“O” by Philippe Kratz. Photograph by Alice Vacondio

Essential Quest with Philippe Kratz

Born in 1985 in Leverkusen, Philippe Kratz first encountered dance with the German Tanztheater through pedagogue and choreographer Suheyla Ferwer. He then studied classical ballet at the École Supérieure de Dance du Québec in Montréal and at the Staatliche Ballettschule in Berlin. As a former long-time company member of Italian Aterballetto, he has worked with numerous international dance makers before deciding to deepen his understanding of, and artisanship in, choreography. In 2018 he created and danced “O,” which won Hanover’s choreography competition, as well as a residency with the Australian Dance Theatre. His work often focuses on resilience and its myriad of manifestations in processes like construction, destruction, deconstruction and recomposition. The result is a magnetic, gentle and intimate work resulting in a projection of stratified memories and essential quests. 

How old were you when you started dancing? What or who brought you into dance? 

I started dancing when I was four years old in a little private school in Leverkusen, Germany, my hometown. I think shortly before that time my mum and her colleagues had organised an after-work dinner in a Lebanese restaurant in Düsseldorf. That night, when everyone had finished eating, a bellydancer started performing to live music. I must have been standing there staring at her, immobilised for 20 minutes straight. As many kids, throughout my childhood I had always been moving to whatever music there was playing, so after that event, my mum decided that I should start getting in to dance, as she has always encouraged any interest in the arts.

Aterballetto in “afterimage” by Philippe Kratz. Photograph by Celeste Lombardi

Would you tell me about your experience as dancer at the Aterballetto? 

Like all touring companies, Aterballetto is many things at the same time. I joined the company in order to work with Mauro Bigonzetti and to be able to go on tour internationally, when I was 22 years old. That’s what the company meant to me at that time, but over the years it transformed. I was in Aterballetto for 13 years and still am affiliated with it. I grew from a junior dancer to a senior dancer, I saw many changes in terms of direction, choreographers, touring schedules, fellow dancers. For sure there were colleagues who changed my view on the work and on the world, choreographers who left a lasting impression on me, who propelled me to dig deeper on a technical as well as an emotional level. We danced works by Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, Johan Inger, Hofesh Shechter, Jiri Kylian, Cristina Rizzo, Rihoko Sato. It is hard to distill that time into one precise experience, at least for now. I left the company not even a year ago, I still need time to digest. What is for sure is that I now kind of miss the community feeling that we had as a company, although I know that even at the time I was craving the liberty of making my own schedule as a freelance choreographer.

Can you tell me about the transition from being full time dancer to being choreographer? 

Maybe I will start by saying that the transition could have never happened without Cristina Bozzolini, the former artistic director of Aterballetto. She really is one of the last grandes dames of Italian contemporary dance and encouraged and supported so many exciting Italian choreographers in their beginnings. She is fantastic, we still are good friends and I will be staging a new work for her Nuovo Balletto di Toscana in Florence this July. As for my transition, it has definitely been the most exciting process and the scariest at the same time. Being commissioned work for Aterballetto from my mid-twenties on the one side was a huge privilege because I got to work with incredibly beautiful dancers, but at the same time I was quite exposed from a young age, so every mistake I made was quickly out there in the open. That felt quite terrifying sometimes, but I would do it again in a heartbeat, I learned so much.

“Phoenix” by Philippe Kratz. Photograph by Nadir Bonazzi

Do you keep dancing with Aterballetto also working as choreographer? 

There still are a couple of projects that I am participating in as a dancer and I will forever in some way be linked to the company, I think, but I feel it is also time to move on now. Let’s not ruin a beautiful run in the last stretch.

In 2018 you created “O” where you danced and choreographed. How did you find yourself in this double role?

”O“ is special to me in a lot of ways. The piece had its debut in June of 2018, but we had been rehearsing it since November of 2017. To be precise, I had started working on it right after my premiere of “Phoenix“ in the end of April that year. ”Phoenix“ was my first work in which I felt entirely confident, like I had created something honest and meaningful. That confidence made me go into the studio alone the next morning to record myself moving. Out of that little video O“ evolved. So I knew I was going to take on the challenge of dancing this new work myself. 

The work “O” is an engaging duet you dance with Ivana Mastroviti. How did this creation begin? What does “O” stand for? 

Ivana Mastroviti is one of the most beautiful and generous dancers that I know. Her patience, attention to detail, grounded physicality, wit and strength propelled and enhanced my vision in every way. “O“ simply would not be without her. As I said I started the creation with her in November of 2017, so we had much time to experiment and edit, which was such a gift. Can you imagine asking your colleague to stay with you in the studio after work and on their free days to work on your ideas, for months on end? And that colleague accepting? I am so grateful she did! “O“ is based on the first press conference held between two humanoid robots in Hong Kong in July of 2017, so it’s sort of a celebration of eternity. Human beings recreating themselves as inorganic material to then exist forever. But there is of course that risk that fundamental human qualities are not teachable to lifeless matter, so in the minimalist stage set there is a reference to the computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“open drift (2021), swans never die project” is a work you have created in 2021 for two dancers, Antonio Tafuni and Nagga Baldina. You took inspiration from Michel Fokine and Anna Pavlova’s iconic “Dying Swan” solo from 1905. Your piece is a new take on an old theme with young performers, reminding the magic, beauty and excitement that fresh beginnings can bring. Can you tell me more about the story behind this piece?

Pavlova and Fokine’s “The Dying Swan“ is a solo about the final moments of a living being and as such it alludes to the idea of transformation. We are observing a creature morphing into a different state of existence. The liveliness of the last flaps of the wings, the restlessness in the constant drifting from stage left to stage right, the helplessness and sense of abandon in the facial expression, they all indicate that we are witnessing an act of conversion. So I asked myself: Is it even possible to encapsulate a single moment in time? As we started working on this piece, I was already transitioning out of my role as a company-bound dancer, that I was lucky to be in for 15 years. But it was not a time to be either sentimental or nostalgic, on the contrary, the creation was an attempt at acknowledging a precise moment in time and being able to give it the attention it deserved. As Nagga and Antonio, who were 18 and 20 years old at the time, were transitioning into their processes as professional dancers, I on the contrary was transitioning out of it, so it felt like we had a lot to say to each other—and still do.

The absorbing shadows created by the performers in “Open Drift” have a decisive role in the dramaturgy of the piece. Would you like to tell me what the shadows represents for you?

Although they play a fundamental part in the piece, it should not be specifically clear what these projections symbolise. I feel like they have a life on their own and I love this hint of transcendence. As human beings we want to understand everything all the time, see meaning in things, but sometimes it necessary to feel and just let images inundate and overwhelm us. Maybe these shadows are pictures of an afterlife or a forecast of what is to be, maybe they are the über-ich (superego). Who knows!

Aterballetto in “Cloud Materia” by Philippe Kratz. Photograph by Alice Vacondio

In 2021 you created also “afterimage” which is a piece interwoven with technology where a performer, Tom Van de Ven, appears to be trapped in a projected screen resembling a cage. What is your relationship to technology and dance? 

“Afterimage“ is kind of an homage to the stunning and legendary workings of Loïe Fuller as it immerses Tom in a kaleidoscope of colours. The selection of colours is based on a story that Tom told me of his life as a student, so it actually stems from a personal background. I then went ahead and transposed the written story into colours according to Goethe’s chromatic circle from 1810, for example, yellow is linked to the image of the bonvivant and the lover, purple is attributed to the teacher and the philosopher, and so on. So basically, through this piece we tell stories on three levels: through the mesmerising soundscape by the Belgian collective Pablo’s Eye, the chromatic flashes of the projections designed by OOOPStudio and the shapes that Tom creates with his body. Through this kind of overloading experience the attempt is to not create one precise narrative thread but leave the audience with a residue feeling, a kind of emotional afterimage. It was my first time interacting with technology as a choreographer and I enjoyed it much more than I thought. I like to highlight the sacredness of the body and feel that sometimes technology tends to overwhelm it and makes it only a by-product, but in this case it truly worked well.

Would you tell me about your working method as choreographer? 

This, of course, depends on the piece, but in general, I try to be as detailed as possible in my research. I feel that only this way I can create urgency within my work and if it is not there, I am easy to feel kind of lost in the process and that is a horrible feeling for everyone involved. I also always notice how I am easily drawn to big female personalities, so my research revolves around them many times. Within these two parameters, for example, I am trying to think about two aspects: How is this relevant today? What does it mean to me on a personal level? Creating a personal relationship with each subject is another catalyst that I find very useful in triggering creativity. With a child-like approach the work can transform into a sort of honest, hedonistic process. But that definitely is an ideal situation—sometimes a choreographic process also requires counting eights and drawing group formations on a notebook.

What is your choreographic approach with the dancers working for your creations?

Yes, I much enjoy inviting people into my work and have them create movement with a task-based approach. I always feel that this way the work becomes more honest for the dancer. It is also an opportunity not to repeat myself too much, and at that a learning process for myself as well. As a choreographer I grew up creating on my colleagues, so these were people of my same age but with different backgrounds, that I had a lot of respect for. I always aimed to make them feel understood in the studio and I still try and do that with everyone I work with. Although there is a balance to be held—because at the end I have to take most of the decisions—I have always found a joint effort more gratifying than one that is hierarchy-based.

Philippe Kratz’s “Phoenix.” Photograph by Nadir Bonazzi

Do you work with dramaturges? If so, what do you value in their role?

I am about to embark on a journey with dramaturg Sarah Ströbele for a piece that we will be creating for Theater Magdeburg. It is based on the life and workings of anarcho-feminist writer and poet Louise Aston and it is my first true creation with a dramaturg, I am super excited.

What is on for the upcoming months? 

Right now I am about to premiere “to get to become,“ a work created for the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich about the “artists’ struggle for integrity“ monologue spoken by the fantastic James Baldwin in New York in 1962. I will also continue “open drift“ which was selected by the Aerowaves network, we will be in Luxembourg, Rome and so on. In July we will premiere “midnight youth,“ a 15-minute quintet, with Nuovo Balletto di Toscana in Florence. After the summer I will be creating longer pieces with the dance companies of Teatro alla Scala and Theater Magdeburg, both works will premiere in February of 2023. And then I will return to Aterballetto for a small co-production with the Opéra d’Avignon that is to see its debut in May of that year.

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