Photo: Jelena Janković
Photo: Jelena Janković

One performance cannot change the world, but people can be made to think about important topics, Vandekeybus believes. As he explained, Traces are an extremely engaged performance, but his intention was not to make a performance about environmental crisis. This is a more subtle and yet brutal story about the connections between man and nature that got broken, and the consequences of that, placed within a setting that represents the final European wilderness, the giant forests of Romania which are getting destroyed. He went to Romania, and found numerous sources of inspiration, starting with the nature itself, ritual dances of renewal performed by people dress up in bear skins, Romani tradition of taming bears, Balkan music. Among the works by the photographer Josef Koudelka, made in the seventies, he saw a photo of Romania depicting a road cutting through a forests and Romani people next to it. That gave rise to the vision of what we saw on “Ljuba Tadić” stage in Yugoslav Drama Theatre.

"If something happens then it can mean something. I never start with the meaning of something"

The process itself, however, did not start from an initial vision given to the performers, who would, then, be expected to rehearse and convey it to the audience. On the contrary, Vandekeybus, who calls himself an action-driven director, explained, his concept is based on setting a plot without explaining what and how, because that is something he’d rather leave to the audience, and stimulate them to an intellectual comprehension.

So, the process was based on trial and error, which the director compares to gardening: everything is growing bit by bit, you plant one thing after another, plants don’t grow at the same time, something grows, and something dies. Basic dramaturgy does exist but is not fixed, since it is a collective piece of work in which all the members of the troupe contribute to the dramaturgy, Vandekeybus said. Everyone was forced to improvise, so entire scenes were created through directed improvisation (in the first several shows, music was live and improvised too, and therefore each time different).

“Wim always insists that we bring something that is personal but that can communicate with people and be connected to the story. That is a collaborative work, it demands a lot of effort and a lot of compromise from both sides. All of us give something but that something can be changed in order to suit withing the whole that is being created”, one of the dancers, Alexandros Anastasiadis, explained.

What contributes to the success of this approach is an international structure of the troupe, the performers’ different imagination, systems, and response to the director’s instructions. That is very important for the dancers, Anastasiadis pointed out, for that is how each person’s potentials and individual features are fully employed, as opposed to imposing one idea.

"It forces the people to feel that it's their show, and that's the only reason why they are so good.", Vandekeybus concluded.

Ignorance Is Bliss

A striking role of the leader, played by Borna Babić from Croatia, who was particularly interesting to the local audience because it breaks through the language barrier, became one of the topics of the discussion, opening one of the key questions of the responsibility for the natural disasters. Although potentially unexpected, Minja Bogavac noticed, this character, which leads destructive actions, is not malevolent, but likeable and comical. Vandekeybus explains that he is not a bad person, but someone who unknowingly does bad things. He truly loves asphalt and is proud of building a road through the forest. Such a character illustrates our collective unawareness and “innocence”. Humanity has for centuries unknowingly caused many disasters, such as massive extinction of species over the past four decades, caused by the negligence of one generation of the humanity. It was necessary for a generation of children to grow up who, forty years later, would say - there is a problem, and you will not solve it unless you slow down.

Ultima Vez and Iggy Pop

At the end of the talk with the author, we had an opportunity to hear a lovely story about how the troupe Ultima Vez was founded.  It starts with Wim Vandekeybus who dropped out of his studies of photography and psychology to take up dancing. He performed in Jan Fabre troupe, and also played at Bitef long time ago. However, when Fabre decided to work with professional dancers only, Vandekeybus, who did not have a formal education, left the troupe, and decided to make his own performance. He gathered a troupe of ten people and worked for six months on the performance “What the Body Does Not Remember”. It was an astonishing debut, whose success, according to the author, partially comes from innocence, youth, and a different perspective he had in comparison what is taught in theatre and ballet schools. That’s when he received an invitation from The Kitchen troupe from New York to come and perform, but on their own expense. They borrowed the money, slept at the technicians’, but they did perform. Among the people in the audience, there was also Iggy Pop, who was seen tap dancing in the audience alongside the performers during the final scene. They won the award, starting a dance revolution, as they named them.

You can see the entire discussion at the link provided, or Bitef YouTube channel.



Audience Survey:

Ivan Ilić, physical therapist

Amazing! How human civilization is leaving traces everywhere for future generations will only cause mother nature to eventually swallow us. The nature will have the last say. And there’s no technical contraptions or mechanisms that will save us. Love might be able to help, but I’m afraid it might be too late.


Bouziane Bouteldja, dancer, choreographer, and the founder of the dance company Dans6t

Amazing dancers. I really enjoyed watching them, I saw a lot of truly great ones. The duet was my favourite. For me, it was a bit too long, it lacked depth of expression and emotion. We saw an amazing technique but not enough emotions. And that’s what I need, emotion. I expected more contact with the audience. It definitely was a beautiful performance, but I am still wondering…


Mad Max, hip hop dancer

This was a beautiful performance, especially the dancers. Very compact and fluid.