Performance meets Dance Rabih Mroué Tries Choreography

Rabih Mroué (left) and the Dance.On-Ensemble at rehaersals for „Water Between Three Hands“
Rabih Mroué (left) and the Dance.On-Ensemble at rehaersals for „Water Between Three Hands“ | Photo: Dorothea Tuch

For his piece “Water Between Three Hands“, performance artist and stage director Rabih Mroué worked for the first time with dancers – with the Senior-Company Dance On. “To my surprise they are all between 40 and 50 years, which means younger than me”, says Mroué. “This fact challenged me.”

Born in Beirut in 1967, Rabih Mroué found a second home in Berlin and became a true global player of the arts. Co-founder of the Beirut Art Center Association, Co-editor of New York’s Drama Review, he created installations for the German art show dOCUMENTA 13 and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Modern Tate as well as in Paris, Tokyo, Ljubljana, Istanbul and Madrid among other cities. The theatre trained artist was Fellow at the International Research Center Interweaving Performance Cultures – Freie Universität Berlin and stage director at Münchner Kammerspiele. For the first time Mroué now worked with dancers. His new piece Water Between Three Hands for the recently formed German Senior-Company Dance On opened at Hamburg’s avant-garde dance center Kampnagel and shall go on tour.

Mr. Mroué, after performances such as “Make me stop smoking” (2008), “Riding on a Cloud” (2014), “Biokhraphía” (2015) or “Ode to Joy” (2015) with long spoken texts in various languages and video clips of war scenes in the Middle East, this is a surprisingly gentle, delightfully poetic and even humorous ensemble theatre piece with terrific dance and powerful drum compositions. How did you prepare for this new venture?

Actually, at the beginning, I expected to meet senior dancers in their seventies or so, but to my surprise they are all between 40 and 50 years, which means younger than me. This fact challenged me. I made it a point not to watch any dance videos because I did not want to be influenced since I am not a choreographer. I was curious to know more about them, and their background, and their relation to their bodies. So these questions were my first inspirations.
 

  • Rabih Mroué Photo: Dorothea Tuch
    Rabih Mroué
  • „Water Between Three Hands“ Photo: Dorothea Tuch
    „Water Between Three Hands“
  • „Water Between Three Hands“ Photo: Dorothea Tuch
    „Water Between Three Hands“
  • „Water Between Three Hands“ Photo: Dorothea Tuch
    „Water Between Three Hands“


How exactly did you work together?

I came with unfinished ideas, graphs and suggestions and started to explore them with the dancers. I also had the title Water Between Three Hands beforehand. Almost instantly a lively ‘give and take’ developed between us. The dancers were very generous in sharing their fascinating knowledge of their bodies, movements, art and thinking. A lot of drawings and notes were eventually made of possible arrangements, positions, reflections and relations.

… all of them collected in the little book that the dancers are reading or reciting from during the performance …

Yes.

You and five of the six Dance On members chose Germany as a second home country. Since your work is very political I had expected references to the current fugitive situation.

We talked about this situation. But it had no impact on the structure of the performance. My work is political in a philosophical sense. But I am not an activist neither in my artworks nor in my performances. Moreover, I’m not interested in educating the audience, to tell them what happened or explain events et cetera. I am interested in questions, reflections, and doubts without conclusions.

What made you decide to settle with your wife and partner Lina Majdalanie in Germany?

To be honest: it is not Germany. It is Berlin. I cannot tell what exactly there is about Berlin. When you love – you just love (he laughs).

The Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin offered a retrospective of your recent stage work in April 2016, titled “Outside the Image – Inside Us”. How did such a work-show feel for a relatively young, if extremely productive and versatile artist? It must have been quite exhausting at any rate, since you were on stage in all eight performances in five days.

I enjoyed it very much. It gave myself as well as the audience a chance to grasp the line of reflection to tighten our relation, distinguish between one another, and to examine the development of our work here.

Since 2002 you have been highly esteemed as stage director and performer in Berlin, München, Hamburg and other German cities. “Water Between Three Hands” is co-produced by Hamburg’s Kampnagel with tanzhaus nrw Düsseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen. A new piece, entitled “So Little Time”, will open at the “Wiesbaden Biennale” in August 2016. What do you think attracts Germans to your work?

With my work I want to share some ideas, thesis, doubts, questions with the spectators. For me the relation to them is very important. I deal with them as individuals not as a mass of people or group. Wherever I perform, each night and each audience is different. I always try to avoid generalizations. Many cities have a lot in common, but are also very different from each other. I would emphasize the differences rather than the similarities and that make us individuals in a political sense.

Theatre used to be also for joy and pleasure. Do you think the responsibility of the arts today is political?

No, I am not part of the aware arts. It should be a joy. However, I do not agree with simple, stupid entertainment that is just made for fast consuming. When I read poetry or philosophy – that is my joy. Or when I have a dialogue with the audience that’s a pleasure. Or just now working with those highly professional dancers is a rich experience and entertainment. Working with the Dance On Company was for me a very good way to be introduced to dance.