After Tornar (2015) and INVITED (2018), Seppe Baeyens continues to build on his study of the possibility of forming a temporary community with Birds (2021). In this new production he explores the separation between theatre and reality. In order to achieve this, he leaves the theatre and seeks out public spaces. Birds strives to turn random passers-by into both spectators and participants in a social choreography, even though they have no overview of the whole.
The starting point will not be the theatre space but the everyday space/environment: “I am going to organise the public space as a dramatic space, without depriving it of its accessibility.” Baeyens strives to blur the boarders between the random passer-by spectators, performers and audience in a social and shared choreography.
Seppe Baeyens is part of a new generation of performing artists that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the realisation of an increasingly diverse and global society, search for new foundations for their artistic practice and discover them in an inclusive, democratic and connecting vision of art. In his productions he mixes professional and non-professional dancers and actors. Baeyens searches for new artistic working methods, spread over a long period of time, based on co-authorship with the participants. His productions are not so much about individual expression, the symmetrically performed movement or the harmonic choreography, but the honest and authentic connection between the dancers during the performance. Accordingly, the live music and visual design play an important guiding and supporting role.
In his latest project Birds, Seppe Baeyens also wants to broaden and diversify the creation process itself. He asked Martha Balthazar and Yassin Mrabtifi to create and accompany the performance with him. Birds continues to build on Baeyens’ research into forming a temporary community. The ultimate goal of Baeyens’ work is to study and create collective rituals for our time, which reflect the idea of community and that of the ritual as closely as possible. On the other hand, Baeyens strives for generous inclusive and participative rituals.
Seppe Baeyens: “I asked Martha Balthazar and Yassin Mrabtifi to co-create Birds. Until now, I have mainly applied my ideas on intergenerational and intercultural participation to the participants and audience of my performances. I am now extending that line to the creation process itself. Yassin Mrabtifi is a Molenbeek dancer and choreographer, who grew up in the hip-hop culture. He has a very personal experience of public space. He learned to dance in stations and has a lot of experience with improvisation and direct communication with the audience. This fits in perfectly with the public dimension of Birds. Martha Balthazar was fascinated by Invited and did an internship during the research phase of Birds.
She is a Masters student drama at KASK in Ghent. In her own work she focuses on theatre as a framework to set up unseen and unexpected encounters. She wants to create spaces where playing and writing are used as tools to mess with reality and where fiction always flirts with truth. I feel that they can both give new and unexpected impulses to the project. The fact that we’re making the performance in dialogue will also be reflected in the performance. I think it’s exciting. Co-creation is also something new for me. We are going to work in all combinations: with the three of us, in duo or alone. As players in the shows we alternate during the tour, which will in turn alter the show.”
Art is the perfect place to cope with the different, with the foreign and the ‘other’, in a non-aggressive manner. It’s no coincidence that a recent publication about art and openness is called Interrupting the City. Artistic Constitutions of the Public Sphere. By interrupting the normal course of urban events the artist creates a moment of openness; a moment of astonishment, imagination and alienation. Participants are no longer addressed as part of a hierarchical relationship, but have the opportunity to confront their creativity, their artistry and their independence. The normal course of events is interrupted for a while and the imagination has free reign. As in his previous productions, the creative process consists of an intense study - spread over two years - conducted in different cities and at different public spaces. The components of the production are tested at these different locations, with all the related coincidences and contingencies. The temporary community, connection and co-creation play a key role once more, but this time in the public space.
The public space has its particular individuality and characteristics that are completely different from the closed space of a theatre. Bringing a production to the public space and interacting with ransom passers-by evokes a new set of questions: how do you organise the public space to produce a theatrical or dramatic space? What is the role of the performer in the public space? What does the public space mean with regard to the concept of ‘performance’? What dance language will I encounter in the public space? How does the triangular relationship between the performer, audience and passer-by develop? When does a passer-by, or the audience become a performer? Which theatrical codes do I install in the public space? Where does the boundary lie between orchestrated choreography and the choreography of everyday life? What is the difference between dance and everyday acts, actions, rituals, flows and group movements?
In Birds, Seppe Baeyens aims to develop a com-mon language using the public space, with the context of the square. He believes that lots of contemporary dance in the public space is often ‘implanted’ from above, a mandatory intervention that has little consideration for the space and its context. With his performance he does not strive to ‘intervene’ on the square, but ‘infiltrate’. By infiltrate he means penetrate the space through movements, acts and objects that are already present. As a result, an infiltration first goes unnoticed and only visibly manifests at a later stage.
The Way Things Go
Der Lauf der Dinge is a 1987 art film by the Swiss art duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss The film documents a long causal chain of assembled everyday objects, which set one another in motion like falling dominoes. Baeyens refers to this film because of the action/reaction principle: an initial action causes a reaction that in turn causes a reaction, and so on. What interests Baeyens is the connection created between the objects that were initially completely separate from each other. The composition of the objects means that certain reactions are sometimes physical, and sometimes chemical.
With his performances in the public space Seppe Baeyens aspires to reinforce ‘the way things go’, everyday situations and actions at certain moments, and elevate them to a more intense and higher level. It concerns a non-coercive and subtle addition to the theatrical. The brusque and provocative aspect of, for example, flash mobs is of little interest to him. The democratisation of the space is key to Seppe Baeyens: increasing awareness of the space as a public space for everyone, a place that can be shared.
Baeyens explains that no matter how obvious the statement that the public space should be for everyone, the idea soon collides with certain boundaries: “What fascinates me is the question of how public the public space is. At the moment you need permission from several bodies to be able to organise something in the public space. Safety, and everything involved in it has become a crucial element. If you want to organise something in the public space you are viewed as a potential hazard. I once told a police officer who came and asked me what was happening, that we were busy with ‘an experiment in being together’. Because that’s actually what my work is all about.”
There are three groups of people: participants, spectators and passers-by. But these positions are not fixed. The spectators can participate. The passers-by can become spectators. The passers-by can participate without being aware of it, but could also do so consciously for a short or longer period of time. The passers-by have a choice. One of the most important questions involves how to create interaction with passers-by without forcing them or being blunt. How can a passer-by be invited to take part in the game? The game could involve walking in a circle. Baeyens: “Based on experiments that I have done so far, it is clear to me that making eye contact, for example, can work well. There appears to be a great need for contact.”
Observing is key to this performance, but being made to look a fool is out of the question. Observing and being observed. Observing others and being observed by others may be the two activities that are most human. They show us in our strength (observing) and in our fragility (being observed). Seppe Baeyens constructs his temporary community based on this interaction between people. It is no coincidence that the ‘circle’, with its many connotations and meanings, is one of the figures he prefers to use in his productions in the theatre as well as performances in the public space.
Art as a public space
The artist becomes a ‘networker’ or a ‘public worker’ who creates openness – perhaps in a highly idiosyncratic (autonomous!) manner, in which the emphasis is not so much on the end result but on the process, the commitment, the relational. In other words: the artist is a mediator that facilitates ‘disclosure’. He creates a relationship in which and a forum on which something appears. He creates room for expression, for participation and interaction. This is why Henk Oosterling no longer talks of ‘art in the public space’ but of ‘art as the public space’.
In art as the public space the creative process and the participation of all stakeholders is key. The artist does not work towards an end product, but considers the creativity and inventiveness of, for example, residents that use a specific public space as his or her material. The artist sets the creative process in motion, but does not know in advance what the outcome will be. Oosterling: “These are interventions based on the realisation that art no longer revolves around the end result, but around the process the public space creates. Publicity is the flat form of this. But like art, these kinds of interventions make people more open, involved and selfless in their interactions with each other. The artist serves as a ‘networker’: he initiates interaction in the public space that would not be possible outside of art. In this case art goes beyond its institutional frameworks, and this is the transition we have been observing for many years now: from art in the public space to art as the pubic space, from an end product in a physical place to a ‘glocal’ process.”