Interview with Florentina Holzinger & Vincent Riebeek
makers of the performance Schönheitsabend

Can you introduce yourself?
Florentina Holzinger, Vienna born choreographer living in Amsterdam.
I met Vincent at the choreographers education in Amsterdam (SNDO). We started working together in school as a byproduct of our friendship. We got picked up and ended up touring our shows in the European network of contemporary dance. We took this more or less pre-made path of old school upcoming EU dance makers together for 7 years or so, creating more or less 4-5 shows together and touring them all around. I guess this was needed to give us courage to persist in following our path and leave it at the right moments. Now we are cruising around the world, sometimes together, sometimes apart. We will never forget where we came from.

Do you notice a difference in audience between different countries and/or cities? 
Vincent:
Every audience is definitely different, but we can never tell for sure beforehand. It would be easy to say our work is better received in larger cities because it relates to an urban lifestyle but then again we have had shows that where pretty off the grid, f.i. all the way up north in Norway or in a small town in the south of Spain where we really connected with the audience. There are countries where our work is still considered exceptionally revealing. That can cause some commotion that we are not used to, in for example Germany, Austria, Belgium or in the Netherlands. On some occasions we have made it into gossip press, questioning if this is still art or if (and probably) the state funds porn etc. Once a journalist called Flo’s mom to find out how much we earn (laughs). Luckily we are usually already out of town before the discussion gets heated.

What is your opinion on the social relevance of theatre?
Vincent:
As long as theatre is there, it is hard to answer that question, because it feels sometimes as if it concerns only such a small part of society. I can answer it by imagining there would be no theatre anymore. It leaves me with the feeling that something ancient would have gotten lost. A way of coming together and both looking back and forward at the same time. As I feel it, art is not only a reflection of society, but at its best leads the direction in which to go forward.

What drives you to be creative?
Florentina:
I guess the same thing that drives you for life in general. It’s just about more freedom in defining the occupation you want to have at the moment. Also the inability to be happy in a conventional way of life I think. (If I would study law like my parents want me too, I would be so unsatisfied that I would get very depressed. So this is kind of a disability, and in order to cope with it, I need to find a survival mechanism: I need to be creative)

What role did theatre/dance have for you when you grew up?
Florentina:
Not really an important role. I never wanted to become a dancer or something like that, I was a very introvert child. As a teenager I discovered performance through a friend of mine. Basically I had tried out different forms of therapy as a teenager to deal with issues and I always hated talking therapy and stuff and guess my first experience with dance/training really took the place of some kind of physical therapy for me. Like I found my way to express my feelings (laughs). Still I must say (but then I didn't know this interests were related), I always loved to read Jelinek of course and stumbled into Schlingensiefs Adaptation of Bambiland and that was a life changing event. Then I realized that there can be something interesting happening on a stage, something I had really doubted before.

Vincent:
Dance and theatre were a very social and natural part of my upbringing. I come from an eccentric family and at home we were always dancing and dressing up. I grew up in the suburbs of Amsterdam and my friends and me would spend our time learning the newest dance moves of the MTV. We’d move all the furniture and rehearse at home or on the street to put up shows for the local community. As a teenager it helped me to be confident. It’s not always a positive thing to be singled out as special or different, especially during those years of development, I would have loved to blend in. It helped to know this place where that was applauded. I worked my whole way through high school to afford dance classes in the evenings and at a later age to join the pre-education program at the AHK. Throughout my senior year at high school I was fully focused on entering a dance academy, I saw it as a way out of the suburbs, and to get in touch with different people then I was exposed to. That is really what it did for me once I got into the academy.
From the moment I started dancing I have met so many wonderful teachers that encouraged my individual expression as a dancer. It is really to them that I owe the confidence with which I dance on stage today. I was very lucky to meet teachers at an early age that made me appreciate dance beyond mere athletics and technical expertise.

If you hadn’t become an artist, what would have been your profession?
Vincent:
If I could have become anything else I would have probably done that. I have a long list of imaginary professions I ‘could’ do, but that’s extremely hypothetical. I dream of being a soldier or a police officer, so I could change the face of the law. When I was younger I would have wanted to become a lawyer but I really can’t sit still for all the reading.

Florentina:
I think I would always be an artist, whatever I’d be doing. I really hope I won’t be called dancer or choreographer forever, I mean that’s just an alibi to be able to exist in a certain frame or that somebody feels responsible for you in a certain way (audience/institutions/press/the state etc.) but being an artist is not the work that you do per se. You can apply being an artist to anything you do.
I would love to have a late athletic career, but I’d still be an artist I guess, even a more confident one (laughs). Lots of people are living undercover as artists. I am really against the fact that people make their kids believe that when they get out of school at 18, their best option is to sit another five years behind a bench (any bench really) listening to some old fucks talking about unapplied BS. That’s sad I think.

A starting-point for Schönheitsabend is the famous Sheherazade. Where does your interest in dance history come from?
Vincent:
When Flo and I started working I was completely uninformed about art history. It would be other people that first put our work in that context for me and introduced me to the works that what we were doing related to for them. That way I got a very personal introduction into dance history. By working in the frame of the theatre we are part of that context and what we do is in relation to what has happened there before.

Florentina:
That came when our first ‘commission’ happened to us (laughs). Like people would read this historical references in our work, compare us to a certain era in dance (German 20s in that case) and would invite us to ‘research around’ their archive. We loved this as a ‘frame’. Also we understood then how easy that makes it to write about the work in a way people actually understand. So that was a revelation. We always found it corny though how people get fished by institutions to make works like this, just because they know that’s how you get the money from the funds. So we kind of really had to deal with this and then make it work for us and not against us.

How do you deal with taboos on stage, be it in the representation of sex and gender roles of concerning violence and power relations?
Vincent:
I perceive my responsibility as an artist and performer on stage the same as a member of society and a human being in general. The way I deal with these issues speaks for how I deal with them in general and my views on them. At the same time, the theatre can serve as a safe place where we can set up artificial circumstances that allow things to happen that go beyond what would be generally acceptable.

In 2013 you have performed Wellness at SPRING. What were the reactions like and in what extent do you think the reactions will differ from this year on your new piece?
Florentina:
I don’t know. People loved it here, I think, if I remember it well.
Performing in the Netherlands is special for us though for 2 reasons. First it’s kind of home base. That means we have our friends in the audience who are our greatest supporters and harshest critics at same time. Second we are performing for one of the most spoiled human species on the planet. Bored, theatre spoiled, white, oversaturated to the max, etc… SPRING is their haven. That’s not exactly the audience that ‘needs’ us I mean.
Wellness is this show that ‘works’, it does its job. People get it, I mean we made it in that way that my grandmother wouldn’t get confused too much and my artist roommates wouldn't get bored at the same time.
Schönheitsabend is more radical in my opinion, not throwing shade on Wellness, but I think it is. It’s just the both of us going back to some of our first issues but in a more refined way. It’s a very simply work, so I find it more complex, there is more space in it, if you know what I mean. It’s better for us, now, with all the experience we have, all this history share, it’s us trying to stay uncorrupted, or fighting corruption- whatever that means. Let’s see, I'm excited to show it.