Me You Us
Prize-nominated dance performance on me, you and what we are together
In low deck chairs upon the soft blue carpet of the performance installation, children and adults sit together in a circle. We explore a bright and wondrous universe where senses, music and movement provide nourishment for the small child’s sense of curiosity and pleasure at being human. Between child and adult, audience and dancers, a mutual atmosphere of companionship and amazement is created.
After the 30-minute performance, the stage will be open for discovery and play to explore further the impressions the children and adults have experienced together.
Age group: 6 months – 4 years, accompanied by adults.
Press release, 17 March 2009
Aaben Dans nominated for this year’s Reumert prize for ’Me You Us’
As the nominations for Denmark’s most prestigious theatre award, the Reumert, were announced today at 10am, Åben Dans learned it had made the list of nominees with ’Me You Us’.
The performance has been nominated in the category of best children’s performance, together with the National Ensemble for Children’s Theatre, Corona la Balance’s ’The Story of a Mother’ and ’The Tale of Sigurd and Brynhilde’ from another Zealand theatre, Det Lille Turnéteater in Næstved.
‘We are incredibly pleased and proud to be nominated for a Reumert. We are working with a fantastic team on ’Me You Us’, which is our first performance for small children. Our status as Roskilde’s town theatre gives us a great base to put together an inspired, strong artistic team,’ commented artistic managers Thomas Eisenhardt and Lisbeth Klixbûll from Åben Dans.
The Reumert award ceremony takes place on Sunday, 26 April in Copenhagen and will be broadcast on national television channel DR2. It will be the culmination of a hectic week for Åben Dans and also for ‘Me You Us’, as the company is to perform at the Children’s Theatre Festival in Ballerup over the preceding days. When ‘Me You Us’ was performed at the Children’s Theatre Festival in Horsens, expectations ran so high that extra seating had to be found for every showing – and others had to be turned away disappointed. Shortly afterwards, the show was one of very few of this season’s children’s performances to receive six stars in the theatrical paper ‘Børneteateravisen’ from reviewer Anne Middelboe Christensen.
With kind regards
The story of being human
The narrative before the story, or the account before it’s said. On making theatre for babies and art galleries. The thoughts behind the creation of the dance performance and installation ‘Me You Us’ for Åben Dans.
By Catherine Poher
To choose to work with a kind of performance that can also be enjoyed by young children is to choose to be as simple, exposed and present as a straight line – and yet simultaneously complex and varied. To ensure time and space are not filled to breaking point is vital when small children are involved. We aren’t here to fill them up as if they were empty vases; rather, we are here to light the fire – their joy at being alive.
Just like adults, children want to share with us everything about love, loneliness, day and night. The sun and the stars, shadows, fears and the moon. Beauty and the wind. The themes of a poet.
To escort small children into the theatre is to risk meeting the unpredictable: not knowing what one should do, or being surprised by a child’s reactions. It is to be an adult, who hasn’t planned for everything or who would like to control the situation, but is instead caught up in the present and the experience.
The door opens and we walk into a new room, a room where things have been placed. Maybe it’s dark in there – maybe music is playing. The moment we walk into the room, our senses, intuition and thoughts go into overdrive, letting us know if we should stay or if we should leave!
Babies lie in our arms and register that which I have just described directly through us.
The performance has not yet begun, and already our bodies and our subconscious have begun to react very precisely and to influence us internally.
Let’s imagine that we are now sitting, waiting expectantly.
The tyranny of expectations
We enter the performance space because we are searching for something; otherwise we’d simply stay at home. We want to have this experience. The child can sense when the adults are doing okay – when they are inquisitive, open and stimulated. As for the child, he or she has been forced into the room – no-one has asked them what they want, and the child can’t answer anyway. This is a big responsibility for the adults, who can’t allow themselves to be passive or disinterested, yet at the same time expect the opposite of the child. It is necessary to share the experience with the children, to create a resonance of feeling, to promote solidarity and allow oneself to be affected by what is happening here and now in the space. This might mean that the adults are forced to let go of their expectations and give in to the sense of intimacy, the unconscious, the basic urges that connect us all – what is sometimes called ’That there is’.
Gyldendal’s Dictionary of Foreign Words describes resonance as ‘a strengthening of sound by echoes or corresponding vibrations; that is, a vibrating body generating similar vibrations in another body, response or understanding.’
‘That there is’ is a connection with the child that lies deep inside of us – and which will remain there right up until our death. Performance that makes ‘that there is’ visible is meaningful for the baby, for the child and for the adult. It is a universal connection.
To write for the small is no easy task: it is to go directly to the essence. Babies have a very subtle understanding of a pre-verbal language. Children utilise their senses; they notice and are affected by their physical needs and feelings and react accordingly. Speech and thought processes come later. It is our job to fearlessly embrace the variety of expressions, unconnected or nonsensical words/ sounds, words that become music, rhythm, movement and synchronicity. We should hold up a mirror to their insatiable research and offer them emotions, poetry, aesthetics and close company.
The abstract world of the baby
In his book, ‘Baby’s Interpersonal World,’ Daniel Stern writes of how a baby experiences the world around him or her in the same way as an adult experiences abstract dance and music. A baby absorbs colours and shapes. It is aware of a number of abstract qualities: form, quantity, levels of intensity, curvature, symmetry, complexity and configurations. The baby notes the synchronicity between its own movements and those of others. The baby’s developmental task is to create a broad and tight-knit cohesive bond with other living beings. The child experiences how rich the everyday world really is. Many events occur simultaneously – a polyphony in complete harmony. The child makes note of the regularity of the course of events and delights in the repetition that mixes the recognizable in with new elements. In this way the baby gradually broadens its horizons.
‘The internal, subjective domain lies outside of consciousness and cannot be verbalised. It is present under circumstances like contemplative states, emotional states and in the perception of specific artworks, which are calculated to awaken emotions in opposition to verbal categorisation.’
Artists and small children share the same language
Even before language develops, we ‘talk’ with our bodies, for example through movement, facial expressions, sounds and energy: through our actions and through that which we create. All of us constantly want to say something. Artists are to an extreme degree plagued by the need to express themselves and to say something meaningful. The majority of artistic expression is wordless. Babies and small children have a very subtle understanding, in that they have not yet developed their mental and verbal understanding.
That is to say, that artists and small children share the same language.
It is a language that we as adults must rediscover; a language of sounds, words, movements, shapes and rhythms. We are obliged to push at that which we believe is right – to disrupt the naked truth, to place a question mark next to our adult viewpoint, to be open to unexpected acts – without the need to explain or indulge in logical or intellectual answers.
In other words, we must put ouselves in a vulnerable position where we voluntarily devote ourselves to complex connections and puzzles; where we dive deep beneath our conscious comprehension of the world to uncover a poetic universe that can open new ways of understanding.
Children can bring us adults back to the essence of being human.
‘Me You Us’
Thomas Eisenhardt, the artistic manager of the dance company ÅBEN DANS productions, has wanted to make a performance for babies for 11 years – since that day, in fact, when he took his four month-old son with him to a dance performance. He became fascinated by the deep concentration and level of focus his son held for almost 50 minutes. I was pleased that he asked me to develop the performance with him, as our collaboration is so deeply rooted in visual art. It is a work where form, expression and content play equal parts, crystallizing finally in a performance.
With ‘Me You Us,’ we give form to the eternal metamorphosis and continuous music of life that babies first experience with their mother before relating it to the rest of the world and casting themselves out into it – from me to you to us. Together with Rolf Søborg Hansen (joint set designer and prop maker), Markus Von Platen and Ivan Perard (musician and visual artist) and Gitte Knudsen (production manager and lighting designer), we create a space filled with light, colours, shapes, sound and music, inspired by the children’s own constant investigations of the world around them. With Ole Birger Hansen and Patricia Seron Pawlik we hope to rediscover those first movements we learnt to master as infants, too slow to be open up to our surroundings and be a part of the world. To grab, to reach out, to throw, to crawl and to play.
‘Me You Us’ develops as both a dance performance and an installation. It’s a space where adults and children can be involved together after the performance. The installation can also be placed inside a museum or a gallery, where visitors can experience it as an exhibition; they can sit down in it to watch the lights and listen to the music and the sounds, while becoming involved with the different objects.
We dream of making choreography, sequences and pictures that can trigger a response in our bodies, disrupt us in a positive way and make us feel like taking part in life. When performances come close to the mysteries of life, when a group of artists create something that can mirror our own experiences, our own stories, it can nourish our dreams.
Catherine Poher is a freelance director, set designer and artist. She has directed many performances for children, five of which received the Reumert award in the category of best performance for children in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2006.
Idea, concept: Catherine Poher and Thomas Eisenhardt
Director: Catherine Poher
Choreography: Thomas Eisenhardt
Dancers: Ole Birger Hansen, Therese Glahn or Matilde Wendelboe Dresler
Set design: Catherine Poher and Rolf Søborg Hansen
Music: Markus von Platen and Ivan Perard
Light design: Carina Persson
Production: Gitte Knudsen
Duration: 30 mins + playtime on the set afterwards
Technical requirements: Black-out curtains.
Stage size incl. audience seating: 7m wide x 7m long x 3.5m high.
Power: 380v, 3 x 16A