Ann Van den Broek made her first solo back in 1995. Creating at least one production a year since 2001 she has gone on to achieve a solid position in the dance world with her clear, accessible dance idiom and distinctive aesthetics. Her work contains intense emotions, but in the end reason prevails.
From the very beginning Ann Van den Broek’s subject matter has always been personal. In Skótoseme (1995), the first solo she created during her career as a dancer, she explored the essence of her dance art. What is going through her, all alone on that stage?
Six years later she decides to continue her career as an independent choreographer and creates the solos Hurry Up Please, … It’s Time (2001) and Annexe (2001). In Hurry Up Please, … It’s Time she sketches restless patterns of thought and movement, and the inability to resign herself to a situation or condition. In Annexe she interlaces four female solos and characters from an earlier piece to try and find a framework for her personality.
In these early works the constants that were to become a leitmotiv in her work are already present. And later too, when addressing universal themes like death, loneliness, struggle, love and sexuality, this conversion of inner motives keeps coming back each time. Exploring the fluctuating scale between control and letting go. And unraveling emotions in a conscientious movement research. Exposing the behavioral patterns. In FF+Rew (2002), her first piece for a group at Dansgroep Krisztina de Châtel, one can already see the extent of Van den Broek’s analytical approach. She visualizes the physical effects of an emotional blow through endless repetition and by zooming in closer and closer.
The manner in which she attempts to control that discrepancy between inner emotional turmoil and appearances also comes to the foreground when after ten years she collaborates with another artist again. Together with theater maker Marcus Azzini, a coproduction between Toneelgroep Oostpool and WArd/waRD, she wonders in LIstEn & See (Lies) (2012) what the body does when the voice speaks, which gives her the opportunity to further explore the use of language in her productions.
More so than her contemporaries, Van den Broek’s work clearly reflects the female perspective. After her solos, there are only women on stage in FF+Rew (2002) as well. And in her first collaborations she shares the stage with one female dancer: with Sophie Janssens in Quartet with One (2002) and with Einat Tuchman in Rest Room (2003).
Since she looks at the times from the point of view of women, she also reflects the position of women. That is very clear in the production Co(te)lette (2007), made at her own WArd/waRD Foundation. The title may be ironic, with a reference to both the French author and the cut of meat, but the world of the three women who initially come across as independent, self-assured women, is actually confusing and unpleasant. They have already fought for their sexual freedom, but the opinions of the outside world still seems to have quite an impact on their behavior. The result is a downward spiral of ecstasy, surrender, coming down from a high, anxiously falling back on familiar, alluring poses and reflexes, and pressing on compulsively. It makes one question the free expression of sexuality by women in our day and age.
Man is also looked at from the woman’s point of view in I SOLO MENT (2008). Woman and man. Sister and brother. By interlacing two solos by Cecilia Moiso and Dario Tortorelli the themes of loneliness and inaccessibility are emphasized. A number of observations from this piece subsequently lead to We Solo Men. Seeking attention and, at the same time, the inability to communicate is further explored here with a group of men and two women who must literally put themselves in a man’s place.
Basically, Van den Broek’s movements possess a clear expressiveness; they are gestures we regularly make. They are clearly recognizable and therefore easy to read. Such as trying to get attention by pointing at someone, by beckoning, reaching out. Or rebuffing someone’s overtures with a firm gesture. In Co(te)lette the women assume sexually explicit positions, they touch themselves. With complete abandon, which is disrupted when they become aware of the outside world. The translation of the themes into movement is clear.
In FF+Rew they fall, get up and keep going – reliving the emotional blow. It is no accident that the title refers to the various functions of a tape recorder with which one can fast-forward or rewind. In FF+Rew the repetitions are inherent in the theme; however, in other productions the repetitive movements that lead to an exhausting war of attrition keep coming back. That physical exhaustion is also present in the work of her Flemish predecessors in dance and choreographer Krisztina de Châtel, in whose works she danced for many years. But Van den Broek offers her own interpretation of it. No matter how compulsive a movement may seem, the movements never become mechanical in her work. By repeatedly showing particular emotions, she explores them, adds nuances, thus anchoring her intentions in a form language that is both theatrical and abstract. In Ohm (2010) she stripped the resistance of all emotions, and in Q61 (2011) she looks back by combining previously researched emotions, archiving ten years of material.
The production I SOLO MENT is probably her most theatrical piece. The direct manner in which dancer Cecilia Moisio expresses her grief in the opening scene as she crouches over a deceased loved one and washes him without touching him is heart-rending. Van den Broek not only takes the audience along in an emotional rollercoaster, but immediately takes it to the top. How accomplished she is at doling out emotions is proved by the fact that she is able to hold the audience’s attention until the end of the performance and continually manages to move the audience.
Although Van den Broek hasn’t danced in her own productions for over ten years, her work still springs from the dancer Ann Van den Broek. Her commitment is such that she stepped back onto the stage in Ohm and The Red Piece (2013) in order to feel what the dancers feel. In Ohm she taps out the rhythm by stamping on a metal plate with her foot, driving the dancers. In The Red Piece she does it with the heels of her boots. But she also sits in the back of the stage knitting, and frees the dancers from the carefully tied Japanese bondage cords in this choreography about lust, submission and love.
When it comes to the dancers that Ann Van den Broek works with on stage, you don’t really expect them to struggle with themselves or with their surroundings. Perhaps that’s because at first sight they seem so self-assured; they are not exactly outsiders with their stylish, carefully selected outfits. The many costumes changes into the next designer outfit and putting on and taking off shoes may contribute to the notion everything can be kept under control, although the opposite is just as probable.
In her choice of music Van den Broek also has an obvious preference for the present. At best she reaches back to a recent past, such as the Eighties, which sparks the imagination of a younger generation. In Hurry up please, … it’s time she still went with classical composers such as Beethoven, Prokofiev and Bartók, with the exception of music by PJ Harvey. But for Annexe pianist Rex Lobo made an adaption for her of the hard-rock number The Unforgiven by Metallica.
Since then the compositions by Arne van Dongen, with whom she collaborates from then on, switch between the abstract (as in Co(te)lette with church organ, voice and looms) and the concrete (like the pop songs by Nick Cave in I SOLO MENT), which clearly express contemporary dilemmas and the perils of love. In her latest production The Red Piece the Flemish group Dez Mona wrote the music and lyrics.
By remaining true to herself and to the times Ann Van den Broek has developed her own dance idiom and aesthetic. But true in no way means highly personal and she never loses herself in the drama. With the intensity of her dance she also knows how to show the beauty of human powerlessness.
“The wonderful thing about emotions is that they run a natural course,” the philosopher René Gude said not long ago in the Flemish magazine Knack, “after some time they recede again on their own.”
But according to Gude, people tend to wallow in them longer than necessary, because we want to intervene intellectually in the course of our emotions.
‘Dark’ or ‘not cheery’ are terms that Van den Broek’s work is unfairly labeled with in commentaries.
She lets her dancers relive their feelings time after time on stage, forcing the audience to witness an emotional and physical war of attrition that at times threatens to become unbearable.
But perhaps that is precisely what Van den Broek wants to show us in her choreographies: in the often futile attempts to control our emotions, reason prevails.
Marcelle Schots, TM, November 2013