‘What we created is almost like a friend’
After their first artistic acquaintance creating the hit performance Carry Jump Catch (2018) they meet again in the NITE Hotel. You can visit Mart van Berckel’s and Angela Herenda’s fantastical and relatable worlds-in-world online during OPEN NITES this March. I had a very nice conversation with the makers of ALL THAT FOLLOWS. A symphony about going digital. Let them lure you into their project. What’s your story going to be about?
Angela, as a dancer, choreographer and actor, how do you start when working with the digital medium? Especially having the NITE values in mind such as the equality of disciplines.
A: * UCH * [Laughs and wakes up morning voice] It is funny that you ask it from the perspective of a dancer. This whole online sphere is new for the maker, genuinely speaking. None of us are film makers. Judging by the last year since the NITE hotel is online, we learned a lot, that is for sure! Obviously, there’s a very good point to make about an aspect that you need to think about and that is the visual aspect and how much it translates to screen. We also realized that there’s work to be done about subtleties and how these subtleties translate to screen. At the same time, I really have to say that rules as ‘you have to capture your audience within the first thirty seconds’ and ‘there has to be change every minute otherwise people stop watching’ may work for Instagram, but I never want it to be influencing the way I make things. You see, when people buy a ticket to watch a show or a video piece, there is already a different kind of attention span to which they sign up for – willingly. So, if anything it was very much about going against this commercial sense of keeping people constantly bombarded with information. We actually try to slowly drag them in and hope they will latch on and pay attention to something that is very minimal.
Not sensation but dedication?
Can you tell me a bit more about what these subtleties are that need translation, or about this research into how to translate them to screen?
A: I think that’s pretty specific to this project because we decided not to go for a heavy edit with a lot of close-ups but instead one shot with which we push, no, not push: we guide the audience into what to watch. In that sense the presentation actually comes quite close to a live experience in the theatre because you can decide what you want to see from close up. Even when this means to come closer to the screen.
The subtleties of film work in the way that you see every little movement of the hand and every little thing gets very important whereas on stage you can kind of look at a total shot, if you wish to do so. And it is about big gestures. I do not mean big gestures physically but as a maker you make these big decisions and those work quite well on stage. We now went for small stuff. It’s a bit like the rear window. If you are looking at the building outside your house and you notice someone in their bedroom rehearsing a TikTok dance video, you have to work really hard to see them and to zoom into their world. And that’s what we tried to do this time around.
That is a good link to what I wanted to ask Mart. I did some internet research and you are praised for your eye for detail. I read that you work on a theatre piece like a composer. Now it seems like the ‘first violin’ – the flesh-and-blood aspect of the theatre, is sick. What to do?
M: Working with camera allows actually to work even more with details than working in a theatre. I do indeed really enjoy working very detailed and I am very specific as a director but actually, when you work with camera there’s an extra layer of detail. That is the positioning of the camera and everything the performers do relates to this one frame you create. I do feel that this was still very much a matter of composing a work of art. When you work with eight screens then you have to think like ‘at the one moment that screen is empty, then at that screen somethings happens for six minutes, then something happens for two minutes and elsewhere happens something very short for thirty seconds.’ It is very much about composing. You need to think about the different layers and about the different rhythms, pacing and timing of the movements. It is funny, when we were talking about the screens and the performers we were often referring to them as instruments and our piece is actually called All that follows. A symphony. We do see our project like a symphony in which all these characters have their own function; their own musicality within the bigger structure.
Are these functional particles a manner to, taken together, create a large gesture?
M: The biggest difference is that in theatre you have this one frame: you have the stage. We decided to go with eight frames. In the theatre you normally think of this one space that has to go through a certain development and has to stay interesting all the time but now we can decide that one screen will stay empty for a long time. And then it’s of course not that interesting to watch at that moment but within the overall composition it’s a good choice to do this because the audience will start focussing on something else and maybe later they come back. That’s a different kind of composing. The fact that there are so many things to look at in this art work creates more freedom for gestures that you couldn’t do in theatre. What I mean to say is that there are scenes in the piece that are way too boring for theatre but that work in our context.
What would then, in a more general sense, be a form of support you give the audience?
A: The general vibe of the world we live in now is pretty lonely, right? What we created is almost like a friend that lives across the street that you can watch, if you like, or not, if you don’t like to. The main thing is that it will continue living even if that screen is empty for ten seconds. It will continue living and when you visit it again maybe something happens.
M: I like this idea of a friend! For me when I think of the piece I relate it very much to the idea of a human zoo. If you go to the zoo it is beautiful to watch animals because they don’t perform. You look at the lion and it’s sleeping, maybe just moving its paw a bit, but it’s still beautiful to watch. For me it is about that kind of feeling. The feeling of being a voyeur; of having different people to watch, to relate to, to get bored of… You can build up some kind of relationship with them.
A human zoo about lonely people that maybe have lost something or are stuck in some way. The piece only invites you to watch but it doesn’t force anything.
Okay, so we have the audience-as-voyeur. Can you find other words to describe your perception on the people that will tune in? On the couch or active, dedicated?
A: In a mood of peoplewatching. You know the feeling? If you’re at a bar, placed at a square, drinking your coffee, you can decide to look at your phone and completely disregard your surroundings. But you can also look up and you’ll see a bunch of things happen and moreover, if you tune in a little bit with your fantasy you can maybe name some of the people on the square or try to think about what are they doing, what they are looking at and ‘what are they thinking?!’ That is a bit the vibe…
I love doing that!
A: It’s like a window to a lot of windows. You can choose which to investigate or just observe.
M: Yes, I think observing is a very good word! I have this game I play with a friend a lot. We go to a park, sit down on a bench, we only look forward and we image that what we see is a camera frame. You just see what happens! Like people passing through your frame, and then you start fantasising. Sometimes it’s boring and sometimes it quite nice but it’s actually a meditative mood. That is an importing thing for the audience indeed, because when you want to see everything of the piece you’ll have to watch it for eight hours. Should we tell that it’s a loop, Angie?
A: Yes, I guess… I don’t know! The thing with the eight screens is, our estimate is that not everyone will watch them all at same time completely zoomed out. Hopefully you’ll want to come close like [leans into the camera] ‘huh, what do they do?’, so you will miss what happens in the other seven screens. In that sense you have to watch it eight times to be able to stare at each of the screens for their full duration.
But would that give the best experience or is there something to be said about the perspectivity of being an observer. The eye can never see anything, obviously.
A: I think the exhilaration of missing something is just as nice. Sometimes I watch my neighbours across the street and there is one room with the curtains closed. So, then I see this whole action unfolding and when they move to that room and I’m like ‘aaaaah!’. But I can image what happens there and maybe that’s enough. Maybe I don’t need to know anything.
M: Plus, our work will be too big to know anything – eight screens with all those characters. I think for our audience that you should watch it until you are satisfied. That could be one hour, that could be seven hours. It could be fourteen hours and [obvious hesitation] you could say twenty minutes but I believe there is more to see than just that. But in general, you could say the piece can take a very long time. Also in your head while watching. I would be very happy if people would watch it every day for three hours and discover new stuff.
I’ll write that down as the advice of the maker: meditation, three hours a day.
M: I would say that it is a kind of visual meditation. Right?
A: Yes. It is something we were fantasising about… The idea of watching eight Roy Andersson movies at the same time. In his work scenes can take so long that you’re like ‘oh yeah, yeah’ and you’ll go make yourself a tea and when you come back and they’re still there, you’re like ‘wow!’.
M: That is certainly also a thing! You don’t have to watch it with your full attention for two hours. You can watch twenty minutes and then have it in the background and come back. So it doesn’t ask for this continuous way of looking.
That it is not about the sensational is a very welcome atmosphere right now, I think. I mean for me, us, the viewers.
M: I hope so.
A: What is important to mention is that all these people we show do all have something in common. There are points in this loop where things click together. Somehow in the wake of this past year – and this is such a warm feeling – no matter how much it is coated in loneliness, there are endless amounts of people going through the same thing you are going through or… every time we look up we see the same moon. You are not alone, wherever you are. We were joking about it in the very early ages of our brainstorm that we should make a piece that feels like a hug. I think we came kind of close.
That sounds so beautiful. Now I have another question that I put down as the last one and you may answer in a very general or personal sense or specifically about the work. What is something in your near future, let’s say the coming month, that you look forward to?
A: … Mart, you start!
M: To be very honest and personal? Making a piece, especially montaging, is a lot of hard work so, honesty, I am looking forward to some days off…
Don’t feel bad, that’s a good answer.
M: And it is not because I don’t like the work! I love the work. It’s just a lot.
When the piece comes online I really look forward to getting responses from people. When you do a theatre piece you do 1,5 hours in ‘de zaal’ and then you go to the foyer and all the people come to you and tell you ‘it was beautiful’, ‘it was shit’, ‘ooh I did like it’, ‘ooh I didn’t like it’, ‘ooh this was weird’. But everything is focussed on these two or three hours that are always so overwhelming and what I’m curious about with this piece is that the audience response will also come in differently. I hope that over the course of the month we’ll get short and long messages of people that watched it once, twice and who all have different experiences. I am very curious about what kind of feedback that will create in relation to the very direct and short-term feedback of the theatre. I look forward to seeing the slowness of the work translate to the way the audience feedback works.
One more thing I am very excited about: We planned now for the project being online but we hope also to show it in a live version. To make a real video installation with different screens in a room in a museum setting. That’s a little fantasy or dream we have with this piece.
I’d like that, cool. Well, Angela, after some time to think…
A: It is funny that you mention the days off because I thought exactly the same! I am performing in the piece as well, which was totally not the plan but we got a performer stuck in the UK and she can’t come back. In that sense it has been a lot. But then again, I have this feeling that is very much similar to finishing a good book and you’re like one chapter until the end and I am really like I need to find a new book! I know we finish on Friday and then… Instead of a climactic ending with this foyer situation that is overwhelming and full of people we now have a month with little things coming in slowly. The nice thing is that people can watch it at home – it’s not only the premiere at Stadsschouwburg Groningen. It can happen everywhere in the world and my friends abroad can watch it too. My friend is planning to play it next to her baby while they’re playing, I wonder how that’s going to go. I am looking forward to the feedback too, no matter how slow it comes.
We made something so sweet. I am looking forward to see how people perceive it. The normal theatre set up where everyone comes together for two or three hours is so intense but this is a lot more soothing. I am really wondering what it is going to do. I never made something like this, I think.
M: The one thing that I am forgetting is the first time that we are going to see the eight screens put together. Right now we are only rehearsing it, filming it screen by screen but we have no idea of how it looks together. Of course we have scripted it, but we haven’t seen it. That is also going to be interesting.
Is there something to be said still?
A: I believe we mentioned everything. The question now is how people will react.
I’m looking forward to it so much. I feel your care for the project and cannot imagine not feeling it through the performance.
M: What can be said about this is that this project came from our hearts. It is very personal and poetical but also universal because it touches upon everything that is happing in the world but then on a poetic and personal level. In that way it is very connected and feels connected – to us, the world, the time we live in.
A: We were toying around with a dreamlike narrative wherein the dramaturgy of the whole piece was not something realistic or consequential or whatever. Like a house with a lot of art in which these pieces come to live in the night and start meeting each other. In that sense the characters in the piece are not realistic. They are human, they’re people and they’re relatable, but there is a tiny little sprinkle of fantasy.
I am really looking forward to it and I promise to send you a reaction.
And I will ask the Filter readers to do so too.
|ALL THAT FOLLOWS. A symphony|
|March 1st until March 31st (online)|
|10 • tickets|
Credits: Regisseur: Mart van Berckel, Choreograaf: Angela Herenda, Regieassistent: Merit Vessies, Decor & licht: Vera Selhorst, Kostuums: Rosa Schützendorf, Geluidsontwerp: Mauro Casarini, Dramaturgie en tekst: Florian Hellwig, Cast: Angela Herenda, Sam Corver, Jésula Visser, Zaneta Kesik, William English, Felix Feenstra, Simone Peters. Met dank aan Rosie Reith