Victor Callens is a real icon at ICK since he is part of the ensemble for nearly 15 years! Each month ICK features one dancer, starting with a beautiful video portrait and ending with a one time online interview with the audience. In this one on one talk, Victor reveals more about himself and shares his philosophy, career path and inspirations.
Who is Victor Callens, if not a dancer?
I am a nature and animal lover. I always had this idea to combine them with creativity and dancing in a natural environment, if possible with wildlife. I have been doing courses on interspecies communication and realized how much it is about listening and the intention. In dance if the intention is unclear, the movement stays unclear. That is what the audience catches, the clarity of the intention makes the language of a dancer. Now that I want to practice what I studied, I realize that my dance background gave me the foundation for listening and intention in what I want to communicate.
How do you integrate listening in dance?
I love the idea that it’s not always about talking. I think it is a trap for a dancer to constantly fill the gap of silences. You get so much more information from listening. It’s about a conversation in which you want to be both: you want to have a voice and also be able to listen and yet not being completely muted or too loud. Paying attention to the actual sound you are doing too gives me information back. Talking about movement, one way to know if it’s right is the sound of it.
What is the connection between each other as an ensemble?
I love the idea that dance keeps being a dialogue of energies. What I like with the ensemble is what you can create. Not like a conversation with an audience or the space, but it’s like signing together. Sometimes we create frictions but we also are really looking for this idea of one body. Then it’s not about you anymore. You have to surrender to what’s around you. I still have the lead, but it’s a fine balance between being passive and being active so that I still have a voice which is in tune.
Moreover, there is a sense of power, the power of community. It is something I use and relate to my life. Dance is hard work on a person and body: you always look at yourself in the mirror; we all have egos, sometimes physically even you question yourself “do I want to dance today? Why am I doing this?”. So of course there is passion and a form of ego. But when it is at the service of the whole it changes everything. I think I cannot shine if the others don’t shine. I shine through this whole balance.
What do you seek in a performance?
Everyone has their uniqueness, light and beauty of course, but I am very sensitive to the togetherness when I see a performance. That is what I love right now when working on We The Breath with ICK Next dancers. I really try to create that sense of one body, one soul, that they share and breath the same air, the sense of togetherness. What moves me the most in dancing is that one’s movement creates a wave that impacts the other. It’s a sensible awareness of you and the other.
What are your biggest achievements in your life and career?
If I go back in time, there are many! But in the last years it is to own my leadership (having a voice, a clarity of speech while being part of a group) and reconnecting with the play in dancing which got lost in time. We fall in love with dancing when we are young because we have so much fun, so many emotions, it is a blast; then as we go on with the years of school, and first works… you start framing what a good dancer is. Before I was thinking there is the right way and everything else is wrong. Emio kept on saying “you’ve learned it now let it go forget.” And I now I forget, I love to say that I don’t know anymore!
Playfulness seems an essential concept of yours, how do you define it?
It’s almost getting in touch with the kid. It is to be a bit less significant, almost meaningless, being the one who creates meanings: here it’s playful, here is controlled. And at the end everything ends up in the balance of playfulness. It’s almost like acting actually. Playfulness is also about bringing play to anything that is present. What am I resisting right now? How can I play with it? I am exhausted in pain, upsets, injured or scared… how can I play with it?
How does it relate to the performance Shameless?
Shameless requires the intention of playfulness, balance and play. I realized at some point “why am I not happy anymore? What is missing in my life, work and for people who are seeing it?” The playfulness! I kept the intention of the performance and being its vessel. People love to come see dance because they love beauty. All my life I’ve been trying to achieve a certain beauty. Now I see it in failing, in not knowing, in perseverance… It takes part in my values and principles in life and dancing. In Shameless I pushed my boundaries of control, allowing to be seen, and not looking good.
This all brought you back to this question: “Why did I start dancing?” What was your initiatory trip?
I am passionate but there was a time in life that I thought about my career, I thought “you’re good at it, you somehow shine when doing it…” but how unauthentic it is? I had to get in peace with it and destroy the image of what I wanted to become and how I wanted to always look good. In Shameless I tried to destroy that, break the ego and bring the play. We barely go in a place where you play full on stupid, you may look good creepy instead, or creepy good.
Who inspired you most in your career?
Aside from Emio and Pieter, I would say Bertha Bermudez the coordinator of Accademia Mobile and Barbara Meneses, they were such fabulous dancers. The latter inspired me so much for her passion and sensitivity when we worked together. Meeting Pierre Audi and Jean-Paul Gaultier marked me deeply. Florence Vitrac had a great impact on my imagination too. She is a conservatoire teacher in Marseille who made me see dance differently. This was a life changing experience. She is one of these people who open your brain and pushes the limits of what’s possible. They expand your vision of the world and dancing. I learned that dance might make a difference in the world.
And in your life, who are your inspirations?
Jiddu Krishnamurti, Rumi and Khalil Gibran, they have the same power of expanding your mind. I felt really in tune with their writings when I was traveling, they are a huge source of inspiration for me. There was a time I could not talk anymore in my dancing because I had not seen enough of the world. Then I trekked in New Zealand, Israel, Canada, I made the pilgrimage to Compostela backwards, and these poets were my companions. In Khalil Gibran “The Prophet“, I am very moved by the wisdom that takes the shape of innocence, the intentionality in its pureness.
Interview by Emeline Bonnard
Portrait Victor Callens: Ruben Timman