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Heart of the Matter

by Paul Seaquist

Berlin is a lovely city in springtime. Its cafes and restaurants open their terraces to the public and, between occasional showers, Berliners and not, bask themselves under the sun. Just steps from Hackeschermarkt, there is a small café called Barcomi´s which doesn’t just prepare the best latte macchiatos in the city but also delicious homemade ice cream and muffins, hidden under the benign and refreshing shade of centenary Lindens. It is here, at Barcomi´s, where a few days back I shared a coffee and an interesting conversation with the young Italian choreographer Mauro de Candia.

Although we were meeting for the first time, we shared not only the normal topics of two people involved in the same line of work: have you seen such or such piece, or such or such choreographer, what are you working on at the moment, what are your engagements for the summer, etc… but also, we navigated into the uncharted territories from where the best ideas and reflections normally arise. I was struck by the doubts and queries that a good chat evokes, in this case the old, old question: why do we create? Although “creativity” is a subject deeper and better studied by psychology, education or cognitive science, I will try to give it a reading based on my impressions associated with the art I know best: ballet.

Throughout western history the word “creativity” has basically had two different schools of thought. The first, based on the Judaeo-Christian tradition of divinity and creation as a divine inspiration; and the second, developed in the age of enlightenment, based on Thomas Hobbes concept of creativity as a source of plain imagination, created by talent and genius. In my world, the ballet world, although creativity is of vast importance for dancers, specifically in the construction and understanding of characters, I will mainly focus on the engine that engages and promotes this creativity: choreography.

Over ballet’s vast history, we have had a good share of choreographers: some of extreme quality and genius and other less talented if not mediocre exponents. As in every art form, in choreography we´ve also had models to follow. In particular I would say that the leader of the pack is Mr. Marius Petipá. Although many might disagree, I believe that all things ballet as we know them today are based in the very simple yet complex examples set by Petipá. Not only choreographically but also dramaturgically speaking, Petipá created and dictated terms and forms, which are still followed and venerated today. Everything in choreography done today has, even if in a tiny percentage, Petipá written on it. Comparing ballet to literature, if only for a second, it would be difficult to find anything without a tiny imprint of Shakespeare or Cervantes carved in it as well. It is just the way it goes, influence is influential.

Many other names have reached divinity in choreography. If only to mention a few, the ballet world would not be complete, and wouldn’t be what it is today without powerhouse influences as Bournonville, Balanchine, Bejart, Cranko, Forsythe, Mats Ek, and more recently, ultra talented geniuses as Wim Vandekeibus, Marco Goecke or Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Creativity has been served with these names. Their creations have made our world more livable and less scary… or maybe more.

There is much more to do in terms of choreographic creation: dancers await, Directors pray, audiences linger on their seats, critics sharpen their daggers… and impresarios have their eyes opened to nurture, guide and create markets for these new talents when they appear.

Yet do not forget, that looking up at these “powerhouses” is just the first step of our creative process. Let’s not copy Divinity, let’s re-invent it! Traditions are impossible to get away from, as it is impossible to fly solo without known influences. But, beware of copying! Beware of copycats! Create with your hearts, with your soul, create with your minds, and create with every feeling you have but please, do not re-create!

Today, the young choreographer market is full with petit Forsythes or petit Mats Eks and it is not pleasant to see, it’s boring. Why would anyone want to see a Forsythe impersonator when he is still going full blast and we can see his own work, his own creation? Why would anybody want to see a Mats Ek wannabe, when “Apartment”, “La Casa de Bernarda Alba”, “A sort of…” or “She wears black”, are being restaged by him, in person, in some of the biggest companies of Europe. Young choreographers, please be careful of confusing imitation capacity for genius or talent.

The art world is a difficult and jealous world, mainly because you cannot afford to be mediocre. Mediocrity does not fit in it, it just does not belong. Being a mediocre lawyer or teacher or dentist or even a doctor is still half way acceptable, but being a mediocre artist is like finding an atheist priest or a pagan nun, it just does not work! Create with responsibility, and if and only if you cannot live with out creating. If not, take my humble advice: simply move on, or fade away.

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