Focus Charlotte Vanden Eynde (Eng.)

Kaaitheater bulletin May 2005English

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A girl is lying on a table dressed only in respectable old-fashioned white underwear. The table – or is it a classroom bench? – is actually too small to support her entire body. She moves her legs. It looks like clawing in the air: not particularly elegant, rather awkward, a little spastic and crooked. The same movements recur, as do the few phrases she speaks while moving: ‘Legs can break. Straight legs are more beautiful than bent legs. Toes are funny. White legs aren’t sexy. Some legs run away.’


Benenbreken (1997) was the first small-scale dance performance by Charlotte Vanden Eynde. At the time she was still a student at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s P.A.R.T.S. school. It was as if in this initial little project she had already found the first elements of her own idiom. Like so many little girls, Charlotte Vanden Eynde (b. 1975) dreamt of being a classical dancer. She was attracted by the aesthetics of Maurice Béjart’s work and of the Nederlands Danstheater, while the plastic arts – her mother is an artist – are an organic part of her artistic roots. She studied at the Higher Dance Institute in Lier and later at P.A.R.T.S. in Brussels. However, in both these schools she clashed with the accepted standards given to dance performers.
This raised the following question in her mind: what is my body capable of that is also beautiful? Out of this arose the performance Benenbreken, the duet Zij Ogen and lastly Vrouwenvouwen, a choreography and performance for four women with which she graduated from P.A.R.T.S. in 1999 – a small repertoire with an idiom all its own, for which organisers in the dance world appeared to show interest. At that time she described herself rather as a ‘performing artist’ than a choreographer. In her creations she intuitively brought dance, art and performance together.


‘What attracts me to the body is its plasticity, and the image, still and clearly bounded, reflecting ourselves, showing ourselves. I like the untouched, unpolished, imperfectness of the body, its beauty, but also the beauty of what is graceful. Fragility flanked by strength. The eroticism of the body. The pure body. Its strangeness.’

(Charlotte Vanden Eynde, 1999.)


In the meantime she was also involved in several plays by Jan Decorte as choreographer and/or performer: Amlett (2001), Cirque Danton (2002) and Cannibali! (2003). ‘The only piece by Jan Decorte I had previously seen was Bêt Noir. It appealed to me a lot, because it links up with things I am looking for myself: something plastic, distilled, those aesthetics of unpolished beauty, that ‘rough poetry’, as Jan himself described it. In his work Jan makes a powerful statement in the theatre world. The way he rehearses gave me artistic independence. In Amlett and Cannibali! I was both choreographer and performer. For Cirque Danton I did the choreography for a group of ten people who were moreover not professional dancers. That was a challenge in many ways’.
What is more, Charlotte Vanden Eynde shares with Decorte the attraction to ‘awkwardness’ and the childlike, that was to run like a thread through her later creations. She gauged acting, standing on stage and using language, to be an important experience: ‘Acting is a discussion with yourself and your own limitations. I am quite shy by nature, especially when verbal communication is required. I find that much more confrontational than just letting your body move and showing it. I feel much more protected in my body.’
This acting was extended onto the silver screen when Dorothée van den Berghe asked her to play the leading part in her first full-length film Meisje (2002). Vanden Eynde and Van den Berghe were on the same wavelength when it came to their searching, intuitive and to the outsider chaotic-looking way of working, and in their exceptional sensitivity to what ‘moves’ women. For this part, playing the somewhat desperate, self-searching girl, Vanden Eynde won the prize for the best performance at the Amiens Film Festival in France in 2002. She performed as a dancer in Most Recent (2002) by the choreographer Marc Vanrunxt: one of the things she admires in his work is the less than self-evident yet quite ‘natural’ way he structures his performances: ‘The way – counter to all the ‘rules’ – he is able to put a very long, slow passage after a fast passage and still give you the feeling that it’s ‘right’.


‘My body, which is visible and mobile, belongs in the world of things; it is one of them, is incorporated in the fabric of the world and its cohesion is that of a thing. But because it sees and moves, it also keeps things in a circle around it, they become an annex or extension of it, nestle in its flesh, are part of its complete definition, and the world is composed of the body’s substance itself.’

(Maurice Merleau-Ponty)


Vanden Eynde has undoubtedly learnt a lot from her work in other people’s productions, but even so this seems to be only a sidetrack and she has chosen to continue the creative work of her own that she started at P.A.R.T.S.
In 2000 she created Lijfstof together with Ugo De Haes. This piece concentrated on the body as a thing, a mass, a casing that can assume all manner of strange forms that are no longer recognisable as human. By working with objects, props – which she already started doing in Vrouwenvouwen – Vanden Eynde distanced herself from what we normally describe as dance or choreography and came closer to the plastic arts. In its composition, Lijfstof is more a succession of images than a dynamically constructed stage event: as if we the spectators are literally experiencing someone exposing himself or herself. The body as sculpture.
Stand (2001) was a humorous installation performance inspired by the stands occupied by artists at art fairs. The three female dancers were literally stored away in cabinets, doomed to the status of object. A state from which they did however occasionally break out in order to perform absurd dances, ‘directed’ by Charlotte Vanden Eynde herself.

In MAP ME, which she created in 2003 with her partner Kurt Vandendriessche, their two bodies were literally mapped. The skin, the casing that envelops the body mass, was used among other things as a projection screen: by projecting all manner of images – a chest of draws, for example, filled with underwear and socks – onto the body, it became not only ‘functional’ but also gained an inside, a secret, an intimacy. For example, not only can you tie strings to your nipples, you can also press milk out of them. Parts of the body were shot in close-up. The two performers swathed their heads in adhesive tape and connected them together. The dance they afterwards tried to perform together referred not only to Siamese twins severely restricted in their movements, but also to that mythical creature, once described by Plato, in which man and woman are united: since that ill-fated division into man and woman, all humans have been obliged to spend their lives looking for their lost other half.
MAP ME comprises still images that radiate a great restfulness: as if the search for a harmonious fusion were complete and the symbiosis with ‘the other’ could actually take place. The performance expresses the confidence that man can enrich his own identity by converging with another.In MAP ME we also see the fusion of Vanden Eynde’s professional and private lives: she shared the stage with her partner and was moreover pregnant when she created this piece. One saw her here shifting up one step in the succession of generations: growing out of the domain of the child-woman and entering that of the adult-woman.

Discovering one’s own body (Benenbreken, Zij Ogen), bringing this body face to face with objects and clothes (Vrouwenvouwen), letting the body become a thing (Lijfstof) and probing the body both inside and outside (MAP ME): the course Vanden Eynde has followed in her short career seems to have evolved away from dance and to have moved closer to art. To use her own words: ‘After MAP ME I had the feeling that we had got this far but now I wanted to go back. Dance and pure movement continue to fascinate me. Perhaps I needed that whole diversion via art, theatre, film and performance to bring my new project, Beginnings/Endings, back to dance again.
At the moment Vanden Eynde is working with six dancers on this new piece, a performance for the larger stage in which she herself does not dance. The size of the group and the theatre, the fact that she herself remains ‘outside’ events on stage, the compositional complexity that this sort of larger project requires: these are all new challenges that change the peace found in MAP ME back into restlessness. Vanden Eynde herself says, ‘I decided beforehand that I would not make another ‘fragmentary’ piece in which one sees a succession of images, but would try to find a choreographic structure. However, I do not like starting out from mathematical formulae to create a composition; I want to continue approaching structure in an intuitive way. That is why I have built up a structure by reflecting instinctively on what succession of forms might be possible. I then analyse this structure myself afterwards: when I do so I try to figure out whether the non-rational choices I made also hold up rationally. When I am working for myself I usually make a ‘story’ too, against which I can continually test the internal logic of what I’m doing. When the things I have decided intuitively turn out to correspond with the story, it gives me the confidence to carry on in the same way.’

One of the themes that constantly recurs in Vanden Eynde’s work, apart from that of man’s individual evolution – birth, growing to adulthood and death – is the evolution of the world in general: how stones and plants are related to each other, how man developed from the animals, and so on. The title, Beginnings/Endings, refers to this double evolution. Here too her experiences as a woman in life and her development as an artist coincide. As she says, ‘When I look at my little daughter, it inspires me a lot for this production. You see how movement arises in the body. In this observation I find confirmation of my points of departure, the things I have been looking for since Benenbreken. At that time people sometimes said: your movements somehow look spastic, almost a little mentally disturbed. In such a small child you see that movement is the result of a learning process, which in the beginning is uncontrolled and therefore spastic. There is nothing unusual about it; this clumsiness is part of our nature, part of the naturalness we later lose.’
In her video installation entitled Baby, created for David Hernandez’ Performance Hotel (2004), Vanden Eynde observes for several minutes a naked baby moving freely and discovering everything it can do with its arms, hands and legs. A marvellously beautiful ‘document’ that completes the circle and takes us back to where it started, to that childishly intent reflection that toes are funny, that crooked legs exist and that some legs run away...


(Translation: Gregory Ball)