"We just should know that we are all in the same boat. And while we are in the same boat, we are the same in the same boat”
Tim What is the last cultural event that inspired you?
Stefan There was a streaming of Netherland Dance Theatre, put out by the choreographer Chrystal Pite.
The piece was about how to transfer movements into words. We heard a dialogue, out of the "off" - not a real dialogue, but five people speaking. And the performers transferred these words into movements. And I don't know if inspired is the right word, but I am very interested in how we can translate our spoken language into movement. Or, in my case, into juggling. And I found this video very inspiring. I think because it was really concrete. They translated every word into one single movement. Like, for example, "bottle". And then I really saw the bottle in a danced way, but only with one movement.
Tim Sound and voice is quite important in your juggling and moving. Where does this connection come from?
Stefan When I am juggling, I quite organically use my voice. But this is more an exhalation of the breath. Just letting the breath go, like the movements. Trying not to cut it at the neck-level. So, they always create a sort of sound.
I always like an holistic approach to something, and the voice and the breath is a part of our body. Using the voice is a dance between the air and the breathing-muscles.
So, my aim is to let it flow. Every movement has an effect on your whole body and also how you use the breath, and I think my interest comes from there.
Tim You have developed a personal mode of performing, improvising, and playing within the moment in your solo-improvisations. Now with the Critical-Mess team, you gathered seven jugglers, and I was wondering if your idea was to transmit your way of performing to these artists. Did that work out how you had expected it?
Stefan It definitely didn't work how I had imagined it (smiles). I think to improvise when you are alone on stage or within a duo that knows each other very well, is definitely much easier than with seven people. So, actually, in the beginning my thought was to work a lot with live-improvisation and not to choreograph it too much. But as longer as we worked on this piece, "Dodai", the more choreographed it became. And I realized, especially with many people on stage, it is so easy to create a lot of noise. Noise now in a negative way. So, I think in the first two years with this project, I was always running against the wall, because I wanted to keep it improvised or I wanted to have at least a guided improvisation. But when I saw it with a bit of distance on the videos after rehearsals, I realized all this noise. So, I had to cancel my thoughts from the beginning completely. For sure, in creation we used a lot of improvisation to create material. But then on stage, it became more and more structured. This was a big process of learning (laughs).
Tim What is the starting point for those choreographic structures that then appear?
Stefan Mostly it comes from a game. We improvise with clear rules and a score. And then I see things that are touching me or where I find a metaphorical value in. And then we try to bring these things together. The danger of putting things together out of an improvisation is that in the beginning there is no life inside any more. So the next step is to make it again look and feel like it is really improvised (laughs). Inside the piece as a performer, you should not know what is coming. And this is a clear task to work on in a creation process, how to not know on a meta level.
Katharina How do you reach this point?
Stefan Doing what you do and beeing in the moment - this now sounds very buddhistic - but that's it. Try to be wholeheartedly taken by the moment, than there is no space in your brain to think about the future and the past.
Katharina You described this work also as a social experiment. How are human communities defined for you?
Stefan There is a lot of different human communities. I think in our case, even when we are not on stage, we are a community. We are all very different. And this will now sound a bit cheesy: but there is a lot of trust, because we are friends. Even if we would not do this piece together we would be friends. And this kind of trust and responsibility and sometimes softness towards the other is really something I want to translate.
But the other thing is, there is not only softness but also a kind of fearlessness. So, this friendship and trust gives us the power and the permission to be more violent with each other in some moments. If you know that your counterpart knows you and trusts you and is open towards your impulses, you do not need to be careful anymore. "Dodai" is not a piece about human communities in general, but really about our community. I think we are illustrating a friendly open community and during the piece we came even more together by losing all our individual borders - and if the audience is taking this development as a metaphor for their own communities it would be great. Another element of our community is our passion for playing around. To play is an elementary part of life. People should become more childish and rediscover the pleasure of letting go and be free to do things which are not valued. Suprise yourself!
Katharina Talking about human community more in general, what is the biggest misunderstandings nowadays for you?
Stefan Yes, this is a very difficult question.
I think there are certain scientific facts which people should share together, to have a common ground from where to live together. Especially in this moment or in the last decade, I have the feeling that this is breaking away. Now there are different ideas about one fact. In the moment, there are no facts anymore which are accepted by everyone. And this makes me very sad and I don't know what to do against this.
I feel in the moment this is a strong tendency and those alternative facts propaganda is really working for a lot of people. Especially now, with all these conspiracy theories, this kills me emotionally. I tend to not open facebook anymore, because I can't stand it anymore. I think that's very dangerous.
Katharina Is this your way of protecting yourself?
Stefan The problem is that I don't see any possible strategy against it that works. On social media, I feel it is not possible to convince anyone anymore with discussing. If there are different facts and people are mistrusting science, then there is nothing to speak against.
Katharina Do you think that social cohesion could be the next victim of the technical revolution?
Stefan I have the feeling it is double-sided. There is a part of the society that is really floating away, but another part of the society seems to come together even more. For example, there is a lot of neighbour help going on. The internet and social media have a lot of positive sides of bringing people together. Today I am able to keep an ongoing contact to an artist in Turkey and to an artist in Hungary and this is a very positive change. The mainstream became more tolerant and positions who were left in former times are now the middle. Also very positive is that a lot of people understand that we have to kill this fucking nationalism. It doesn't matter where you live, you live on this planet. I think this coming-together feels stronger than thirty or fourty years ago. We just should know that we are all in the same boat. And while we are in the same boat, we are the same in the same boat (laughs).
Katharina So how do you feel as an artist in these times?
Stefan Let's first speak very concretely: All my jobs were breaking away now (laughs). And this creates a kind of fear inside me, how does it go on financially? Not so concretely: You said that I am an artist and, true, I am an artist, but I don't feel very distinct to any other person. With my son in school we have a lot of parent friends who are not artists and I really don't feel any difference. Yes, I can make a video on youtube and some people say "oh it's nice". But in these times I have nothing special to say because I am an artist.
Katharina What could societies have learned after these times?
Stefan: One thing that I really enjoyed in the last five weeks is that you get reduced to the essential. You don't go to work any more, you cannot leave your house anymore, a lot of things are falling away and you realize: Oh, I am still existing (laughs). Perhaps it can be seen like a meditation, where you put away a lot of unnecessary things you thought were necessary. You can become more simple. 24hrs together with son and wife, beeing a home teacher and so on. There were a lot of very positive things about it. My son doesn't want that it ends because he still wants to stay at home (laughs). For me, these weeks have been definitely a purification, the expression fits for me, "to be thrown back on yourself”.
I am also pretty happy about politics in Germany at the moment. Or I can say: I like Angela Merkel and her non-machismo in the moment. If you are a politican and you have a lot of power you don't have to make a show out of it. It is not necessarily about your ego. Political business shouldn’t be show-business.
Tim What is your connection to the festival slogan "I love you stranger"?
Stefan It creates mixed feelings. I don't like the word "stranger". Strange only makes sense in relation to normal. And I really don't know what a stranger is. But it's great that you still love everyone (laugh). I really hate some people and I really fight with myself not to hate them. Thinking about Trump, for example. He is the super stranger, par excellence, for me. I really hate him. But then I think it is a pain in the ass, stop hating him, he has not the right to create such a feeling inside you. So still, I somehow try to love him. Even if it is extremely difficult.
Stefan Sing has gained status as an acclaimed avant-gardist in the European juggling scene and beyond. Over the last 25 years he created his very own style of juggling, based on many principles of dance and while drawing inspiration from his former philosophy and literature studies. He founded Critical-Mess in 2016 as an occasional meeting ground for experimentation and improvisation. By then it has become a permanent ensemble over time.