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Interview: meet the co-curators of the November 10×10 program

19 November 2020

During our November 10×10 program, choreographers and performers Antonia Steffens (DE) and Keerthi Basavarajaiah (IN) will not only present their work in Veem House for Performance, but share their voice as co-curator’s as well. We invited Keerthi and Antonia to co-curate our November program about Movement. Both aregraduates from SNDO and while they carry quite different biographies, they share an interest for the spaces in-between, that are often left unseen. Their curation is informed by the need to create a shared space, both off and on stage: ‘We understand movement as an integrated practice out of what you experience through life.’ 

By Lies Mensink

You were invited to co-curate our program about ‘dance’, but decided to use the word ‘movement’ instead. Why movement?

Keerthi Basavarajaiah: ‘Dance has such a strong imposition of what it is and it should be. When Antonia and I speak of our own ‘dance background’ we tend to abandon that word and use ‘movement’ instead. I come from an Indian classical dance background, though it is not considered mainstream dance here, I went to a very disciplined systematic training for almost 7 to 8 years to study it. Now I don’t really carry it in the way it was thought to me as a form of dance but definitely carry the learning’s across mediums’ 

‘For me “Dance” is emerging its in nature with the relation-scapes. I perceive movement in and across every aspect. I’m so fascinated by certain quirks that people carry in their daily manners of moving around. Some of the most amazing dancers that I’ve seen are not the ones that are trained in the conventional ways, their bodies are thriving in how they relate to their own vocabulary itself.’

What was important for you in creating this program?

Antonia Steffens: ‘‘When Veem House approached us to curate this 10×10 edition we were in the midst of the Black Live Matters protests and right after the shock of the first Covid-19 peak. At the same time, we were also in a creative process working on Keerthi’s graduation work “Luring Whispers”. Being inside of the artistic work while dealing with the repercussions of the protests, the health crisis and the emotional and physical implications this had on our work, we challenged our curatorial line to be informed by the difficult realities inside of the November 10 x 10. We felt a need to look at how we share space in the first place and how different artists from different realities and practices find different ways to stay close to their work.

Keerthi Basavarajaiah: ‘There is usually this gap between who is inviting and dividing these platforms, and who is presenting – a lot of in-between dialogue, engagement is missing. Our cu ration was informed by the need to acknowledge the spaces we share in its diversity. We were really thinking about: what is it to make works these days? And what is it to make work as an immigrant, as a body that is challenged in so many ways on a day to day basis?’

‘The other people in this program Raoni Muzho Saleh, Nico Roses, Mami Kang, Matthew Day propose a strata of movement vocabularies through their works. That is where I think we found the shared quest: carrying movement without having the burden of a specific form, specific aesthetics or certain ways.’

Antonia Steffens: In choosing the artists we were also thinking about resilience: how does one keep on working with the practice that showed to be important? A practice that makes sense/ sensitivity and gives meaning to one’s artistic identity and development despite specific political agendas inside the cultural sector or funding criteria. We understand movement as an integrated practice out of what you experience through life. Anyone who is working in this field carries their biography. This integration of certain kinds of aspects of their life and how these artists relate to movement into their practice is really interesting to us.’

You see movement as an integrated practice: how do you carry your biographies in your practice?

Antonia Steffens: ‘I am working with my family’s history : I was born in Germany two years after the wall fell, I grew up in a newly “reunited” country, having a mom that has Jewish descent; a grandmother who survived the holocaust. My father’s mother was a painter and my father’s father an architect building up, what was destroyed after war. As I grew up hearing their stories and getting curious about their practices and ways and attempts of making a living, I looked for their traces inside of my own artistic work. My practice is very much informed by their biographies as well, so it is not just my own: you can find them in how I approach materials, colours, sounds and movements – It’s not about showcasing them but to carry them in the imperceptible. In fact, they help me to find relation to space and time.’

Keerthi Basavarajaiah: ‘For me carrying a biography is a very dual thing because the minute people look at me they project that I’m not from “here” or attribute narratives with an “exotic” gaze. A biography is ahead of me even without having to say anything about it. While I still carry my ethnicity very strongly, also trying to see how it can exceed these impositions- presuppositions. My biography is a web of relations.

I left India mainly because of the patriarchal nature of the surrounding I grew up in – I had to leave to really find the movements beyond the suppressive structures. I think my work is highly influenced by a curiosity that breaks away from what was given, how else? My practice emerges through these vectors of biographical fields.

Keerthi, how did that biography inform your performance Luring Whispers?

Keerthi Basavarajaiah: ‘I’m always looking for the multiplicities of being. In my performance Luring Whispers I create a space where multiple narratives can co-exist. I try to create the presence of many bodies without having to have them be wholly present. My research started with the mundane gestures that we move with on a day-to-day basis. Gestures that we recognize, reiterate, practice and share: a carrying, a touch, a holding. Gestures in their shapes and manners can trigger so much movement in perception and narratives. The work carries my biography in its gestural hints while foregrounding the field at play’ 

Luring Whispers is ‘a dance in the initiation of the senses’. How do you create a sensory performance when you need to keep 1,5 metres distance to the audience?

Keerthi Basavarajaiah: ‘Senses are synesthetic in nature: a sense can trigger others. Sounds for instance can trigger something very physical in you, certain sounds can give you goosebumps, a colour can be a feeling of warmth. I’m exploring how senses can be moved from a distance, where touch too is not only experienced through physical contact.’

Antonia, your performance An Attendee wills premier during 10×10 November. What fascinates you about attendance, and why did you decide to make a performance about it? 

Antonia Steffens: ‘Attendance came as a word to acknowledge a state, where you do not yet know what to do, and where you neither necessarily act nor resign, but stay with it. 

In my previous research I have been fascinated with the relations of seeing and being seen. The gaze has a long history in the theatre, but I started to re-interrogate the bias of observer/observant. The notion of attendance somehow opens this dual idea and looks at the space of that relation, literally, in between: I try to give this space a personality in my work, even if I cannot slip into its role. It is about acknowledging that something is going on there in a co-emergent way. 

‘The notion of “space” and “making space” became important in recent years. As a person who experiences a set of privileges, I try to not take my position and the way I “can” move, for granted in space. To “leave” space, but on the other hand, to not withdraw from the conversation became a mode of potential becoming that I explore in ”An attendee”. I needed to develop tools for carrying this moment in time that allow me to question my “space-being” but at the same time not deny it.’

Your program on movement comes from the need for a shared space, what movements and needs do you notice in the dance scene in Amsterdam?

Keerthi Basavarajaiah: ‘How the funding structures are established calls for certain strategic ways of coming together and tending to certain practices. That move can also have the tendency to become exclusive and protective.

In the Amsterdam scene I feel there is a strong sense to recognize that we all come from different sensibilities and needs. It almost becomes a need then, to think together in the relations we find to keep those practices going.’

‘Recently a friend asked me if I would still be making the same kind of work if I were back in India. I had to answer no: the surrounding I live in (Amsterdam) is informing me every day, in terms of what and how I relate to and what kind of work I create. Of course, I carry the qualities from being from a certain place, but with that I’m constantly affected by what I move with. Of having to recognize that people have multiple ways, multiple medium of expressions and existential calls even if we all seem to share a “common” ground.’

Antonia Steffens: ‘Precarity makes alliances emerge, which can be a good thing, but it also comes from a need that there is not enough attention and care for whatever different inclinations dance and performance can have. In Amsterdam there is not enough support for dance and performance, and while there are institutions that are really engaging and fighting for the space of dance continuously, they also have their own visions from the point of view of the institution only.’

‘The Netherlands and Amsterdam follow up quite neoliberal politics in their education and market. This impacts how development and practices are seen as commodities that are expected to keep up with new trends inside of academia or institutions. Sometimes this makes the artistic practices and discourse one sided and generates exclusivity. It also produces a scene that cannot really come together, we lack communal and self organised spaces where knowledge can emerge through trust and exchange. ‘

Maybe when we speak of “movement”, Amsterdam is limping a bit, as we have a problem of relations. I wish institutions and freelance artists were to engage much more and had honest and challenging conversations. It should be an ongoing conversation where we acknowledge that we need each other. We are in fact very dependent. For me Veem House for Performance has been exceptional in acknowledging this.’

‘I feel curation should always be collaborative in some way.’

You can attend Antonia Steffens’ An attendee on 26th, 27th and 28th of November.

Keerthi Basavarajaiah’s Luring Whispers is presented on 28th of november.