This book compiles the last ten years of artistic work by the choreographer Isabelle Schad. The idea, time and resources for this undertaking arose in the exceptional condition of suspension dictated by the pandemic: at a time when theatres and rehearsal space became suddenly inaccessible, when it wasn’t possible to work as usual, we decided to explore new possibilities and modes of operating, to delve into a ‘new space’ inhabited by language, images and new and long-term collaborators.
Coincidentally, I first worked with Isabelle Schad ten years ago, at a festival I was co-curating in Genoa, where we hosted Unturtled
, the piece that marks the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with the visual artist Laurent Goldring.
From then on I continued to follow her work, not only as a theatre-goer but also occasionally taking part in the Open Practice Sessions, a format conceived by Isabelle as an invitation to share her practice. This was an opportunity for me, as a curator and dramaturge, to familiarise myself with her artistic universe from a new and unusual perspective, to witness not just by watching but by doing.
And as a witness of these last ten years, I sense that the different works created during this time, together with their underlying practice, constitute one living body, one ‘organism’, made up of intertwined and interdependent threads of meanings, gestures, energies and people, weaving a line of continuity, coherence and resonance through time and space.
This weave constitutes the fabric of Isabelle Schad’s practice: a patient, persistent, horizontal, rhizomatic and ecological practice that goes beyond fashions and trends to remain true to the principle that inspires it: the search for the essence of movement, on stage as in life, and to paraphrase Annemie Vanackere, the search (still unfinished – because unfinishable) for the innermost sources of movement of and in the social sphere.
This search has been nourished over time by embryology and somatic practices such as Body-Mind Centering, as well as by aikido, zen, shiatsu and voice techniques – multifaceted approaches that tend towards a common point: the overcoming of dualisms and binary ways of perceiving, thinking and moving. The dance, as it appears to us from the ‘outside’, emerges from a profound search for the ‘inside’ and is one with it. This uncompromising approach to movement informs how we see it: a poetic, sometimes uncanny beauty emerges that goes far beyond the form, the appearance; an ‘inner gaze’ is activated, as Andrej Mirčev maintains in this publication, that transforms the experience of looking into something visceral and contemplative. ‘Contemplation’ comes from the latin con (with, by means of) and templum (a portion of sky).
The priest, the augur, who in ancient Rome questioned the gods to know their will through the flight of birds, would raise the lituo, his sceptre, and with a broad hieratic gesture circumscribe the portion of the sky he would observe. Through this contemplation he would determine whether or not the deities liked a choice made by humans.
By extension, ‘to contemplate’ means a watchful, absorbed way of seeing, spiritually driven and open to wonder. I like to think of the stage as a templum, where ‘small miracles’, to quote the choreographer herself, can happen.
Back to this object you are holding in your hands, and given the premise of such an intense experience for the spectator in the liveness of the theatrical moment: does a book about dance represent an oxymoron, a denaturisation, where movement is transformed into an image, feelings into words?
If it is true that dance, as a live art, lives in the present and is essentially resistant to any kind of documentation, it is equally true that dance needs places of preservation and care, not only for the sake of the work itself but also as a gesture of generosity and sharing.
So this book is intended to add to those still too rare books on choreographers, on dance as an artistic field, that put choreographic work at their centre and present it in ‘another’ form, making it available to a wider public.
Part of the effort of the editorial team behind this publication – consisting of myself, Isabelle Schad and Annette Lux of the HIT graphics studio, supported by Isabelle’s long-term project manager, Heiko Schramm – lay in creating an evocative, dynamic and haptic space where the sensuality of the images is supported and enriched by the written word.
Another priority was to account for the human and professional constellation which has been the connective tissue of the work over the years: a network of relationships continuously woven and kept together by Isabelle Schad over time, despite the endemic insecurity and the project-based working mode that characterises the independent scene.
Many representatives of this constellation of people can be found within these pages in various capacities; the ‘with’ of the title is accordingly a tribute to this immanent and open relationality.
The authors range from close and long-term collaborators, such as the lighting designer Bruno Pocheron, the dramaturg Saša Božić, the dancer Przemek Kamiński, the aforementioned visual artist Laurent Goldring and myself, to theorists and writers who have followed Isabelle Schad’s work for many years, such as Susanne Foellmer and Gabriele Wittmann, or others who have recently discovered it, such as Andrej Mirčev. They also include representatives of institutions that have continuously supported and shown Schad’s work, such as the director of the Hebbel am Ufer theatre, Annemie Vanackere. Various voices, therefore, offering a variety of perspectives and stylistic registers.
The book’s images, largely unpublished, are by the experienced dance photographer Dieter Hartwig, by Laurent Goldring – to whose collaboration an entire section of the publication is dedicated – and Isabelle Schad herself.
Schad’s authorship is also present in various texts and interviews that offer direct, unmediated insight into her cosmogony. A special feature is the conversation with the aikido master Gerhard Walter, a very important point of reference for Schad’s life and work in recent years, who introduced her to a specific approach towards ‘natural movement’.
The script of Fugen – the only piece by Schad that contemplates language and spoken words – provides an autobiographical narration, and it is the only text that has not been translated, to adhere as much as possible to its oral character, in an otherwise entirely bilingual publication.
Informed by a similar intention toward the original voices of the various authors, each text has been published in the language in which we received it: English or German dynamically alternate in the book, while an appendix at the end collects the corresponding translations.
To conclude this introduction I wish to extend a genuine invitation to the reader: do inhabit this space we have created by navigating through it with open senses; do contemplate the images and feel the words; do become part, by weaving a personal thread into its texture, of the ‘withness’ of the title … until the next time we meet in the theatre.