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An Interview with Riki von Falken: When space dissolves

Copyright: Sabine Brinker
Choreographer and dancer von Falken: “My body language echoes a time I experienced it to its extreme” (Photo: Sabine Brinker)

30 September 2011

In September 2010, Riki von Falken felt the earth shake in Christchurch, New Zealand. A year later, the German dancer and choreographer returned to the ruined city for dance rehearsals. In this interview, she speaks about her definition of space, how it can shatter and how she processes what she experiences.

Ms. von Falken, what is space to you?

Space is my body. Space is where I am, my surroundings. Actually, no matter where I am, I place myself in a relationship to the space.

In 2010, there was a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, that destroyed a number of buildings, but luckily only injured a few people. You were there then for dance rehearsals. How did you experience the earthquake?

The earthquake happened in the middle of the night and lasted 30 seconds. I was torn from sleep and had the feeling of absolute immobility and simultaneously of wide-awake perception. The room moved, there was an incredibly loud noise and then it was silent. The room became my mirror: as if injured, although it wasn’t broken, after the quake something had been taken from it.

To what extent did your perception of space change after the earthquake?

Due to my experience in New Zealand, my perception of space has become tremendously sharpened, because I got an idea that space can dissolve. Since then, I am in contact with spaces very differently and think about my history in spaces.

How do you describe your dance style?

I put the body in space under the microscope and play with it. At the same time, I build myself a room within the room. I love to put the entire structure of the body entirely in disarray and try to release myself from my habitual patterns of movement by questioning and challenging them from various aspects.

How did that September night last year influence your dance style? Is it possible to express the memory of the experience in dance?

It’s not a matter of remembering the experience. I don’t tell stories with my body language. Instead, I assume that my body went through a change through the experience. I don’t regard the earthquake as a problem, but work with this experience. Since I transform my history in abstraction, it lends the body language a certain power and substance.

After you were forced to interrupt your stay last year because of the earthquake, you’ve now returned to Christchurch a year later for dance rehearsals. What is the city like?

The city is still completely in ruins. But, this is mainly because there was a far stronger earthquake there in February 2011 that killed about 200 people. A fence has been put up around the city centre from where you can see the fallen buildings, piles of rubble, empty lots and cranes. This is another destruction of space altogether.

How are the rehearsals going and what will we see at the performances for the Body Festival in New Zealand?

At first, we couldn’t find a studio for the rehearsals, since many buildings, including the Arts Centre of Christchurch, cannot be entered due to the increased danger of collapse. In the meantime, we’ve found a place: The GeoDome, a sort of tent that was built in June. The rehearsals with the dancers from the Southern Lights Company are very intense and I’m curious to see what they will result in – at least the tent is earthquake resistant so that nothing can fall on our heads.

The interview was held by Caroline Meurer.



From 23 August, dancer and choreographer Riki von Falken is taking part in a seven-week artist-in-residency through the project Tanzconnexions initiated by the Goethe-Institut. Together with the Southern Lights Dance Company she is working on a piece that will be performed at the Body Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand on 30 September and 1 October at 7:30 PM in the The GeoDome and on 4 October in Auckland.
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