As much as I like the silence right now, I really miss the heat of a performance
Tim Behren directs the company Overhead Project and initiated CircusDanceFestival. Formed as a duo- acrobat in Brussels twelve years ago, he today describes himself as a choreographer and curator who works close with long-time collaborators.
Katharina Tim, now change of role for you, from curator and interviewer to interviewed artist! You also would have presented a premiere with your performers of Overhead Project during the festival.
Tim Indeed, it's a tricky balance sometimes, but let's do it (laughs).
Katharina What inspired you lately?
Tim The silence and that there is not so much noise. I really appreciate to be in community, but when I take a walk in the park, the nothingness out there, the silence, the slowness inspires me in a sense that it’s renewing. I feel it’s kind of a wash up of all that noise and speed that I normally have every day in my life. So it’s refreshing and positive to go slow and silent. The last piece that made me think was in Gent, Belgium, at the "Smells like Circus" festival. It’s in a way similar to our festival, with their beautiful and subtle title that carries the openness, curiosity and crazyness of this fluid spectrum of the performing arts in between Circus, Dance and Performance. The piece was by the Belgian performer Miet Warlop and I don’t want to describe the whole piece, but basically the situation was that we were invited to find ourselves a place around the action in the middle. And I just realised that my body perceives this piece, the actions and movements on stage, differently whether I’m standing or sitting. I really enjoyed that direct experience during the piece. I sit, then I stand up, and my capacity of perceiving the piece physically changes. And I liked to come out of the performance with this experience in the pocket.
Katharina As you have different roles: What is keeping you up doing what you’re doing? Being a choreographer, being on stage as a performer or being the director of a festival?
Tim At the moment, I’m a curator and organizer, I try to keep things rolling. So, I’m really busy with inviting other artists and giving them a platform, welcoming them. I always try to see through my artists eyes, “How would I feel to be invited at the festival?” To give a welcoming place for the artists and a good chosen context for their works is quite important to me and drives me. So, at the moment, my own artistic work is secondary. But being an artist-curator also effects my thinking about how to reach a public, how to find the right space or frame for a piece. I don’t know if that always helps, because I also like it as an artist to just keep on focussing on what I planned, and not give so much time to think about what the public will think somehow. It’s more about which audience can we reach, who are we inviting and addressing. These thoughts come while curating. And the third role, the role of the performer: It lacks time for it. Going to our studios to move myself (laughs). I really have to structure and force myself.
Katharina Your pieces seem to be quite political. How do you develop them?
Tim For me, "political" is a big word and it gives space to play with that. Our latest trilogy is named “Geometry and Politics”. I like to put a title out there as a friction point and an open question, in this case concerning what geometry and politics might have in common.
But when I think about the last pieces of Overhead Project, it’s more about communication, and that's the political for me. How do we communicate with each other? How do politicians talk to people and how do they make them a part of their decisions? After all, politicians are just delegates. So, communication is political for me, and that is a topic in our performances. I think going to the theatre can be a place to reflect, to practice and to question communication structures. Coming back to the trilogy title: I think that architecture and the spatial setting of rooms, buildings and public space create power relations. One example that comes to my mind: When I go into a public transport station, there are all these screens that are put up there. In this spatial setting, I’m physically forced to look at them. Or to see it the other way around: I have to force myself if I don't want to look at them. I always feel trapped in this situation, because I can’t avoid the message or the publicity that is put on there. There is a power relation of communication that I can’t escape. So, in the specific situation between performer and audience inside a theatre, I like to zoom into this situation. We are watching something, we are receiving something, and how does this affect us as a viewer.
Katharina About your trilogy: What is the idea these three productions have in common?
Tim The starting point for each performance is the research around one specific type of architectural, or let's say geometrical setting. For the first piece, it was the "circle" and to experiment around the power of the position in its center. The second piece starts from the "opposing benches", this long and narrow space that we know from the british parliament and its intense and loud-voiced discussions. And the third piece works around the hierarchical communication atmosphere of the frontal "classrom" setting. We know it from school, in courts, in church and as the most known setting in theatres. This one is definitely the most difficult spatial setting for me to work on (laughs).
Katharina Can you describe the different qualities of these spaces?
Tim What I like about the circle is that the spectators can see each other while watching. This creates a different feeling for the situation and the shared moment. I realized this is even more intense in the space of the opposing benches. You have two sides of spectators that are opposed to each other. You’re sitting on one side and your gaze is directed to the "stage-space" in-between, but also strongly to the other side. This creates a mirror effect for the audience. It makes you reflect automatically on your position as a viewer. The spectators’ position in a frontal stage setting feels much safer, you are less exposed. For me, it also feels more distanced from the action. So, our reaction to that setting during creation was to turn it upside down and to invite the audience on stage to choose themselves the distance to the actions. For me, circus needs to be close to the audience. Watching a performance should be a physical action. For example, when you are close to two acrobats, one standing on the shoulders of the other, you have to gaze up. If I choreograph for a very long and narrow space, spectators have to move their head from right to left like during a tennis match. I like that physical involvement for the audience.
Katharina I can imagine that spectators react differently. If they come with the expectation to just go out to see a piece and then beeing invited to share the stage with the performers.
Tim Sometimes skeptic, but also curious. If you are not offering a safe seat within the auditorium, that might be a bit scary at first. We don't want to animate the audience and the audience doesn’t want to be animated. But if we arrive to create an organic involvement, then the theater space becomes an experience space. And people really like that (laughs). But only if they are not forced, only if it feels like a free choice. And that gesture of invitation to the audience is something we like to play with and something we have to practice during creation.
Katharina Is it a small gap where people feel forced and react with rejection?
Tim In the piece "Surround", there is a moment when we grab the chairs of the audience and put them away. So, the people have to re-position themselves in the empty space. I think that is kind of a cruel moment because it takes away the proper and safe place of each spectator, but it also increases the pulse. Which is quite nice, isn’t it? (laughs)
Katharina How do you find your performers, how is the development of Overhead Project?
Tim Oh, that’s a long story (laughs). The whole company has its base in the duo cooperation with my former acrobat partner Florian Patschovsky. We founded this company ten years ago, and after some time, we not only found our place and more and more financial support in the German dance scene, we also became a choreographers duo. Today, Flo performs mainly for other companies, and I focus on choreographing and directing the company. So, the company changed and the team of people that we worked with for many years became more integral part of the creation process. Before each creation, we organize a transdisciplinary research week with the composer and musician Simon Bauer, the visual dramaturge Charlotte Ducousso, the philosopher Eric Eggert, and other close collaborators that are journalists, dramaturges, lawyers, people from different contexts. I’m a person who really likes to cooperate and to listen and to bring in other perspectives than mine.
Katharina What does it mean to be an artist for you today?
Tim To answer positively: It’s wonderful that we realize that art and culture has such a daily life value for all of us, including myself. It is a special moment of realizing what it means to me. I’m a theatre and performance addict, I miss these live moments, and the heat of a performance. As much as I like the silence at the moment, I miss the heat and the noise and the experience of what happens between performers and an audience.