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Interview avec Dr Lise Uytterhoeven

Date: 
16 octobre 2019

 

Dr Lise Uytterhoeven is Senior Lecturer and Head of Learning and Teaching at London Studio Centre. In September, she was appointed to the role of Director of Dance Studies for London Contemporary Dance School at The Place, a position she will take up as from January next year.

 

Dr Lise Uytterhoeven

 

Your initial training in contemporary dance was in Belgium and The Netherlands. What made you move to London?

While I was doing my dance training at the Rotterdam Dance Academy (now CODARTS) I was already thinking about postgraduate courses in dance. There wasn’t really anything in Belgium or the Netherlands that allowed me to specialise in dance at that level. I therefore was looking more towards the UK and the US. I’ve always had a strong love for London and decided this was the place to come to.

 
Have you always had an interest in dance?

As a small child I always wanted to move. I was begging my parents to take me to ballet and dance classes. However, they preferred me to learn music in the conservatory in Mechelen. We discovered that they also offered ballet classes there, so from the age of 8 I took up ballet while also learning music. Dance gradually grew into an obsession. Virtually every evening after school I would go to the conservatory to practice ballet. Towards the end of secondary school it was time to seriously decide about my future. I pleaded with my parents to allow me to study dance but they thought it wiser to keep it as a hobby. They did, however, agree for me to audition at 3 different schools and I was offered a place by all of them. That gave my parents the confidence that I had real potential. During my dance training I incurred various injuries which made me realise that a performing career wasn’t for me and that I would be better off pursuing an academic career in dance, which would allow me to develop my interests in dance history, theory and culture. Somehow I created my own career that doesn’t require me to be physically committed to dancing at a professional level. In a way, I pleased both my parents by going to university and myself because of the topic.

 
Can you explain in short what your job entails? What are important qualities to have in the job you do?

My new job will be different but it will draw on experience I built up in my present and previous activities. I currently teach and lecture to undergraduate and postgraduate students and I’m involved in setting up and running a new Master’s programme as well, in Dance Producing & Management. I also deal with quality management of the education and the facilitating of staff development.

In my new post I will have more overall responsibility for the undergraduate and postgraduate training as well as the development of new postgraduate programmes. Budget responsibility will also be an important aspect of my job which, in my current position, is handled by other people. The difference will be in the autonomy of the decision making.

I have always seen my main skill as translating between different languages and systems of thinking. The higher education policy landscape uses a particular language framework which doesn’t easily translate into that of dance and the artistic field in general. I try to connect both.

 

The Place

 

In 2011 you were awarded ‘Postgraduate Researcher of the Year’ at the University of Surrey. Can you tell our readers why you think you were selected for this award?

That was a very particular moment in my academic career. I had gathered some significant findings during my initial research years which led to publishing an article in the renowned scholarly journal ‘Contemporary Theatre Review’, taking me through a very rigorous process along the way. The year before, I was part of a group of PhD students in the dance department who organised a conference. It was a collaborative project between several universities. I fully enjoyed that opportunity and we ended up with some 60 national and international applications for conference presentations. It turned into a big event and we published an issue of ‘Platform’, a postgraduate journal of theatre and performing arts, at the end of it.

The university was probably looking among the postgraduate students for someone with strengths in various areas: teaching, academic service and publication. I guess I fitted that bill. Ultimately, I have to thank the people who put me forward for the award, the Head of Department at the time, Professor Sherril Dodds, and my main research supervisor, Professor Rachel Fensham.

 
What was the topic of your research?

My PhD focused on the work of the Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui whose work I had been following since the late 1990s.

 

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

 

I became fascinated by his oeuvre. I wanted to understand what cultural issues he was trying to convey to the public. He uses a lot of languages in his pieces and touches on religious themes and ideas of national identity. My whole research is about the journey of transformation that the spectator goes through in engaging with these pieces. My recent book ‘Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: Dramaturgy and Engaged Spectatorship’, published by Palgrave Macmillan, represents my research journey, from Master’s to PhD and beyond. I pay close attention to the unique Belgian context in that book.

 
In this country, Belgium is often associated with beer, chocolates, footballers, fashion designers, etc. Do you feel ‘dance’ also springs to mind when people think of Belgium?

Belgium is renowned within the global dance community. There was the ‘Flemish contemporary dance wave’ in the 80s and 90s with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Wim Vandekeybus, Alain Platel and Larbi of course. ‘PARTS’, De Keersmaeker’s school in Brussels, attracts people worldwide and a lot of them tend to stay in Brussels after their training to launch their career. I’m not convinced though that ‘dance’ is part of the wider collective imagination yet that people have of Belgium, so there is more work to be done. The collaborations between Belgian contemporary dance choreographers and pop music artists, such as Larbi with Beyoncé and Damien Jalet with Madonna, seem to be an important step to bring the two worlds together. These pop artists are drawn to the specific physicality of contemporary dance, because it brings something new to the table.

 

Collaboration Larbi – Beyoncé
Collaboration Larbi - Beyoncé

 

Within the world of contemporary dance, who do you admire and why? Have you worked with any of your ‘idols’?

Larbi is definitely someone I have admired a lot and I’ve had the opportunity to follow his work very closely. Beyond that, I’d highlight the names of some less-known people I admire for different reasons. There is a contemporary dancer called Rosalie Bell who collaborates with artists from different fields such as fashion, visual arts and film. Another person is Luke Brown who comes from an English working-class environment and makes dance theatre works that are very poetic and evocative and explore autobiographical themes. I also admire the Irish dancer Rachel Brennan who explores feminist themes in her work. I look up to these people because they show colossal determination to establish themselves within the word of dance.

 
Can you mention 5 words which describe London to you?

I’d say cultural, artistic, global, busy and vibrant. All very positive words. On the other hand, London can also be very loud, wet, crowded and the idea of increasing inequality in the city is worrying.

 
Do you feel the ‘Brexit climate’ is impacting on your work?

That’s a difficult topic. I’m sure Brexit is having an impact although I’m not so sure yet in which way. There are so many uncertainties. Already there is a stronger divide among the British people between the remain and the leave side. Society has become very polarised. Dance can bring people of various political persuasions together and connect them.

At work, we haven’t felt a direct effect on student numbers on our courses. We have more applicants than there are places on offer.

 
Do you have regular contact with Belgians in this country?

I don’t really know any Belgians in the UK. However, the Director of Communications in my new workplace, Caroline Schreiber, is also a Belgian. It will be very nice to work with another fellow Belgian. Now that I am a mother, I have a stronger desire to connect with other Belgians. Since Larbi became Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet Flanders in Antwerp, I have collaborated a bit with them, including for the book publication to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It has been very nice to develop that connection.

 
What are your future aspirations?

I hope to raise the profile of dance as an art form and as a social and cultural pursuit within people’s lives. Too many people dismiss dance as a frivolous thing to do, without value, just a bit of fun. Actually, there are many cognitive and social advantages, as well as psychological and physical health benefits, for people of all ages. Engaging in dance activity can help people’s sense of wellbeing. That is the message I would like to get across. The value of dance is the best kept secret.