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Brussels is the contemporary dance capital of Europe. P.A.R.T.S., the school created by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, has been largely responsible for this by attracting young dancers and choreographers from around the world. A partner since its creation, La Monnaie holds a biennial event to showcase the young dancers in a professional setting with the backing of musicians from La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra. For this second edition of danceXmusic we are opening the doors even wider to include singers from the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel to interpret some of the shorter works of Schubert, Brahms, Dvořák, Martinů, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Poulenc... A fascinating meeting between different musical worlds that will surely create something exciting. Here the two directors of P.A.R.T.S and QECM explain respectively the specific aims of these two outstanding schools.
How did the institution that you run come about and what influence does it have at the international level?
Bernard de Launoit: The Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel was founded in 1939 two years after the Eugène Isaye Competition (which later, in 1951, became the Queen Elisabeth Competition) and was the result of an initiative by both Eugène Isaye and Queen Elisabeth herself. In 2004, after 65 years in existence, The Music Chapel turned a new page in its history with a thorough reorganisation of the content of its programme. Since that time it has followed two basic principles: the first, coaching with the great masters and their guests and the second, an entry into the professional world, particularly during the 2010-2011 season, through around 150 concerts and productions in Belgium and abroad, thanks to numerous cultural partnerships with orchestras, distributors and festivals. This season, 2011-2012, we have 50 young soloists of 20 different nationalities including 16 Belgians, in residence. The Music Chapel is of course linked to its illustrious big sister, the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition and is becoming more and more universally recognised thanks to the work done by the teachers, the young musicians and numerous partnerships throughout the world.
Theo Van Rompay: P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) was born in the bosom of La Monnaie. This dance school was a kind of successor to Mudra(1970-1988), an institution founded and directed by Maurice Béjart when the Ballet of the Twentieth Century was in residence at La Monnaie. Some years after Béjart’s departure for Lausanne, to be precise in 1992, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker became the artist in residence at La Monnaie at the invitation of its then director, Bernard Foccroulle. She had herself been a student at Mudra and felt that it was important, in the context of her residency at La Monnaie, to set up a new, international, contemporary dance school. This was how she came to open P.A.R.T.S. in 1995 with Bernard Foccroulle. Pina Bausch was the guest of honour at the opening of the school. Fernand Schirren, an emblematic figure who had taught rhythm for eighteen years at Mudra, also taught his subject at P.A.R.T.S., thus providing a link to the past. P.A.R.T.S. is a school where many different nationalities rub shoulders. 60 odd students, coming from between 20 to 25 different countries and every continent, train here every year, including around ten Belgian students. The teaching staff consists almost exclusively of foreigners, particularly Americans. In Europe, the P.A.R.T.S. school is seen as a figurehead in the teaching of dance.
How is your institution financed?
BdL: In 2011 the Music Chapel received 2 million euros, with 80% of that coming from the private sector (foundations, businesses, private patrons) and 20% coming from the public authorities. The Chapel therefore has to continually convince its partners of its objectives, its dynamism and the viability of its future projects. This method of financing ensures the independence of the Chapel while at the same time providing a permanent challenge.
TVR: In the early years of its existence P.A.R.T.S. was financed by La Monnaie, the Rosas Dance Company and the Flemish Community Commission of Brussels. Since 1998, P.A.R.T.S. has received a subsidy from the Flemish Ministry of Education which is tied to an administration contract that is renewable every five years. At the end of the period from 2007 to 2011 the annual subsidy from the Ministry of Education was 1,054,000 euros. To that we can add the students’ registration and admission fees. Through our co-productions we receive an annual contribution from La Monnaie which stood at 100,00 euros in 2010.
How would you describe the typical student training with you?
BdL: The young people in residence at the Chapel can be any age from eight to thirty but one characteristic unites them: their talent and their ability to develop that talent through a period of study at the Chapel. Most of them are already young professionals and have reached a stage in their career where they come to us to perfect their musical education as well as benefit from the professional opportunities which are offered in the degree course and, for the singers, in the partnership with La Monnaie.
TVR: There is no typical student. P.A.R.T.S. chooses its students from auditions organised all over Europe. Amongst the 1,000 at the auditions only between 35 and 40 are chosen. Most of them already have a solid training in dance to their credit. We choose dancers who have intuition, presence and whose movements are clear and pure. We look for strong personalities, young people who can express their ideas and who are quick-witted both socially and intellectually. They must be prepared, both physically and mentally, to search, to take risks and to experiment. Our students are between 18 and 26 years old.
How is the course organised for your students?
BdL: It is based on a tailor-made programme to fit each student with regard to their age, their level and their goals. Very few music schools can afford to adapt their courses to the needs of individual young people. Moreover this course is based on the principle of the old guilds – the young people and their distinguished teachers journey together through their musical development, and also share the musical emotions of appearing on stage together. This sharing produces some beautiful stories and allows some of the young people to truly enter into the world of music…
TVR: P.A.R.T.S. offers a four year training course, subdivided into two cycles of two years: the first is called Training and the second Research. During the Training cycle the students follow a compulsory route. Every day they have yoga, ballet and modern dance lessons. On top of that they take part in workshops of three to five weeks on improvisation, composition, theatre and repertoire (particularly the works of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker but also those of William Forsythe). Weekly lessons in musical analysis, rhythm and song (group and individual lessons) are also part of the course, as well as intensive theoretical seminars on the history of art and general studies (philosophy, sociology). The duets from danceXmusic are part of the composition syllabus in the second year. In the second cycle, Research, the students continue their technique training whilst following a more tailor-made syllabus. They can train alongside guest choreographers, work on another repertoire (often the choreographies of Trisha Brown, sometimes those of Pina Bausch), further enhance their skills in improvisation and composition, or spend time on their own creations. The students set up their own research projects with individual help from mentors and coaches. Their training finishes with a huge international tour of festivals and a chance to perform on the professional stage. The danceXmusic projects are an integral part of their work with guest choreographers (E. Guilloteau and Cl. Croizé) or involve sequences given over to their personal work.
Can you give us some examples of successful past students of whom you are particularly proud?
BdL: Since 2004 a number of young musicians who have studied at the Chapel have gone on to develop very promising careers: they include the violinists Yossif Ivanoff, Lorenzo Gatto as well as Nikita Borizo-Glebski, the singers Hendrickje Van Kerkhove and more recently Sébastien Parotte, the pianist Plamena Mangova as well as the Dali Trio – all these and more encourage us to keep up the good work…
TVR: At the end of their studies at P.A.R.T.S. the vast majority of our students are able to work as professional dancers and that, for us, is our greatest success. In the four corners of the European dance world you will find young dancers who have been trained at P.A.R.T.S. They are to be found dancing with the following (Belgian) companies: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Michèle Anne De Mey, Jan Fabre, Nicole Mossoux, Michèle Noiret, Alain Platel, Thierry Smits, Meg Stuart, Wim Vandekeybus and many others. They are also well-represented abroad in the companies of Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown, Boris Charmatz, Lynda Gaudreau, Emio Greco, Deborah Hay, Gilles Jobin, Akram Kahn, Iztok Kovac, Xavier Le Roy, Maguy Marin, Mathilde Monnier, Angelin Preljocaj, Loïc Touzé and Sasha Waltz. Our graduates are to be found in contemporary dance companies both at home and abroad and they are often trendsetters. Let’s mention Pieter Ampe, Heine Avdal, Fabian Barba, Eleanor Bauer, Larbi Cherkaoui, Claire Croizé, Etienne Guilloteau, Tarek Halaby Saskia Hölbling, Mette Ingvartsen, George Khumalo (and others), les Slovaks, Daniel Linehan, Erna Omarsdottir, Gregory Maqoma, Thomas Plischke, Arco Renz, Salva Sanchis, Charlotte Vanden Eynde, Benjamin Vandewalle as well as Andros Zins-Browne.
What is the importance of the danceXmusic project to students training with you?
BdL: We had already had the idea of a joint production when Bernard Foccroulle was at La Monnaie, a project that would bring together the young singers from the Chapel and the young dancers from P.A.R.T.S. Peter de Caluwe and his present team have made this possible and I want to thank Theo Van Rompuy for being so keen on the idea. I am convinced that the singers, as well as the choreographers and dancers along with the audience, will enjoy an extraordinary dynamic in this performance. The work to be done is fascinating and the resulting performance should be moving… I look forward to seeing this work on stage at La Monnaie on 18th January next.
TVR: This project is valuable on several levels. Our students can enrich their choreographic training in the widest sense thanks to the opportunity to work with live music. Whether during the rehearsal period or the performances, being face to face with the musicians offers them both a rare opportunity and a unique experience. It allows literally more space and time for dialogue. This year is particularly special as our dancers will work with young singers from the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel. By coming face to face in this way, young performers from different disciplines can deepen their understanding of an art form other than their own. The fact that they will be able to present the results of their work to an audience at La Monnaie, an audience that would not necessarily attend a performance at the school, allows these student performers to begin a dialogue with that audience. There is a world of difference between the studio space and a public theatre. Let’s also mention that they are exceptionally lucky to be able to dance in a space as technically perfect as the Malibran. Finally it is important to note that several students from the Training cycle will present their own compositions outside the walls of the school for the first time. Moreover, motivated by a desire to experiment – typical of P.A.R.T.S. – we have given the task of creating for our Research cycle students to two young Brussels’ choreographers, Claire Crozé and Etienne Guilloteau (themselves ex-students of P.A.R.T.S.) as well as to a final year student, Nestor Garcia Diaz.
Interview by Christian Longchamp