Happy Once More
In a grim attempt to find balance in life, the maker researches his physical balance and the seemingly resulting happiness.
How to balance when everything is always moving? And does that bring happiness?
In a 3 hour performance he lets momentum take his body and follows its tendencies in relation to the open space. This attempt for an organic existence resonates in space and creates an bond with the people present.
An attempt, an exercise, a commentary on the hype of living in the "here and now".
I thank you, Anima
A few weeks before performing Happy Once More, I made the choreography I thank you, Anima at the Dansafdeling Samwd Lier (Belgium). During the rehearsals I took elements of Happy Once More to research it with the dancers. In the end it was the first part of that performance.
'Happy Once More’ deals with time, space, body and consciousness. It is referring to life itself, to the necessary dynamic balance founded by evolution. The balance evolves from awareness, from letting things happen and being a participant of this for the full 100%. For this, I will make myself available during the performance. This availability is not shown as such; it is a decision and that decision affects me. These elements have grown to be a central aspect of my work in my years as an artist.
The performance is a research – for three hours I will work with elements of physical balance and I will bring the controlling aspect of consciousness to the background. The work asks me to work from a empathic and somatic connection. Out of which, will evolve a natural freedom in the body.
The relationship with the audience is important in ‘Happy Once More’. The active neutrality that I will be working from will serve as a container for this process. I am interested in the arising possibility for an exchange. The spectator can become an participant, should he or she choose to do so. They are also in the same space with their bodies and awareness, and because of this, they can experience the same moment. Consuming the work will lead to a dead-end, and visitors who will choose to do this will have trouble with this work. The silence that emanates out of the deep connection with myself communicates with the space. I am interested in both the confronting and at the same time healing possibility for all that are present.
Time will become irrelevant due to the length of the work and becomes an ally as such. Time creates space to make the essence of the work palpable. I have nothing to show – there is something to experience and that is why I create this frame.
‘Happy Once More’ is kind of a distillate of the past 15 years of research and development as a dancer and in depth research in eastern philosophy. A minimalistic work, that is a new chapter in my art.
Click here to see previous work
In november it will be the first time that I enter the space of a museum to work as a performance artist. The performance is part of Reinventing Happiness, an artproject in which the Stedelijk Museum of ‘s-Hertogenbosch invites various artists, visitors and residents of ‘s-Hertogenbosch searches for new social and durable forms of happiness.
‘Happy Once More’ is a performance in which my training, research and history comes together. For 15 years I am working with choreography and directing, with research in technical physical training based on dance, martial art and physical theatre. The experience that I have attained during this period, shaped me as the performer that I am now.
As dancer/mover I train several techniques out of the world of dance, somatics and chinese martial arts. By working with this on a regular basis, I am able to make connections as they all arrive at the same point. The natural function of the human physical apparatus in movement and posture is a universal point of departure for these forms.
In my experience on stage as a dancer and physical performer I am mostly inspired by the concepts of Ducroux, one of the icons in the world of mime. He departs from ‘zéro’, the neutral, as the starting point for the performer. This involves an attempt for a transparent precence on stage, resulting in an arising of the inner world of the performer, because authenticity is a powerful means of communicating. My work at the departement of mime at the School of the Arts in Amsterdam gives me the regular opportunity to research and develop this conscientiously.
In my training of contemporary dance I am mostly inspired by Axis Syllabus, an ‘open source’ method of anatomical movementresearch, developed by Frey Faust and supported by many other practitioners and others that are interested from the medical and physical sciences. This system operates as a manual, by means of blending and cross referencing various movement approaches, for dancers (and other physical pratitioners) to train with up-to-date information about the body and its movement, and it challenges the existing conceptions around this theme. It results in a biomechanical movment philosophy that clarifies and deepens the skill of dancers and other movementpractitioners. Throughout the years, I have been in contact with several teachers of this approach and I am using it’s principals in my contemporary dance training at the department of mime, at the Fontys Dance academy and the Vooropleiding Hedendaagse Dans, a school for talented young contemporary dancers.
Picture taken during
the Freiburg Contact Improvisation festival 2014
Steve Paxton, the originator of this form, has reportedly said that, should he choose to teach again, the class would be consisiting of half an hour ‘small dance’ alone in space and half an hour of ‘small dance’ close to somebody else. According to this anecdote, he mentioned that this would be the most effective approach of the core of contact improvisation
My studies and experience of the Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique approaches, has been the last big influence on my formation. Both are, as you might know, somatic disciplines, in which consciousness of the body organization is of importance, and they emphasize a functional integration of the structure of the body. By working conscientiously with the awareness of the body, and by training this in daily physicality, one returns to a natural understanding and usage of the body. These methods are, among others, used for people that want to heal an injury or chronic pain, or that want to improve their posture because it is healthy and enjoyable.
The body is the reservoir of exerience, no matter how you put it. And my experience in this has led to me researching, deepening and sharing the experience of my balance and natural movement for three hours in the Stedelijk Museum of ‘s-Hertogenbosch with the people present. I am interested in what such a long time will do to my awareness and that of the people present. I think this has meaning and I am looking forward to it.
That what is mentioned above is most present, as far as I am concerned, in my training of I Chuan, a chinese body/mind practice in which ‘standing’ is the primary practice. Standing from this method is seen as the essential base for a clear and powerful mobility. Clarity in standing is the starting point for clarity in movement. The most striking about the name I Chuan is that it can be translated as ‘mindboxing’ and is referring as such to the fact that is to be practiced from a certain refined consciousness.
The mind, after all, is the bearer of the body and the trained organic mind will guide the body in a clear and organic way. A very interesting training, that asks a large amount of hours of working internally in a detailed way with the body. My practice of Chi Kung and Tai chi is closely related to this and has grown exponentially because of it.
In contact improvisation, a form of contemporary dance the is practiced in the professional and amateurfield, one of the fundamental exercises is called ‘small dance’. It is a reflective and physicaly contemplative way of standing in which the focus is on the disbalance of the body during standing. The departure point is the fact that during standing continuous little corrections are being performed by the body. This is not felt in a ‘normal’ consciousness of daily body usage, but when the awareness is being guided towards this principle it will appear.
Rehearsals, performance art and spirituality
As a dancer and physical performer I am used to a concept that is more or less shaped, so that it can be refined and finalized during rehearsals. The rehearsals can take three months, a week, a day, an hour, depending on the project and its structure.
‘Happy Once More’ is of another nature to me. The point of departure is performance art and this has a fundamentally different approach then dance or theatre. Anyway, I choose for it to be that way. What happens during the performance is real, there is no showing of a theme to be captured by, and there are, let’s say, no tricks of theatre used.
And so, that what happens in that moment is literally of essential importance. Whatever happens during the performance is a person that will research an action for three hours totally involved. It is an attempt to make the essence palpable, by means of presence in space and a playful engangement with it. It could be mentioned that this attempt is destined to fail, because that is always the case with making the essence visible after all. It can also be mentioned that that is one of the most important reasons why art exists, and that, essentially, this is the work of the artist.
The performance creates an organic process in which a world of intrinsic physicality, emotionality, psychology. It is naked spirituality, that isn’t about the clichés in popular media, but about authenticity which is connected to the soul. I am looking for an embodiment that goes beyond failing and succeeding, beyond aesthetics of form and content. I am looking for an embodiment that rejects consumerism and, as such, embraces the simple, not simplistic, participation of the original nature of mankind.
So rehearsals are useless. In preparing, I am orienting myself on the points of departure, the ‘score’ of the performance. My videos of contemplation serve as hints in that direction. And then I can only see what happens during the moments of performance. I am curious what it will do to all that are present, those who are willing to take time and space to share it with me. I wonder what will happen and I am curious what will change.
Then I will be in the studio to discover, develop and finalize. These phases are theoretically following each other up, but in practice it is a process that goes back and forth, as fluid as water. After all, development leads to new discoveries and sometimes a revelation can be finalized in its own way. It’s a process of construction and deconstruction, every time I enter the studio. It is the art of the artist in all disciplines to see the whole of it, and to be a guiding medium in a fluid way, anchored in the evolving points of departure. As such choreography is developed as I am used to it.
That the search for the moment of total balance smells of intense effort and hard work, was an unexpected discovery during the performance Happy Once More by Robin Berkelmans. The exhibition hall was never smelling of human sweat like this before. In extreme concentration Berkelmans was standing.
Five consecutive days, every day for three consecutive hours. With agonizingly slow movements, sometimes on one leg, sometimes with eyes closed. Without sound and without contact with the museum visitor. Just as himself and in himself, in the 'here and now', searching for the perfect moment of balance in which the body and mind unite with each other and are a condition of being happy. To keep that moment then determine or to search for it again.
Until the museum guard made clear to Berkelmans that the three hours were over. Then came a deep sigh, a moment of confusion and the physical effort became visible in the contours of the face of the performer.
The silent presence of Robin Berkelmans between the artworks and the visitors had something aesthetic and commanded respect. Another kind of respect than the "living statues" in which performers symbolically stand in the shoes of another in order to attract public and raise awareness.
The performance Happy Once More is better thought of as a stand-alone subject with an authentic purpose, its own language and form. A work which also enters into a casual dialogue with the space and the artworks or objects within that space. And in which the visitor, as with any work of art can reflect and respond.
Joanna van de Zanden, co-curator of the project Re|Inventing Happiness