Working with mistakes

Erin Brannigan interviews German choreographer Antje Pfundtner

Antje Pfundtner, eigenSinn

Antje Pfundtner, eigenSinn

Choreographer Antje Pfundtner has spent the last 18 months touring her highly acclaimed solo eigenSinn throughout Europe and South America, and presenting her first ensemble work, selbstinschuld, in 3 German cities. Previously she worked in Europe and the United States with artists such as Michele Anne de Mey, Stephen Koplowitz, Felix Ruckert, Tony Vezich and David Hernandez and studied in New York with David Dorfman and company and Edith Meeks. She has received many scholarships including a prestigious 12 month award from Kunststiftung NRW. Pfundtner was in Sydney in August to run a workshop for Critical Path. From Sydney she goes on to a research project in Poland and then a tour of China and Tokyo.

As this is the end of your first day at the Critical Path workshop, can you talk about how you are running the workshop, your approach to choreography there and in general.

In my work I use a lot of text and movement together, so that’s what I have started to introduce. I think that it’s important to know that my work comes from an autobiographical background, so I get the participants to pick a subject or a story and ask what their personal relationship is to that story. Not that it’s therapy—‘this is what I need to talk about’—but finding a subject that you can talk about and finding a distance from it that can be interesting. It’s perfectly legitimate to pick something abstract and external to yourself, but for me if you want to talk about or present something on stage I think it’s best if you have a personal connection to it. So if you were going to make a piece about accidents I would immediately ask if you have had one or seen one, what they mean to you—even if it does shift onto an abstract level. And then I will introduce some movement material into the workshop, but I am mostly interested in how they personally move.

What are the obsessions and interests of yours that are obviously clicking with audiences? Or is it how you present them?

I think it’s a combination…because I don’t think what I’m saying is particularly new! The solo eigenSinn is a play on words. The title translates as ‘your own sense or meaning’, but it can also be meant in a negative way, that you are very stubborn [‘have it your own way’, Eds]. I tell tall stories in the performance and there is a fairytale of the Brothers Grimm that leads the piece to one particular theme. It’s about a child who wants to develop his own sense of things, and will never do what his mother wishes. God punishes it, it dies and is buried. Then one arm comes out of the grave and they try to put the arm down again, and in the end the mother has to hit the arm with a rock until, finally, the child drags his arm in and has peace. It’s such a brutal fairytale to tell to kids. Of course, in the ‘old school’ it wasn’t wished that a child would think for itself. Whereas now, it’s all about developing your own thoughts, questioning things and positioning yourself. And I connect this to personal stories.

When I was born I couldn’t move at all and people gave up on me and told my mother to buy a wheelchair, that I would never be able to move. But my mother wouldn’t listen and found a physiotherapist who was willing to work with me and 5 times a day for a year she exercised with me so that I could crawl. And then I had another session to teach me to stop crawling!

So the work is about creating your own world. And then there are other stories that are about failure and success, and fake heroism…and it’s not clear if the stories are true or not. So I think they are very human subjects that everybody can connect to. And it works on many levels, on the personal side as well as how artists see themselves, because they really have to find their own position in the world. I demonstrate this in different ways, for example wearing a disco ball on my head—how you want to be the centre of the world and glitter for everyone and in the end you’re just reflecting yourself. I think if you can talk about something without preaching about it then people have the chance to connect with it—or not—it’s still a matter of taste. I think that’s the goal of theatre—that the audience wants to find a part of themselves in the work.

So how does the movement quality illustrate or elaborate on these themes you’ve described?

Well, I like to work with my mistakes and to promote them. The new ensemble piece, selbstinschuld, had a working title which was, ‘If you can’t fix it, feature it.’ I think it’s what you have to do when you are a dancer. If you do a lot of ballet, for instance, you are always confronted with things that are wrong: you’re not turned out enough etc. You are limited in some way, and I think that those limitations are your strongest points often connected to private things. I develop a lot of what some people call “ugly movement”—it has a very distinct aesthetic. And I mix a lot and ‘break’ a lot of movements. I always tell dancers not to deny where they come from. They would say, “Oh, I used to do ballet and then I did karate but now I only do contemporary.” I always tell them in their improvisations, “Well, let me see that you used to do those things because it would make the contemporary really interesting for me, a way that only you could do it.” So I don’t think you should deny the roots that are in your body and the connections and information they have for you.

So what are the special things about your history that inform your way of moving?

I’ve been lucky that I worked with choreographers who encouraged me to find my own way of moving, to use what I had. Some parts of my body are over-extended and I was encouraged to show that rather than correct it. You can develop a new style from this—you might have arms that are too long but you can do amazing things with those arms, create a new aesthetic. I didn’t limit myself because I didn’t have a certain aesthetic in my mind.

Is there something about popular culture or entertainment that informs your work?

I see a lot of movies and I always try to go and see a lot of other art forms. I have a big friendship circle and a lot of them aren’t artists, and I was always a very normal teenager even when I was training hard. I do what 99% of the population do—I watch every TV show that is on and I think I get a lot of information out of that. That’s why you might get that popular culture connection with my work, because I’m in touch with these things.

So how does it feel now being supported by the Goethe Institut and touring your work around the world?

The international touring really started at the beginning of last year. I had been working freelance for various people and companies, travelling around a lot with them, and since 2001 I also started to do my own work. Then eigenSinn in February 2003 was a success—Ballet Tanz reviewed it and there were other articles written on the work. But I wasn’t really pushing or trying to sell my work. And then exactly a year later, someone saw it and put it in the German dance platform. The international producers who come don’t care if you are well known at home or not. And there was such a reaction—one producer takes it and then others do and it’s out there. It was really funny because it was a year old and a lot of people had it on their desk already. So of course you feel like something comes back but at the same time, you realise how absurd it is

.Sydney dancer-choreographer Martin del Amo describes his experience of the Antje Pfundtner workshop for Critical Path on Artshub, www.artshub.com.au

RealTime issue #69 Oct-Nov 2005 pg. 12

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2005
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