Term 1, Dancing at Codarts

By Madeline Harms.

Dear Readers,
The weeks are flying by and the first half of the semester at the Rotterdam Dance Academy is over! When I left you last I was just settling in, and looking back now I realise I have come a long way since then.

The beginning wasn’t easy; everything was exciting and new, yet so foreign. Getting to know my classmates, the city, and the school was all a slow but steady process. Rotterdam is a city flourishing with students, as there are many big universities in the city and surrounding areas, so the student vibe is comforting.

University Life
At Codarts University there are eight different academies, including numerous genres of music, musical theatre, circus and dance. Imagine the cafeteria at lunchtime – a great mix of artists and people from over 60 different nationalities. More than 60% of students come from abroad. This is what I love about the place; so many cultures and languages mixed together. I am lucky as English is the common language within the school, however I am very aware of my Aussie slang and distinct accent!

Our third year timetable includes ballet every day.  Two classes are with our set teacher, and three classes are with a guest. We also have two classes of Cunningham Technique a week and three modern classes with a guest teacher. The guest teachers change every 2-3 weeks giving us the opportunity to experience different skills and teaching methods.  Other subjects include a conditioning program called Gyrokenisis, Modern Jazz, and Drama and our academic subjects include Dance History, the study of Art and Dance, and the Sustainable Performance program, addressing Nutrition, Biomechanics, Anatomy, and Performance Psychology. Our remaining time is dedicated to rehearsals for repertoire and up-coming performances. The timetable is always changing, as there is an abundance of activities going on. I am one of 20 new people in the third year level, joining the original 20, so there are quite a few of us!

Sabine Kupferburg, Jiri Kylian, Brigitte Martin. Photo: Joke Schot

Working with Jiri Kylian!
Last term it was announced that Jiri Kylian, one of the most renowned choreographers of today, will lead the professorship ‘One of a Kind’ for four years at Codarts, starting this year. He will be collaborating with associate researchers Dr. Friederike Lampert and Dr. Désirée Staverman, to explore the wider concept of the dancer and choreographer. With numerous themes related to dance and choreography, they will discuss subjects such as expressivity of the human body in various age-related phases of life, the voice and spoken word, video, photography and lighting. Over the next few years various lectures and workshops will be held at Codarts to address these topics. I am so privileged to be here at this time!

There was a performance to launch the project and at that the new third year students had the chance to participate. We were auditioned for a Jiri Kylian piece, titled ‘A Way Alone’. It is a trio for two male dancers and one female dancer, originally created on Nederlands Dans Theater III in 1991.

I was one of six girls lucky enough to be chosen to learn and work with this piece, along with six boys. For four weeks we worked intensely with our rehearsal director Brigitte Martin, an ex-dancer of NDT, and Sabine Kupferburg, who is the original female dancer on which the piece was created. Sabine spoke to us about the real meaning behind the work and how Kylian choreographed every single movement for a reason. The piece is about the thoughts and memories of loved-ones lost; the sadness, grief, anger, frustration, and the feeling of missing someone or something. The last section of the piece is made up of three poems in sign language, each written by the original dancers themselves about an individual experience.

To understand what the movement was saying, and to put my own personal experiences and understanding into the choreography, was a different experience for me; so sensitive, so touching. I walked away from these rehearsals with a new perspective on how to view and understand dance. This piece was no longer just a nice piece of choreography, it was a conversation, a meaning, a story.

In the last week of rehearsals, Jiri Kylian came and worked with us on his piece, which was unbelievable. This time last year I was sitting in a classroom learning about this genius, and a year later here I am shaking his hand! I absorbed his words like a sponge.

I was not chosen to perform the main part in the trio this time, however those who were not in the trio were still able to be part of the performance. We joined in with the sign language towards the end of the piece. The performance was a big success and it was very thrilling to be a part of – an experience I will never forget.

My first visit to NDT!

I have been lucky enough to see a number of performances and exhibitions whilst being here. I saw the incredible performance of Retouch by Nederlands Dans Theater I; a triple bill including the world premiere of Tone Bone Kone by Johan Inger, Of And If And by William Forsythe, and Bella Figura by Jiri Kylian.  All three pieces were compelling in their own way, however the pas de deux of Of And If And, moved me to a place I had never been taken before. The honesty, passion and sensitivity of the dancers, Karyn Benquet and Roger van de Poel, were beautifully empowering. When the lights smoothly dimmed up and down, capturing glimpses of the young relationship blooming, like a film capturing moments in time, I began to weep. I was shocked, for I have never cried in a dance performance before; they were overwhelming tears of joy.

I recently enjoyed a performance called Trust written by Falk Richter and choreographed by Anouk van Dijk. It included dialogue in German, with translation in Dutch on the screen above, so I couldn’t understand it at all. However, this enabled me to approach the piece from a different perspective, relying solely on the body language, tone of voice, and expressions of the performers. I was amazed how much I understood just by their energy and the atmosphere.

Brussels Markets

We had a week off at the end of September, so I went to Paris to visit my cousin, and meet up with some friends from home. Seeing familiar faces and being able to talk about home was refreshing and warming. I had a wonderful time exploring one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I have also managed to do quite a bit of traveling on weekends, going to other Dutch cities such as Amsterdam, Den Haag, and Utrecht. I have also just recently spent a weekend in Brussels, Belgium. Each city has something unique and different to offer, with its own special vibe.

I do not want to pretend that I haven’t felt homesickness yet, because I have. I am learning how to deal with it. I allow myself to feel it, then take a deep breath and move on, looking at it as part of the whole adventure and experience…

I am always discovering something new here and feel I have already learnt so much! I am very excited about what this term will bring and what experiences I will be able to share with you!

So until next time…

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