Interview with Sebastian Matthias

Sebastian Matthias in conversation with Dinyah Latuconsina from the Goethe-Institut in Indonesia, in Jakarta, November 2014.

© Dinyah LatuconsinaInterview with Sebastian Matthias

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you studied and worked in the USA.

My family is not what you would consider as a typical artistic family. My father is an architect and my mother is a teacher. I am the only one in the family who pursues an artistic career. I started dancing at the age of 6. I went to several auditions in Munich, Den Haag and Paris. How I finally came to New York was actually a kind of coincidence. Alfredo Corvino, a former teacher at the Juilliard School and also a rehearsal director for Pina Bausch came from New York to teach at Wuppertal and gave a master class at the Folkwang School in Essen. I was working at that time at a reconstruction of Kurt Jooss’ piece that had disappeared. Corvino used to dance with Jooss. He gave me his card and said that Juilliard could be a good place for me. It turned out that there was a summer program and his daughter was also a teacher and the director of the program. There was a free place and they could give me a scholarship. I had actually another offer from a conservatory in Paris. I got only two days to decide. It was really crazy.

So why Juilliard?

Because it was a longer program. The school was really about learning, you have many classes you take: composition, ballet, dance composition. The one in Paris was more like a junior ballet. I think at that moment, what I wanted to do is learning. I was not really interested in having a job yet.

What led you to contemporary dance?

I have never been in this kind of “only ballet” situation. It has been always ballet in relation to something contemporary. I went through a process when ballet was more interesting and then less interesting to me. I danced at the Nurnberg State Theater and then with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for a year and half. After that I was quite upset about dance. I wanted to stop. I came back to Europe. I visited a lot of places in 8 months. It just happened that the first master program for dance theory just opened in Germany. They accepted me even if I only had an American bachelor. There I found again the love of dance and what is exciting about the art form.

And at what kind of stage are you in right now as an artist? What are the themes that you would like to explore?

I guess I’m now interested in choreographing relations. What is an audience? Who am I when I watch dance? Why do I watch dance? What are my choices when I am doing it? How can the choices be transparent? I’m interested in performance and assembly. It is so precious that there are so many people together for about an hour in the same room. But how can this be productive and aesthetic? How can we support each other?

What are your practices as a contemporary choreographer?

I and my dancers have a collective practice. When we come into a process, we start with research questions that we all agree on. We discuss the topics I offer, but usually they come from a previous process, so they don’t actually come from me. We rotate with being outside and inside, so that we can negotiate the process of production as well as reception. Everybody writes, analyzes, dances, and tries out the answers of our initial questions. All of the material is constructed out of collective processes and collective bodies.

How would you describe your relationship with your dancers and audience in your works during a performance?

Well, actually it is quite similar. We work with a group of people we call scouts. Dancers can be audience and audience can also be performers. I’m interested in the spectrum of all the possibilities between audience and performers. We make choices. There are artistic choices for both performers and the audiences. It is about how to negotiate their positions throughout the show. But it is not about making everybody in the room a performer.

Tell us now about the Groove Space series especially the one you plan in Jakarta.

The performance series Groove Space creates a new performance format with different cooperation partners in the various cities. Each new realization of the concept is based on researching the individual grooves of the respective city, collaborating with local musicians/composers, visual artists, light or costume designers to develop a version of the piece which is specific for that city. I met really interesting people in Jakarta. But I don’t know yet, what the Jakarta version will be like. What I know now is that after spending some days in Jakarta, I’m interested in the encapsulation of people and their privateness in the huge and populated space and how it repeats, transforms and patterns itself. I guess that will be the starting point of our choreography.

You mentioned a lot about audience having responsibilities, audience having a choice and dance performance as a collective practice. These statements to me as a person living in Indonesia or to be exact in Jakarta are very relevant. We are now trying to do these kind of actions in our daily lives, collectively as members of society after a dictatorship era.

You are right, I understand that. My discussions with the artists in the last few days are the most political talks I have had. People really talk about their government and about their hopes as a part of a society but to me it is now more interesting to find out what kind of collectivity we have nowadays? Are there other formats of being collective? The idea of a nation in this globalized world we are facing today doesn’t make sense to me anymore. In my very little microcosm of a dance performance project I would like to find out different answers.

Last question, in a very open performance like yours, are you really prepared for everything? If someone tried to disturb your practice would you stop the performance?

A dance in our case is beyond language and beyond text. As a performer you can never be completely prepared. So far we have never had the moment when we had to interfere. Our audience can contribute to the dance. Everybody has choices to experience it. Yet performers have choices too. They can choose to interact with you or to block you out. Dancers are neither puppets nor instruments of your desire. I will not be upset if someone doesn’t like my performance and tries to boycott the show, however it will color the groove of that particular show for everybody. This is the risk I take and the risk has to be accepted. If I didn’t take the choices of the audience seriously, their choice wouldn’t make a difference.