In Conversation With Pieter Ampe

Still Standing You is a danced duet between the Belgian artist Pieter Ampe and Portugese artist Guilherme Garrido. Having toured the world, the piece comes to NYC on November 2nd and 3rd as part of Performa (NYC) after recently playing at PICA’s TBA Festival (Portland) and before going to Parma, Italy for the Natura dei Teatri Festival.

Still Standing You explores Pieter and Guilherme’s friendship through a brutal, hilarious, childlike, and relentless movement language that eventually leaves the dancers nude (and still battling). As I watched the piece in Portland I found my brain switching from rational, adult thought to child logic. The two men slap, embrace, stomp, flail, hit, walk and jump on each other and more in an elaborate exploration of their relationship.

In this piece every body part is fair game – and yes, I mean every body part.  As the piece progresses their clothes become battle gear, until there are no more clothes left to use and they are naked.  At this point they transform from individuals with distinct personalities into elastic bodies morphing from shape to shape and emitting a panoply of sounds. The performers’ personalities, playfulness and wit inform the athletic choreography; their interplay veers between slapstick and serious as they explore the complexities and contradictions of male friendship. Still Standing You is as entertaining as it is illuminating.

I spoke to Pieter via Skype while he was in Berlin checking out a porn film festival – for research purposes.

Sarah: How did you and Guilherme come to make work together? 

Pieter: We met at a festival in Vienna in 2006. Both Gui and I had high energy at parties, so we found each other on that level. Gui would talk about his house in Portugal and the small cultural center he had. He urged everyone from the festival to come to Portugal to make work there. I came home to Belgium to rainy, cold weather and immediately bought a ticket to Portugal. We spent one month in Portugal making work, then we went to other festivals to check out work. We didn’t work very much during that time. Eventually, we were in France and tried to agree on what to make. We struggled to give up our own individual desires and ended up finding a way of working that is very playful and allows freedom for the other person to be himself in the collaboration. That sense has been growing ever since.

Sarah: What was the process behind creating this piece?

Pieter: We made Still Standing You three years ago. We toured in Europe, and from there went to Canada. Now we are in the U.S. chapter, which is very exciting to Gui (he tells me he is rolling his eyes). Gui is so corny and romantic about the US during our opening moment (in which Pieter lies down with his feet up and Gui sits on Pieter’s feet, chatting for a while and welcoming us to the space). It makes me uncomfortable. This has built a lovely tension between us.

Still Standing You came out of our previous piece Still Difficult Duet, in which we explored the relationship between the two of us with simple movements. That was a half hour piece and there was a feeling of the potential for more material. So we had this wish to start to search for a more mature piece. We wanted to look at how we translate issues in a physical way. It took us a long time to find a shape for it. It worked on the piece until the day of the premiere, and then we changed it all again. On the day of the premiere we reworked so much that we had a totally different piece then we had the day before. We didn’t even know what the end was going to be. It’s a lot of standing in front of each other and waiting. We know exactly what happens from the beginning now, but there’s still the sense of play.

Sarah: Why masculinity?

Pieter: When I first meet Gui in Portugal I was amazed by his colorfulness and creative flow. I wanted to make a piece that celebrates the colorfulness of our relationship and friendship. We thought if we embraced our meeting, then meaning would arrive itself. For me that’s still my main way of looking at the making of work. I don’t want to impose a certain message or concept. Rather, the relationship between the people onstage can just unfold in a rich and personal way. People always question if we are a couple, but there is no thought around that. Still Standing You became a animalistic male thing. It’s not about the question of what we are.

Sarah: why do you end up naked?

Pieter: Well the first one was naked, so we decided to have costumes this time. But we like working naked! We like how the body communicates and the impact of nudity. The exhaustion makes me red, we sweat…there are all these factors that we can only express when we are nude.

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