes obvious at least with UNITXT: the dancers form as a loose crowd from which pairs or trios crystallise. A flash mob that flocks together repeating movement patterns. A gang that indulges in the frenzy of a rave. Were it not for the tilted pointe-dancers who get whirled around by the men with the aid of straps on their corsages – and all this without succumbing to gender stereotypes. Powerful.
Antje Landmann, Die Rheinpfalz 13.3.2018

MOSAIC OF MOVEMENT
The story that these bodies tell is not that of a century old tradition, or that of an absolute presence. They have already transcended the routines of their dance techniques. They refer instead to their potentials – framed by the installative character of the stage with its white screen surfaces and wooden cubes. And this includes that – one of the outstanding experiences of this evening – one isn’t, despite all their differences, prodded toward the dancers’ identity, gender or nationality, but one simply notices the plurality; and this within the context of a dense aesthetic experience through the interweaving of sound, minimal stage and lighting design, elaborate costume design and an encounter with superb dancers in a choreographical process.
Miriam Althammer, tanznetz.de, 5.3.2018

A DANCE, A FRENZY, A FLIGHT
With ‘BoD’ (short for Ballet of Difference) and ‘Unitxt’, originally created for the Bayerisches Staatsballett, Richard Siegal puts two equally familiar as well as overwhelming examples of the species virtuoso dance into a three-part programme. Between the two impressive pieces, which challenge the senses, he sets an intimate quartet. ‘Made For Walking’ might come across like a loose improvisation, but is a strictly organised and carefully considered experiment in style.

While the dancers’ bodies are armed with martial air-pillow couture and each ‘Unitxt’ movement appears carved out with a choreographic scalpel, Siegal grants the quartet a certain autonomy. The results he observes from the monitoring desk.
Robust boots replace pointe shoes, asymmetrically tailored unisex tunics flatter the three female figures as well as their male companion. They stand opposite each other in pairs when Margarida Neto with “five, six, seven, eight” gives the starting signal for a prelude of handclaps, a self-referential prologue: up and down fly everyone’s palms across their shoulders, neck, throat and hips. Their fingers drum the beat for the employment of the ‘Made For Walking’ boots. These boots in turn draw particular patterns on the floor, giving off loud bangs, from which a four part score results. And so the feet combo goes from choral unison via fugue, solo, and canon to reprise; thus transposing acoustic elements into optical, illustrating what usually only experienced concert goers can decode. The body-aesthetical translation works so splendidly that the dancers quite rightly chant on behalf of their audience: “All ears are now in excellent condition!”
The musical sensitization is additionally pepped up with clever baroque dance quotes. Siegal insinuates arch-classical combinations and room manoeuvres, which are turned contemporary by the boot look.
In this way, his foot-percussive mini-masterpiece intertwines past and present, and at the same time the choreographer confers a personal lesson. It concerns his philosophy regarding a ‘Ballet of Difference’ that, in terms of line up, presents itself as less diverse than Siegal’s agenda may suggest. Because the dancers are stunning throughout, differing only in skin colour and origin, but absolutely draw level with one another on an artistic level. Different however is the choreographic approach that Richard Siegal is trying out with ‘Made For Walking’. He has not grown an offshoot from ‘Unitxt’ or other successes, but a genuinely new flower. That’s working well in Cologne’s aspiring dance-reserve and will surely be met with applause in Munich.
Dorion Weickmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung 28.2.2018

TO RESUME BRILLIANTLY IS ALSO BRILLIANT
There are choreographies that, when the lights go out, make you want to crow like a child: “again please!” Again the whole piece, again this dance madness of which one was only able to perceive a fraction. Richard Siegal’s ‘Unitxt’, created five years ago for the Bayerisches Staatsballett, is such a masterpiece.

Twelve dancers, their bodies softly bouncing in the most simple of all dancing steps, the disco step. Their hands folded in front of their laps as if they were poor sinners. And penance is indeed necessary considering the brazen kidnappings of classical pointwork and virtuoso dance that Siegal presumes in his “Unitxt”. The ballerinas with their tight hair buns twitch their hips, heads dangling ready for head-banging, their spectacularly high legs spread with the aggressive eroticism of nightclub dancers, all to the violently thumping, buzzing, grinding industrial composition by Alva Noto.

A perfect choreography which again and again stands accused of close stylistic proximity to William Forsythe’s wild end of 1980s, but it doesn’t matter: to resume brilliantly is also brilliant. Also: Siegal incorporates an additional trick: at some point a dancer suddenly flies through the air like a cat grabbed by the neck and indeed: costume designer Konstantin Grcic did attach straps to the dancers’ black corsages with which the men lift and drag the women, adding a few refinements to the repertoire of ballet-like aerials.
“Unitxt” is the pulse-raising last dance on this three-part evening; the second programme since the cities of Munich and Cologne have been jointly financing Richard Siegal’s company ‘Ballet of Difference’.
Pace and Nonchalance
The foundation piece ‘BoD’, shown already last year, is now presented anew by Siegal, noticeably reworked and perfected. The dancers too grew with Siegal’s demanding style. This time around the pace and nonchalance are just right. The new piece seems to still need to go through this maturation process. For this piece, Siegal rehearsed in Cologne for the first time. He says he had to create space for this himself. Then again, the turbulent rehearsal situation had also been fun. So speaks a polite optimist, but can that really be true for a piece that engages in polyrhythms and requires maximum concentration?
‘Made for Walking’ is the title of this ‘Cologne opus’ and those who automatically put a “These Boots” in front of it are right. The dancers in this quartet wear black boots with which they energetically create rhythm. Tapping, soldierly parading, dollish pattering, as if they wanted to caricature military marching like African goldmine workers once did to their guards with gumboot dance.
Add to that body percussion by hand which could lead to exciting rhythmic complexity, only that the dancers still need to optimise it. “All ears are now in excellent condition”, the dancers sing as a choir, indeed self-mockingly at one point. A precise interaction of bodies, a careful listening – that’s how collectives function, how integration into a greater shared idea works. But Siegal shows as well just what such community building costs.
In the last few minutes, a woman from the quartet, Courtney Henry, takes off her boots. The dancer takes the room as a soloist with her unbelievably long arms and legs, finding her very own rhythm, and what had been constantly controlled before, now radiates softly and explosively. A cipher for freedom and the ‘difference’ that the company chose as their motto. Brave dancers, an unconventional concept for a piece, and a signal: that Siegal – as in his career development to date – will likewise take on many aesthetic directions with the ‘Ballet of Difference’.
Nicole Strecker, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 24.2.2018

BRINGING IT TO THE POINT
The three-part evening shows Richard Siegal as an attentive student of William Forsythe – not as an imitator, mind you. But like Forsythe, he understands how to challenge the viewer with many simultaneous things to see, formations that flowingly come together and break apart again, dancers going out and in again, as if inevitable just in this moment, short sequences are repeated, overall the dance is an extraordinarily finely tuned, exactly adjusted machine. These pieces do not have to mean anything, must not transcend pure dance, the movements of bodies in space and time. What counts is the aesthetic plausibility of the movement score. Tellingly Siegal does not employ the pointe shoe to signify femininity and daintiness, rather as an extension of technical, even artistic possibilities.
Siegal’s ‘UNITXT’ was created in 2013 for the Bayerisches Staatsballett. Considering the furious conciseness, elegance, artistry but also nonchalance, the piece showed that he was determined to lead pointe dancing into the future. In ‘BoD’ (premiered in 2017 in Munich at the start of Ballet of Difference) the ten dancers wear half-tutus or other applications made of plastic foam, to arabesque club beats by DJ Haram many industrious dancing wheels are set in motion, and every individual dancer gets to show off at one point but always re-aligns with the group after all. To sparse music that is composed almost entirely of rhythm, it becomes clear how to the point Siegal’s movement sequences always are.
Sylvia Staude, Frankfurter Rundschau 23.2.2018

NOW
There are moments in Siegal’s pieces, in particular in ‘BoD’, where the entire cosmos appears reflected in the choreography. Then, in a subtle way – particularly for those who are open for it – the acoustic moments merge with the artistic ones, the movements of the body with the experience of one’s own narrative. Right at the beginning of ‘BoD’ such a moment occurs, shifting the viewer into an archaic world with its chirping and twittering, whistling and bell ringing and bass notes rising from the depths.
It is Siegal’s apparent concern to take up and grasp differences and discrepancies, to recognise the heterogeneity of life in all of its forms and to put the community in focus. In ‘Made for Walking’ he goes a step further. With the composer Lorenzo Bianchi Hoesch he has developed a ‘musical parkour’ on which the dancers with their bodies, with dance and movement not only generate themselves a part of the sound, but also make this sound visible in movement. A wonderful idea, for the bodies of the dancers thus become in two ways the formative-artistic subject of the performance.
Klaus Keil, tanzweb.org 23.2.2018

WE ARE LIKE A SPEEDBOAT
Ahead of his first premiere at Schauspiel Köln, choreographer Richard Siegal explains what he wants to do differently in ballet


Richard Siegal, you’ve named your dance company founded in 2017
‘Ballet of Difference’. In what way would you like to be different?
That is also what I asked myself when I founded the company. What can ballet be in the 21st century? What role does it play? Who are its keepers? Who does this art form belong to? Ballet means a type of collaborative work that perhaps no longer has a place in our society. Nevertheless ballet is beautiful, sublime, we don’t want to destroy that. ‘Ballet of Difference’ is an attempt to undermine the institutions that were created to maintain the tradition of ballet. But not out of hostility to ballet, rather in order to provoke a dialogue. And in the end to perpetuate the art form.

So it’s not about drawing a line under the long tradition of ballet?
The pendulum swings back and forth between innovation and tradition. That is how culture proceeds. ‘Ballet of Difference’ is supposed to be a counterpoint. We are a small, very efficient organisation that can react quickly to tendencies in society. We are living at high speed. But big institutions like a state ballet are like ocean liners, they need to adjust their course many kilometres in advance before the ship takes the turn. We are like a speedboat.

Do you also lead your company differently, perhaps more democratically?
There are simply much fewer dancers, at the moment it’s twelve. We could actually do with a few more. I thus have much more personal contact to the dancers than I would if there were eighty. I know their respective artistic development much better. That is also a difference, to come back to our name. In ballet you think of homogeneity, not difference. The tension between these two notions is exactly what constitutes the company.
What does it take to be a ‘Ballet of Difference’ dancer?
Excellence is the prerequisite: every one has to be a hellishly good ballet dancer.

All are classically trained?
Yes, all of us. But only a few of us had entirely classic ballet careers. Katharina Markowskaja for example was a soloist in Dresden and Munich. But we also have someone like Diego Tortelli. He danced at the Scala in Milan and consequently enjoyed a classical Italian ballet education. But later he danced with contemporary choreographers like Frédéric Flamand and has danced with me for the last four or five years and also worked as a choreographer himself. And you see that in his dance: there is an interesting range. Each of my dancers have very specific qualities, I’m not interested in uniformity. It’s about the chemistry between people, which only results from no one being like another, that everyone is different. And naturally there is an infinite number of chances to be different together.

How did you yourself come to dance? A family tradition?
My father was a painter, so there was art in the family. My older brother studied dance at New York’s Juillard School. So I already knew as a young person that dance can actually be a career. I grew up in a small town in New England, where for boys dancing was rather taboo. So I moved to New York straight after high school, to see how that is. Eventually I also studied, the liberal arts. It was only in the summer that I turned 22 that I decided to do dance seriously. And what happened then exceeded my wildest expectations.
I found outstanding teachers in New York, wonderful friends; the life of a starving artist appealed to me.

How did you come to Frankfurt as a soloist under William Forsythe?
That was in 1996, a friend of mine was in the company. Back then they weren’t able to research everything on the Internet. So I went on a round of interviews through Europe, to Paris, to Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker in Brussels, Pina Bausch in Wuppertal. And to Frankfurt, which I found incredibly exciting. When everyone had gone after class, I improvised just by myself in the studio. Without me knowing, Forsythe saw me doing this and invited me to audition. We understood each other immediately. This led to seven years. From him I learnt to think through dance.

Whereupon you switched sides.
I moved to Paris and started my own company, The Bakery.

When did you know that you wanted to be a choreographer?
Always. Already when I decided to try to become a dancer. I didn’t have high expectations of myself as a performer, because I started so late. I thought, every experience as a dancer was like a lesson. Which is not necessarily true. Dance and choreography are like apples and pears. Dance has many structures and pedagogical traditions, choreography you can only learn by doing it. So the learning process takes place in public.
Christian Bos, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 22.2.2018

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