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Inside the studio: Week Twelve Layers of Skin

The Premiere – by Filip Van Huffel

It’s been just over 2 weeks since we premiered Layers of Skin at Cultuurcentrum Berchem in Antwerp. 3 amazing performances all followed by ecstatic standing ovations from full houses made me feel very proud of all the (33) performers and gave me an overwhelming sense of achievement to pull off a production that seemed larger than life, certainly larger than anything I had ever been involved in before.

Making a new production is always a careful search for the unknown. 2 years before a creation starts, we write ideas, concepts, funding applications and talk to possible collaborators and partners. As we get closer I work on theme’s for improvisations, visual ideas and movement content. So there are a lot of known entities to a production, but it is not until I am actually in the studio with the dancers and start creating the work together, that I get a real sense of what it is that I am about to create. With Layers of Skin I began to understand what I had created after the 3rd performance, and still now I feel that the work can evolve and change into unlimited directions. This is all to do with the 33 performers that took part in this first edition of LOS and the different options available for the future of this show.

Layers of Skin is certainly the biggest and most ambitious work I have created to date. For 12 weeks I enjoyed working with 6 amazing Retina dancers. They all gave everything they have during the creative process and performances. They all are great individuals with their own specific strengths and qualities. I have worked with some of them for several years and others since the beginning of LOS but they gelled as if they had been working together for years. I feel that we have become a small family and now, 2 weeks into the summer break and I am starting to miss them! It was great to feel supported by the group and to see how they got excited by new ideas, phrases, tasks, and structures and also how they tried to delve into my movement quality, a style that makes the work typically Retina. I focus my movement vocabulary on efficient full-bodied movements that are extremely physical and challenging, but without using tension, and forming this into an abstract language that is full of intensity. One of the hardest things about the work is the speed and intricacy of the material and because of the technical nature of the work, many dancers approach it with force. The Retina dancers have worked hard to try and find efficiency in the movement and already look brilliant but with the commitment that they are putting into the material, I think they will grow and grow and grow!

The extra layers of dancers were also fabulous and made the project very special. We worked with 8 local Antwerp professional dancers and they were really committed and great to work with. For 2 weeks we did class, taught material and created a structure that integrated them into the whole. They did a great job with professionalism. Then in the final week we also integrated 12 local community dancers into the performance and these people were really inspiring individuals, all with their own story to tell. Young ambitious individuals, mums, dads, grandparents altogether to create their own unique contribution to LOS. Everyone was prepared to work hard but in a fun environment, and the presence of the 20 extra dancers in the performance made LOS into the dream that I envisaged 2 years ago. 26 dancers, encompassing old, young, fantastic technique, inspiring enthusiasm, individuality and personality…..perfect!! Then to add the 7 brilliant musicians from Aranis into the mix, just brought the whole thing to life with energy, drive and passion!

I am a choreographer who LOVES MOVEMENT. I think this is important to say because sometimes I feel like I need to apologise for this and convince people (other choreographers, programmers and members of funding commissions) that this is allowed. My approach for this work started very much from a physical, dancing, moving body approach and therefore became a celebration of physicality with different people from different backgrounds. This is what satisfies me as an choreographer and from the reaction of the audience also satisfies them!

LOS will be different everywhere we perform depending on who will be joining us but the core of the production will remain constant. During the first 3 performances I was glad to see that the basic concept and structure works and that the dynamic movement content and great dancers in combination with the live music by Aranis drives the performance to physical levels I rarely see.

So, I am very excited to go on tour and let this work grow, but am equally excited to give lots of different people around Europe the opportunity to join us on stage and meet those unique personalities as well as play my part in nurturing contemporary dance audiences with the physicality and power that dance can provide.

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