Raimund Hoghe Salon, September 14, 2009
by Zachary Whittenburg
"Look when there's nothing to see," Raimund Hoghe told a full house at Body, Space, Music, opening the 2009-10 CDF/Silverspace Salon series. "Listen when there's nothing to hear."
In an age of information overload Hoghe's unforced simplicity stuns, but in discussion about his work he reveals himself to be the opposite of the Luddite one might expect. In soft, heavily-accented English, his introductions to a few short films and one live performance touched on everything from Peggy Lee and Pier Paolo Pasolini to his philosophies on dramaturgy and the nature of beauty. The Apple computer feeding projections was often throwing the image of a QuickTime control panel across his shirt; it seemed increasingly appropriate to see rewind, play and fast-forward icons right there on his torso. Definitely part of his persona and likely also his process, wide-ranging interests and a propensity for tangents generate surprisingly intimate dances and films. The performances he gives and directs induce introspection and a serene focus.
36, Avenue Georges Mandel, a 2007 piece shown recorded in a church in the south of France, finds a young man (Emmanuel Eggermont) in its transept with a small apple-green cup and large brush. Walking around the room, he kneels at each of a series of objects -- high heels, a fan, a book on Maria Callas -- wets his brush, and traces its outline onto the floor, ending at the blanket-wrapped body of Hoghe himself. Like a crime scene in reverse, the tracing brings Hoghe to life -- he rises and steps into the shoes, transforming his drab infirmary blanket into the luxurious shawl of a diva. (Recordings of Callas singing Bellini, Gluck, Saint-Saëns, Bizet and others accompany the film; its title refers to the Paris address where the legendary bel canto died in 1977.) In an ouevre founded on subtle shifts, another soon arrives: as a third song begins, the soundtrack suddenly includes ambient noise from within the church. Whereas Eggermont's ritual appeared holy in the absence of all but Callas' soaring fioriture, this edit draws Hoghe as mortal, unranked among many pieces of information; as he walks, one can hear the ancient floor's creaks, coughs out of frame, and other worldly distractions. First filling the frame, his chest rising and falling visibly through his shirt and face lighting up at the entrance of Callas' voice, we're cut back to the master shot and Hoghe is dwarfed by the space, fragile and distant -- in the withdrawal of only a few feet, all nuanced expressivity falls into the gap.
Hoghe has made work to a variety of music but often returns to Callas, who he cites as an example of his insistence that "all the best singers are dancers." He quoted her as saying "the music will teach you how to move," and spoke of being a vessel through which sound can pass and be transformed into movement. We watched Callas sing an aria and, indeed, it wasn't difficult to see correlations between her gestures and Hoghe's measured, abstract pantomimes.
"Everything should be connected to everything, as in life. If I have to think about what comes next, then I know I have to work on my dramaturgy. It's in courage, phrasing and diction, and I'll say courage again because it's important. This is not an easy profession, and you are the next generation. "
Without much -- well, any -- ado, he then performed a solo on the small stage in a black coat. Walking somewhere between the orthogonal rails of a royal guard and the pacing of a restless thinker, he marked points in space with small fists, held a blindfold to his face as a voluntary handicap, open and shut a window's shade and crossed his arms across his chest like a pharoah. Hoghe moves like a pope. He also demonstrates a point made toward the end of the evening: meaning, especially in dance, is always subjective and, while he may direct his dancers with images and structures, their experience within his work is ultimately and unavoidably private. The richness and uniqueness of this internal landscape is, for him, what makes a performance interesting, and for it to hold the impact of authenticity it must, he says, come from the body.
Much has been made of Hoghe's hunchbacked, non-traditional dancing body, but it's no hindrance to our acceptance of him as an artist, for he simply goes forward without camouflage or apology. He does say "my body is a contrast to the beauty of this music," but is quick to add that "performing is not therapy" for him. After watching an excerpt of his beautiful solo L'Après-Midi (included in his company's current U.S. tour), he said to us, "You may notice this dancer's very special haircut or a t-shirt which is fantastic, but there are beautiful people all over the world and we shouldn't be so limited [in our criteria]." Invoking the history of his native Germany, he added that the violent eugenics of the Third Reich should serve as a reminder that declarations of worth based on selective distinctions are destructive on a fundamental level, no matter how subtle. "People are beautiful when they are connected to themselves," is the maxim he offers. "It's a simple idea, but an important one."
Other subjects touched upon were an impassioned reading of Yaguine Koita's and Fodé Tounkara's letter to Europe's leaders, his policy of refusal to replace dancers unable to perform (like an Algerian-born French citizen dancer whose passport was seized for political reasons), his love of West Side Story, and a creative process driven by the desire to create "an atmosphere of possibility" as opposed to the articulation of some predetermined concept. "We can communicate," Hoghe says, "even if, sometimes, we don't want to believe it."
Body, Space, Music was held September 14, 2009 at the Goethe-Institut of Chicago and was a co-presentation by CDF, Links Hall, and the School of the Art Institute; the next event in the Salon series is scheduled for October 26 and will focus on legacy in dance via three recently-deceased masters: Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham and Michael Jackson.
About Zachary Whittenburg
Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Zachary's career began with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, where he was a company member until 2001. Since then he has danced for North Carolina Dance Theater, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance in Asheville, NC, and BJM Danse Montréal, and locally with Lucky Plush Productions, Same Planet Different World Dance, and Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak. His choreography has been presented in Chicago and Canada and is currently in the repertoire of Thodos Dance Chicago. Zachary teaches ballet for professional dancers for numerous companies and writes about dance for international online magazine Flavorpill, The Windy City Times, SeeChicagoDance.com and his own site, trailerpilot.com.