The act of listening – We sit down and listen to each other. It was after I simply wrote a letter to somewhere unknown and see what happens.
Quoted Sasha Waltz open studio, ‘’It’s all about listening to each others.‘’ Imagine you wrote a letter to a person you admired the most, and she/he wrote you back. Sasha Waltz open studio open arms to me while I requested for a interview. It is my favourite improvisation space in Berlin. Why? The diverse of movers, artists and musicians gather every month in this breathable architecture, it is a celebration. The event is free and no particular purpose at all—purely for sharing and learning from each other. This kind of meeting point is rare and precious.
My first time there was a coincidence. I was very young in exploring the body practices, a Greek Choreographer invited me to join after a day long of training in studio. Such a blast! There were more than fifty artists through out the whole night, moving in a synchro rhythm. That night was still so deep under my skin. I could feel the lift of improvisation and those gifts I received.
And we met again. For this interview, we came across the room and sat around a white round table. Her name is Rosabel Huguet and his name is Steffen Döring. They are the organisers of the open studio. The dialogue we had was regarding education, open source, network and rituals. Following up, please read the conversation we had for knowing more.
How did open studio start?
Steffen: In a way the company is in a good position with regular funding and studios that we can afford. Sasha is well known artistically. It’s always been part of her profile to open these resources she had to broader people who are not necessarily connected to the company. It’s always been very important to her. From the education side, there are workshops we are doing. The open studios is part of that philosophy somehow, to give something to the community of the dancers and artists in Berlin who are the audience as well.
Rosabel: That’s one of the core thing which is important for Sasha that the open studios is a free event. The people who comes to participate and improvise don’t have to pay for the entrance, because it puts immediately someone in position of expecting something or exclude people who are not able to afford it. The core of the open studios is based on the extreme generous philosophy of trying to open the space because it’s there and make it free for everybody.
Steffen: That’s basically the resources we had which is the studios belonged to the company that we rent through the whole year which is available 24/7. That’s our access somehow that we put into idea into the project. I have contract with the company so I am also doing other thing in the production. Rosabel are also getting paid for it. So we organise it together as part of the company. We use our resources to publish it.
Rosabel: And expand the idea. Because something that it is happening here has been almost three years. It had happened in Budapest and Amsterdam. We also have request from Israel asking if we would also do it there. This is sort of work because there is no place that people can actually just meet and share without any purpose. It is like you come and just meet and do it; ‘’You are a musician. I am a dancer. You play. I play with you.’’ This basic of doing, I think, shows us through the three years that I work in. That’s why actually we keep on doing it. That’s also reflecting a need of the social meet from the city. There is many many artists, but where are these artists meet and exchange? Well, you can meet in the premiere or classes, but where can you exchange? That’s fundamental big question. I think Sasha is also super concerned with how we exchange, how in a way we keep on sharing the knowledge and information, and keep on talking and listening with each others.
On 31st January 2015, the open studios start. It has been three years already. It seems like yesterday. It’s so important to actively create and exchange. The open studio makes itself happen. The room has sort of moving feeling. It’s amazing that it’s always something moving in this room. The light changes very much. It keeps you as well that something is going on in the room. It’s part of the concept of the architecture to keep the space open.
Steffen: That was quite crazy that we didn’t really advertise it so much. We just invented the mailing list.
Rosabel: I told a lot of people that I already knew they would be interested, asking them to invite someone would also be interested to come. That was the first way of doing it.
Steffen: We didn’t post it on Facebook or anything. But then, the first day was super crowd. Last time was again full of people.
Rosabel:We don’t have a fixed date because we keep it flexible. It allows us to have different atmosphere. Sometimes there’s more kids coming because it’s Friday and they don’t have the school the next day. So they can be. There’s all these interesting constitution of people depending on the day.
Steffen: The average ages is really wide. For example, it’s really beautiful aspect of the open studio to see the teenager dance company between 12-15 years old. They comes every time and looking forward to it. They are such good improviser because of they are doing this physical work for at least 5-6 years.
Rosabel: I think it’s really good example of what we are talking about the education. How we get our youngest to move, but not to move in doing something formal? These kids when they go on the street, they move completely differently. They are aware of the space differently. When they are in a station full of people, they know exactly what to do because they are used to confront of people, in the meanwhile feeling the space. It’s also very much feeling the philosophy of how art or movements in this sense can actually bring forward generations of new visioneers. Young people has everything to learn yet, everything to do yet. So that’s of course in the open studio when you have a fifteen years old kid, a baby on the floor, and you confront someone who has been dancing all its life, people to people together, and you face them with no words, it doesn’t matter if you know German or you are Korean. When you meet a child, you just try to listen. It’s the relation and how you communicate. For me, it’s the basis way of constructing. This happens a lot in the open studio, because it has this long way of agents. So we can feed each other and we can learn from each other, the youngest to the oldest and the oldest to the youngest. Of course, as old you get, there’s more experiences of how you move. But there’s someone completely free that you have to see. That’s also interesting to see what happens. The age ranges is very important for me.
Is there a certain ritual or guild to start the session of open studio?
Rosabel: We try to keep it simple because we don’t pretend to teach no body or to give any example of anything. Our job to host them, to make them feel comfortable, welcome, and to know if anything happen we are there. That’s why in the beginning we always do a short talk to welcome everybody. For the one who’s the first time, we just go very fast to these basis rules—we listen to each other. We respect with everybody. We start from the side and free the center. And we start. We try to do so because it’s not about us talking, it’s about ‘’us’’ talking.
Steffen: We sometimes try experiments of a structure, format or proposal. We don’t give any rules or framework. Let’s see what happens, if we filtering something to start as a proposal. Sometimes we looks for connection to what’s happening in the studio or workshop during the week.
Rosabel: For example. we would invite that artist of the workshop to define one set of structure or a score. Let’s start improvising by that and see where it lease. For instance, we cover all over the space with papers, and inviting some graffiti artists and painters to come. We invited them and everybody was on the floor. In a normal sense, you move the movement and it’s gone after a second.
For example, there’s another day called the cooking day. We asked an artist Pei Pei who was working a lot with the leftovers. Then, we asked every participant to bring one leftover from its fridge. So everybody brought something. And then, he was improvising in dish as a cooker during the time we were improvising on the space with the product each one brought. Of course, this meal and the sound of pods sounds like a soundtrack. In the end, we all shared the dish. That’s also a way of improvisation. We also improvised a dish. To Steffen’s saying, to put something and to see how people react to it.
The first session we did in Budapest, we were improving together through skype. We put a huge TV in the studio. We went into skype, opened studio Berlin and studio Budapest, said hi to each other.Then, for two hours improving together. In the meanwhile we could see what’s happening from the other city. At certain point, it was chaos. Because here and there are different. Technically issue for example like sound quality were horrible. It was sometimes challenge. So we said goodbye at certain point. But there is an aim to really try to exchange and share. Not trying to put too much imitation, but some inputs. It’s sort of part of our time that we had to start to get used to technology. I am also not from Berlin, so I do talk a lot with my family through Skype. It’s a way of keeping in touch. So we thought why we don’t improvise with someone? It was really fun.
How is going with open studio in Budapest and Amsterdam?
Rosabel: Well, this year is not happening anymore. Because it’s something quite experimental. Berlin can host something like this quite easily, because the city invites these sort of exchanges with many people. People are maybe more open to it. In Amsterdam and Budapest, you need to work like some sessions, but then, the space also needed to reconsider if it’s something worth it. But the time it happened, it was indeed interesting, to realise how different the scene format can be influence by cities and other elements. That’s why it’s also great to see if we do it in Tel aviv.
There’s also another dancer and choreographer from the company for many years who is now based in Madrid, asking that he would like to do it near the canal. We sent him some info and pictures. I have a feeling it expends. I see us more like a revolver point, it’s like every time you come to Berlin you would have the open studios. The other place is more a pop-up which is happening for a while. It’s interesting and understructure.
© Silvia Boschiero | Open Studio Amsterdam #1
Steffen: It’s not an amazing invention that we created. Things like this also happened in 70’s and 80’s of New York. In the same time, when people ask us if they can also do it, I am always surprised. Of course you can do it. Anybody can do it. How can we even help you? We don’t own the idea.
Rosabel: I have a feeling that Berlin has the spirit of…after the wall fall down, a lot of places were occupied, becoming a cultural center in the end. All these places actually allow this crazy mix of people with completely different idea but still wanna share something. I think Berlin has a little bit of this essence from the history. That’s why also the open studio here works like that.
In Amsterdam, there is a huge community of improvisation. But they would never think of improvising with someone from different disciplines. How and why? This is like part of dialoguing and listening to each other, sharing and constructing something, instead of keeping ourselves in our own perception. The city invites us to open it up. It’s inspiring and happening.
I know that through the open studios many artists got to know each other. They met afterwards and did projects together. It shows how interesting to meet by doing. For example, someone is looking for a dancer. How I know there is connection or no connection? Of course, you go to place like that you do immediately feel if or not. I know a lot also happen there because of this openness. It works because of people are coming and feeling welcome.
A long collaborator of the company, Yoshiko Chuma who is specialist in improvisation. She is one the figure who start in 80’s New York. She opened one open studio with one score. After awhile the session was going on, it got wild. It almost seems like sort of a group therapy. So I approached her saying, ‘what do you think? It’s chaos that nobody is listening to nobody.’ She said, ‘first, don’t say nobody is listening to nobody. Because it’s not true. Nobody is hurt here and nobody is rushing against the wall or each other. So they are listening to each other but just not the way you are expected. They are listing to each other. Second, it get wild because it is what is needed to go through for finding something else.’ She was very much into don’t judge it. That was a very nice thing to do.
A three years old has different way of listening than a eighty years old.
Steffen: To see people are independent the whole evening without any interaction, yet if you think about this person, surely there’s interaction which is what happened on this person depended on the group surrounding. The other people who are constantly with others, always be involved from one person to the other is the same as the person who are independent.
Rosabel: We try to offer bouncing and reflecting who is needed. This is also something which is important to create the online archive where all the things are generated arrive here somehow. It is something we are all doing together. Everybody can go there to look at the drawing or recording to reflect on it, and keep the conversation alive. It is very generous that the photographers and painters would pass and scan the pictures. It all takes time to do so. We don’t force them to do it, they only do it out of spirit of sharing.
Is there challenging situation during the open studio happening?
Steffen: Sometimes I am worried about the people who is going really crazy, but there is nothing you can do. Nobody really got kicked or hurt. It’s really incredible. I think it is going really smooth. I sometimes worry that there’s no musicians come, because it’s important that the music is there. I think it only happened one time. Somehow the room created its own rhythm. With the music there’s a clear framework. It is so open but somehow everyone is respectful.
Rosabel: When it gets late, the place get dark. But no one steal things on the back sneaky.
Any word you would like to share with our audience?
Steffen: Message has to be meaningful…?
Rosabel: Share and listen. It’s sort of the motto of the open studios which is to keep on open channel instead of closing them.
Now comes in some personal story telling. It’s not necessary directly relating to the open studio itself but more personal aspect of how things happened. I am always curious about how different characters get involved into a certain degree, and they are having fun with what they do everyday. Here are some questions I request as follows.
How did you become a part of open studio and Sasha Waltz & Guests?
Steffen: I was still a student in Berlin in the 90’s. The year was 1998. I saw one piece from Sasha Waltz which was called ‘’Na Zemlje’’. It was sort of the last performance in Sophiensæle. She did it with a group of Russians actors/performers who is kind of grampy, musical and humorous. I was sitting in the audience thinking ‘‘oh my god I have never seen any like this.’’ I love it. I wrote her saying, ‘’I want to know how she do it and what’s going on. I would love to be part of process sometimes.’’ Somehow it was a good timing. We met and talk. She said yes it would be nice to have you. I was there assisting her in that transformative period, moving from Sophiensæle to Schaubühne. I wonder how this kind of letter turned out successful which is writing a letter into nowhere. I feel like I was really lucky with right time, right place and right kind of thing.
This was one of the first thing. Then, I moved to England for studying dance. I worked as choreographer that I did my own work. In 2004, I wanted to come back to Berlin. Again, the situation was good. Sasha Waltz’s company expended a little bit. So she said, ‘’yes, come back. I need an assistant again. It would be good if you do this.’’
Rosabel: He does it amazingly. It is not a easy job.
Steffen: Sasha is great. I think in term of artist she is one of the most sane and ground people I can imagine. This makes work with her very easy in a way. It is the peak of organisation, there is a lot of people so it’s the challenge of it. We tour a lot and I am always traveling. I only have one time having sushi in Japan. But there is so much stuff to experience. As a dancer and performer, it’s part of the past. So in the open studio I am not in the improvisation anymore.
Rosabel: I moved to Berlin in 2012 from Barcelona, Spain. I was just finished my study in the university there. I knew the work of Sasha because I was studying it in the university. We had the great respect of European theater artists. That’s why I choose Berlin, not because of Sasha but it’s great to be in the incubator of the amazing artists. When I moved here. I have been working with several people in the different projects. Then, I got to work in Schaubühne. There I got to work with a choreographer who is actually working in the company years ago. He told me sometimes they do workshops there. You can write Steffen for this. Then, I asked him for the workshops. It was a workshop about improvisation. I did it. Sasha was there some days as well. It was all about improvisation. The group and atmosphere was so great. That was so nice and a lot of things happened. In the end of the session, there was a small showing. At the showing I remembered we including Sasha were saying it would be so great that we have an improvisation session here in the house. We are full and we are busy, so when and where and how? I remembered that it happened to me as same as Steffen’s letter. I purpose a concrete plan for the company. I remembered Sasha said this is the dream I always had since I had been in New York and doing it myself. So it was not a completely new idea for her to be requested. It was sort of out of contact although she has been inviting someone and group of people to improvise.
Steffen: I think it probably trigger something to hear from the dance community expressing the real need and wish for it. I think that triggered something.
Rosabel: It was a wish already there. It was maybe the right moment to try it. It’s somehow how I got to do it with Steffen. It’s been wonderful. Personally, I need this exchange as well as a person. This is what I wish for myself to be able to be in a space and improvise with people. That’s ideal.
What’s a daily ritual for you?
Steffen: It’s really an interesting question because I do not have rituals. As soon as I need to do something, part of I brush my teeth and have breakfast everyday. Because often times it’s proposing my characters somehow. My life has no routines; two weeks I would be in the office, and another two weeks I would be on tour. Then, I have two months of being in this building everyday. So somehow, if I have rituals, I could not do my job. I would be really unhappy.
Rosabel: It’s exactly the same for me. I am two weeks in Berlin, this Saturday I am going to Australia, five days ago I was in France. I change completely space-wise throughout the year. I learn to be flexible enough to not have too extreme routines which it would be distracting if I don’t do that. Of course, hygiene and coffee in the morning. But I try to not attach too much with those things. Because our life is not for that. It’s actually being flexible.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Rosabel: I have a lot of good advices from many people in many moments of my life. It sounds a little bit of romantic, but I guess it is ‘’follow what you believe and what you want to do. Don’t limitation with what you think.You can do it.’’ It came from the fact that nobody in my family is into arts, and I wanted to do arts. I left and it works.
Steffen: What I like is some kind of philosophy which is ‘’pretending to be stupid would save you fifteen minutes of work.’ It means don’t jump. Just digest, observe and try to understand. Maybe by then, the problem had been solved. If not, you go for it. Often it happens surely in arts when you are working with people are very close to their emotions and feelings. It comes out very quickly. You need to filter it somehow and try to stay calm and try.
What’s the questions in your head this week?
Steffen: It’s regard the projects which we want to do for next half year. There’s a lot of think about what’s the final thing.
Rosabel: I am doing this workshop. My question this week is about gathering and expanding. We are doing this all day long. So the big question for me is how to get into the floor and out of the floor. Because I am going into the floor and out of the floor at least five hundred times a day.
Yin: The dialogue between three of us ended for now. The openness and encouragement are still echoing inside of me. I feel incredibly grateful for how it went. Thank you Rosabel, thank you Steffen. It was a great pleasure.
With many thanks to Rosabel Huguet and Steffen Döring
Please see open studio’s online archive here
Photos credits/ Please see the descriptions of each photo. Cover photo by Roger Rossell photographed Open Studio Berlin #4
Original article in Mandarin contributing to Red Bull please see the link