Surrealistic The Black Piece already a highlight of this dance season
For a time, dancing in near-darkness was a way of making choreographies seem more interesting than they were. Flemish choreographer Ann Van den Broek does not need tricks like that. The Black Piece is about the black in and around us, black as threatening, black as a security blanket. As a result, light is a scarce commodity in her latest creation and is under total control of Van den Broek, who is on stage live as she was in her previous creation, The Red Piece. Walking around the darkened stage with a flashlight she shows the audience what she wants them to see at any particular moment. On rare occasions the whole stage is bathed in light and the dancers form a line at the edge of the stage for a synchronized choreography of staccato and convulsive movements.
Cameraman Bernie van Velzen projects live images of the five dancers and objects on the floor. Feet pitter-pattering on high heels; a pitch-black, rattling babushka doll; a sexy man is a pigskin jacket that grinds to his every move. Other sounds – hysterical laughter, pitiful groans, footsteps, breathing – and the songs by Gregory Frateur of Dez Mona suspensefully underscore the manipulation of our senses. Images are followed by dances, and vice versa, without coherence and create a surrealistic, disorienting experience. The Black Piece is like a dream filled with meanings that cannot be explained. It is already a highlight of the season.
Francine van der Wiel, NRC Handelsblad, 30 September 2014
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Black full of double meanings
Seeing The Black Piece by Ann Van den Broek, I was reminded of Mark Rothko's paintings with its monochrome colored panels currently on display in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (The Hague’s Municipal Museum). Rothko painted layer after layer for added depth. That’s an understatement; you can wander endlessly in them, descend into various depths of color and emotions.
Black exists by the grace of light; that is where Van den Broek’s philosophical search begins in The Black Piece. And, as choreographer, she is the creator of that light, the beginning, life. And in doing so, she also determines what we see. In the pitch darkness she occasionally shines a light on her five dancers, who seem to dart across the stage. When they are not illuminated by Van den Broek, we do hear them: faint groans, load laughter, the grazing and pounding of heavy shoes.
A traipsing woman in a tight skirt, a man leaning against a wall with his head down. The darkness reveals itself – all senses on alert – but what you see is not what you get. Bernie van Velzen’s video work, which is projected on the back wall, suggests real-time action, but now and then the film does not reflect the 'live' situation. This black contains many layers and above all, double meanings. It is Van den Broek’s conjuring of life, not to take anything for granted.
The production keeps accumulating meanings. Old becomes young, standing still becomes ecstasy, man becomes woman. The dance idiom is typical of Van den Broek: man in a dogged cadence of halts and jolts. But here the jargon is opened up and is less hermetic than her last work. The trio, in which the men play around with focus and perspective by taking turns coming forward, is sublime. As are the moments when the dancers line up under glaring lights to demand attention for their physical presence.
Van den Broek’s The Black Piece is her most exciting creation so far. Its black can be erotic, contemplative or chilling, disguised in all sorts of shapes. Like the black babushka dolls scattered across the floor and the tremendous reach of the voice of Gregory Frateur of Dez Mona, which is heard in the soundscape.
The way Van den Broek forces air between all the layers and creates an overall feeling of freedom is stunning. Mankind is caught in all those black layers.
Sander Hiskemuller, Trouw, 23 September 2014
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The conversion of inner motives
Ann Van den Broek made her first solo back in 1995. Creating at least one production a year since 2001 she has gone on to achieve a solid position in the dance world with her clear, accessible dance idiom and distinctive aesthetics. Her work contains intense emotions, but in the end reason prevails.
From the very beginning Ann Van den Broek’s subject matter has always been personal. In Skó´toseme (1995), the first solo she created during her career as a dancer, she explored the essence of her dance art. What is going through her, all alone on that stage?
Six years later she decides to continue her career as an independent choreographer and creates the solos Hurry Up Please, ... It’s Time (2001) and Annexe (2001). In Hurry Up Please, ... It’s Time she sketches restless patterns of thought and movement, and the inability to resign herself to a situation or condition. In Annexe she interlaces four female solos and characters from an earlier piece to try and find a framework for her personality.....
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Ann Van den Broek and The Dance of Trauma
As a psychoanalyst and a dancer I am keenly aware of the connection between mind and body, between thoughts and feeling states, and the way that each influences the other. Intense emotions like fear, anxiety, depression and grief can freeze the body and constrict its movements and possibilities, holding it in the grip of trauma. The inverse is also true, where movement (dance, yoga, sports, walking) frees the body from the rigidity that fear and trauma arrest it in. The dancer in me has always believed that movement is an antidote to trauma. The psychoanalyst in me knows that it is.
But is it?.....
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A new beginning
Flemish choreographer Ann Van den Broek is also starting over, because Q61 rounds off ten years of toiling in emotions, fears, lusts and desires in their most intense form. She expressed them in extremely physical performances, including the prize-winning Co(te)lette. In the process, Van den Broek, ‘student’ of Krisztina de Châtel, pushed her dancers to the limits of their endurance. But while for De Châtel the form is always the priority, for Van den Broek the entire structural concept is subservient to the emotions. In her case, repetition serves to draw nearer to the heart of the emotion, which is often intense, heavy and dark.
Compared to her previous work, Q61 exudes an almost pastoral calm, although the dancers find themselves in a bleak, white space. Their actions repeated over and over again (dressing and undressing, arching backward, walking in circles, reaching out longingly), emphasize the futility of life – a fact they seem to have accepted, as well as that there is no contact between them. Emotionally, they live in their own private cell.
“It’s a wonderful life, if you can find it”, Nick Cave sings, but the six dancers have not found it yet.
What is brilliant is how, with minimal means, Van den Broek manages to create an unrelenting mood of suspense throughout this hour-long piece, with an almost hypnotic effect. Not a very cheerful work, but certainly a very intriguing one.
Francine van der Wiel, NRC Handelsblad, February 10, 2011
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Male emotional impotence in We Solo Men
Until last night Julidans, the international contemporary dance festival, did not hit the ground running. The opening lacked a fitting tribute or Nachruf, as they say in German, to Pina Bausch who passed away the day before the opening. Apparently they did not think it was important enough to cancel the lame discussion on the much-debated Thorbecke Principle. Yesterday’s oversight was corrected to some extent first by Cinedans, the concurrent dance film festival, which screened two documentaries about Bausch and also, indirectly, by the première of We Solo Men by Ann Van den Broek.
In her latest work, the Flemish choreographer takes typical Bausch elements, such as repetition, synchronous sign-language sequences and cross-dressing (two of the six men are actually women, which will be a big surprise to many in the case of the spectacular Cecilia Moisio) and uses them in a personal and contemporary way. The six perform as if they were some sort of ‘boy band’: one act for diverging personalities. They do not have much contact among themselves; they address the audience directly with movements that are an asynchronous sign-language translation of Nick Cave’s song More News from Nowhere.
Van den Broek presents most of it in the minimal choreographic style that has become typical of her: rhythmic, persistent and compelling – something she inherited from another artistic predecessor, Krisztina de Châtel. In solos and ensemble work the movements designed to communicate, that are totally incomprehensible to the audience, are rehearsed again and again in a staccato fashion to the point that their ineffectiveness becomes almost pitiable. Moving back and forth and vice versa only emphasizes the sense of uselessness. In the choreography, divided by sharply delineated light changes, moods shift as well. From facing down the audience and drawing attention to themselves by assuming macho poses, their posturing dissolves into more vulnerable looks and movements that express their growing insecurity and discomfort. As if Van den Broek is saying that men are caught in an emotional impotence. This is also expressed in the limited floor space Van den Broek allows them in her first ‘work for a large theater’. The white dance floor underneath a geometric jungle of microphones hanging from the ceiling (designed by Niek Kortekaas) only covers about one-third of the stage, but it looks brilliant in the municipal theater’s brand-new Rabozaal.
In short, We Solo Men is well though-out and fleshed-out. It takes hold of the audience and does not let go. Together with her recent choreographies Co(te)lette and I SOLO MENT, it constitutes a powerful trilogy about women, men, their self image, their ideal image and the relationships among them. Julidans should be pleased with Van den Broek’s tempestuous take on the subject.
Francine van der Wiel, NRC Handelsblad, July 6, 2009
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Expressive dance duo deliver top performance
Enervating performance about the need to connect
Opening a performance with death is devastating. Especially when it is so powerfully portrayed as in I SOLO MENT, the new choreography by Ann Van den Broek, who recently won the Swan for Best Dance Production for Co(te)lette, 2007. A grieving woman washes the body of a deceased man. She is laying him out. But there’s more. No matter how smoothly and softly she washes him, every gesture she makes is always 4 inches removed from the (fully-clothed) body. The corpse cooperates – he even holds his balls to one side so she can reach every patch of skin – but real contact is impossible. The very last chance for intimacy has passed. A song about loss by Nick Cave plays in the background.
To start a performance with death is asking for trouble. Try topping that gripping scene. But Van den Broek manages to build the tension to a climax: an even colder ending. The dead man comes alive in memories; he dribbles and plays the air drums and he is just bustling with energy and creativity within the four paneled lights of a photography studio. But for the woman he remains an impenetrable fortress. She moves proudly around him; dances along with him occasionally; admires his creations, but never gets what she’s hoping for. Even when she positions her naked body in all his desired positions – he keeps his arms spread – she never looks him in the eye.
Those who know that this is an autobiographical aspect of the choreographer and her brother (a photographer), who died of cancer and was possibly autistic, will read more into this expressive dance duet by two solitary souls. But even without this background information, there is plenty to interpret. At times it is too easy read, like when the dance and the lyrics mirror each other. There’s no need to serenade this unrequited desire. But dancer Cecilia Moisio gives a topnotch performance (as she did in Co(te)lette) by desiring hungrily, by hoping and giving, but never losing. And Dario Tortorelli does a very good job portraying someone who is unable to communicate his creativity.
Annette Embrechts, de Volkskrant, November 11, 2008
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‘In spite of everything, I still loved to see him’
Choreographer Ann van den Broek sought inspiration for her latest choreography in her feelings for her deceased brother. How do you do that without getting maudlin? ‘My movements are shit simple.’ BY MIRJAM VAN DER LINDEN
“I was easily frightened as a child. My parents were almost never home. One afternoon, it was Tom’s turn to baby-sit me. He wanted to go to his friends; I didn’t want to be alone. He made a throne for me, made out of comic books. We had lots of comic books at home. There I was in the throne, bit of music on. It was very sweet. He was actually very sociable, until things went wrong.”
The Flemish choreographer Ann van den Broek (38), who recently received the most important Dutch dance prize from the Association of Theatre and Concert Hall Directors (VSCD) for Co(te)lette, has long had misgivings about telling about her brother. Her Brother, who died two years ago, was the inspiration for her latest work I SOLO MENT that will be seen for the first time in the Netherlands during the CaDance festival. Sitting at an outdoor café, with a glass of white wine and cigarettes within reach, she explains that she tries to avoid an unambiguous interpretation. “But, because I know that there are so many people who have gone through the same thing, I trust in the universal connotations of my story.”
Tom van den Broek was a successful photographer who did a wide range of work including work for record companies until a combination of liquor, psychosis, and as is now suspected, autism drove him ever further into his own world. His death was a culmination for Ann van den Broek. “It’s true he died of lymphoid cancer, but I see his death as a slow suicide. He was someone who was very complex; talented but uncompromising, and this got progressively worse. He refused to take client’s wishes in to account. At one point, he even decided not to touch his camera anymore. Ironically, he shot portraits of people; very sober and dramatic, often in black and white.”
The eleven-year older brother has always has always caused mixed feelings. This is the subject of I SOLO MENT. Van den Broek, “Tom was my hero. He brought me into contact with art. My father was a labourer and my mother was a secretary. He was the creative one in the family who did interesting things. When all the punkers painted their eyes black, he went out with a green ear. He slowly deteriorated however; into a monster, you could almost say. It got harder and harder for me to get through to him. That left me with a terrible feeling of helplessness. And in spite of everything, I still loved to see him.” Van den Broek decided to keep it intimate and simple: two solos next to eachother, for a woman (Celia Moisio), and a man (Dario Tortorelli). She created the movement material used by the dancers beforehand, on her own, by improvising before a camera. The moment she started with this, she felt, paradoxically, past the personal, “because searching for the essence is a form of abstraction.”
In all of her pieces, Van den Broek takes an autobiographical subject as point of departure and looks for the most familiar, most human images and movements that suit that subject. The three dancers in Co(te)lette shake their asses or let their flesh quiver and vibrate by shaking their bodies. Undoubtedly, here stand a few voluptuous women or lust objects, driven by an insatiable urge. Guideline for the male role in I SOLO MENT was unexpected behaviour, for the female role the inability to make contact and the pain of loss. The choreographer, “What do you do when you want something? You reach for it. When something hurts, your hand goes to the place where the pain comes from. Or you rock back and forth or wince.” And then with a grin, “My movements are shit simple.” The complexity of Van den Broek’s work lies in the way the movements are applied. “That’s when my maniacal side comes in.”, she finds. “The attention for detail and the perfectionism that drives the dancers crazy. My choreographies are true mosaics.”
Van den Broek dance for a long period with the grande dame of Dutch modern dance Krisztina de Châtel, and it shows. Her dance is also on the one hand explosive and on the other handset in a rigid framework of clear patterns and minimalist repetitions. The ladies of Co(te)lette not only call forth definite associations, strongly emphasise more abstract qualities such as tempo, dynamics, and spatial dimensions.
Van den Broek breaks a pattern with the man in I SOLO MENT. The handful of productions she has made, deal almost exclusively with women. The choice felt natural because her drive to create choreographies comes so much from her own personality. Van den Broek’s women are strong, and at the same time feminine. Is this typically a statement by a contemporary feminist? “I wouldn’t know”, she says. “It may well be. My boy friend supports me completely so that I can do what I have to do. In many relationships, an arrangement like that is unmentionable.” Even the power women in Flemish dance scene of the greats such as Vandekeybus and De Keersemaker could be more self-confident according to Van den Broek, “The female dancers are energetic, but the one is mostly subordinate and the other just beautiful.”
With Van den Broek, the women are dressed in Belgian design. They walk around resolutely and like to do unexpected things. As soon as you think you see a pattern, they go the other way. It’s stating the obvious to explain this restlessness as a reaction to her brother. “I get very nervous if nothing happens.” she says. “Impasses make me afraid. I like confrontation; it has to do with wanting to make contact.”
de Volkskrant, November 6, 2008
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Wicked from head to tail
A slap in the face; painful, but paradoxically not unpleasant. That is a short synopsis of the latest production by Ann Van den Broek, in which three ‘femmes fatales’ are enticed to let themselves be taken over by unstoppable lustful urges. I have seldom seen performers in a dance production lose themselves so completely in the action on stage. Shamelessly, with total abandon and emphatically out to provoke passionate reactions.
Co(te)lette opens with a defiant first act, which sets the tone right away. Their sensually gyrating behinds are screaming for attention. There is no escaping the sashaying and humping hips of the ladies. The power of repetition is used to its utmost effect. The movements and poses in the first scene are wicked, sensuous and relentless. And they will remain so from start to finish in this performance. The intensity is heightened with every scene creating in many ways, a suspenseful, erotic and abstract narrative.
In successive miniatures they are laid bare – literally and figuratively. In the end the sensual pulsating, the spread-eagled shaking and the aggressively removed bras and panties turn into a fascinating orgiastic trip. It might come across as vulgar and could give the impression that Van den Broek is out to score easy points. To shock for the sake of shocking.
And indeed we are faced by female flesh exhibited in a very raw way; purposefully displayed as unemotional lust objects. The somewhat banal title of the choreography only seems to emphasize this, nevertheless in my opinion this is not just cheap sensationalism. Van den Broek shows us fiery, confident woman who are not hostile to the notion that their bodies are desirable. In fact, the feelings of lust sprout from an inner need. This is what the women want. They are curious, they want to expand their boundaries and yes, they do not shy away from sexual excess.
As far as the title goes: it is actually far from cheap and subtly covers it all. The references to the flesh aspect are clearly present – cotelette is a cut of meat in Flemish. Yet at the same time the title also refers to a feminist emotional value. Emancipated women take matters into their own hands when it comes to sex.
And if you ignore the brackets in Co(te)lette and the two letters locked in there, you’ll see the name appear of a pioneer in this area: the famous French artist and writer — mostly the latter — Colette (1873-1954). Van den Broek sees in her the determined, liberated woman for whom a healthy appetite for sex is part of life in every respect.
Colette, who also enjoyed a career in the theater, wrestled with stereotypical gender roles in her novels, and on stage she went beyond convention portraying sexual escapades. She dreamt of a new social and erotic order where men and women were equal. Like Colette, who regularly bared her breasts on stage and — unheard of those days — performed copulation in pantomime, Van den Broek lets her dancers perform a scandalous round dance. Explicit, uncomplicated and sometimes very embarrassing indeed, but at the same time the images in this choreography are of an indescribable esthetic beauty. But in no way are they sweet or elegant, because the choreography is rarely tender. In many ways, this piece is rather crude. Cecilia Moisio, Theodossia Stathi and Judit Ruiz Onandi stomp their feet, fall on the floor and lash out. In that sense the bitter self-flagellation scene is the ‘tragic’ climax. The women mechanically slap themselves till their skin is bright red; you can’t read the pain on their faces, but it is an extremely painful realization.
The Belgian choreographer herself has called her creation a ‘restless, obsessive, hollow sketch’. There is no narrative; all it does is show a state of being.
In her previous production, E19 (richting San José) which came out in 2006, Van den Broek showed she had grown out of the label ‘promising talent’ for good. The form and the content of this latest creation are definite proof that she is now a mature choreographer with a style that is quite personal and unique.
R. van de Wouw, Het Financieele Dagblad, December 15, 2007
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Co(te)lette draws a somber picture of womanhood
Choreographer Ann Van den Broek shows she has a unique personal style in Co(te)lette.
It is Adam’s rib (côte) from which God created Eve, according to the Bible. It is the controversial writer Colette. It is the bitchy kitty in heat of one of Ann Van den Broek’s (the choreographer of the piece) friends. And of course it’s also a cut of meat – mostly meat, in fact, when you think back on the performance later. Shaking, bumping, grinding, gasping female meat – ‘carried’ by three female dancers as if it weren’t their own body, but one possessed by inner forces or controlled by outside powers. They wear ultra-feminine clothes, but hidden underneath the white split skirts, the silver pumps and pale pink tops is a far less sweet image of womanhood: the woman as lust object. Yearning and desirable meat, in other words. Cecilia Moiso, Judit Ruiz Onandi and Theodossia Stathi go through all the stages and poses. They know how a graceful model moves and how a strong woman stands. They ‘ride’ each other and the floor like dogs, they hump the air with their thighs – all three of them: on their knees, asses to the audience.
But it’s not as innocent as it sounds. The picture of women that Van den Broek draws is not very favorable. A frightened look, slapping themselves till their skin is red, abusing each other: they are all tiny cracks in the porcelain.
What makes Co(te)lette deeply disturbing is the choreography. As usual, Van den Broek uses narrative movements in such a way that they become abstract. A threatening finger, an enticing laugh: she cuts and pastes the poses together, repeats them over and over again, and uses the circle form as the underlying concept and behold: what you get is a minimalist dance with a dash of theatrics; a style that is unique in the dance world at this time. In the context of Co(te)lette, the repetitive character gives it a cold and mechanical connotation. The same hand stretched out longingly to the audience later becomes a bored mechanical gesture. Movements meant to be erotic become as deadening as assembly-line work.
The dancers are very close to their bodies and at the same time they are miles away from it. An impressive achievement and a weird sensation: a positive and a negative that cancel each other out into a kind of ‘nothingness’. The final image, which feels like it goes on for hours, is of a naked Moiso shivering, her muscles stretched to the limit, combines the two states beautifully: is this woman in agony or is she beside herself; is it a feverish ecstasy of an ecstatic fever that has taken hold of her?
Mirjam van der Linden, de Volkskrant, November 27, 2007
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Reviews of E19 (richting San José)
“The minimalist ‘breath choreography’… is highly original. People are so busy breathing in and searching for new impulses while toeing the line that they forget to breathe out. The consequence: coughing, vomiting, a spasm and ultimately – obviously – death. But Van den Broek keeps the dance tightly structured and under control throughout. Magnificent.”
de Volkskrant, October 30, 2006
“Humorous and painfully poignant.”
AD/Haagsche Courant, October 30, 2006
“Van den Broek’s dancers struggle with their surroundings; a metaphor for the struggle itself. In E19 it’s the intake of an endless stream of information, which only leads to the futile pursuit of illusions. A defiant and tragicomic choreography accompanied by pounding guitars and the sound of breathing.”
Trouw, January 23, 2007
“A mad dance piece with compelling movements. Halfway into the piece dancer Lie Antonissen has a brilliant monologue, in which she turns a summation of our modern existence into a cry for peace and quiet."
NRC Handelsblad, January 24, 2007
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Reviews of FF+Rew 60:00
"The dancers deliver an intensely physical accomplishment, with plenty of groundwork which is both abrupt and controlled. Aside from all the energy, the choreographer also displays an astonishing command of time and place. After 20 minutes, one feeling dominates: a desire for more, a desire to see the full-length version in the weeks to come.”
Le Soir, September 1, 2005, after seeing the short version of FF+Rew at the Bellone Brigittines Festival in Brussels.
“FF + REW – Fast forward and rewind: this is precisely the duality of this dance production. As the choreography intensifies, the technical complexity increases enormously. It starts from a splinter, a shard of glass hurtling through space, eliciting movements that expand and are fragmented progressively in frantic distortion. ... This is so much more than just a promising production.”
La Tribune Le Progrés, July 11, 2006
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Review of Rest Room
“Van den Broek’s… use of repetitive movements to control her appearance are razor-sharp, and Tuchman’s performance is fittingly lecherous. The two women are contrasted as effectively as the black-and-white tiles on the floor. The angular dances by Van den Broek and the voluptuous performance by Tuchman come together forcefully in this serious and humorous duet.
NRC Handelsblad, December 1, 2003
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Reviews of Quartet with One
“Of the newcomers, Quartet with One of the Belgian choreographer Ann Van den Broek was the standout. Her playful quartet is full of contradictions that are subtly combined by accentuating the differences: she is the temperamental, down-to-earth dancer, while Sophie Janssens is the lyrical and ethereal one. Throughout this crystal-clear duet there is also a sophisticated live dialogue between drums and piano. Jazz drummer Yvon Plouffe and classical pianist Rex Lobo create a powerful duet in spite of their essentially different sound. In this universe of music and dance the two opposites attract each other forcefully.”
NRC Handelsblad, November 23, 2002
“A very beautiful, powerful, sensual and original piece that leaves you with images and sounds that reverberate long after the performance. A young, subtle choreographer to keep an eye on.”
La Presse Montréal, December 8, 2002
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Review of Annexe
“Ann Van den Broek’s solo sticks out because of the personal commitment of the dancer/choreographer and especially her stage personality. (...) Van den Broek is very introverted here, while her dance is very explosive and emotional. Bursts of compressed energy peak when she whirls around the stage like a tornado.”
Haagse Courant, April 6, 2001
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