Language that doesn't need translation: an interview with choreographer Volha Kastsel

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Volha Kastsel
Volha Kastsel
Volha Kastsel
I have moved to Luxembourg five years ago, and for the last two years, I have been permanently living here. We started a project based on the Luxembourg Ballet. My career as a ballet and opera director began back in 2008. I graduated from the Belarus Choreography School, worked at the National Bolshoi Theatre for Opera and Ballet in Minsk, and I also graduated from the University of Dramatic Arts in Berlin.
Language that doesn't need translation: an interview with choreographer Volha Kastsel

The current stage project I'm working on is created with the help of performers from Luxembourg and the stars of the National Opera of Ukraine. It is a unique collaboration between Luxembourg Ballet, CUBE 521 Theatre Space, and Opderschmelz Dudelange. The project is being supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Luxembourg Choreographic Center TROIS C-L.

Why all we need is ballet

And I don't mean just ballet, the dance in general. Similar to literature, music, visual arts, architecture, and dancing — is a language, that helps us share things we can not say, or even are afraid to say, using emotions. This is the beauty and the power of the dance. So I believe this direction has a lot of potential, especially in uneasy and stressful times like this.

Creating something aesthetically appealing for humanity — is also a power. The only one, in my opinion, that man does not resist. A person resists the truth one way or another, especially when it is displeasing. But never the beauty.

I can honestly tell you that no one in the local sphere of dance do anything faintly resembling what our troupe does. Usually, you see a few people on stage. We approach it differently: live musicians, forming an orchestra, and ten dancers. The synthesis of music, dance, and costume art is what our audience experiences.

The line of visual storytelling for the performance is created by the team: we come up with the character image ourselves and, once it's finished, we give it to the tailor.

For me, Carmen is not only a «femme fatale», but also a feministic figure: she will be dressed resembling a toreador. I want to show that she is equal in her courage to the male figures.

After all, in order to tell the truth to one's face, you have to be a truly brave person. And Carmen in fact is: she owns her body and handles it as recklessly boldly as she wants. But there's also such a haze of romanticism, of course, and mysticism about her character.

A timeless Carmen

The reason for its undying relevance is that the classics often expose us to universal archetypes. They are transcendental and, as far as ballet is concerned, they invite us to understand something that has always been important to human beings without words. Luxembourg is incredibly diverse, we have different audiences, locals or natives, and a lot of foreigners. And we all talk to them in a language that doesn't need a translation.

Right now I'm working with precisely these kinds of archetypes. There was «Don Juan» in the fall. His opposition on the female side is Carmen. I was intrigued by two aspects:

  • the manifestation of beauty as an all-conquering force, and
  • the manifestation of feelings as an element that raises the human to the heavens and brings them down to the abyss. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that we may suffer, but when that emotion fades, we look for it again.

The modern individual is trying hard to avoid disappointment. And at the same time, there are so many dating sites today, all kinds of matchmaking, and projects on how to find a soulmate so that you won't be disappointed will fall in love, and will be happy. In other words, we are desperate for that feeling.

Still, we cannot fully grasp love as a phenomenon. No matter how much it has been analyzed — by Weber, Fromm, and before that, starting from Plato and Aristotle, no matter how much has been said about love, everyone has their own interpretation. When it comes to love, we mind chemistry and biology, and still have no clue what love actually is.

The story of strong feelings — both destructive and inspiring — has been with me for a long time. Five years ago, «Anna Karenina» was my everything. I have almost lived with Tolstoy for three years: read all of his diaries, analyzed the periods of his work, watched him write alongside, and studied the music of Tchaikovsky and how the composer was inspired by Tolstoy's work. And that's how the performance, which is still considered the best in my home country and is still being successfully staged to this day, was born.

Then my mind was captured by «Don Juan», the ideology of a collectioner and certain boredom that emerged in new age humans, when religion became secondary and the desire to "copy" emerged. Yet, in contrast, love seemed like something very real, very rare, a miracle. In our era, when the miracle is multiplied at a click, this feeling vanishes. Don Juan gave up the real feeling, the real miracle, and only tried to repeat the moment all the time. That, I think, was his problem.

«Carmen» is different. I'm more fascinated by the inner world of mankind, by how defenseless we are in front of feelings. These sentiments both encourage you and toss you into the deep end. But once you experience them, you try to feel them again.

As I study Mérimée's biography, I notice not only the writer himself but the story of modern man as well. The writer never really had a relationship, it was always some flingings. Eventually, he didn't make much of a personal life.

In Carmen Mérimée was writing about himself in many ways, how much he thirsted for love. And how much he needed it.

To conclude the subject of strong feelings and classical characters, I would also like to stage «Romeo and Juliet» in the future. At the heart of the story are love and pointless hatred, the reasons for which no one even recalls anymore.

The body always mirrors an époque. Whereas culture is always a repression of certain things. When we're staging classical works from the Romantic period, it's essential to portray them in contemporary language. The body behaved one way in the eighteenth century, but in the twenty-first century, it acts completely differently.

Фото: Christian Kieffer, с репетиции «Кармен», новой постановки Ballet Luxembourg

What makes this ballet exceptional

I would say a symbiosis of different ballet schools. There is certainly a difference between the way ballet is taught in Belarus and Russia and in Western Europe. Especially in terms of excellence — a very fanatic approach persists in Eastern countries. Dostoyevsky wrote that «a russian man is wide, I would narrow him down». Once it's the end of the world, it's going all the way down. Can't be done lightly.

But Europeans are more balanced, they are not "too much", I think. And you can see that in the profession, too. Of course, they work a lot too, but everything is on schedule, no obsessions. Europeans are very disciplined in their professional life. Sometimes they can be a little bit stiff, though.

And as a choreographer, you have to keep an eye and a strong hand on eastern school dancers. Their fanatism, and emotions can create fascinating forms, but it is still complicated at the beginning.

I think the troupe compliments each other perfectly, like yin and yang. You will see it on stage.

We're staging this play on a rather tight deadline. Usually, performance preparation takes six weeks, but we're putting it up in a month instead. That's why we're working in three shifts, but I am sure we'll make it.

Hopefully, in the years to come, we'll move on to bigger and more wholesome spectacles. Right now we're using our bodies to draw the story, and it's memorable. Imagine if we add landscapes and scenery to what we already have, something really amazing will happen.

«Carmen» premiere is planned on February 25-26 at Cube 521 in Clervaux and on March 1 at Opderschmelz, Dudelange.

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Authors: Daria, Maria