IN CONVERSATION with Michael Maurissens
‘Collaborative creative processes are exciting and fulfilling.’
Dance artist and filmmaker Michael Maurissens for the past 20 years has been forging a unique path of his own -- bringing together his passion for dance with his love for filmmaking and creating films, video projects among other collaborative projects. For the last one month, as BangaloREsident@Attakkalari, Michael has been mentoring the students of the Certificate Programme in Movement Arts and Pedagogy (CMP), sharing his wealth of knowledge in the realm of dance and video. The course has taken the young dancers through different phases of the production of a dance film, beginning with the development of an idea to planning, rehearsals, coordinating with all involved actors and technical equipment, the shooting, all the way to the final editing.
As his residency draws to a close, Michael sat down for an email interview to talk about the residency and experience of mentoring young and eager minds, his filmmaking career, why he likes creative collaborations and what he will be taking away from his short stay in Bangalore.
Q. One of the interesting trends the pandemic threw up is that it got performers to embrace technology and the camera/visual medium. As someone who has been involved in both the artforms of dance and filmmaking for a long time, are you glad it happened? Do you think screendance as a concept is here to stay?
Next to the unique experience of the whole world slowing down and each of us being confronted with an odd social and emotional setting, the pandemic has accelerated the use of the digital tool in the frame of artistic creation and experimentation. Screendance as a format has existed for a long time but the explosion of social media offers a perfect platform for dance films to be presented and shared. Screendance has a long way to go. Being in a format that is accessible to everyone owning at least a phone redefines the creative practice and challenges the performance frame.
Q. You have spent the last few weeks with the students of the CMP, training them through the entire process of making dance films. Considering the fact that screendance is becoming mainstream, do you think all dancers should be taught how to shoot dance on camera or even their phones?
Michael: Taking the dancers through different phases of the production of a short dance film helped them understand and practically apply the structuring of the creative process – in terms of basic steps, tasks, responsibilities, team and time management. It is an approach that can be applied in any creative process. Practising dancing for the camera and filming dance are both very relevant exercises for dance artists – to develop their performativity and compose with the visual/graphic perspective of movement in space.
Q. What are some guiding principles that you have shared with your students on how to conceive and direct dance films?
Michael: The interaction of the moving body with its environment, the spatial relation with the camera, and the high level of movement articulation are three main principles we worked on.
Q. Going by your background and previous work, it is evident you are an artist who believes in collective creation and collaborative processes. Do you think more minds make for better art? Can you elaborate what it is you enjoy about this creative process?
Michael: Collaborative creative processes are exciting and fulfilling. They do take a lot of care in terms of establishing and applying common working agreements between everyone involved in order to promote clarity. Expectations, roles, emotions, skills, interest, needs, non-verbal communication: These are a few elements out of many that need to be seriously considered, defined and formulated before and during the process.
Q.The students you have interacted with at Attakkalari are young minds, curious and open to ideas and concepts. What have you learnt from this exchange?
Michael: Spending six intense weeks with the dancers, getting to know each other through observing, dancing together, improvising, exchanging thoughts, sharpening practices... all of it has been a brilliant and enriching experience for everyone. I have learnt to stay open and transparent, and I have managed to build a clear framework that invites the dancers to engage with, take part, challenge, blossom, learn, share, express and experiment – in a respectful and productive manner.
Q. When it comes to your filmmaking process, be it films, documentaries or experimental videos, what is the compelling factor that drives you to work on a particular subject?
Michael: What initiates a documentary film project is sometimes an inspiring encounter, an appealing theme or event, sometimes a question I have. But most of my works have the body as a departure point and/or red thread. The body that performs, the body that transforms, the body that carries knowledge, the body that searches…
Q. Your dance collective, the MichaelDouglas Kollektiv, is unique. When you started it, did it seem like a crazy experiment? And what is the collective busy with these days?
Michael: The MichaelDouglas Kollektiv was founded in 2009 out of an unexpected situation and turned itself into a company very organically. Our work is based on collaborations with external artists and scientists who are invited to make work with us always on a dialogue-based approach. We are now focusing on creating participative formats where our audience is proposed to take part in reflective processes through their actions. Using the physical body to inform yourself about beliefs, thinking patterns and mindsets.
Q. Finally, how has your stay in Bangalore been? What are the memories you will be carrying from here?
Michael: I have come to really enjoy Bangalore. It takes a while to get over its overwhelming energy, levels of noise and challenging environment but then, a very exalting world opens up. I will carry the smiling eyes and the sensitivity of the open-hearted people I have met in Bangalore.
(As told to Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran)