SUSANNE LINKE: A BODY IN THE WIND
By Alanna Lockward
How long did you study with Mary Wigman?
I was there from 1964 until 1967. She built up her own school, it was a private school. She didn’t have the power anymore to build up a state school because after the war it was very hard for the German old dance teachers to get the support they had before the II World War. All the arts in Germany were destroyed, not only in the outside but also from the inside, that was the tragedy of the German culture, specially for dance, even though Mary Wigman was still alive and Paul L was still alive and all the big names where still alive, but they did not enjoy the same status as before. The German Government nor the city of Berlin gave her any money.
Why did you choose to study with Mary Wigman?
For me it was very clear it had to be her, I was not interested in classical ballet at all.
When did you decide you wanted to become a dancer?
It came slowly. Actually it was very clear to me that I wanted to be a dancer but I never talked about it to anyone. It was not clear in my head but it was a deepest wish, my dream was to dance on stage alone in front of a big audience, that was my dream all the time.
What inspired that dream, what did you see that make you want to dance?
Maybe from the photos and also from a documentary film I saw about a dance school, I don’t remember now which school it was, but it was a modern dance school. I was very impressed and thought to myself this is what I want to do. At the same time my gymnastic teacher at school recommended that I attended a gymnastic school because I was talented.
Some English papers also featured articles on dance and I also read them. Then I came in touch with Dore Hoyer, a very famous dancer. Dore Hoyer was a very important push for my aim to be a dancer, but I never said it out loud. I though to myself: “When the outside world says I should be a dancer, then I will be one”. I was waiting for this to happen, and now that I think of it, it’s something to recommend to young dancers, not to decide by yourself that you want to be a dancer but to wait for the outside opinion.
Did the same thing happen to you as a choreographer?
Yes, also. The choreography is something that works slowly, one success after the other assured me that I was a choreographer.
What was the subject of your first piece?
It was a group piece called “Mono, it was about being alone, there where three women and two men, one woman stays alone after the others find their mate. I used jazz music of an Indonesian piano player, I don’t remember the name now. That was at the Folkwang School, at the Mary Wigman School I only did solo dance. The reaction of the little audience at the Folkwang School was very positive. Movement was my first way of expressing myself because language was not my forte, I was a little bit handicapped with language.
But choreography and dance cannot be transmitted without words. Usually great dancers say more or less the same, that language is not their thing, but in the other hand they need words to communicate their choreographic ideas. There is a strange relationship between the word and the action.
Of course to do choreography successfully you need certain kind of intelligence, the ideas have to be clear, when the ideas are clear then you can also express them with words, it comes automatically.
So the ideas come from the action?
From the action, yes, but when the idea is clear then you can express it in any level, I think.
What about training, teaching how to move?
When the technique is clear then you can transmit it properly also.
How would you describe the meaning of the word “energy”, for example?
For me energy is the wind, to describe it in the most simple word, the wind is something that moves. One creates with the body a kind of wind that means that first you must create a resistance in your body to go against the wind, or you let the wind go through your body, that’s how I visualise working with the energy in your body.
Do you mean wind as a symbol or as a natural force?
As a natural force, simple, no symbolism, I do not want that. For me symbolism is a kind of cliché, for me it is important to get out of the clichés of the symbols. Actually I don’t like symbols; I prefer to work away from the symbols.
The symbols from a Junguian perspective deal with the idea of the archetype, are you also against this interpretation of the human psyche?
It is good to know about this. But as choreographer it is too easy to use the symbols, it is very obvious, this I do not want. When the symbol is maybe something so strong that becomes physical, it is more interesting than the spiritual symbolism or the cultural symbolism, which does not interest me. It interests me as knowledge, it only by knowing about symbols that you can put them away.
Don’t you think that the symbols are so much inside the body and therefore in the psyche, that even when you do not want to address them directly they come to you after you analyse your work from a distance and could identify it with a certain archetype?
That comes automatically. The female energy, for instance, is very strong and it can be represented by water, because it is strong but it also flows, as opposed to the male energy that is more sturdy, more fixed. I discovered that I was using the water in my early choreography even though I was not very conscious of it when I composed them.
For me it is more interesting to discover it afterwards anyway because my artistic search is to forget about all the culture that I have learned and to discover new cultures by myself, and then you realise you come back to this old source, the universal archetype. The German theatre of my time was about all the Greek mythology, which is wonderful, but for me I wanted to read it and know it but forget it at the same time.
Did you resist any of your teachers, someone who tried to direct you in a road that was not yours?
Yes, of course, you have to find your ways, by saying “no” you are creating something by yourself, it is always like this. My respect for Mary Wigman was deep, I was very young at that time so I was accepting everything that she said, but later on I came to realise her pathos, how she spoke, did not belong to our generation anymore.
After the war we could not believe in this high culture, in this ‘German’ spirit anymore. I could not say which one my way was, all I could say was that it was not my way. For every German, I am not alone in this, for people that are more or less intelligent, we were full of doubts. We had to be modest and reject nationalistic ideas, symbols like the flag, for instance, we hated it, everything that represented the idea of a German nation we rejected.
So you have approached other cultures to nurture your artistic endeavours, you have been to the African and Asian continents, for example. When was your first dancing trip outside of Germany or did you get in contact with other dance cultures in Europe?
It was probably France. And dance in France at that time was very stuck in classical ballet in a bad way. But outside of Europe it was America, I went to New York in 1979, then I realised that modern dance was much more developed there than in Germany, where there was also a stagnant situation with the old style of German dance.
But also in Cologne, every summer there was a workshop of American modern dance which was very important at that time, we had all the great teachers of Limón, Graham and Cunningham techniques. At that time I liked Graham technique very much even though it was very hard for me, but it was also very good for my body, through my instinct I found something very rich which was completely new but very good for me. I studied with Yuriko, the great Japanese teacher of Graham technique.
Did you see Martha Graham dance?
No, I never saw her. When I studied there was a kind of competition between Mary Wigman and Martha Graham.
In the performing arts usually theatre directors are openly in constant disagreement with critics, and for the dancers is the opposite, there is no polemic, once the critics say their opinion the dancers do not respond, I think that is a very interesting phenomenon.
I think every choreographer, every strong artist has suffered under the dance critics, everybody. And every person that gets a long life in the activity of the artistic process gets very disappointed by the journalists because the journalists are very superficial, very often they do not understand the more subtle things of the dance world which, as Mary Wigman used to say, is the most floating artistic medium of all the arts.
Every choreographer enjoys for a period of ten years, more or less, a great response for his or her work. After this time of surfing on top of the wave, no one is interested in your work anymore, this is almost a ‘law of nature’ for choreographers and that is very disappointing. For me it is very clear that there is no more interest in my work anymore; that is ‘normal’.
Now, when a young choreographer comes, all the journalists want something new, they put all their hopes in the new choreographer, then after a few works they get disappointed. But when you are honest, you have your style, you have your way, you cannot leave it easily, maybe you can do cheap entertainment, doing it very cleverly, and that’s what some choreographers do. I can easily do that, I know how to do it and the audience is very happy.
But you have not done that.
Not really, but with on one piece I did it, that was while directing the company in Bremen, I only had 5 weeks to do it, we did a lot of improvisation it was a lot of fun for everybody and the audience liked it very much. It was only once. I did it consciously.
Would you do it again?
Yes, I would like to do it again, to see if the audience still likes it. It was titled “Honeymoon in Paraguay”, very ironical. There was a member of the company from Argentina, who was very intelligent, and he said: “This is like a honeymoon in Paraguay, all plastic, all ugly...”.
Do you enjoy any particular reading on dance criticism?
I am not interested in books about dance. But I think that now there are some many theories about dance, dance history and theatrical science that are trying to find new themes and are written in such a complicated manner that you cannot follow them. It is very strange, for instance, to read the magazine Balletanz International, the articles have great titles, but they are so specific that you loose the interest in reading them.
What other books do you like?
Anthropology, spirituality and religion books. I do not consider myself a religious person, I believe more in the energy, the more I dance, the more I deal with the arts, I realise that it is more spiritual, it is not religious. But for me Buddhism is the most interesting of all religions.
Do you meditate?
Is dance your meditation?
Actually, yes. But when I am on stage, I need the tension and the vibration, maybe I should do meditation, it could give me more confidence.
Confidence, are you insecure at this time of your life?
Yes, I do not feel confident about myself, but when I am dancing I feel ok, also when I am teaching, then I can believe in what I am doing, but I cannot describe myself as confident.
In your teaching you always insist on the intelligence of the body, what is exactly an intelligent dancing body?
That is a good question because that is exactly what I have tried to find for the last thirty years, and it was also what Mary Wigman said. The German dance tried precisely to give the dance another level besides the beauty of the movement, like the classical ballet which got extremely in one direction, it was only about dreams and not the reality, the deeper philosophy about life that has always two sides, it is not only the beauty.
In today’s reality you nurture yourself form the newspapers, I see you reading every day the Frankfurter Allgemeine, the ‘bad-guys’ journalists influence the way you see the world.
Life has both sides the bright one and the dark one. For me the best symbol ever created is the Ying-Yang, I believe that very much indeed. Everything goes away, it passes by, nothing stays the same; everything is fluctuating.
Is that why you left Pina Bausch?
Yes, of course. It was wonderful to work with Pina but I never planned to stay with her, I had to do my own thing. That experience gave me a lot of strength, I am very happy that I worked with her. Pina’s work is very different from mine. For me her work is influenced by the image of the women of the 50’s, always pretty, wearing high heels and nice beautiful dresses.
Did you ever dressed like that in her pieces?
Actually no. She used those costumes afterwards. She was very influenced by Fellini’s films, she has never admitted it, but I can see that. I feel Polanski, on the other hand, has been my personal influence. I once choreographed a piece where there was an individual killing one person after the other
You are very critical of German culture, do you feel comfortable living in Germany?
I do not like Germany at all, but I like to live in Berlin, that is my city, my Heimat, where I feel at home. It is the only place in Germany where I like to live. But I also like Italy and France, but for every German is the same, we all love Italy, the Italian people are wonderful, they are the opposite of us, very open and relax.
So there are good things about German culture.
Yes, we are disciplined, we are honest, we are not too polite or diplomatic, we try to be honest, our behaviour is not always friendly, sometimes is too unfriendly, but you can trust us and we can work very hard.
Do you think young German choreographers are working very hard?
Conceptual art is very fashionable now, they almost do not dance anymore, but they have great concepts. Young choreographers write their script, talk about it, but they do not ‘do’. The new journalists are very fascinated by this. But what new bodies are doing is very bad, there is no magic anymore, no more magic moments on the stage, that is what I am missing.
Do you visualise yourself using technology, as video for instance, in your choreography?
No, I am fed-up with videos. There are very few moments where I have seen something that makes me shiver. I think that Pina Bausch is using too many videos. I do not understand it, it is not necessary; it only makes the stage more picturesque by adding more colours.
You mentioned before that you resisted the philosophy of Mary Wigman because it did not represent your generation. Don’t you think that this manipulation of video and technology on the stage is about trying to communicate with a group of people that perceive the world on those terms?
Yes, but it is making the dance superficial. Only in a French choreographer’s piece, I think his name is Montalvo, I have seen video used properly, where I can accept that dance and video really connect; the other things I have seen are nothing.
There are more and more dancers working in the field of developing technologies. How do you see the future of dance: no technology, pure body?
Yes, I think so. We need this game, we need to change something to play; that is fine. It all depends on each artist how to articulate the necessity of using technology, is a question of necessity not only picture and beauty. When you use technology for a deeper goal, you gain something new, but otherwise it is useless. It is good to experiment, art is also about playing, but no always something interesting comes from that experimentation.
You can catch very easily the attention of the people with visual resources, but only for a short period of time. The journalists love that, they are not familiar with the dancers handcraft of moving, because their thing is to write, but the handcraft is the only thing that will really survive. That is why I believe very strongly that the handcraft of the body is the only future. The pure energy is the only thing that will keep dance alive.
If you go to the African continent you can see the energy, it is the only continent in the world that can really give us some of of that pure energy. The words are for the intellect but they are also very dangerous. You can see us now following the so called ‘American Culture’ but that is no culture, I like democracy in America, but that’s about it. With the German dance, for example, there is a lot of philosophy but no energy, they need to nurture themselves from the energy. I have learned a lot from the Africans and they have also learned a lot from me.
What about the Yoruba religion, which has a tremendous impact in the entire American continent and in the Caribbean?
I don’t know much about it, I don’t know enough about African religions.
But you have said something almost prophetic, that the energy from the African continent is our salvation, the only way.
In the long term of life on the earth the future is the energy, that we learn how to deal with the energy. The dancer’s body can learn a lot from the African bodies. But the African dancers also have to learn from Europe and from America, to transform their dance into new way;, that is also important.
What would you have been if you were not to become a dancer?
I would have liked to do Architecture. I am very interested in finding harmony everywhere. The strongest message are brought to us by stones, they last the longest. The spirit you put into a stone it carries it forever, all that tension. I discovered that in Cuzco, in Machu Pichu, that the stone is the oldest messenger, the oldest ambassador of what the human being put into that stone.
That is why architects are so important, that’s why also you can kill architects for their sins, for the things they have done only for the money. The clearest sign of how much the II World War destroyed our culture in Europe is in architecture. What they did after the II World War is horrible, building new houses from the idea of Bauhaus, but the human beings need the transformation of their fantasies in order to transform themselves.
Why are all the beautiful places in the world full of tourists, like us here in Venice? Every person needs something for nurturing his fantasies.
In what you have said there is desire for eternity. Being an architect is being eternal, and being a dancer is the most ephemeral thing you could be. Architecture and dance, that is your Ying and Yang.
That is true. Once you are dead it is over, that is the tragedy of dance, always, that is why dancers are not taken seriously by politicians, and they cannot earn any money. Politicians will never understand dance, it is a very troublesome thing. But to be a good architect is also very difficult, they have to calculate very well and I am not good with Mathematics!