White Horse Collective press photo for 'Trip' enmasse

The White Horse Collective

Speaking with choreographers of White Horse Collective of their iconic piece ‘Trip’, and reuniting with the piece after nearly a decade.

Published: August 14, 2017Words: J.Scott StrattonArtist Link: whitehorsecollective.wordpress.com

Can you tell when and how the collective White Horse was founded?

Christoph: It was founded while working on the piece ‚White Horse – an attempt at live therapy‘; more specifically when Lea and I were performing it at the 100°Berlin Festival. We saw a call for proposals hanging in the staircase of Sophiensaele. The Freischwimmer Festival, a platform for young theater makers, was looking for concepts for performances about the subject ‚Rausch‘, which maybe would best translate into English as a state of trance or intoxication.

Lea: and I were still studying at the SNDO and so was Julia. Julia was showing another piece at 100°Berlin and so we decided together to write a concept for a piece for Freischwimmer. A first idea was that we wanted to alter our consciousness and hopefully also affect the consciousness of the audience through extreme physical states including prolonged periods of shaking, laughing, trembling etc. So in a way, our concept was to elicit the body to produce its own drugs through physical exhaustion.

Did you have a central premise or objective for the Collective from the beginning, or does it evolve from work to work?

Christoph: We first just put all of our energy and creativity into TRIP which was our debut piece and actually has been the most successful and most talked about of our works to date. We realized that TRIP was a politically charged and socially relevant piece for people, into which different everyone could project different ideas, collective desires, fears, utopias etc.

It had all started from a wish to completely surrender and give ourselves to one common goal, to fight for one cause . . . but without having to choose one, just through physical exertion and insistence, a desire that seemed too dangerous and impossible to realize in real life with all its complexity and paradox.

So after TRIP we somehow felt we wanted to continue along this track and followed an intuitive wish for falling in love unconditionally and totally, a wish for a perfect world of giddiness and romance, where emotions are always bubbling happily and expectantly waiting for the prince on a white horse on the horizon coming to save and embrace us . . . this was our second piece ROMANCE. And then the third one GROUPIES was about different ways of devotion, focusing on a spectrum of different forms of prayer and religious rites. So I would say we kind of had this central premise of dedication to social phenomena and their unconditional, physical embodiment.

Lea: In retrospect, my impression of the molding of the collective as a group with certain qualities, a certain aesthetic signature, and recognizable working methods was very much a synergy not only between us three. How we were addressed by theatres, curators, how others described and placed the work was also substantial in the emergence of what White Horse was.
It could feel like a brand with different players that could be built on further, but we didn’t know anymore what the substance of it was.

And even though this time of collective visibility was relatively short, it might have become a corset for us with not enough space and easy to find what holds us together–besides an outside interest till pressure.

So within the structure of the collective individual ideas, visions, needs, priorities, limits had grown. And so we grew somewhere else, all in a bit different directions. But now, coming together for this performance, a corsage in itself that inheres both the violence of obeying to a structure where everyone has to do the same and the freedom of an individual self-being allowed to vanish and dissolve within something mutual, is a great honor and evokes gratefulness.

Has the collective always been divided between Berlin and Bern?

Christoph: No, in the beginning, we all lived in Amsterdam. When the collective was founded we were all studying at the SNDO. Then Lea moved back to Berlin and eventually, Julia followed suit and I moved back to Switzerland. Two of our later works were co-produced by Hebbel am Ufer Berlin and Dampfzentrale Bern. I believe that this division between cities and countries and the connection to Holland, where we all met, worked quite a bit to our advantage in terms of co-production and funding opportunities.

How does the collective operate across physical distance and borders? What was the process for developing work?

A lot of Skype meetings. In the beginning, it was easier when we all lived in Amsterdam. But arranging conference calls and times that suit everybody to meet on Skype has been one of the major challenges and annoyances I would say. At least for myself. And may be also one of the reasons why the collective broke up.

Do you each engage in your own solo work? Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Christoph: Yes. It was important for me to also develop my own work and collaborate with other people. Being entirely committed to one collective wouldn’t have worked for me I think.

Lea: Julia is now a devoted Grinberg practitioner and based in Berlin with occasional flings with the theatre. I live in Berlin as well, work as a dancer and choreographer with different people, often in collaboration, sometimes as the artistic head of projects, sometimes as a performer for others and sometimes in community and educational contexts, such as dance in refugee homes, in the neighbourhood or within the creation of an opera for 70 children.

White Horse Collective press photo for 'Trip' enmasse

Back to White Horse, can you give me an example of what you mean when you say that the “aim of the collective is to approach social phenomena and their resulting questions”? Is this still the objective of the collective?

Wow, big words that can be read in a very broad sense that we wrote there. If I think of the statements of relevance around artworks, like a seal, like a label, I wonder if that comes from the fear of not being taken seriously, the fear others might not find connections to other contexts, words, imagination beyond the studio world you work in.

As if a more concrete, less universal, less political sounding reason for doing something, perceiving something, bringing an artwork together into existence wouldn’t be already a lot. The aim of the collective was many aims, not only one.

To approach social phenomena physically was probably one of them. But what did we mean by that? I guess we meant the desire for community, to find meaning beyond the ambition for individual achievement, we found something compelling in phenomenon where a strong group spirit can and shall arise, where everything is designed for immersive experiences, like demonstrations, concerts, spiritual services and in the same time were we looking for a way to deal with the aversion, the sense of danger and the loss of critic that can go along with unification.

The theatre seemed to be a good place where the range of these relations between being part of something, devoting yourself fully, becoming one with a certain opinion and statement, a certain belief and the refusal and attention of such an immersed state could be examined.

We made the attempt of complete absorption of a state which had as a consequence the absence of any critic or differentiation. And we wondered and hoped that through such an embracing approach what was missing would become apparent.

You have also stated that “White Horse wants to challenge the audience’s reception to a theme on a personal level, stimulated by an experience”, can you elaborate on this a little?

This might relate to the embracing approach that I mentioned in the question above. The pieces were an invitation to the ones receiving to be immersed and to allow physical empathy to a wide extend and therefore hopefully a personal experiential approach.
In the same time through the duration of processes was it meant to be an open enough contemplation to allow for distance, questioning, bailing out, reflection- but rooted within an experience.

White Horse Collective press photo for 'Trip' enmasse

After not work together for 5 years, has your process changed now that you have come together again?

Christoph: We haven’t actually physically come together yet as I’m answering these questions.
Of course we had to write emails and Skype a few times, but the three of us will physically meet for the first time on October 22nd, one week before the performance in Copenhagen. I won’t be able to perform at the Works at Work festival because of a premiere with another performance, so Maria Mavridou, a fourth performer who has performed TRIP many times in the past, will step in for me.

Back in the White Horse days we had some more or less clear division of tasks : each person was doing what they felt they knew how to do best: Lea was most responsible for publicity texts and funding applications, Julia was good with contracts and budgets and clear communication while I had a knack for timetables, online presence (managing the website/blog) and basic marketing strategies if you want to call it by that name. . .

Lea and Julia also kept the bank account for the collective and made the money transfers.The choreography and creative work was most of the time a collective endeavor. The biggest difference is that we now have a production manager who takes on most of the work load as far as subsidy applications, budgets, contracts etc are concerned.

What was it like revisiting that work Trip after 10 years?

Christoph: We will really revisit it as a full-on rehearsal and studio situation on October 22nd, one week before the festival. So I will answer that question then.

Of course there is the fear of not having the same stamina, although I have been quite disciplined with Astanga yoga lately. Part of me wonders if it’s really worth it to waste myself so much again in a dance performance, if my body will still be able to handle it and enjoy it. The piece is a bit like an extreme sport I reckon, although I personally don’t have much experience with those kinds of sports apart from running a half marathon once. Another part of me really longs for that complete surrender to the physical exertion and exhaustion. I remember it always felt like a cleansing ritual. Sweating and stampeding and shaking out all the shit and all the unnecessary fears and doubts and confusion. I’m looking forward to that and hope it still works the same after so many years.

Lea: Julia and me already did a run in a studio under the roof having the video beside us. It was horrible to see myself, knowing I felt then so strong and intense and this little person on the screen not at all matching this impression. It was kind of easy and light, less impressive and big. It was great to be and sweat beside Julia. It was not as much of a big deal as it used to be. Let’s see if that impression stays when being in the theatre.

Beyond Trip, what does the future hold for White Horse?

In November we will perform Trip in Madrid at Casa Encendida. In the spring 2017 four more Trip performances are planned at Sophiensaele in Berlin, but neither the dates nor the funding are confirmed.

In 2018, we possibly will perform a bigger version of Trip together with the Inu Collective in Stockholm. Beyond TRIP there are no other specific plans for future projects with the White Horse collective.