When dancing is the only choice

Vilde Aurora Drevland Klyve
Published on Friday 160101
Photo by Yaniv Cohen
He is dancing. He is twirling. He is standing on one foot. No it is not a five year old who is eating candy, it is however a young man of 21 years on his way to his first audition.

Thousands of dance auditions are being held every year. Those who choose this competitive lifestyle have to live it to the fullest. Sometimes there will is not enough money for the different companies and thus no jobs. Word on the street is that Brussels is the right place to do this.

How not to be nervous for an audition
Even Eileraas is a Norwegian dancer attending ‘The Academy of Dance’, one of the most prestigious dance schools in Norway. He is in his final year and on the look out for a job. Auditioning gives a greater opportunity to get a job in this business and today Compagnie Thor in Brussels organizes a closed audition. The young dancer got a chance to participate and unlike others in his position he feels quite calm. ‘I have already done a hundred awkward things on stage so I have grown a thick skin. Also I do not think I will get the job, I am merely here to get some experience. And I think adrenaline is going to kick in anyway.’

Behind a tall pink door in the area of Saint-Josse, at a building that looks more like it is used for storage than creation, a group of twenty young men are moving across the floor. They are presenting a short choreography in smaller and smaller groups, with two men from Compagnie Thor acting as judges. One of them is Thierry Smith himself. The judges are stone-faced chewing gum while rubbing their cheek. At the end Thierry Smith calls out the names of those he would like to keep and apologizes to the ones he sends home. He makes it clear that he does not like this but he has to make this decision because he only needs eleven. Even is not one of them.

Tough love when 180 becomes 11
Belgian choreographer Thierry Smiths has been creating performances for about 25 years; in 1990 he started Compagnie Thor and has since then created over 30 dance performances. He is planning a new contemporary creation in 2016. The company received over 500 applications and 180 were invited to the audition. Eleven will end up with a contract but before this can happen Thierry Smith has to be picky. ‘I am looking for a specific type, a personality. First I look at their physical capacities and if they do move well, which is the first thing you see. It might be offensive for some because I have to be very harsh from the start. It is only later I discover the personality and make proper decisions. There are people from all over Europe at this audition and I hope to end up with a multitechnical group with cohesion. I try not to take people from overseas because I don't want them traveling very far and then not select them.’

The selection started long before the first dancers set their feet inside Thierry Smiths dance studio. By looking at their CV’s he can tell who will be a good fit and who won't. If you have done only classical dance, it is a no. If you live in a part of the world that makes it harder for you to reach Brussels, it is a no. From the 180 participants there will only remain eleven lucky young men who end up with a five months contract for the company. But the road to get there is a tough one. Hundred and eighty are allowed in to class, the classes are divided over three weekends and at the end there are only 22 left. These 22 will have a weeklong workshop with Thierry Smith doing solo work, duos and group work. And then there remain eleven.

How to handle a turndown
When Even walk back through the pink door it is without an invitation to the workshop but he is still going Photo by Silje England Garsholstrong. ‘I had a really great time dancing; it was just like a workshop to me. I think you always wonder why they chose the ones they did but I guess it is one of the questions in life you just have to live with. I feel fine either way; the style was not like anything I have done before and even though it is positive to get new impulses this was a little strange from my part and I am not sad to go out the door. Second, I knew I would not get the contract; this was all just a fun way to learn. I did not even know much about this company before I went, the only reason I was there is because my friend told me about it and I decided to try.’

The myth of contemporary dance
There is a saying that Brussels is a city of contemporary dance. This was however unknown to Even who claims it is merely a coincidence he is here. One of the companies contributing to dance in Brussels is the collaborative initiative called ‘Brussels Dance!’. Which consists of eleven cultural teams located in Brussels, they all want to celebrate contemporary dance in the city and its cultural status. In an interview done by the communication coordinator, Sybille Henry de Frahan, dancers from different teams agreed that there is an issue of placing Brussels as a growing city of contemporary creation. 

Dancer and choreographer Leslie Mannès says there is a lot of creativity in the city but adds that there are also some issues with money. He is backed-up by college Louise Baduel: ‘a lot of small projects are starting and that is because there is this opportunity of making it possible in Brussels. The artists often show their own projects so there is a lot to see. Those creations are being developed despite working conditions that are not ideal. Because there are so many projects, there is not always enough money.’ Mannès also agrees: ‘It is a political choice to not always invest in culture whereas in Brussels there is an audience for this culture; the city defines itself by its cultural diversity.’

I sometimes laugh when I think of the choice I have made but this is still the only choice for me.

Thierry Smith on the other side disagrees that Brussels is of special eminence of dance in the world: ‘the fact that Brussels was a city of dance was perhaps true ten years ago. We have to stop this kind of mythology, because there are a lot of cities that can be considered the capital of dance. For example Berlin or Vienna and there is also a lot going on in South Korea. We are no longer the center of dance.’

The future depends on money
Thierry Smith thinks the future of dance in Brussels depends on the funding from the government.  ‘The status can disappear pretty quickly if there is no more decisions about dance. The French community funds my company and we will be fine as long as that continues. But because there is less will to invest in art around Europe there is also fewer jobs to get. I am creating a group of eleven men and that is exceptional seeing how it is usually three or four. Considering this I would think twice before becoming a dancer.‘

Even is now finishing his studies and luckily he is not easily scared. ‘I will graduate and keep on going to auditions. No way I am giving up just yet, I want to see if I can catch any luck overseas. I know it is hard and I sometimes laugh when I think of the choice I have made but this is still the only choice for me.’