« My First » series (1): Zoom with a Choreographer

Last December, when Catherine Zavodska, funder of Les Mécènes de la Danse, released the date for Jan Marten’s Passing the Bechdel Test and the after-show talk, I regretted not being able to participate due to my travel plan for dance. A few months later, Passing the Bechdel Test cancelled. My travel cancelled. But I « met » Jan, « My First » Zoom with a choreographer.

Jan appears on screen with a minimalist white background. It is his bedroom and two objects catch my attention: a photo of dance (?) against the wall and a small stain glass on the windowsill. He also adopts quarantine beard.

The discussion starts with Antwerp neighborhoods, the place to be for contemporary dance. The awakening moment for Jan could trace back to 2001 when he watched at deSingel Jan Fabre’s As long as the world needs a warrior’s soul. At that time, school activities included three theater performances and he picked Jan Fabre’s creation himself. As the Internet provides us many videos of dance nowadays, millennial Jan, during that period, had chance watching online Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Fase. He was profoundly touched without explanation. (In that very moment, I really want to send him an emoji 🙌🏼.) When a spectator asks if the emotion without explanation exists only for dance, he thinks that the same feeling can be found in literature. However, I still feel that such emotion is much more intense and subtle for dance (without explanation).

Someone asks if he met both artists. Twice each and he recalls them quite well. Keersmaeker came to watch The Dog Days Are Over in deSingel and thanks to the theater, he met her and she expressed her appreciation. Another time was in the airport. When to Jan Fabre, he auditioned once for Troubleyn and met him another time somewhere in Belgium. Details make life real. During the talk, an interesting detail is related to French vocabulary: Jan had difficulties in finding some French words, the audience popped them out naturally without blocking the conversation.

Humanity recurs in our exchange. It is the reason why he decided to pursue dance career in Belgium after graduation from Fontys Dance Academey in Tilburg. He enjoys working as a choreographer for its social aspect: creating with people in studio, connecting with people in theaters, like this Zoom moment he suggested to Catherine. When Catherine asks him what kind of project he has already in mind for crowdfunding if he wins the Prize of Spectators this year, he firstly thinks of supporting dancers of the new creation (Note: The premiere of any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones was planned for the day before our Zoom.) Regarding the post-pandemic world, what concerns him the most is whether the democratization of theaters will deteriorate: less seats, less affordable tickets,…

During the Zoom, I had the feeling of being around Jan in a real theater, Théâtre aux abbesses or deSingel; it reminds me of other after-show talks organized by Catherine: Ambra Senatore, Wim Vandekeybus, Dimitris Papaioannou to name a few. The style is the man. My previous connection with Jan’s works in theaters blurred the distance between Paris and Antwerp. Connection in theaters is fundamental and serves as the premise of all the recent digital initiatives by theaters and artists; at some point we will go back to the theaters. When to Jan, unfortunately, we probably need to wait another year to watch his latest creation in a Parisian theater and meet him after the show.

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