> back

Learn more about dance in Munich! In TTmag dance creators talk about their aesthetics and approach, dance formats and Munich dance topics are put under the microscope!

Conversations about pieces
Léonard Engel: Parotia

Léonard, your new piece is called "Parotia" - a piece for three whirling dancers. Parotia is the name of a bird that lives in New Guinea. During courtship, it performs ballerina-like dances ...

The title of the piece references the bird because this is the first image that came to my mind upon seeing Tanoura, an Egyptian folk dance that is one of the inspirations for the piece, about 4 years ago. Tanoura is a whirling dance in which the dancer performs different tricks and figure with several large weighted skirts tied around his waist. With the spinning motion, the skirts lift up to create some kind of tutu, much like the Parotia! I was at the time doing research for what became my first piece, „Pavane“, which is inspired by the mating rituals of several animal species, and I thought: “wow, I’m spending my days in the studio trying to mimic those birds, and here’s a century-old whirling dance that has been doing it this entire time without knowing it!”. Both Tanoura and the Parotia dance achieve something that fascinates me: the disappearance of the body through movement. In both cases, the dancer becomes an abstract shape, a circle moving in space. And this abstraction is one of the elements we are playing with in the piece.

You describe "Parotia" as a transcultural performance that combines oriental whiling dances with folk dance elements such as Dirndldrahn and - with its sculptural quality - also with artists such as Oskar Schlemmer and Loïe Fuller.

During my research on Parotia, I was quite fascinated by how this act of whirling kept reappearing in different cultures and for different reasons: as a way to achieve a trance-like state (in Ancient Greece), to connect to a god (the Sama of the spinning dervishes), to create impactful visual effects (the Tanoura) or in order to expose the undergarments of Bavarian and Tyrolean women (Dirdnldrahn). Even ballet as this tradition of the 32 fouettés!
The reference to Loïe Fuller and Oskar Schlemmer came from Tanoura itself. Wether in the Serpentine dance, the Triadisches Ballet or a Tanoura performance, the dancers use their body not to display their movements, but rather their costumes and the shape they can create with it. I think there is something very compelling in movements that are driven by a purpose, that show the work behind an effect.
With Parotia, I wanted to somehow those references and whirling techniques to create a performance at the crossroad of those influences. It’s not a Tanoura performance, it’s not a Bauhaus piece, but it owes to all of this.

This sculptural quality of the piece, i.e. the functionalisation of movement to create a form, is very important to you in "Parotia"...

With this piece, I’m interested in exploring the idea of kinetic sculpture. Through the act of whirling, every movement that is made take a different meaning, a different weight, and the performers need to be able to feel and react to the new parameters. All the movements are sculpted by this spinning motion, and the relations between the performers, the space and the shapes they create gain a new quality and are enhanced by it. To add to this, the dancers are dressed with really heavy skirts, which construction is borrowed to the Egyptian Tanoura costumes. Rather than using those skirt to perform tricks the way the Tanoura dancers do, we were interested in seeing how they can be treated as object to embellish, enhance or abstract the body of the performers. The shapes created only live through the centrifugal force of the spinning movement, and would fall apart if the performers were to stop spinning.

The costumes are very significant in your piece, how do you and your costume designer Josa Marx work together?

Josa Marx and I had the luxury to have some research time for the costumes. We’ve studied the different visual effects that could be achieved with the patterns of the skirt while whirling. In the end, we settled for a pattern that reminds both of the Bauhaus aesthetic and Marcel Duchamps’s rotoreliefs, which are optical discs which create a visual illusion when set in motion.

When it comes to music you work with the Paris based Iranien Duo 9T Antiope who combine experimental electronic, lyrics and voice.

I asked Sara Bigdeli Shamloo and Nima Aghiani (who form 9T Antiope) to join the project because I had met them on several occasions and liked their approach of electronic music. They compare their music to landscapes and this is also how I like to describe what we’re doing in “Parotia”. We’re slowly uncovering a landscape and populating it with different energies, rhythms and shapes.
For the piece, they’ve created a rather minimalistic piece, that leaves space to the audience imagination and resonates beautifully with the choreography. We’ll still be adjusting a few elements during the next few weeks of rehearsal, so this is still a work in progress!

Last: Léonard you really come from a classical ballet education and you have been soloist at the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich for eight years – was you most loved figure the pirouette?

Surprisingly no! I always really liked small jumps and petite batterie. Roght now, ballet seems such a far-away memory! But I might come back to it one way or the other. I had the chance to choreograph a ballet piece for the students of the professional dance school of Castilla y León in Burgos (Spain) last year and I really enjoyed it. I find it interesting to adapt the new perspectives I gained by turning towards a more experimental approach of dance to such an institution as ballet!

"Parotia" can be seen at the schwere reiter from 19-21 November, 20:00. Tickets are available here: schwere reiter

First glimpses can be seen in the trailer

More about Léonard Engel see his website

The interview with Léonard Engel was conducted by Simone Lutz, October 2021

Tanztendenz Munich e.V. is sponsored
by the Munich Department of Arts and Culture