Raimund Hoghe on “Pas de Deux” at BAC

Raimund Hoghe in “Pas de Deux”

“How did you meet Pina…? When did you meet Pina…? Things like this…” Raimund Hoghe said almost wearily, trailing off. We met this past weekend on a chilly Sunday to discuss Pas de Deux, the 2011 dance piece Hoghe brings to the Baryshnikov Arts Center this week as part of the Crossing the Line Festival (Oct. 10-12; tickets $20). I tried to be clever and kicked off by asking him the question he was asked too often in interviews, which I already knew the answer to: Pina Bausch, for whom he spent a decade as a dramaturg before, in the 1990s, emerging as a dancer and choreographer himself.

But the answer could have just as easily been about his hunchback, something that might, at first blush, make one question how–or assume some other criteria was at play in why–he was named “Dancer of the Year” by ballettanz in 2008. (“I’m not in the context of disability theater. This corner, I don’t want to be in this corner. I’m always against corners.”) In fact, I debated whether to mention either one in this article. But while the Bausch connection is little more than background noise in Hoghe’s career at this point, his body is essential to his substantial body of work that places him among the continent’s most interesting choreographers.

Hoghe began his career as a journalist, and it was journalism that ultimately led him to become a dance-maker himself. “In 1994 a lot of people, a lot artists around were dying of AIDS,” he explained. “I was writing a lot about AIDS and I wanted to say something about this, and this I couldn’t ask a dancer to do for me.”

This was the initial inspiration for his first piece, Meinwärts, which drew links between the treatment of AIDS victims in Germany and the country’s fascist past. “In Germany, some of the arguments against people with AIDS were similar to the arguments in fascism in Germany,” he said. Scored with the work of Joseph Schmidt, a Jewish tenor and actor who died in a Swiss internment camp during the Second World War, Hoghe used his own body, which deviates from the norm, to serve as a document through which he could enact the experience of such “undesirable” others.

“I didn’t have training in dance, it came very slowly,” he said of developing the choreography. “And the first piece, it was very dark, the scene. The stage was covered in a black hue, so the body was nearly invisible, more just the faces and the hands. And this came from watching singers performing.”

Music is essential to Hoghe’s work in a way that’s somewhat unusual among contemporary choreographers. For him, the dancer’s connection to the music is the primary element from which his work is built. “For me, the rehearsals, they always start with music. I see how the dancers react with music. They have to connect with the music. If I like the music and they can’t connect, I have to find another,” he stated. “I can’t teach them to connect.”

Takashi Ueno, with whom Hoghe performs Pas de Deux, was just such a dancer. Hoghe met the Japanese-born artist when working on Si je meurs laissez le balcon ouvert (2010). Hoghe alternates creating large-scale works and small pieces annually, so in 2011 he set out to create a duet with Ueno. Hence the title “pas de deux.”

“It means also ‘steps for two,'” said Hoghe, clarifying that the work ranged far from the traditional balletic form. “And this is steps for two. We have also music from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This is also a pas de deux.”

The piece offers a series of explorations of duets, colored by and developed from the rich history of the music Hoghe selects for each sequence, songs including “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Moon River,” and a piece from Judy Garland. For Hoghe, the movement seems to come out of the music itself, and he intently studies documentary footage of chanteuses and classical dancers like Maya Plisetskaya to try to capture their deep connection to the music in their performances.

“For me, there’s a very important sentence from Maria Callas,” he recalled. “She was very aware of movement, she moves very, very little when she sings, and she said in one of her conversations, ‘You have to listen to the music, really listen, and the music will tell you how to move.'”

In Pas de Deux, though, the other idea which emerges from the piece is about communication and bridging gaps of ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexuality. As Hoghe describes it, for him, the pas de deux is an almost inherently pluralist form, as it reveals and physically realizes the way in which two people communicate, and thus is a sort of defense against the narrow-mindedness and chauvinism that so often shapes our interactions.

“We are different in age, in nationality, different sexual orientation.,” Hoghe said of Ueno and himself. “We are completely different but we can communicate, and this is to me very important. I feel like he’s my brother. But he can’t be my brother you see it always. And for me, this is important in my country that we can communicate.”

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