Asian Provocation #3 — Peter Leung
The Same Space, the latest dance film project by Peter Leung, The Same Space is part of the Virtual Residences of de Nederlandse Dansdagen. The piece can be watched here:
In this episode of the podcast, Ayoto Ataraxia speaks with Peter Leung about creating during the time of Covid-19
— identity and asian roots
— Peter Leung’s new piece, “Same Space”
— how they relate to names
— the idea of male leadership
Peter Leung, is a choreographer and artistic director. He danced with the Bayerisches Staatsballett, Le Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon and Dutch National Ballet. He is one of the founders of Foundation House of Makers, an interdisciplinary, site-specific arts company. Since January 2017 Peter has been affiliated with the Dutch National Ballet as a Young Creative Associate.
He has created work for Dutch National Ballet, New English Ballet Theatre, Origen Cultural Festival, van Gogh Museum, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam Kunsthal, EYE museum and Tropenmuseum.
The Same Space, the latest dance film project by Peter Leung, The Same Space is part of the Virtual Residences of de Nederlandse Dansdagen. The piece can be watched here:
How have you been adjusting with all the COVID stuff this year?
Well, okay, I mean, the thing is, you just have to keep adjusting all the time. Right? That’s still that’s still what’s happening here. You still in Berlin?
Yeah, I’m in Berlin.
Yeah. So it’s still, I mean, yesterday, there were new announcements. So there’s been a bunch of new adjusting going on, and I’m still waiting to hear from a lot of people about what their plans are for the next four weeks and if things are being again cancelled, or postponed or changed.
Welcome to Episode Three of Asian provocation. I’m your host Ayoto Ataraxia. Today, I’d like to share with you a conversation I had with Peter Leung back in October, where there was still a sense of optimism, or bracing for what’s coming. It feels already like a lifetime away. As Europe continues through a second wave of lockdown. As we neared the closing of the year, we discussed our experiences, ideas of gender, and the makeup of our thoughts and identity. Peter shares beautiful insights about ballet and observations around the fluctuations of truth. When I think back about this conversation, I see how much we are part of this generation and current thoughts in the air. There’s so much actions around the dismantling of all concepts, constructs and narratives. We are as, coined by Phoenix Olausson, the recessional in the effects of going through a financial crisis after another financial crisis. We’re simultaneously expected to behave in a world dreamt up by generation long gone, and failing at fulfilling this fantasy. The conversation was initiated after watch Peter’s last project, Same Space, which you can find the link in the show notes. Peter is a dance choreographer, one of the founders of House of Makers, and is affiliated with the Dutch National Ballet, as a Young Creative Associate. The piece, Same Space is part of the virtual residencies of the Dutch Dance Festival, and features five dancers from the Dutch National Ballet, is presented as a multi channel art piece which can be watched online. After the conversation, I’ve included an audio extract, which I love, from Peter links, same space for you to enjoy. And now to the conversation. It’s very hard to get anything done these days.
Yeah, I mean, I’m all about flexibility. I think there’s a lot that can be done. It’s just, especially I think, with the institutions, it’s very difficult for them. They’re big machines. And so it takes a long time for decisions to be made. There’s a lot of money involved in the rest of it. And that just changes, changes everything.
There’s something really great about the Same Space that you did. I just find that very inspiring to see people doing things during this period and still feeling the inspiration and powering through.
Yeah, I mean, essentially, I guess with all of that is that you remember that it’s a lot to do with people. And for me anyway, like being able to do that and work with the dancers and still have that connection and searching for something, the things. But the thing is, there’s also quite a lot of stuff, especially in the dance world has gone out really, really fast, just to sort of cover a gap. And I don’t know if all of quality is that high? Or you know, sometimes that’s a bit difficult.
is funding a big concern for you?
Well, yeah, because I guess it affects me personally. Because funding, they become more and more, I think insular as well. They work with the people who are in house. And as a freelancer, I don’t know if I’ll get hired. So I guess that’s the thing. Already, that’s something that you fight for, I guess, and then you have to see what happens after that.
I really liked the piece it was it felt like there was a lot of a lot of the things that at least I’ve been thinking about, which probably I think is very much what’s in the air. And it was also like the fact that it was spelt out even like literally the words felt these ideas and feelings of surveillance very much the kind of self surveillance and is there something that you were feeling as well with the whole thing?
I think the main thing for me to use, it really is research and to actually question the thoughts of this reaction to filling in the void. That sort of happens very fast, like I said, with making films very fast putting something online very fast. And then in terms of like, all the ideas are in there, I decided not to apologize, or to sort of try and streamline too much the ideas that were there because as a residency, it kind of felt like it was okay to say what are all of the questions that I have? How can I open up a bunch of them with the dancers? What questions do they have and what have they thought of? So in terms of this sort of surveillance thing, I mean, there’s definitely that and when we first started setting up there was a question with a cameraman. about whether he could be in that same space with them, he’s like, I could go in and film them. And I was like, Well, actually, I’d really like them to be isolated in that box for them to feel that pressure and weird sort of sensation of performing but without a live audience, because that’s obviously a lot what’s happening, let’s let that actually really resonate and be and then that it would feel kind of like CCTV, you know, more of my friends, more and more of them have actually security cameras in their homes and find that already strange kind of understand in one way, but I find it strange too. So there’s definitely an idea of allowing that to sort of be there the observed also for this idea of security, but then how it of course, encroaches on your freedom, and the rest of it.
And you also just mentioned about not being apologetic about things, there’s so many themes, and you know, in my own safe space and exploring some of these thoughts, I also realized that there are some of these sentiments or thoughts or feelings about myself, I also want to feel unapologetic, or shamelessly exploring, which begs the question, why did I have to apologize for in the first place, at least what I caught were also ideas of identity. And for example, what was the repeating part as well? consistency, frustrations? Do you have some of these concepts for you that you feel apologetic, unapologetic about?
I mean, a lot of the discussions with the five dancers, you know, I was with was a lot to do with how it feels to be, I guess, a ballet dancer. And there are many, you know, there are many versions, but I’m not a ballet dancer anymore. And I think I would say that from age 11, when I started, you know, in professional ballet school, up until the age of 36, when I retired, I think I was always you know, about a ballet dancer from the beginning of the end of that. And of course, those things still resonate a lot. And they stay sort of in your DNA, especially from such a young child. But I think there are a lot of things, like I apologized, in many ways, without realizing it for my body, for example, for it not being good enough and wanting it to be a better sort of ballet body and better aesthetics, more flexible, nicer shapes. So there was always those questions, and there was always a certain degree of Okay, well, I can fake it, or you have to fake it. But you also know that it’s not good enough. So that was one of the things for me. And that definitely resonates, I think, with a lot of ballet dancers, although not every ballet dancer, of course. But then there are also the other questions of like, which I think, you know, have come up quite a lot about whether you can have a voice whether you’re actually allowed to say something. And then and ballet is famously silence, you know. And so really having their voices in the in the soundscape. And the composition was something to sort of not apologize for having a voice. And then as we were talking and certain things you realize, okay, well, you can curate it and make sure what they’re saying they feel comfortable and good wave. But at the same time, why do we need to do that it’s also okay to say something that maybe at that moment, you say, and then afterwards, you realize you don’t believe in or you’ve never had to verbalize it before. So it was a lot about voices, a lot about choice, a lot about the boxes were put into all the boxes we put ourselves into. And so a lot of the process was about that. And of course, that was me. And there’s a lot of guidance exists within. But at the same time, there was quite a lot of freedom for them to think about things. And so there are so many codes, of course, in every profession, and there are so many codes that we don’t necessarily talk about a lot within ballet and stepping outside of ballet to a large degree makes me question those things even more. And then I want to sort of question those things also with the dancers that I’m in a process with,
Part of this journey as well about podcasting or voicing in general is just how much thoughts I actually have, but didn’t allow myself, just afraid to be in these different kind of previous construct. One of the sentences that was not so much repeated, but it was one of these for me was like “Oh, that was taboo for me”, I realized was this question of like the way you really from and it was just one bit in there as opposed to some of the others that was a bit more general and repeating but that one I thought in particularly for myself And I also want to ask you because you were born in England.
I was born in Taiwan. But I grew up in Australia, my family’s Taiwanese, Japanese, and but I lived all over the place. And for me, that was one of the other kind of taboos that I didn’t really want to unpack for the longest time in my life. And I wanted to ask you about your background and your relationship to, you know, the idea of nationality or areas of heritage and roots,
It’s actually a huge subject. And I was thinking about it today, already when I was having to write my name on on a document. I was born in England, and my mother’s English, of German descent, and my father is from Mauritius, of Chinese descent. And my parents, when I was quite young, and I have very little connection, I guess my Russian and Chinese heritage, there’s always been a question for me as to if I like it or not. Also, just because it’s not something that I feel like was ever really celebrated.
This conversation got me thinking a lot. I realized, embarrassingly, I never actually heard of or ever thought about Mauritius. Now learned the Mauritius, officially, the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation of the southeast coast of the African continent, east of Madagascar, first discovered by disinterested Arab sailors around 975. At the time, on inhabited fast for 500 years later, the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British sailors contended over the island with little fanfare. Eventually, with the French remaining and renaming it, Île-de-France.
So how did the Chinese and the story this is what I learned about the concept of being shanghaied. The term Shanghaied or crimping is the practice of kidnapping to serve a sailors by coercive techniques such as trickery, intimidation, or violence, a practice commonly used by Great Britain’s Royal Navy, there are also many notable crimps in the United States variation of running slave trade. The combining of the city name Shanghai, joined with crimping was because Shanghai was a common destination of the ships with abducted crews. So many of the Chinese communities on the island arrived in voluntarily having been shanghaied from the island of Indonesia, Sumatra, and then 1740s to work in Mauritius. miskeen patched up by the French Admiral Charles Hector, they soon went on strike and protest at the kidnapping in the slavery.
Luckily for them, the refusal of work was not met by deadly force, but merely deportation back to the Indonesian island some 5000 kilometers away. Many of the Chinese that remained on the island found employment as blacksmiths carpenters couplers tailors, and formed a small China town that remains today. After World War Two, the migration from China declined dramatically Sino-Mauritians continued to maintain these personal ethnic networks connecting them to relatives in Greater China. Today, foreign investors from Hong Kong and Taiwan helped build factories in Export Processing zones that helped Mauritius to become the third largest exporter of woolen knitwear in the world. In recent years, there’s been an influx of Chinese migrant workers signed on for three years stints in the garment factories. What I find interesting in these stories of migrations of different cultures and people in the past and of different regions, is how often there’s a similar story, the story and narratives of history, people to their land, but not indigenous.
Specifically, they too were migrants who had to leave their origin due to population and overcrowding in search for new resources in the new land, they grow in population and employ or kidnap slaves and create a working class from a group that they trick when slave from the United States of America or Australia. However, over time, this migrant group through the need to survive may overcome or remain marginalized, and either labeled as conniving, lazy, alcoholic, drug abusers insert racist imaginations created to label Jews, Chinese Mexicans, Native Americans, or Aborigines in Australia, China specifically to to the horrors of the Chinese government, during the Great Leap Forward, and other crimes against humanity committed by Mao Zhe Dong caused one of the greatest famines in history and the death of estimated 15 to 55 million deaths. Because of these actions by the dictator cause mass migration and displacement in the 20th century. But even in China, one can notice the way people treat lower class citizens with disdain that people from poor economic cities are referred to as foreigners and seen as peasants, while they hold up and maintain their society with cheap labor. This is a bit of a detour from the conversation. But I felt it was important to share some of these stories and discoveries, because each time I meet a person of poorer backgrounds, and wondering what these ethnic, or cultural identities actually mean, and what history experiences and trauma is actually being carried by this one individual.
So then it’s really interesting then to go on to lead this life where, you know, aged 18, I moved to Munich, age 23, to Amsterdam, and then age 29, to Leon, and then back to Amsterdam, again, and this sort of sense of EMI, you know, how much of a sort of Gypsy am I or like, where do you belong, and what is your nationality and, and at the same time, it’s really amazing seeing what’s going on, because I remember, as a kid, everything about America being America is the coolest place and where I wanted to go, and then it is when I was 14, and it was amazing. And when I arrived in Munich, when I was 18, people saying, I can totally tell you from London, you know, by the way, you dress and you know, you know, by the way you behave and like it’s so cool. And, and being really proud of that. And then now realizing that that doesn’t really hold any value to me, or it doesn’t in the way that I you know, I thought it did back then. So I feel kind of, it’s kind of interesting, because I kind of feel, or have felt quite open and borderless in one way like I can be from anywhere. And my accent is weird from living away from the UK for a long time. And, you know, people do question where I’m from, of course, I have the mix of genes, so I don’t look particularly British. And so there are those questions. And there are some times where that’s really nice, it makes you feel very free and other times where it’s like, where do you belong? And, and, and what happens, then I do have that actually here? Because I wonder how would it be if I was was a Dutch choreographer? Would that change the sort of my path? Would that mean I’m more accepted or celebrated? I don’t know. But I’m very intrigued with it, and what it actually means to us. And it was actually what I wanted to ask you to is, you know, where are you? Where do you sort of come from or? Because also, you, you said that you, you know, you introduce yourself with Ayoto. And I was like, okay, where is this? But his name come from? And how much of our identity do we carry? In our name?
Yeah, it’s very difficult. It’s a very big subject, and I’ve been researching that over the last three years, because I would say the same for you, there was this period where, you know, I was living in New York, and I lived in Italy, as well, as well as China. I grew up in Australia, and there was this kind of pride that I built up as a form of an armour to kind of say, yeah, I’m really International. And, but then there was a point in my life where I felt actually super empty, in the sense of not having a community or having some kind of heritage, or larger wisdom in terms of a lineage or not that I’m so obsessed with this kind of lineage concept. I guess it’s also about relating when you spoke about bodies, for example, like this kind of feeling of comparing, like I, when I grew up in Australia, I didn’t have any body that I could relate to, like they you looked like or that you thought you were culturally similar. There was no one that looked like there was no one that, you know, behaved really like the way I did. And, of course, when I visit my family, or visit Japan, Taiwan, like there’s part of it that feels like oh, wow, like these people are much more similar to me from some exterior perspective. But internally, I mean, I don’t fit anywhere. I think we’re part of this global Nomad kind of population. As I got older, it started to get more painful or difficult to understand kind of fatherly model or something to model after not to say I have to follow something. But it was it’s just more like, I have no clue!
Something to look towards in a way.
Yeah, to compare or to contrast. It’s just empty. I have no idea what’s coming ahead. I mean, slowly, I found different people. I mean, this was this would be something I’d be interested to segway into, as well as how do you feel with these ideas of routes in conjunction with masculinity as well? Am I an Asian man? What does that mean? There’s so much negative propaganda against the concept of an Asian man, that for me, there was a lot of internalized racism. And there’s also just imposter syndrome and all these aspects, because there was nothing to kind of fit into and that was really tricky in a big process for me.
There is definitely something similar in the fact that I don’t really feel like I had a role model or like my father as a role model someone to look at and say I want to be like or don’t want to be like, there were and I’ve had, you know, different role models throughout my life. And it’s changed sometimes and even from a very young age, it would be really nice to connect to people and you know, male figures. I wonder if, yeah…
I think I’ve definitely been conscious of it. And it’s affected me, in many ways. I would also like to let go of it also sort of making such a strong definition between these male male roles or female roles, especially more and more thinking about how we definitely embody both masculine and feminine sides, all of us. And that’s kind of been really nice to sort of get closer and to know that, in terms of my experience, also. Yeah, I mean, I, I auditioned for Dance Theatre of Harlem, in New York, when I was 18. And I went there, that was sort of my first time, I think, when I was 18, where I was really questioned or confronted with this idea of like, what ethnic group you fit into, and predominantly, like a black company, and, and then it was there that people said, also, you’re Asian, and I was like, Oh, I never thought about it. I’ve just always been English. And somehow going through primary school, I never thought about it. And then it may be came up a few times where I thought about it in ballet school again, because my, my full surname is Leung Win Chung. And it’s so it’s actually like, very clearly a Chinese name. And Leung, like a lot of people didn’t really know where that name came from. So it was a bit ambiguous. So there were a couple of times, I guess, that came up. And I have to say, in general, it’s not something I’ve thought about very often. But I am aware, sometimes you know that. And maybe it’s also like a little bit that I don’t really talk or think or accept, you know, play with the with the Chinese heritage, that it is something that other people bring up and very often as a joke. And then it’s always a question for me. So now more recently, if someone says, Oh, my God, you’re looking so Chinese today, I say, Well, what does that mean to you? Or why is that such a big point? And it is something I’ve realized, like, and I’m more aware of, and now I can think about why does this affects me? Or how does this affect me? or Why do people say that? Or don’t say that?
How does it affect you?
Yeah, I mean, I guess usually, if someone says it to me, I’m like, well, it’s said in in a sort of joking way. So I’m like, Oh, is this supposed to be an insult? So I feel slightly insulted. But then if I actually think about it for a moment, I’m like, well, it’s not insulting to be told that you look Asian. Why? Why is it being used in that way. And if it is being you know, if the person doesn’t mean it in that way, then I think it’s actually quite good for them to think about what they’re doing or saying to so there’s been a shift in a way for me to do with it. But I’m way more and way more aware when I’m in, like, when I was visiting the states or over there about that. And I’ve noticed and spoken to people who’ve really said, Americans, like I know someone who’s Korean, Korean American. And for him, I think he’s really aware of the fact that he’s been ashamed to be Asian in America, which is horrible!
Looking into history kind of unravel a lot of these things. And I had someone come the other day to me and said, I was wearing this Japanese Samue, which is a kind of work, work clothes that people wear a lot in monasteries, for example, and this person said, “Oh, you look so Asian”, you know, I’m there with black hair. I’m a proper Asian, there’s, there’s something implied here. And I also can choose to say, Well, you know, I say thank you with like, see as a positive thing, right. But you could just tell that it’s not exactly, all pleasant. And there’s a slight layer of insult here. And then the following phrase that she said was, oh, gee, like, what would happen if I would wear something like that? And again, you know, it could there’s many ways you can interpret that, but there was something in the air that just didn’t feel right. And I asked her, “Well, yeah, what what would happen if you would wear that,” and then she made a kind of strange face, and then we left it at that.
But speaking of history, I started to really dig into things. And, you know, it’s very interesting to compare to see, well, in America, in the United States, there has been a lot of anti Asian propaganda as well as in Britain. But it’s just interesting to compare how the effects of that has been on the Asian community, compared to say, in Brazil or South American general or in Russia, where, from a culture perspective, it seems and also on a sexual selection perspective, it seems that the Asian men in these other places do much better and have a much better way of integrating or mixing. For example, I found this there’s a Chinese Jamaican man who’s a quite a pop star in Jamaica, you know, he’s got videos and pictures of him with with the ladies And just in a way that you don’t see as much in the United States, and the way that Asian men would feel in terms of the levels of escalation in propaganda over the last hundred years,
what we’ve also been seeing through Black Lives Matter movement is also the way that things are sort of assumes, and I think, yeah, I mean, it does also take sort of standing up and having the conversation. But for me, there’s, there’s obviously, well, I guess, in many different places, there are just different ways that that things have been sort of kept going in very negative ways. But in America, there’s a pride about being from from a particular ethnic group, but then there’s also the separation also can keep things separated. I mean, that’s why I say for me as a kid, especially, and that’s what’s so wonderful about being a kid at a certain age, I guess, is going to primary school, you know, up until the age of 11, I was blissfully unaware that anyone was different, or that different could mean something negative. And there’s just something so amazing. And going back a little bit to this idea of the same space. I mean, it was also just something that one of the dancers had said in one of our discussions, and he used the term same space. And I was really just thinking about that same idea of, of being very similar, being different, but actually also being very similar and nameless, Jo Cox, British politician who says, We have way more in common than we have different. And that just made me instantly more comfortable about myself and about other people. So there’s there’s definitely just something about this thing of how do I and how to other people sort of look at the differences. And the differences don’t have to be seen in a negative way. And I guess that starts with with myself, anyway. Yeah.
These words, that was, is repeat a bit more, freedom, choice, restrictions as well, what got me thinking about that, as well. And you mentioned earlier about letting things go. I didn’t answer you about my name. It’s interesting, because, you know, it was previously known as Paul Jung. It’s a Christian name. And it was interesting, because I remember when we emigrated to Australia, we got this book of Christian names. And we were told that it would be better if you assimilate and pick one of these Christian names, it was written in and translate to Mandarin, it was Bao Luo. And my Mandarin name is Zheng Buo Rong. interestingly enough with names. And you know, I had some other friends who were saying who some people were also a bit upset that I would change my name. And they say, well, that’s your given name from your parents. And I thought, hold on, they’re not really this is just kind of our attempt to appease the Australians to make it not so difficult for them. I don’t have any real connection to it whatsoever. So that was kind of interesting. And then when I dug into my family history, I learned that my ancestor was this man who was born in Japan, he was in a Samurai family, they were basically émigrés from China, he declared himself as a Ming loyalist during a period after Ming, as a dynasty fell, and there was the Ching Dynasty. And they were dealing with the Manchurians and the Mongolians. Any case, his whole dream was about going back to China and reclaiming and bringing back the greatness of Ming Dynasty or whatever, but he failed miserably ended up in Taiwan. And this is an interesting thing about Taiwan is that it seems to be also many people later on the with the nationalist with the Chinese nationalists brought a lot of the Chinese heritage into Taiwan, away from the communists. So when I learned about that, I thought it was really interesting, because in a way, there was this massive history with Japan without family specifically. But in their mind back in those days, they couldn’t wait to get back to China and re install a previous concept of China. This was kind of a moment where I wanted to kind of understand but also to let go. And that was when I went on a kind of a shamanic journey and came and intuited and felt for this sound of this name, specifically, and then I chose a word from a Greek word Ataraxia, in terms of equanimity, and I also took into the idea like I grew up in Australia, I learned also about aborigine rituals. And for them, they have this beautiful ritual was, which is when you turn into an adult, you would choose a name for yourself, and you would give up your name that was given to you when you were a child. And this name would be dependent on your own self observed identity. So I thought that was quite beautiful. And so that that was what I gave to myself.
That’s actually it’s so amazing, like, literally just thinking as also name being labeled to a certain degree in for a long time and how, how maybe difficult is because even for me, it’s like, it’s like okay, well what do I call you or like Do I delete? Like, do I delete it in my phone? Paul Jung? Like, it’s, it’s actually really interesting to think about it,
it is very interesting. And also like the way that different people have different. Some people find it very difficult. And some people are very upset. And some people very nostalgic with my old name, you know, and it’s just interesting, because it’s really a, it’s just, it’s easy to see how much of a concept that we could be for other people.
Yeah, yeah, one of one of my, in it. Of course, the stage world already has had that for a long time with stage names, for example. And I know, one of my friends was encouraged when she was just about, I guess, to join a company to change her name, because she has a Swedish name, first name. And they were like, well, that’s not really a great name for for a ballerina for an American ballerina. So they she changed, she changed her name. Oh, why not? Because I think now, I mean, exoticism would be maybe more interesting, because there’s a uniqueness. But then I think it’s literally just branding. It’s like, what would be a good American name, that they will say you that you belong to us, and we can celebrate you for your American side. So and I know, for example, a dancer when I first joined by 2003, one of the Canadian dancers had some I guess, he had Dutch heritage, and so his name had adapted for from something and so he grew up with the name with a Dutch name that had sort of been combined into one surname, and he was really thinking about separating it so that it would really be back to being a Dutch name like van something. And, and I actually, I do understand that this is where you also think about, like, how is how do people perceive you? And how much do they accept you, this can really be affected also, by the label by the name that you have.
For me, there was a part of sadness and anger stages that I went through, but then there was also a relief, or when I allowed myself to just let go of all these concepts, you know, and yeah, these ideas of freedom going back to the P. So there was also something for me that was quite interesting in terms of Yeah, I guess there was like the quarantine aspect where people would just kind of dressed in non gender defining clothing and no shoes. Would you speak a little bit about that
a lot of the elements for creating this, you know, were made, of course, they were made by me, like also speaking to the dancers, but also really what I wanted to do, which is funny, because this was all, of course, connected to boxes, too. But what I really wanted to do, and knew that what was going to be possible, is for me to reduce the amount of people involved in the team as much as possible. So what I wanted to happen, basically, it was that there would be me, the composer and the dancers. And so at one point, I actually, you know, got a message from the costume department, by Oh, what do you need for costumes? Do you want to look through our, you know, through our old costumes, pick some things out or like, what can happen, it’s a short time is only a month until you’re going to do it. And I was like, you know what I was in rehearsal. And I was like, I just want them to wear the sorts of things that they would wear in rehearsal to me. And ballet dances, dances in general, sort of famous for basically looking like they’re wearing their pajamas all day, because you kind of do, you know, you come to work, you change out your clothes, into your sort of jogging pants and spend the rest of the day you know, sweating and changing t shirt to T shirt. So for me, it was like, I just wanted them to wear something that they would sort of were in a normal situation. So not too performative. I told him that I didn’t want them to wear black or white also, just because of the coloring of the room that we were the box that we’re creating for them. And so ended up quite cartoony quite fast with these, with these quite bright colors, but I also said I didn’t want any logos and stuff like that. So mainly, it was like, What do I want sort of visually? And how do I how can I understate this? How can I make it not about the costumes and actually just about this time spent together in this box that’s constructed for them. And so kind of wanted to remove too much narrative based on what they were wearing.
It’s interesting, this idea of independence and also keeping simplifying and I’ve also been going through the same vibe and feeling like okay, just need to reduce everything and all the people because I just first has no money. Actually, it was a lot about just so complicated the voices and there was this kind of massive machine. I felt like I couldn’t really speak my own voice because there was so many people to take into consideration now with the idea of narrative and their the way that they’re interacting. I mean, for me, the classical ballet, there’s also this very clear, masculine feminine and narrative concepts. How are you with that in your journey? And where do you see yourself going with all of that?
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s definitely a huge part of it. And it’s not something that I’m, you know, inventing or bringing up. It’s been questioned already for a few years. A Dutch National Ballet For example, they’ve been holding these positioning ballet conferences. So questions of diversity and heritage work, what’s the future of ballet, these are questions that have been being sort of brought up and discussed and then thought about, and then people go and continue. I mean, there is a huge, a lot of the classical ballets are based on old stories and old narratives and fairy tales. And there, that’s a perfect excuse for a very old fashioned and not very, you know, current or good way of looking at male and female roles. And of course, ballet is also constructed to a large degree on a man partnering a woman. So during a party, or any sort of duet, the strength of the man. And the way that is connected is usually a very ethereal female figure, with a very strong masculine figure, let’s say the prince and princess, that sort of idea that, you know, that sort of narrative that I also grew up with as a kid, several years ago already with, with House of Makers, I was working with Sterre van Rossem, who’s one of the founders and writer. And she’d written something we were doing together a project called Eventide. And there was an iterator in the project. And then I was like, well, where are we gonna find this man? And she was like, why is it a man? And I was like, Oh, just when I was reading the project, I you know, as the narrator, so I assumed it was a man. And she said, No, it’s always been a woman in my head. And I was like, oh, wow, I didn’t even think about it for me, and the writer is a man, how does this happen to me.
And so I had to start thinking back to all of the experiences of the storybooks, the tapes, all those things that I read, and how I’ve always heard things. Also, as I’ve been reading things, and you know, maybe partly because I’m a man, that that’s been there, but also just the way I’ve been taught narratives from being a very young child, I realize is sort of made me make those assumptions. There’s definitely stuff in just in outside of ballet that completely influences that. And then within ballet continues, for me is important, but it’s not part of the for now, it’s also not part of the way that a ballet dancer is training. But there’s some partnering there, there’s two men partnering each other, there’s man or woman partnering each other and an end to women partnering each other in this piece. And it’s true. It’s like if I asked the women to lift each other, there’s a complete different set of possibilities. And there’s not a shame. But there’s a lack of confidence, because it’s not ground that’s been explored so much by two females partnering each other in the classical ballet world. And yet, it does happen a lot in the contemporary dance world. And so, for me, it’s something that I would definitely continue with, because I don’t think that we need those lines so strictly unless that’s the narrative that you have actually decided to tell.
So I guess it’s actually making a decision, am I telling the story in this way? That says that the man is the strong figure, physical figure that can lift and move around a light female figure then, okay, it’s okay. But I think it needs to be decided it shouldn’t just be automatic. Given there was a lack of this kind of strong man lifting a woman type of cliche was very contemporary in the sense of like, it was the kind of body language of our generation as well, like everybody was quite relatively independent. There wasn’t this kind of damsel in distress and like leaning into the strong man, for example, there was a lot of this, like supportive kind of body language, you know, quite like Well, okay, Up you go and quiet, taking care of one’s own. Well, I talked him to begin with, when we were rehearsing, and I was going into the studio, I asked him I like if I had them more than one of them together, because they didn’t always happen together also. So I had to work one on one or, you know, separately when I had time in the studio, but when they did have more than one person, and I wanted to create some sort of contact work, I was asking them, Well, are you okay, being in contact with each other? Like, what are the rules now at work? And how do you feel about them? And so there was always a bit of time to check in. And, you know, they would sometimes be like, Well, I’m not that comfortable. But we are doing it already. So I guess it’s okay.
So then there was always this question of like, how far are we going to go. And so for me, there was something that I wanted to do anyway, which is go from them very minimally touching each other, the beginning being quite pedestrian and quite separate, and reach by the end of this, you know, by the end of the period, they were together, that they actually feel more and more comfortable with each other. And that’s actually what happens I think the more longer they’ve been in it, the more comfortable they became with each other, the more comfortable they were to touch each other, and the more they would enjoy touching each other. So the piece actually also in its 19 minutes, or whatever it is also kind of represents the few weeks that I had with them just sort of a zoom in of how it was to spend time with them over this month.
I find that there’s this thing about deconstruction of all these relationships and touch a sexuality How is it for you in terms of interacting and this this whole COVID thing, I also found it was a bit hard to reconnect with people. And I don’t know how to relate to people or most
things never really, I don’t know how it was… are you in Berlin? Actually, now?
I’m in Berlin. Yeah,
I don’t know how it really was there. I do have a friend that I tied to a couple of times, but things never really shut down very much here. So I think I had about two weeks of very minimal contact with people. But honestly, I was in a, I was in a small depression, I guess for two weeks anyway, because everything that I thought that was going to happen for the next five months was being canceled or postponed or, you know, just a big question mark over. So I think I had about two weeks of sort of hiding from the world. Then from then on, I still was comfortably seeing people, it wasn’t so bad here. The sun was out. I was traveling around, I was biking everywhere. I guess that’s the beauty of being in the Netherlands, Joy’s biking absolutely everywhere, you know, biking to the beach, biking to parks. And so in terms of that, it hasn’t really been so bad in terms of like working out all of those questions personally. And in my work of like, how is it to be a man, a woman? Or like, do you have to think of yourself in a way really assign those qualities to yourself?
And yeah, it’s really complicated. Because in one way, I feel like the ballet world is supposedly so open, or the theater world is so open in the same time, there are still like lots of stigmas and problems. And for me, I find myself quite I am quite private, I think, in general. And I quite like being private or having you know, my way of doing things, I also don’t feel like I fit into any particular boxes, 100%. And that also feels difficult sometimes, because I feel, you know, to support or to be confident or make choices about things seems really important. And politically as well. And I just feel like, for me, I can see things a little bit from every side.
So I always find it difficult to say this is black. And this is why and that’s it. But then there are moments where that also like we’re talking about with where you come from makes it very freeing, but it can also be very restricting, or scary, I guess, not being able to say this is what I am. This is where I’m from, this is where I belong. And that was nice to hear a little bit with, again, one of those dances in the piece. Leo, who is very young, and he’s like 19, or something. I’ve never really spoken to him. I spent the most time with him in this because he had the most free time. And first rehearsal when I was interviewing him he was talking about Yeah, I’m really interested in what male fragility means. And then, you know, I recorded him and had the sound. And the next time I saw him, he said, I don’t think I agree with myself at all with what I said last time. Can we do this again? Can we talk again, and I was like we are we can keep talking. But I’m not really worried about you finding a particular truth or quotable truth that says, you know exactly how you feel about something forever. And you know, you can sign it. And that’s it. For me, I don’t want to have to be like that. I feel like it should we should be able to stay in flux, and change our opinions and, you know, fall in love with different people, all the rest of it.
What is your view on the idea of masculinity?
Yeah, I mean, I guess there are still those things that come up, and that I struggle with, I’m also really thinking a lot about what leadership role means. And of course, there’s also this messed up history of predominantly male leaders, and you know, everything about the arts, in particular, that’s also something that’s been very strong. And it is, it is changing rapidly, and should continue to do. So. I wonder, I mean, thinking a lot about what it means to be the sort of very dominant, loud, or fruitarian leader, and I realized that’s definitely something that has never, never, ever attracted me. If I think about that, I struggled because there’s still so much sort of programmed into me that says what it means to be a man, that you should be strong and maybe not emotional, physically strong, but also mentally strong. But at the same time, the male figures that I saw growing up around me, they all had alcohol problems, psychological problems, like major stress problems, like the idea, you know, I was just reading an article about how in the 50s, you know, things change in America that the man had to be the breadwinner, for example, or for me, you know, I’m age 40 now. So what is the man should I have? Should I own by age 40? What should I have achieved and it’s really hard for me, sometimes I wake up or go to bed thinking about those things. And it really takes a lot of work to let them go.
And as much as I don’t think they apply to me, it still creeps in as you know, what are the ideas that I’m supposed to have achieved by this certain point, and I think a lot of them are actually related, again to being to being a man which is also ridiculous. But I still Yeah, to something that I think we’ll continue to think about for ever. I think in a way I quite like that I don’t really have, I didn’t really have the idea of becoming my father or something. That’s never, I mean, I think I was worried about it when I was younger, that I might become like him, and that that would be a negative thing. As I get older, I realized that nobody is perfect. You know, a lot of I think I turned him into more of a scary figure than, than he probably was. But it was also a way of dealing with things, things shift and change. And also my perspective on things change. As I grow older and experience more for myself.
It was funny when you before when you said, the narrator, for me instantly was it was actually female.
Yeah. And I would say, I mean, for the first part, my infancy between zero and three, I was abused physically by my father, I had really horrible ideas of him. But then between, say, three and 18, I would say that I had much more of a tyrannical mother, it was the driving force for me to run away as far as possible, I could from them in my adult life through that kind of liberation, which also brought pain, but I’ve been trying to reconciliate with them, and I’m also understanding them better. Now. Not that I necessarily can relate. I think it’s also because we’re from such different place in time, it’s just different people. But on a human sense, I feel much more compassionate at the kind of the weakness of my father, or the the difficulties and the struggles that he had to go through. In his timeline. Having said that, for me, I’ve been kind of rediscovering masculinity, I feel like only my 30s I started to because before my 30s, I felt like I didn’t want to identify really, with a man. I felt it was quite toxic and quite awful. For me, most of my life I had, I just wanted, I think that was also what got me into fashion, because I just want to be with women. And then it was in my 30s, that kind of rediscover that aspect of myself and ask myself like, what are my masculine aspects? And what do I feel proud and feel good and looking for that element in all people? So that’s, that’s kind of a larger, larger discussion and question. And hopefully, I, I think that’s also a big part of why I want to do with this podcast and to kind of research about that, because I think there’s just so much covered about the concept of toxic masculinity. But there’s, I think there’s definitely different aspects of it just as much as femininity. And I think, I’m quite curious to explore more of that and to see different attributes that people can relate to.
I mean, I guess, with the with the me to movement, there’s also been a lot of questions about, of course, the abuse of power. And, and it’s really men in male figures in the spotlight, and also made a lot of men afraid, which in many ways, is good, because it makes people maybe really aware of what they’re doing. And you know, how they’ve ended up doing what they’ve doing, and all the rest of it. But it would be, it is really important also, again, not to have to be apologetic about who you are, or not to hide things, because they realize a lot of the things that are just taboo, or that you don’t want people to know about, or you’re ashamed of those things being hidden, really don’t help you grow or the people around you. So if you can only show the good side of things, which is interesting, because for me, social media is a little bit like that, too, although it’s changing as well, depending on what helps get more people connected to you. But this idea of just showing the best side of yourself or, and so in terms of masculinity, and being able to celebrate some of those qualities, or even not having to think about of them being masculine qualities, but just human qualities would be really nice. If strength is the idea of physical strength is attributed as a sort of masculine quality that, for me is a pity because it really it really doesn’t have to be
Yeah, and there’s so many different types of strengths. I mean, I find for me, my mind, I find women to be much more powerful and so much more strength in a different sense, you know, in some ways, resilience,
but I really do wonder if we would be able to let go of some of those things without having to attribute them to a man or a woman. Then things can flow more and you don’t have to fit like you feel like you don’t fit into something, you know. So if if we talk about resilience or resilience to pain, for example, being the possibility of a woman, then maybe that limits how a man would feel that he can connect to those things. If you can let that go, then it doesn’t have to belong to a man or a woman. Like I think that would be really useful, but I think we feel like we need to categorize everything, to be able to store them and to be able to process things without going crazy. But I think we do it so much that we actually create a lot of limitations, which is again, it’s a lot about what the film was about.
I like that part when the weather the box was literally removed.
Yeah, it’s really fun, like and beautiful just to see like some of those things. And of course, the idea was to see what possibilities there are no, see, there are like 1000 more possibilities and can be streamlined. What is the literal feeling when someone removes the walls from around you, or it’s quite incredible. Or if someone does the opposite, like literally boxes you and it can make you feel really safe. Or it can make you feel really claustrophobic. And I guess that’s the same when people tell you you are something or maybe you being able to say I am this can be really liberating. Because it can strengthen you. But yeah, male, male and female ideas of masculinity and femininity. And I mean, I think it is blurring. And I know maybe for different people, that’s difficult. And for me at times, it’s difficult to but I really like the idea of it blurring. I’m a bit fed up of things being seen as so simple. And when things are so simple, you have to be on one side of the line or the other side of the line. it excludes so many people.
Transcript from film 51:43
I want to create spaces where people can share themselves and so can I. I want to hear more voices. I am independent. I don’t like relying on someone or the belief that you should rely on someone. I don’t like relying on someone I don’t like relying on someone.
Unknown Speaker 52:48
Unknown Speaker 52:49
don’t like relying on someone. I don’t like relying on someone.
Transcript from film 53:05
Choices really usually like start from my head. I mean, obviously but I really visualize it kind of feels like a ripple effect.
I miss my family. I miss my sister a lot like I miss being in the car weather and listening to music. And singing
kind of feels like a ripple effect sometimes. freedom of choice, freedom of choice, freedom of choice. Freedom of Choice kind of feels like a ripple effect sometimes. Freedom often does matter which choice you make. It’s just like how you go into it and what kind of feels like ripple effects and enjoy. Choice, freedom of choice, freedom. Freedom. Freedom kind of feels like a ripple effect. So times.
Unknown Speaker 54:53
Transcript from film 54:54
Unknown Speaker 55:09
Unknown Speaker 55:25
kind of feels like a ripple effect sometimes.
Unknown Speaker 55:49
I still feel the most happy dance
Unknown Speaker 55:56
kind of feels like a ripple effects.
Transcript from film 56:16
Unknown Speaker 56:25
I still feel the most happy. I say I still am most happy when I dance. friends
Unknown Speaker 57:16
Unknown Speaker 57:43
still feel the most
Unknown Speaker 57:46
happy when I know
Unknown Speaker 57:54
what to say when people ask me where I’m from.
Unknown Speaker 58:44
Want to create spaces where people are themselves
Unknown Speaker 1:00:21
It comes down to how to make
Transcript from film 1:01:04
better than it
Unknown Speaker 1:01:09
also comes down to
Unknown Speaker 1:01:10