choreographer Felix Landerer
The decision came slowly, though. He won prizes, saw a whole new path opening up. “People responded to my work. At the time, I was dancing full time, a typical European 13-month contract with pension and holidays. I was very fortunate, I got leaves of absence, but bigger choreographic opportunities were presenting themselves that I didn’t have time for, and I didn’t want to get bitter. It took a few years to stop. When I finally did I had a whole season planned ahead with commissions. Very calculated. My last performance was with the Tanz Luzerner Theater and was choreographed by Patrick Delcroix, my ex-partner (and now best friend) in a 50 minute piece—it was the right piece to finish with. I’ve never missed being on the stage for a moment, I don’t need to be in spotlight.” It is the joy of creation, of dance, whether inventing or performing it.
Ihsan first came into contact with Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers via Northwest Dance Project. Ihsan had created a piece in 10 days, then Patrick Delcroix came back to stage it for the premiere, so Patrick met Olivier in person, but Ihsan still had not. He was in touch with Olivier on Facebook etc. over the years, however, and they’d spoken about working together. “I feel I know him,” says Ihsan. “When we write it’s very familiar, not formal.” So he was excited to hear about the Whim W’Him Choreographic Shindig 2015. “I would have wanted this opportunity as a dancer. It’s very precious.” He applied and was chosen by the dancers themselves from over 90 entries as one of 3 choreographers—along with Maurya Kerr and Joshua Peugh—for the program which opens the 12015-16 Inside Out season on September 11, with 7 performances at Capitol Hill’s Erickson Theatre.
What sorts of themes attract Ihsan as a choreographer? “I am very drawn by personal experiences, born out of where I am.” He’s done only one narrative piece and didn’t like it. But his works are “not abstract as such,” either. “I take a very emotional approach.” He wants to get every dancer on board and to view the process from their own perspectives.
The piece that he making for Whim W’Him is inspired by Alan Watts, “his incredible teachings, and a what he said about how we choose what to do: “Choice is the act of hesitation that we make before making a decision.” (Perhaps Ihsan could easily have keyed on another Watts quote: The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.) “I’m only now seeing where I can go with the piece,” since it had been only 3 days he’d been working with the dancers when we talked.
Ihsan says he used to be very structured in his approach to creation, “everything penciled out ahead of time. Then I came in and colored it, but that stifled creativity. When it’s a new company to me, and we don’t know each other’s quality, I want to see our reactions to each other—by doing that I get a much better result.” And, he adds, “I’m much calmer now than I used to be.” As to music or sound, he is still toying with ideas. Ludovico Einaudi perhaps? Maybe Jóhann Jóhannsson. The spoken words from Alan Watts definitely. This week, he’ll keep shifting music and see how it develops.
“Part of the beauty of this situation,” Ihsan muses, comparing qualities of the meditative experience to the years spent onstage, “is the bareness. It’s startling how familiar meditation was when I started it—no past and future, eliminating of audiences and technicians in the wings. I am very opposed to dancers ‘performing’ in what I’m doing (don’t get me wrong I love a good musical and those performers). It needs to have that honest approach. Then I’m touched. The audience too can be touched more directly. You find more…” than in more structured circumstances, such as when he has contracted to do a premiere in Germany, when he signed a year in advance and had already met with stage and set and costume design months ahead. By contrast, “When I come to this,” he says, “there is not the pressure, you have carte blanche to do whatever you want, within reason. I like to take the opportunity to play around and experience.” He pauses and says, “I would never ask dancers to do anything I would not have been willing to do myself.”
Of the Whim W’Him dancers, he says, “They are hard workers with great sense of humor. I like to work in a short, contained, totally focused period.” Taking the whole thing over-solemnly is not the same as taking it seriously, which it’s obvious he and they do. “You can’t have freedom if you’re obsessive. I love to laugh, I love to dance, the most freedom I feel is when I dance. A wholeness and a connection of body and mind.”