Niels Weijer was born in 1988, Netherlands; a choreographer who began his path on artistic research. We had our dialogue nearby the cafe across the entrance of User studios. At that point in time, there were a lot of air planes flying by. His presence was warm and inviting, a sense of curiosity arises naturally within me. In his recent work of choreography, there were space in between of objects and human beings – a relation to be addressed and redefined. The performers interacted, and pointed out a space for us to look at. Continue reading, you would hear about his background story, philosophy, passion, and more.
This dialogue was recorded in August 2018, Berlin.
Part I: Choreography
What’s your story?
I start ballet dancing for many years in Amsterdam, then I start doing contemporary dance in Rotterdam. After that I had my first job in Osnabrück. It is very good experience first in the company. In school, I already wanted to make my own work. So I quit the company and starting freelancing as a dancer. In the same time I start to create my own thing. It was very small thing at first. It is a development. From the beginning on, I was working a lot with visual artists. Immediately the visual arts triggered me a lot. It is still like a big inspiration for my work, much more than dance, performance arts. My start point was a lot more of visual art work.
I have been dancing, creating as a freelancer. I did a lot of children performances. It is a very interesting audience. They are really direct. There is no contemplation of the concept. It just has to catch right away their attention. They take it or they don’t take it. It is still something that I would like to do in my own work. How do you get the attention right away? And take them along.
At some point, I think after five years of freelancing, I decided I would like to really do the creations. That is why I moved here to Berlin to be able to make fresh start. A new start to do it intensively. Because if you dance a lot, and you make money with that, you are distracted consistently. You can’t really focus. It is also hard in Netherlands, it is hard to get into choreographer scene when you haven’t gone through what I had just done the choreographer education. It is same here in Berlin. It is hard to get your head around if you haven’t done any education. Being here, it fits really well with what I am pursuing as a choreographer. It is really nice with an open door. Now being seemed as choreographer, it is a nice switch.
I consider there is oneness, but with object there are barriers. Are you willing to engage with the objects? It almost feels like tripping.
Exactly. For instance, we can identify ourselves better with animals which looks very much like us. We can see the emotions from the dogs, cats, monkeys or horses. It is easy to identify with us. We can consider it as an object as well. It is another entity but it is very close. And with plants, we can see its growth. We can relate to it well. But with this cup in my hand, it is still alive but with different aliveness. It is harder to engage with it. But then on a philosophical level you can. That’s something I found it interesting to question – why do we like to identify ourselves more with something that we can see there are emotions. It is a lot to do with ourselves and how we look at our worlds. From a human perspective, maybe we can look at the world with a more all-inclusive perspective which is difficult.
It is about spirituality. Do you meditate?
I do actually. I am very interested in Buddhism. It talks a lot about the consciousness, being one, being here.
Would you consider yourself religious?
Yes, I do. I grow up as a very active Christian. Then I kind of put my back onto the system which the church is. I don’t agree with how they structure and organize. I open up to Buddhism in a more philosophical way, but it has its religious aspect as well. It is very beautiful to see the origin and the tradition of Islam. It is different. Again, there is this system and also the art comes out of that which is very beautiful. I find the word ‘religious’ has a lot of heaviness.
Let’s say you have a believing system.
Yes, I like that.
In this artistic research, you put a lot of geometric shapes and items. How did you relate these elements into your work?
I am very interested in mathematic and geometry. Plato start with that. He has all these crystals in the shape of hexagon. He kind of puts the shapes into the elements which let them all relate to the same shape. I am trying to say that everything is coming out of the five elements – water, fire, air, earth, and energy. It is a driving force for me, because it is a big research for long time. Out of the study of geometry and shapes, there is all these interesting space as well. Especially in the city, there is all these geometric shapes and structures around, and we interact with that consistently. Like I come to this meeting, I walk through buildings, pass streets. I have to go around to sit here with you. I consistently interact with space and geometry. In the performance, the only different is that I take certain shapes and I interact with those shapes with the surroundings, which is an interesting equation.
There is all these layers of consciousness that I put in the work that you have to visit with. Like ‘THE / LIFE / OF / FINE / LINES’, there are mirrors and people.You can move the mirror like this, and you have to respond to each others. You can copy and mirror each others. You play each other’s time. There is the whole consciousness. How can you reflect and play with your surroundings. There is all these mathematical conscious of how to deal with the shapes and space. It creates patterns, showing patterns. For example, you see in the historical Islamic part, there is a lot of structures and patterns. They are very symmetrical, and I like that. In ‘THE / LIFE / OF / FINE / LINES’ it became much more complex, it was asymmetrical, still interacting. Like an interesting flow pattern came out of that.
His choreography “The life of Fine Lines”
Mirror is a human invention, it gets so emotional and poetic. All of a sudden, it looks like you are looking into a different universe with the sky background and greenish. It looks like a parallel universe that more than itself. The pictures just capture it sometimes.
What first attracted you to 《THE / LIFE / OF / FINE / LINES》 and how long have you been working on it?
My instinct would be since I was in Berlin. It is never just that. It is like there is a bunch of ideas, and they manifest themselves. Because just as a habit, I also like to photograph. In that photography research, there has been a play with reflections. How the reflection I see from the window stands the line? There has been that research going on just visually, not yet as a sense of performance. And then, when I moved to Berlin. In order to make the money for study, I made a crowd funding within my friends and family. I collected some money. One of my friend gave me twenty euro folded in a crane of traditional origami. I always want to know how to do that, so when I arrived in Berlin, I start to look at how to fold a bird. And then, I figured the bird is actually moving because you pull the tail and it moves. It is amazing. You have moving origami. I did a lot of folding in the first three months when I was here. And I had this one origami which I was playing with. I was thinking “what can I do with this?” It really got my interests but I didn’t know how to work that out. I thought maybe I can make a really large origami, and move with them. I start researching but it is really hard. The cool thing of paper is it has this kind of stiffness and looseness, and you can fold it. It is very nice structure. But if you start to make it with bigger paper, it doesn’t work, because it can falls apart, or paper got so stiff that you can’t fold it anymore.
Then I was thinking “what was it so interested me?” I have this origami which when you pull it, it has this fish zigzag line. If you pull it, it shrinks. I realized it is a play with lines. Because I am able to see the lines, the shapes appear because of the lines falling onto it. It is like a play of my perspectives. How do I perceive the lines and the shadows? You can draw lines, but if you fold it, you can see the shapes because there are lines, shapes and shadows of others. I got into this whole research on perspectives.
From that I came to what is the original perspective, to get into Renaissance. That is the first time in Western society where this idea of perspective comes into question. It comes into question in relation to painted landscapes. If you have a landscape, you have always a point of view. It gives its perspective. From the perspective, you draw lines. I was busy with perspectives, landscape and horizon. There is this French philosopher Francois Jullien who wrote a book ‘Living Off Landscape’ about landscape. He put the western idea next to eastern idea. He studied the symbols of Chinese. In western, we have a word for it called landscape which we related to certain surrounding, and then, there is like in Chinese in which the word for landscape is combined with two symbols ‘mountain’ and ‘water’. Landscape is a combination between the stable and fluent. It is kind of like in any continue. It is not just that. The weather inside is like the tension created there. In between the tension, there is why the landscape start to appear. It is not something we look upon, but something that we are in. From the whole origami, I came to this perspective which is how I got to the ‘THE / LIFE / OF / FINE / LINES’; for me, I had this church which was the stable mountain, and with mirrors which is what I wanted to create as the fluent water. Because it was outside, and there is whole interfere of the weather. It was simple, step by step. It is really beautiful when I see the big mirror on the floor in the second performance, it looked like a river. They were lying there like still water which you can see reflections. When you move it, it looks like a blowing wind in slow motions – a still image which is a new idea of a landscape.
How do you create – do you go into the studio with a firm idea of the movement you want? Or is it more free-form and organic?
‘THE / LIFE / OF / FINE / LINES’ was a different working process for me. Generally I went in to the rehearsal with very strong clear ideas. “This is what is going to happen,” and my last performance was on a triangle. I came in with a very clear and simple numerical structure. We want to welcome the walking patterns. We just have to put the composition together but it was quite clear what is gonna happened; This one, I realized quite late what would work with dancers. Although the project was in June, I did the audition in April which is really late. This is because I wanted to make a performance with just objects. Then, I realized I am not interested in just objects moving. I am interested in relation between human and objects. So when we came in to the studio, I didn’t have much time to research on my own before. I was a lot like “okay, here is the mirror, can you move with it?” After I saw they move with it, it might be “I really like what you did,” and then we remade it, named it. Then, we teach each other. Bit by bit, constructing it. Still, create some kind of system. I wanted to make a score for the performance, but I ended up providing the structure; where they have a beginning image and an ending image, and in between they had to take from each other which is a very complex approach. It was something kind of develop on its own. My plan was to make the score but I realized it doesn’t work for this piece. They have to interact with each other. Also, because of the materials was complex objects. You can not say I want you to hold the mirror or the tube like that, because they can not see what they are doing. It was very imaginative. They were interacting with the space, with each other, and with the mirrors. There was these three layers. It was beautiful to see how it evolves day by day until the performance. I have a basic understanding of what I was looking for, for how to move with an object. I just have to work with them to see until they did it, and I take that out.
The basic start is how to connect, connect with your objects, connect with your space around, connect with other people, other objects, other spaces. It is a big ball of complex connections. And yet still be able to make clear decisions.Niels Weijer
What is your fondest memories of all that creative process?
That would be like taking one thing out. If I look at the whole thing, I just look at what is the common, what is the core, what is the essence. I realized there is all these different aspects of myself being in there. I am curious if there is an answer.
Which part of you resonating in yourself at this moment?
I feel that what is the core thing in most work that I created, is that there is always this system. Our society is a system. These kinds of performance and installation is also like a system of interactionist. When the performer are performing, I also realized there is not just about doing it for you. That would be like “I show you what we learned in the studio.” We were actually showing the system, a reduced reflection of a different society.
One memory I had is a performance I did with a visual artist Evelien Jansen in Netherlands. We were in a residency in Turkey for a while, and I came to visit her. We wanted to take the inspirations for a piece – we realized being there on the streets you hear people talking, and you have no clue what they are talked about, because we don’t speak the language. There is this different language which you don’t understand, and you observe that. I start trying to make some kind of sign language with movement which is not necessary with meanings. Random movements which is not loaded with meanings. I created sounds to that. We use that as a platform to look at people with different cultural system. You don’t understand them but you start to grab, seek and hook onto something.
The other show I did are ‘The Question of Broken Triangles’. There was this mathematical structure of three. They walk in triangle, a repetitive numbers which keeps on changing. It is kind of simple – two, one two one, and one two three. But it consistently changes so you never able to get the system.You just have to let go. In there, they also have a small system to communicate with each others. This one is counting, and the others know where they are. It is a system of interactions. If I take a core, it is not necessary about the memories but the system of connectedness – how they are connected through a performative theme, and reach the audience. To see how do we perceive and what can we get out of it. I like abstract arts because it doesn’t tell me how to look at it. I like how it gets me start thinking. For me, it is the gold of artist that how to make people rethink the things which they already have opinions about. Try to open it up again.
You are still digesting the piece you just made.
Thinking about digesting, I actually don’t refer to the creation of a piece as creation. Because that means I know what is gonna happen, and I don’t know. I just had an idea. But I am slowly discovering it what this idea want to be. I really believe that the idea is already there, and I am just discovering it. Of course, I made an interpretation of that. If you ask five choreographers to make a piece on a same idea, there would be five different work. But they have different discoveries because of their personal connection they made through their minds. The way I realized the ‘THE / LIFE / OF / FINE / LINES’ is not me creating it, it is discovering, and making decisions.
What would be useful tools to practice regarding creating and expressing one’s imaginations? Any secrets?
The tool I need to give myself is not to start researching or reading, but just try to keep it open. How to leave it open as long as possible. The more open you are, the more you are fluid. It is like how to get intuitive, how to get back to my belly. For example, the key moment really pull things together, I made it on my belly. How to make these connections between the rational and intuitive. That is one of tool I am discovering.
What does being a male in your profession means to you?
I feel like in my profession it is not just being a male, it is also about being a straight. I am a male and straight – it questions me as well. How did you deal with that? It is a struggle as a person. What can I do, and what can I not do? As a dancer, I understand it better because I have danced for long time. When you enter the audition, there would be five males and forty-five females. For me, my competition was always with the female in that position. I needed to step out of my gate. It is not about being a male or female, but it is about trying to be successful.
His work “reframing La Tourette”
Part II: Philosophy
What’s your favorite meal of the day?
Breakfast. I love eating pancakes with maple syrup and a good cup of coffee.
What other hobbies do you indulge in?
I like doing photography. I love making coffee. I love walking and biking.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
It is very cheesy but follow your heart. Do one wants to do, do not hold yourself back, even when you are in bad situations. Listen to yourself.
What’s the best gift you’ve received?
I got a really nice knitted earwarmer from my ex-girlfriend. I think it was very beautiful and practical.
If you were an animal which would you be and why?
A fox, because they are curious, nutty, and funny.
Which city do you love the most and why?
I don’t know. I really like Berlin but it has been too short for me to say I love it. I really like Amsterdam but as a tourist. To really live there, it is not enough. I have an interest to be in New York but I haven’t been there.
What’s daily ritual for you?
Making a coffee.
Can you describe how would you make it?
That would be very precisely because I am a barista as a side job as well. Basically what I do is – I take out my scale and my coffee. At the moment I really like Colombian. I weight my sixteen grand of beans, and I dry them. I boil my water, prepare my air press, put in the coffee, put in the water, and prepare the coffee. And then, I put the coffee into my cup, and I drink it. That is the summery version of it. That is my daily ritual.
Who or what inspires you the most?
It is visual arts. It is not like just one thing. It is several artists. When I don’t feel good, I like to go to museum. It charges me, gives me a lot of inspiration and new ideas. It opens up my respective. That would be my biggest inspiration.
Any word you would like to share with our audience?
To be open. To be willing to stay open, to see what an artist want to tell you, to not judge from your experiences. That is a very special place for the artist and the audiences.
The meeting point.
Exactly. The conscious exchange.
If you are intrigued, you can find him on his website.
You can find the Mandarin version contributed to Red Bull Taiwan here.
Thank you for your openness and curiosity in our communication, Niels. This dialogue was important part of my transformation. You are a very wonderful human being.