Movement in bodies and between bodies
ZOO’s work initially grew out of basic research into movement. Prompted by Thomas Hauert, the dancers disassociate themselves from their bodies’ usual movement forms. Every single joint offers its own specific possibilities. The combination of these individual movements can take an unlimited number of forms. In an atmosphere of playful curiosity, the dancers explore the greatest possible diversity of forms, rhythms, qualities and mutual relationships with space and external forces. ZOO based its name on a book, used by the group as study material. This choice suggests a vision of man as an animal species – a very peculiar species indeed. In other words, man not fettered by culture.
One of the main methods used by the group to explore the world of movement possibilities is improvisation. It is experienced as a tool to disconnect the body’s potential from the mind’s limitations. We are not talking about completely free improvisation, because a body that is set totally free tends to choose the easiest way out. It is, therefore, assisted improvisation, where tasks, rules and forces are imposed to break the dancers’ conditioning. Improvisation allows complex movements to be created that involve so many factors that it would be impossible to repeat them or write them down.
The aim is not to only break things down or nullify forms and codes, but rather to turn the body back to “zero” and start building something new, using human anatomy as the base. After the dancers have been temporarily extracted from their usual movement patterns, they try to apply the new parameters to their bodies. The principles are practised again and again in order to discover all possible varieties and subtleties and to create a new kind of virtuosity – because the body needs time to learn. The disorderly impression that the spectator can have initially is a consequence of his own conditioning. In reality, each one of ZOO’s proposals is a coherent movement system, an alternative to known (and recognised) systems, but applied with the utmost rigour. The stage is not life, and dance is free to invent movements without any practical use.
Going beyond the scale of the individual, ZOO also develops work on the group, on the “body” formed by the dancers together. If the exploration of the individual body leads to the expression of diversity (chaos), the group work creates cohesion, communication and connection (order). Thomas Hauert coordinates the five dancers’ bodies in Cows in Space with several tools to organise time and space. For the organisation of time he uses music composed by John Adams, Bart Aga and Alex Fostier. Acting on factors such as the mutual positions, paths and speeds of the dancers (the “cows in space”), the organisation systems create fields of tension in the space between the dancers. These fields are so complex that the spectator cannot understand them with his intellect. He only perceives an organism moved by laws of organic evolution, rather than by mechanical logics.Still, these movements are meticulously determined, because the mutual relationships that they create are so complex that it would be impossible to calculate them instantly. As ZOO continues to produce shows, the principles of spatial organisation will become increasingly flexible and reactive. In these developments, order is guaranteed by the dancers’ trust in one another, rather than by the presence of some individual authority. This is the conceptual source for the “improvised unisons” introduced in puzzled – fascinating choreographic sequences in which movement realised in unison is born spontaneously from the listening that is being done “between” the dancers, rather than by the pre-determined decision of one individual.Here, as in certain scenes in modify, the work based on directed improvisation meets intimately the one based on the coordination of the group.
An order based on confidence
The concept of trust, central to ZOO’s choreography project, also translates into the company’s structure and working process. ZOO works as a collective, where every dancer contributes his own creativity to the group. Every dancer is free, but at the same time responsible.However, the structure is not horizontal: on top of the dancers’individual reality stands a shared reality, proposed by Thomas Hauert.This common trust in the initial proposal is essential for the project, because it allows acceptance of the apparent chaos in the process. The discomfort caused by the lack of conventional authority becomes comfort from the moment we accept that we cannot have everything under control.
Buoyed by the conviction that intuition allows much more complex and unexpected results than a process based on initial verbalisation, the choreographer deliberately leaves his projects very open, aware that the encounter between his initiative and that of the dancers will unleash an unforeseeable result. The same applies to the meaning inperformances: form and content, choreographic material and symbolic consequence are developed in parallel, in an organic link, without us really being able to confirm that one preceded the other. Meaning gradually emerges from the latent preoccupations that find an outcome in the work on movement. For the choreographer, awareness of an intention does not necessarily involve the ability to verbalise it, and can even precede this verbalisation. We can “know” without being able to “explain”.
In ZOO’s shows, dance is abstract in the sense that everything is about the body and movement. Dance does not have any narrative or figurative dimension. However, the spectators do not perceive the show as something abstract. Even if the dance performance does not illustrate anything, it proposes a model that can be very meaningful.The artistic project seems like a micro-utopia, an alternative vision of man, power and society.
Inner forces and outer forces
The underlying questions found in ZOO’s purely choreographic work are also expressed through other theatrical means. Do You Believe in Gravity? Do You Trust the Pilot? questions the relationship between the self and the world. Verosimile, which introduced more theatrical elements into ZOO’s work, revolves around issues of identity, reproduction and performativity. When do you become a character? Is it when you move your arms in a particular way, differently from the others? At what point does an attitude become a characterisation? At all levels, modify develops the relationship between outer forces – influences – and inner forces –invention: “to act, modify or surrender”. Earlier, Jetzt concentrated more specifically on one of these outer forces, gravity, and on the many ways in which you can react to the state of disequilibrium.
Walking Oscar, the backbone of which consists of literary fragments by Oscar van den Boogaard, is an exceptional project in ZOO’s oeuvre in that its starting point is not based in the work on movement. However, the Dutch writer’s words, a collage of little episodes and reflections that create in-depth meaning strangely echo the questioning that has always been present in Thomas Hauert’s work:“ as you get older you notice that things and people are not the way they seem, that maybe you are not as you seem,” Oscar tells us. “… maybe nobody leads the real life, we’re all pretending; only for the child on the backseat of the car does there seem to be an intangible reality to which it does not yet belong.” And again: “… actually we had said what couldn’t be said, not by saying it, but by not saying it; no, by trying to say it but not succeeding, by pointing at it and maybe touching it a moment, but not grasping it, because when you grasp ungraspable things they’re dead.”
Likewise when Jurgen De bruyn, mainspring of the Zefiro Torna music ensemble, imagined working on medieval musical enigmas, it was entirely natural for him to think of Thomas Hauert for running the project. Symbolic figures invoked by these musical works – like the labyrinth, the compass, the key, the chessboard and the circle – actually find resonance in ZOO’s work. In the solo Do You Believe in Gravity? Do You Trust the Pilot?, for example, the starting point is a red carpet, a circle from which Thomas Hauert invades the stage, expressing the idea perhaps that man, at the risk of going round in circles, has to leave the scope of his consciousness to leap inside – towards the self – or outside – towards the world.
Walking Oscar, a performance containing all the ingredients of a musical without actually following its conventions, also attributes an important place to singing and song. Music plays an essential role in ZOO’s work, as much as a generator of movement as this group’s organising principle. From Cows in Space all the way to 12/8, the piece created for PARTS students in 2007, Thomas Hauert has mined a rich and original seam between dance and music. A symbolic example of this is Common Senses in which Thomas Hauert used an Anton Bruckner chorus as a “score” for groupimprovisation: the ten dancers learned and internalised their respective voices, finally performing improvised movement rigorously true to their musical relationships, but in total silence. But beyond this interest in music in general, song assumes particular importance in ZOO’s work. Thomas Hauert thinks that singing is very accessible for a dancer because it engages the body. The form of song also presents the interest of superimposing several strata: music, voice and words. Introduced in Pop-Up Songbook, the songs, either existing ones or ones specially written for it, can be found in several of ZOO’s shows: the solo Do You Believe in Gravity, Do You Trust the Pilot?, for which Thomas Hauert wrote the words to three ballads, Verosimile, More or Less Sad Songs and lastly Walking Oscar. In the last show, the dancers were encouraged to write the music, sing and play an instrument themselves, an experience that allowed them to enrich and refine their physical interpretation of music.
Internationally recognised work
Since 1998, ZOO’s work has appealed to wide audiences in Belgium and abroad. ZOO’s shows have been staged in more than 100 different venues in 23 countries. From New York to Seoul, from Helsinki to Maputo, the company has been invited by organisations as prestigious as the Théâtre de la Ville, the Pompidou Centre, the Festival d’Automne and IRCAM in Paris, Tanzquartier and Impulstanz in Vienna, Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona, the Danças na Cidades festival and Bélem Cultural Centre in Lisbon, the Theaterhaus Gessnerallee in Zurich, the Springdance Festival in Utrecht, the Southbank in London, the Santarcangelo festival in Italy and Podewil in Berlin, to name just a few. In Belgium, ZOO’s shows have been performed in more than 20 venues of all sizes, including at Klapstuk, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, the Concertgebouw in Bruges, Charleroi Danses and, above all, the Kaaitheater, which has offered the company its unfailing support from the outset. Thomas Hauert is also regularly invited to produce pieces for outside organisations, particularly for the famous Brussels dance school, PARTS, for whose students he has created three pieces. Finally, the work of ZOO/Thomas Hauert has won several awards, including the Prix de la danse suisse for modify in 2005.
After training at the academy in Rotterdam, the Swiss dancer and choreographer Thomas Hauert moved to Brussels in 1991 to work in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company Rosas. He then collaborated with Gonnie Heggen, David Zambrano and Pierre Droulers. After the creation of the solo Hobokendans (1997), he founded his company ZOO through which he initiated Cows in Space (1998), a piece for five dancers which was consequently awarded two prizes at the Rencontres chorégraphiques of Seine-Saint-Denis. “A first choreography, offered in all coolness, and I’m already under its spell. (…) With Cows in Space, Thomas Hauert and his fresh new company ZOO have shown (…) that abstract dance can be a wonderful celebration and can convey formidable emotions.” (Le Temps, 1998)
Since then, Thomas Hauert has created around 20 performances with ZOO among them Jetzt (2000), Do You Believe in Gravity? Do You Trust the Pilot? (2001), Verosimile (2002), modify (2004, ), Walking Oscar (2006), Accords (2008), You’ve Changed (2010), From B to B (a duet in collaboration with the Catalan choreographer Angels Margarit, 2011), Like me more like me (a duet in collaboration with the American performer Scott Heron) and The Measure of Disorder with seven creators of Barcelona in 2015. In 2012, he has also created the solo for young audiences Danse étoffée sur musique déguisée on music by John Cage performed live. MONO, a group creation for 8 dancers and 1, has been premièred in November 2013.(sweet) (bitter) the new solo of Thomas Hauert in 2015 and his last group creation for six dancers inaudible has been premiered in 2016.
The work of Thomas Hauert and ZOO first develops from research on movement, with a particular interest in improvisation-based processes exploring the tension between freedom and constraint, individuals and the group, order and disorder, form and formlessness. Over the years the structure of the company has remained very stable, with several of the original dancers still currently involved. This longevity affords a depth to the choreographer’s research that one rarely encounters in the field of contemporary dance today.
Thomas Hauert is widely recognized for his original contributions to choreography: “His proliferative inventiveness does more than just exercise the imagination: it uncovers a new movement vocabulary, upsets the syntax, refines unpublished grammar rules in order to achieve singularly vivid language,” writes Rosita Boisseau in Le Monde. From Paris to Seoul, from Helsinki to Rio, his performances have been staged in over 200 different venues in 29 countries. Moreover, in recognition of his work, the company has been awarded several prizes including the Swiss Dance and Choreography Prize given to modify in 2005 and the Prize for current dance work given to From B to B at the Swiss Dance Awards 2013. Accords also earned Thomas Hauert and ZOO the distinction of being respectively chosen choreographer and company of the year in 2009 by the critic Katja Werner with the comment: “Thomas Hauert’s company ZOO, a group of responsible individuals, a community that practices the most intelligent, the most sensitive, the most spiritual, the most surprising, the bravest, the most virtuosic and the most political dance form I’ve seen in a very long time.” In 2010, the Belgian director Thierry De Mey created a film co-produced by European cultural television channel Arte, based on the ZOO’s work Accords, set to Ravel’s La Valse.
Thomas Hauert regularly participates in improvisation events around the world. Notably, he was invited by Sasha Waltz in the framework of “Vif du Sujet” in Avignon in 2000, by David Zambrano in the series “David Zambrano Invites…”, by Gonnie Heggen, Frans Poelstra and Robert Steijn for the “Tarzan” project, and by Jennifer Monson and Zeena Parkins as part of Movement Research Fall Festival in 2008. He also improvizes with musicians like Chris Corsano and Barry Guy.
The relation with music, from pop to contemporary and from jazz to baroque, plays a major part in Thomas Hauert’s work. In 2012, he was for example invited by Ircam in Paris to lead a project on the relation between improvised dance and electronic musical composition in the context of the festival-academy ManiFeste.
In addition to his work for ZOO, Thomas was also commissioned to create Hà Mais (2002) with a group of Mozambican dancers, Milky Way (2000), Lobster Caravan (2004), 12/8 (2007) and Regarding The area Between the inseparable (in collaboration with the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, 2010) with students from Brussels’ PARTS academy, as well as Fold and Twine (2006) at the Laban School in London. In Fall 2010, he has created a new work for the Zurich Ballet, Il Giornale della necropoli based on the composition of the same name by Salvatore Sciarrino, with a set by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. In Spring 2013 he was commissionned by Toronto Dance Company, in Canada, to create the piece Pond Skaters (for which he was nominated as best choreographer of the year at the Dora Awards). And in 2014, he created the piece Notturnino for the British company of disabled and non-disabled dancers Candoco Dance Company.
Complimenting his performance work, Hauert has developed an internationally recognized teaching method. As a teacher, he has an ongoing collaboration with the P.A.R.T.S. academy in Brussels and regularly gives workshops worldwide. In 2012-13, he was the Valeska-Gert-guest professor for dance and performance at the Institute for Theater Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. In 2013 Hauert has also been appointed academic director of the new bachelor degree in contemporary dance opened within the theatre academy La Manufacture the Lausanne (Switzerland’s first dance school at university level).
In 2012, he was invited to participate in the project “Motion Bank” initiated by The Forsythe Company to stimulate research into choreographic practice. A multi-disciplinary team of the Ohio State University (USA) worked with him to create “on-line digital scores” which document and analyse specific aspects of his work. The results have been released in Nov 2013 and are visible on the www.motionbank.org.
“Ce qu’on accumule” by Christophe Slagmuylder (french, PDF, download)
“Thomas Hauert & Kompanie ZOO. Schwarmdynamik und performativ gebildete Gemeinschaft in der
improvisierten Choreographie You’ve changed” by Mona De Weerdt (german, PFD, download)
“About the work of Thomas Hauert” by Marianne Van Kerkhoven (english, PDF, dowlaod.pdf)
“A propos de Mono” by Philippe Guisgand (french, PDF, download)
Thomas Hauert, Sarah Ludi, Samantha van Wissen, Mat Voorter, Albert Quesada, Liz Kinoshita, Gabriel Schenker, Fabián Barba, Mark Lorimer, Chrysa Parkison, Martin Kilvady
Zoë Poluch, Laida Aldaz Arrieta, Àngels Margarit, Scott Heron, Cecilia Colacrai, Natalia Jiménez Gallardo, Iris Heitzinger, Xavi Moreno, Federica Porello, Mireia de Querol, Anna Rubirola, Gabor Varga, Theodossia Stathi, Eun Kyung Lee, Ursula Robb, Pascale Gigon, Lisa Gunstone, David Zambrano, Anne Mousselet, Mette Edvardsen, Sirah Foighel, Franziska Aigner, Marisa Cabal, Marco Torrice
Noémie Bialobroda, Lea, Peter Van Hoesen, Dirk van der Harst, Daan Vandewalle, Michel Debrulle, Bart Aga, Alex Fostier, Philippe Beloul, Aliocha Van der Avoort, Kristien Ceuppens, Jurgen De bruyn, Alejandro Petrasso, Paulina van Laarhoven, Els Janssens, Cécile Kempenaers, Barry Guy, Chris Corsano, Els Van Laethem, Liam Fennely, Wouter Koelewijn, Rahel Studer, Philipp Stampfli
Set, Light & Sound
Bert Van Dijck, Jan Van Gijsel, Simon Siegmann, Karin Demedts, Bram Moriau, Guy Peeters, Pieter Nys, Marc Asès, Herman Venderickx, Christian François, Jan Maertens
Anne Masson & Eric Chevalier, OWN, Jeremy Dhennin, Laurent Edmond, Carine Lauwers, Patrick Pitschon
Denis Laurent, Stuart McQuarrie, Oscar van den Boogaard
Filip Vanzieleghem, Manon de Boer, Bart Grietens, Mark Leys, Thibault Grégoire
François Declercq, Thierry De Mey, Boris Van der Avoort, Aliocha Van der Avoort, Yves Pezet, Girls in the Garden
Caroline Vermeulen, Régis Rémigy, Helga Baert, Ruth Collier, Nathalie Douxfils, Leen Driesen, Helga Duchamps, Marisa König-Beatty, Denis Laurent, Diana Raspoet, Christophe Slagmuylder, Lara Vanderstichelen, Karin Vermeire
Manu Devriendt president, Helga Duchamp, Denis Laurent, Christine Stanczyk, Pierre-Yves Bolus, Ida De Vos, Mark Leys, Ferdinand Dubois, Johan Reyniers, Ilse Vandesande, Catherine Gouffau
Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles – Service de la Danse
Pro Helvetia – Swiss Arts Council
Ein Kulturengagement des Lotterie-Fonds des Kantons Solothurn
Ministère de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale
Charleroi Danses, Charleroi-Brussels
Centre chorégraphique national de Rillieux-la-Pape – direction Yuval Pick
Théâtre Sévelin 36, Lausanne
Les Brigittines, Brussels
Festival GREC, Barcelona
Centre Pompidou – Les Spectacles vivants, Paris
La Bâtie – Festival de Genève
Forsythe Company, Francfort-sur-le-Main
Montpellier Danse, Montpellier
PACT Zollverein, Essen
Festival alkantara, Lisboa
Théâtre national de Bordeaux en Aquitaine, Bordeaux
Centre chorégraphique national de Franche-Comté, Belfort
Theaterhaus Gessnerallee, Zurich
Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
Théâtre de la Ville, Paris
Festival d’Automne, Paris
ZOO is in residence at
Artistic Direction – Thomas Hauert – email@example.com
Company Manager – Caroline Vermeulen – firstname.lastname@example.org
Administration & Finance – Régis Rémigy – email@example.com
Technical Director – Bert Van Dijck – firstname.lastname@example.org
Rue des Chartreux 15 – 17 Kartuizerstraat, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
Tel. +32 (0)2 502 57 84 – Mobile +32(0) 486 388 230