Image by Sebastian Bolesch

Based in Berlin, Sasha Waltz & Guests are known for developing highly original choreographic musical theatre performances. They have collaborated with more than 250 artists and ensembles, from 25 countries on nearly 20 productions since being founded in 1993. Sasha Waltz’s Continu is a full length dance performance partly inspired by her work on two major projects for museums, the artistic inaugurations for David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Berlin, and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome. Developed with 24 dancers, at the core of Continu is Arcana, a stirringly dramatic symphonic work composed in 1927 by Edgar Varèse, a composer who was renowned for combining artistic and scientific content.

Volt Café: If you had to explain Sasha Waltz & Guests to someone in 5 words, what would those words be?
Sasha Waltz: An organism that works together.

VC: Your latest work, Continu, is based on key elements of your work from the past ten years and especially pieces from David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Berlin and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome. What is it about architecture that inspires you?
SW: When I enter into specific spaces I get inspired to ‘listen’ to the walls of the building. I am always interested in how space defines the choreography. As a starting point it is always better to base it on existing architecture rather than an imagined stage set. Working in real architecture inspires me to use space in an unexpected way. Both Hadid and Chipperfield came to the premiere of Continu, Chipperfield actually saw it twice.

VC: Since you founded your company in 1993, you have made of point of collaborating with other creatives, such as architects, film makers, singers, musicians and dancers from other ensembles. Was that the intention from the start or did it happen gradually?
SW: Initially it was just me and Jochen Sandig. Then it became a combination of people who work well together. ‘Guests’ because it was never meant to be a permanent company.

VC: And how do you control the outpour of ideas and suggestions from your collaborators – is it ever a problem to decide what stays and what goes?
SW: People have to be self-reliant, the structure is very horizontal, they can rotate and adapt themselves to different roles. The people I work with have to enter my universe – that puts a natural framework around it. I choose people very carefully and give clear feedback about what I want. The process can be slow… Sometimes our creative universes match perfectly, then it’s very smooth. The chemistry is important, you have to watch out for the group dynamic. There’s rarely a conflict, when there is, it’s always from ego!

VC: We are influenced by many people and events as we go through life. Who or what would you say has been a major influence or turning point in your career?
SW: When I was 16, I did a workshop with the English dancer Laurie Booth and that was that, I knew I wanted to be a dancer. And New York, my work feeds from American post-modernism.

VC: How come you didn’t stay in New York?
SW: I wanted to live from my work, not need to have a second job, and also to create and that was easier in Europe. And I missed Europe! Artistically I feel European.

VC: Looking at the very beautiful images from your performances, I feel as if you ‘paint with bodies’. If you didn’t work as a choreographer, what do you think you would do instead and why?
SW: I am very interested in the visual aspect of creation. As a child I wanted to become a visual artist. When I work with set designers I can really feel that side of me.

VC: What point are you hoping to put across with Continu? And what impression do you hope the audience will leave with after having seen it?
SW: It is split into two parts, the opening part is a reflection on where we’re going as a society, which is pretty bleak. I hope people leave with a sense of opening, maybe even hope. Continu opens out questions inside yourself, how we’re so driven. It’s about the group versus the individual, sometimes the group threatens the individual.

VC: What drives you on every day? I’m always curious about the motivation in the life of a creative person, sometimes it must be so hard to keep going.
SW: That has changed a lot over the years. When you’re young, you have so much drive, expression and creativity. There’s a lot of freedom in being unsuccessful which you don’t have once you are successful – then you’re the heart of this giant organism, you’re responsible for all these people. So I guess you’re always redefining your passion, you travel which also inspires you.

VC: The architect Frank Gehry tidies his desk obsessively to get over the fear of creating or when he feels stuck. Do you have a similar routine?
SW: If we’re stuck in the studio we have a rule to leave it behind, to leave the studio. Then a little later, we retake it, work it out bit by bit till it becomes unstuck. But don’t leave it too long! It’s like a sore muscle… you have to gently stretch it, re-activate it so it doesn’t freeze up.

Sasha Waltz & Guests
Continu
Sadler’s Wells
28th – 30th September 2012

Words by Anna Bang

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