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Innovative Austrian choreographer Chris Haring has been pushing the definitions of dance as visual art performance through the years with his company Liquid Loft. Known for his use of digital media, video, and art installation, Haring can masterfully adapt and transform any space into a performance space. He draws inspiration for movement from all possible sources. Haring spoke with Dance ICONS, Inc. about how he has built a company based on artistic collaboration and how he adapts his vast source of inspiration into movement.
ICONS: What brought you into dance?
Chris Haring: I was studying music and movement education. I always played instruments, and I never thought that I would become a choreographer or a dancer. But I was always fascinated by moving and seeing what is possible with the body. With an instrument, you can express yourself when you have a problem with words. I tried different instruments, but I was not really ever satisfied because I felt like I could not ever really express what was possible on the instrument.
Then I figured out that with the body, I don’t have that problem. I can use all of the same musical parameters, but I could trust it more, and I had more possibilities. I started taking workshops and courses because, at that time, we didn’t have a university education in dance in Austria, but we had the amazing ImPulsTanz festival, the biggest dance festival in Europe. So I did my first workshops there. Then I started studying music and movement education purely as a pedagogical subject. And then, I went to New York and tried to continue that education.
ICONS: That is an unconventional path, to come at dance from music first. Can you talk more about the idea that music is better for expression than words, and dance is even better than music?
CH: If you break it down very simply, the body is an instrument. I don’t need a tennis racket, and I don’t need a flute. I don’t need anything. I am just dancing. Even more specifically, what brought me into dance was that I was interested in choreography, in creating something out of nothing. For me, that was the highest art.
ICONS: Your company, Liquid Loft, was founded not just by you and another dancer, Stephanie Cumming, but also a musician, Andreas Berger, and a dramaturg, Thomas Jelinek. What does collaboration mean to you and your choreographic process, considering you work so closely with the creative team?
CH: Teamwork means a lot. I don’t create alone. We had worked together before we founded Liquid Loft. Stephanie Cumming, the dancer, is our grand diva and is a founding member of Liquid Loft. When I first worked with her and saw her on stage, while I was still dancing with her, I saw what she could do and how finely she could interpret everything. That was one of the reasons I left the stage; I thought I could be a better help outside.
We started to work on a method, a system, with Andy Berger, who did the recordings and composition; Thomas Jelinek did the lights, and Stephanie Cumming was basically on stage. And all of us around her together were the beginning of Liquid Loft, and we created pieces.
ICONS: Where does the name Liquid Loft come from, and what does it mean?
CH: One of our inspiration sources was always this transhumanistic idea. The fusion between technology and humanity, technology in humanity. For example, we talked a lot about cyborgs or clones in the nineties. The idea of the cyborg manifesto started in the late eighties, and science fiction, in general, is an idea and an inspiration to move the body forward to find reasons for movement, reasons for creating pieces that touch us. The movement quality that was often used in our work was liquidity.
We were searching for a rehearsal space. And the best one was a loft. Our company was going to create a liquid loft where there is space for all different kinds of art forms, but the body always has to be in the center. That was the beginning of the idea: choreography is always in context with other art forms in the “liquid loft.”
ICONS: As you mentioned, science fiction has been a theme in the work for some time. Do you find that this still is a subject you’re drawing on? Or do you find new subject matter that you are more interested in?
CH: I’m still very interested in this transhumanistic idea or post-humanism. On stage, we often use new media, which is more connotative of science fiction. Content-wise, we are moving into virtuality and virtual spaces to return to reality. We are already those cyborgs because of the link with technology.
We use very simple technology onstage. Most of the last works were done with live video. The dancers really learned how to use the camera. The next step was to use the knowledge they acquired, how to zoom in and out, using close-ups and landscape, fast forward, and go backward. With this knowledge, the next piece was without the camera, but we still used the same functions. It often feels that the spectator is in a new media piece, but the spectator can’t see the new media. That was our “nearer fiction” science fiction.
A method we have been using since the very beginning is recording the dancers acoustically. Andy Berger, our musician, has a huge audio archive of recordings of people from all over the world, as well as sounds: field noises, sounds the dancers make, and questions we ask them. And then we use dubbing.
For example, if dancers were to audition for us now, we would ask the dancers to tell us a story or sing a song and record it. Then we would ask the dancers to dub or lip-synchronize the dancers’ voices.
Almost all of the improvisations start like this. Then I can easily change a dancer's dynamic, rhythm, and movement quality, and even pass these elements to another dancer and see what comes of that. Once I start to play and improvise from this point, then I can see the authenticity and artificiality.
ICONS: What is your relationship with other elements that are on stage: props and other elements that are not the dancers?
CH: We normally try to avoid props, but I often work with visual artists; we use fabrics and clothes as an extension of costumes. I think choreography is a matter of context. I’ve never made a piece that was not related to the space, lights, sound, and visual elements. For me, props are an extension. If possible, we don’t add extra props -- we use what is in the space.
ICONS: During COVID, Liquid Loft performed outside. And Liquid Loft is known for non-traditional performances, like installations. Can you talk about how these change your creative process?
CH: I have two words that I always use when I’m working with dancers: one is framing, and the other is shaping. One of our projects is called Stand Alones. It was created for the Leopold Museum, where all of the Schiele and Klimt paintings are, in the Museumsquartier in Vienna. They had the biggest Egon Schiele exhibit there, and we had a whole floor of 9 rooms to work in. Each room had one performer, and every performer had around 15 solos to choose from. They performed around 9.
In this case, all the work was related to the Egon Schiele exhibit. They relied mostly on his self-portraits of the naked body, where the body is depicted as very strong and with hard contours. But when they performed it, the paintings were all gone, so they had empty spaces. The audience could walk between the rooms, but the performers couldn’t see what was happening in the other rooms.
We were then invited to perform it at the modern art museum in Paris. There it was completely different because the walls had all of the pictures by French masters of modern art. We went there with our Schiele positions and solos and performed in the context of their modern artwork. That had a huge impact on me, showing the power of “framing.”
And “shaping,” I think, speaks for itself. We have very sculptural thinking when we create dance work. We think of it as sculptures in space, like body installations that start to move or dance, more than dancers who freeze, for example.
ICONS: When it comes to generating movement, how do you start to make movement itself?
CH: Improvisation. I was never a choreographer who gave sequences. Mostly I try to get something out of the quality and talent of the dancers. I have worked with dancers for a long time; I see them as artists, not just dancers who do movement. Of course, I come with the topic, I come with the theme, and I come with my research in advance, so I let them know what it’s about. They know what it’s about, and then we start to improvise it.
But we’ve never done improvisation on stage. Everything is completely set and staged up to the last detail of a movement. There are so many components on stage that if even one thing is shifted, then it all falls apart.
ICONS: What are you working on right now with Liquid Loft?
CH: Well, firstly, I am taking a break right now because I had two big premieres. One was in Linz with TanzLinz, which was an interpretation of Swan Lake with a huge orchestra on a big stage and an excellent company. They just premiered that in April. And last month, Modern Chimeras, which we did lots of try-outs of, including at the Odeon Theater here in Vienna. We are trying to develop a relationship with that theater.
Here in Vienna, pieces are normally premiered with a couple of performances, and that’s it; we can perform them abroad, but not a lot again in Vienna. So many people here haven’t even seen the work. Or when they hear about it, it’s already gone. So we’re working on performing repertoire: in October and November, we are going to produce two former pieces as repertoire to perform at the Odeon for a longer period of time. We want to make a series out of this and invite other choreographers to present their work.
ICONS: Is there advice you would give to someone who is starting to choreograph?
CH: The good thing about choreography is that you can do it everywhere, all the time, and as often as you want. And you can change it. For me, the term ‘choreography’ is a very exciting word because you can do everything with it. You can look at it from the perspective of a choreographer if I see the space, if I see the lights, if I see the formations, if I see the timing, if I hear the sounds; this is all very inspiring. The more you open your senses, the more interesting the choreography becomes.
The idea of choreography does not need anything else. For a young choreographer, I would ask: what else can you choreograph?
MORE INFORMATION AND BIOGRAPHY OF CHRIS HARING:
Chris Haring is the choreographer, co-founder, and artistic director of the dance performance company Liquid Loft, based in Vienna, Austria. His work with Liquid Loft has been presented at venues such as the Burgtheater Vienna, Tanzquartier, and Leopold Museum, as well as ImPulsTanz, Europe’s largest dance festival. His work was nominated for Best Performance at the Lyon Biennale and received the Golden Lion for Best Performance at the Venice Biennale. He has also received the “Outstanding Artist Award - Performing Arts” from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Arts, and Culture. In addition to his work for Liquid Loft, he has created choreography for Jin Xing Dance Theatre, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Staatstheater Kassel, Contemporary Ballet Moscow, Balletto di Roma, Balé da Cidade de São Paulo, and earlier this year for Ensemble Tanz Linz. Website: https://liquidloft.at/
VIDEO TRAILERS OF CURRENT WORK:
Modern Chimeras (2022), choreography by Chris Haring / Liquid Loft
DEEP DISH (2016), choreography by Chris Haring / Liquid Loft
Chris Haring, portrait, photography © Ella Esque
Stranger Than Paradise, screenshot from the film, choreography by Chris Haring, 2012 photography archive © liquidloft
False Colored Eyes, choreography by Chris Haring, 2015, photography © Michael Loizenbauer
Church of Ignorance, choreography by Chris Haring, 2018, photography © Chris Haring
Stand Alones, choreography by Chris Haring, 2019, photography © Chris Haring
Schwanensee (swan lake), choreography by Chris Haring, 2022, photography © Michael Loizenbauer
Interviewer: Charles Scheland
Facilitator: Christina Nikolaidis-Strommer
Executive Content Editor: Camilla Acquista
Executive Assistant: Charles Scheland
Executive Director: Vladimir Angelov
Dance ICONS, Inc., September 2022 © All rights reserved.