They are fourteen in number, the first generation of students to complete the two-year STUDIOS master's programme at P.A.R.T.S. dance school. Because the global health crisis has left them without a live audience for over a year now, these three graduates are eager to share their graduation projects on a real stage.
Eimi Leggett: 'I wanted to understand what really brings a work of art to life'
Born in Sydney and raised in Tokyo and London, Eimi Leggett trained in ballet, theatre and contemporary dance before starting her training cycle at P.A.R.T.S. “At the London Contemporary Dance School, the emphasis was mainly on technique, but I also wanted to make my own things. Whereas the BA was still very physical, the mental aspect weighed more heavily in the MA. This was further enhanced by the pandemic, which strengthened the bonds between the students. Fortunately, our study trips – two weeks in Taipei and five weeks in Senegal – were before the lockdown. Then the focus shifted to online.”
The fact that dance performances could only be watched on online platforms was a source of frustration for Leggett, who her whole life has heard teachers say: “Give some more stage presence.” That then immediately laid the basis for her thesis. The Search for Liveness came about after studying films of dancing teenagers on TikTok. “They all looked so immediate, but at the same time seemed to lack a soul. I wanted to understand the difference between real performances and what is projected through devices. More precisely: what really brings a work of art to life? Is it still just about being present in the room? How does the new virtual framework relate to the dancer? For my thesis, I'm asking two people who make a living from interacting with their audiences – a queer artist and someone who started online stand-up comedy during the lockdown – where 'liveness' is headed.”
Looking back on her P.A.R.T.S. journey, Leggett concludes that she has learned to temporize between busy schedules, not always say sorry before she speaks and to plan well in advance. “But the biggest lesson was to be open and respectful enough in the same room with all these different people, cultures and nationalities while still standing up for yourself. Up until now, I've always been a student. It's time to step out of that comfort zone. Ideally, I'd like to keep making my own pieces in Brussels. But actually, for the first time in my life, I don't really have a plan, and it doesn't feel uncomfortable.”
EIMI LEGGETT: THE SEARCH FOR LIVENESS
15 & 16/6, 20.00, Rosas Performance Space
Nathan Ooms: 'These shows help us on our way towards work, freedom and self-sufficiency'
Nathan Ooms remembers the Zoom session in which all P.A.R.T.S. students were told that, due to the pandemic, they were not allowed to return to the school buildings. “That news hit home,” says the student who came to follow the new master's program in September 2019 after studying drama at the KASK in Ghent. “I saw all the faces leave. Especially in our course, where working with fellow students is so important and necessary, that was hard to deal with. The pandemic did make us even more attentive and caring with each other later, when we were back to being taught in little bubbles.”
The Honey House, his graduation performance, is also a group work, with three classmates and actress and theatre maker Anna Franziska Jäger, with whom he has also previously created performances. “I haven't quite figured out where exactly my graduation work is on the dividing line between theatre and dance, but it was a fantastic experience anyway. The thread running through the performance is the mixed feelings that characterise our competitive society. We constantly feel the need to boost and develop ourselves on the one hand, while at the same time taking care of ourselves and each other. I investigate these contrasting imperatives by having movements based, for example, on extreme sports, but also on self-care routines such as sunbathing, clash with each other in a loop. I want to show how all these regimes act on our bodies.”
Ooms calls the graduation shows, which will take place in front of a live audience thanks to the new rules, an important linking moment for the entire group. “They help us on our way towards work, freedom and self-sufficiency. Along with informal and spontaneous meetings after dance and theatre performances, which I missed most during the past period.” Once this master is completed, Ooms wants to continue making performances. After the summer, he will be seen in the Toneelhuis production Indoor Weather. A new performance with Jäger is also in the pipeline.
NATHAN OOMS: THE HONEY HOUSE
10 & 11/6, 20.00, Rosas Performance Space
Mary Szydlowska: 'The unpredictable gives me energy and makes my work come to life'
"I was going to settle down here for two years in an artistic bubble, experimenting and reflecting,” Mary Szydlowska says laughingly. She is from Poland and had already completed several (exchange) projects following anthropology studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. “The STUDIOS master's seemed ideal to me because it's a collective pathway, yet charging your individual needs as a young maker. Moreover, the dance floor is a real work floor and research space. I was used to a much more cautious attitude where you were invariably asked to take off your shoes.” (Laughs)
The link between dance space and workplace also seeps into her graduate work. For the performance and installation LEAKS, Szydlowska investigated the movements of cleaning and maintenance staff. “My interest took shape when I was researching the activities that took place there in between the opening hours at the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw. Our workplaces, like public spaces and dance halls, are by default clean and empty. That condition became my context, first in the solo SOAK, in which I worked with fabrics and hand gestures derived from brushing movements. In LEAKS, I bring in larger cleaning equipment. I don't want to hijack the movements of professional cleaners but I want to acknowledge and study what their impact is on our workplaces and how it may change our perception.”
During her research, Szydlowska found that cleaning has drastically changed, from a peripheral and invisible action into one highly demanded. “The pandemic did make cleaning work even more visible. We disinfect everything, including ourselves. In a way, we have all become cleaners.” Recently, Szydlowska received a scholarship for a dance project in her home town of Krakow. But in fact, she doesn't want to return to a country where she is not allowed to make decisions about her own body. She prefers to discover the cultural scene in Brussels, which remained closed during her time here. “Everything was so organized and predictable, while facing a living audience remains crucial for artists. I'm certainly not doing it for me. It's communication. The unpredictable gives me energy and makes my work come alive.”
MARY SZYDLOWSKA: LEAKS
13/6, 16 > 18.30 continuously, Wild Gallery
P.A.R.T.S. STUDIOS GRADUATION WORKS
8 > 20/6, Rosas Performance Space & Wild Gallery