Alongside many new creations, the coming edition of Dancers of Tomorrow will include a section from an existing work: If we could only even if we could. More than 25 years ago, the production brought international fame to the choreographers’ duo Andrea Leine and Harijono Roebana. Over the past months, the AD students have rehearsed the work live, as well as via Zoom, with modern dance teacher Lia Witjes Poole and choreographer Andrea Leine. Originally, it was not intended to be performed at Dancers of Tomorrow, but, says artistic director Ernst Meisner, “They thought it was so special and so inspiring that they unanimously chose it for their end-of-year performance”.
First, back in time a bit
“One of the finest discoveries of the year” says the heading in a Canadian newspaper from over 25 years ago. “Five dancers moving in a hundred new and fascinating ways”. It is 1995, and If we could only even if we could by the Dutch choreographers’ duo LeineRoebana is the hit of the Festival International de Nouvelle Danse in Montréal. In the theatre foyer, dancers who have seen the performance try out the awkward twists and turns, wanting to sign up straight away for a complete workshop.
The piece went on to be a great success in the Netherlands as well, and in 2003, Andrea Leine and Harijono Roebana incorporated a section of it into their production Sporen. Lia Witjes Poole – now a modern dance teacher with the Dutch National Ballet Academy – was one of the dancers in Sporen, which she performed on her last tour with LeineRoebana.
And now 2021 – the egg and the potato
“Lia phoned me a few months ago”, says choreographer Andrea Leine. “She told me her students were mainly at home due to the corona measures and she thought it would be wonderful to rehearse them in the section from If we could only even if we could that she had danced herself in Sporen”.
Andrea agreed, on condition that she could also coach the students herself, later on in the rehearsal process. The first rehearsal she attended immediately struck a chord. “I was really moved by the intensity and great eagerness with which the students had approached our movement material. Although that material was still clearly related to classical ballet technique when we created If we could only even if we could, we described that relationship in a metaphor at the time: whereas classical ballet is a nice smooth egg, our movement material is a potato. If you slice the potato, you get all sorts of different, irregularly shaped contours, but that doesn’t mean you can wiggle and experiment if you dance our work. Those irregular shapes have to be followed and performed with the greatest precision. Moreover, in those days Harijono and I were completely focused on ‘physical schizophrenia’, meaning that the movements come from different centres in the body, rather than one single centre”.
All of this resulted in a very quirky dance idiom, full of unexpected impulses and accents. Andrea says, “The connection with classical ballet is there, but our idiom is totally different to what the Dutch National Ballet Academy students are used to. First of all, you need a feeling for the different lines in our work, but I also saw that the students had a genuine interest in using their own physical knowledge in tackling this adventure. So it was great to work with them. I got really enthusiastic about it”.
And of course the circumstances were different to usual. “The corona measures meant that rehearsals often took place via Zoom. And when we could work live in the studio, only some of the students could be present. The others followed the rehearsal from another studio or from home. I was really impressed by how the students are coping with this situation and trying to get the most they can out of it. It was also very special to read their reflection reports on the working process of If we could only even if we could. One of the boys had even included drawings in his report”.
For Dancers of Tomorrow, Andrea and Harijono are now creating an adapted, shortened new version of If we could only even if we could for 21 AD students. A nice extra touch is that Andrea trained at the Scapino Dance Academy herself, which was one of the forerunners of the Dutch National Ballet Academy. And like her teacher at the time, Toke Herben, Andrea is trying to give the students confidence and encouraging them to think about what you feel when you dance. Andrea says, “It’s not just about the steps. Harijono and I also work on the ‘performative’ aspects. My ideal is that eventually I get to see each student as an individual, and that although they’re dancing a group piece, they dare to show their own personality and who they are”.
In the meantime, she’s getting huge enjoyment from seeing the work she created 26 years ago performed by a new generation of dancers. “You’re always discovering new things in your own work. A new body gives you a fresh view of the movement material. And whatever direction the students go in after this, they’re actually all contemporary dancers: dancers who take this early work and draw it into the present, as it were”.