Monday Match

Music & Dance Impr Lab at the Bimhuis, curators Sonja Augart and Raoul van der Weide, on April 3, 2013

Text: Nanne Op’t Ende (5 april 2013)

What happens when you let three musicians improvise together with three dancers who only just teamed up the same afternoon? The question cannot be answered withany general validity but for last Wednesday’s Monday Match at the Bimhuis, theresult was quite entertaining, at some times moving or exciting and eventually, it was pretty provocative.

From the start, musicians Raoul van der Weide (cello and base), Michiel Scheen (piano) and Bart van Dongen (harmonium, melodica and Korg MS-20) laid down a challenging soundtrack for the dancers to work with. Frantic even in the most timid passages, intense, and only occasionally melodic, their fascinating improvisations set a pace that was perhaps a bit too demanding for performers Sonja Augart,Marie-Louise Gilcher and Jochen Stechmann, who are – no need to deny it – past the years of ‘ultimate fitness’. At the same time it was a pleasure to see how the energy generated by the musicians was transferred to the dancers, urging them on, pushing them beyond their limits in unexpected ways.

Unable to flow with the music for longer stretches of time, the dancers had to develop alternative strategies. They switched between explosive bouts of pure dance and stretches of more theatrical performance that drew heavily on attributes like animal masks, roles of thin wrapping paper and soap bubbles. In both instances the performers showed their distinct individual qualities: Stechmann carried a strong physical presence, he radiated joyful strength and a sensuality that was both tangible and suppressed as he looked for contact with his colleagues, happy to drag, lift, hold or chase; Gilcher brought grace and exactness to the set, her tall slender frame cutting across the floor, arms and legs defining space; and Augart displayed the innocent yet critical intelligence that drive her actions on stage, defining positions, interacting with the audience, engaging the musicians and crossing the borders.

As there is no narrative in an experimental session like this I will just mention a few scenes that immediately stuck with me. There was a strong sequence of motions by Stechmann bowing, shaking his head like a young bull that reminded me of a dance I witnessed in Sudan: the Kambala, traditionaly performed by boys about to become men. There were two moments when Gilcherplayed with the paper: one funny scene with her sitting on it, wriggling her bum to move forward across the stage, and one really beautiful with her making turns,the paper wrapped around her feet turning with her. Stechmann and Gilcher getting intimate with the paper together, she licking it, he eating it, and again, later in the performance, him kissing her through the paper she had covered herself in. And then there was Augart…

She had a hilarious scene with Stechmann in which they were blowing fake farts with their lips on each other’s bare skin and she opened the second part in a memorable parody of Prussian Stechschritt or goose step, but somehow it was Scheen and the Steinway he was playing that fascinated her most. In the first part she had already loosely taped Scheen’s head to the piano but in the second part Augart stepped it up a few notches: she stuffed paper in the case, crawled under the lid, hammered on the strings with her fists and finally started wrapping the entire instrument in paper, Scheen included. Gilcher and Stechmann were assisting her, tape was stuck everywhere until artistic director Huub van Riel could no longer watch it and sent a technicianon stage to stop the assault on one of the few grand piano’s in The Netherlands that ‘produce an acceptable sound’ – as van Riel explained later.

As far as I can tell, the Monday Match is something precious, a great formula that the Bimhuis can be proud of. I found it impressive to see creativity at work at such close range, to witness the open-mindedness, the spontaneity and the concentration of the performers; how they combine material from their long training and personal history with playful invention and unrehearsed interaction. I could see the tensions, the opportunities, the things that worked, the things that didn’t work – and the unexpected dynamic that can develop when a childlike enthusiasm hits a precious grand piano… It was a wonderful evening, one that I will not soon forget.