Liquid connections, hard frictions

Liquid connections, hard frictions

Pieter T’Jonck talks with Sophia Rodriguez and Sofie Durnez about FRICTION

The name ‘Sophia Rodriguez’ might not immediately ring a bell, but she was one of the unforgettable figures in van Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe’s A Revue (2020): in the madrigal part of the show, she represented the naked force of nature, with metres-long armpit hair emerging jewelery from her vagina like a reincarnation of Carolee Schneemann. In that same year of 2020, she also presented the solo Ostentation at the Bâtard Festival in Brussels. Last, but not least, she was artistic director of Volksroom Brussel, an artist-run space where she supported the controversial project Ne mosquito pas, in which artists dealt with their own failures. Since 2021, she has been working steadily with scenographer and costume designer Sofie Durnez on FRICTION, a production literally and figuratively about friction between people.

PTJ: Sophia, you come from Caracas, Venezuela. Before coming to Brussels, you had already built up quite a career there, as well as in Cuba. How did you actually end up here? 

SR: At the age of fifteen, I took an entrance exam for a theatre school. Only later did they realize that I was too young, but since I had already passed the exam, they couldn’t refuse me. It wasn’t easy for anyone, though, a teenager among adults. After that, I studied dance and trained for the circus in Cuba. I eventually got my degree in Caracas in 2008. However, I still felt that I hadn’t yet found my own way. So I went to the Dimitri School, one of four theatre schools in Switzerland, which emphasizes physical theatre. There, I met many people who had a big influence on me – to begin with, my husband, Micha Goldberg. But Ivo Dimchev and Kate McIntosh also taught there. What they told me about the dance and theatre world in Belgium made me come here, because Switzerland was a bit too clean for me. In 2013, I took over the Volksroom Brussel building from Ivo Dimchev.

PTJ: Was it easy to get a foot on the ground here?

SR: Not at all. I was able to make The Garden Laboratorium with the support of CAMPO in 2015, but after that the collaboration came to a halt. I concentrated on Volksroom for a few years, but I also taught at just about every circus school, I performed in a work by Koen Augustijnen [the performance (B) or Boxing Dance Project – eds.] and in A Revue by Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe, among others. In the meantime, I also made a whole bunch of solos, including Shake the Milk and My Nature, and duets – with Micha Goldberg and with others – at Volksroom and at TicTac Art Centre. In 2020, I received support from Impulstanz in Vienna to make Ostentation. Meanwhile, I also had two children.

PTJ: What does the word ‘friction’ in the title of this show stand for?

SR: I was looking for a pithy title. One word, just like with Ostentation. It started with a feeling that we are drifting apart. The world is increasingly being organized to suit the isolated individual, ensconced in his or her aseptic cocoon. There is no community anymore, no contact. You almost can’t even touch each other anymore. It’s a form of society that is tailored to the capitalistic system. In 2021, the Corona crisis came on top of that. Back then, it was even legally forbidden to go near each other. But what about people’s dark thoughts and nasty feelings? That’s what I want to work with. You need friction between people in order to build a community. That friction can be painful, but it also arouses warmth. It brings people closer together. It makes them stronger collectively.

PTJ: Was there a personal reason for tackling this issue?

SR: I come from a country where violence is ever-present. In Caracas I had five consecutive front doors, and all of them were always locked. In Switzerland, however, I noticed that nobody ever locked their doors. That was a revelation for me. But in 2016, the attacks on the Metro station in Maalbeek and the airport in Zaventem occurred. That sudden outbreak of violence in a place where it isn’t expected revived my memories of traumatic, repressed experiences. As a result, I became more and more interested in trauma and healing, and I also increasingly saw the connection between friction amongst people and dealing with trauma. The form that the show takes is therefore based on the belief that theatre can be a place of transformation or healing. The result, I think, is a kind of soap opera and hyper-therapy all in one, which takes place on something halfway between a film set and a playground.

PTJ: In Ostentation, you made emphatic use of highly imaginative costumes, such as a pink latex suit that you stuff to the brim with things, so that you end up looking like a bizarre kind of superwoman. Did you call on Sofie for that project too?

SR: No, I designed and made those customs myself. I needed to do that in order to build my own universe. It’s only by making things that I start understanding what I am doing. FRICTION, however, is not a solo show but a big production, with five performers and a musician. And Sofie not only designs the costumes but also works with the videos I made with Martina Calvo. I needed somebody like her beside me.

PTJ: Sofie, what’s your background? What attracted you to this project?

SD: I don’t come from a far-off foreign country, but simply from Westouter, Heuvelland. I studied fashion at the KASK in Ghent, but right after I graduated in 2003, Miet Warlop asked me to design costumes. That’s how I rolled into the theatre world. My career has grown through intensive contacts with artists like Superamas, Eleanor Bauer, Lara Barsacq, and so forth. I’ve been living in Brussels for a long time now, around the corner from Sophia, as a matter of fact. So, we often run into each other in any case, and we had been wanting to do something together for quite a while. Meg Stuart, with whom I had previously worked, spurred us on. She’s also our outside eye for this project. 

PTJ: FRICTION has an unusual cast. Robert Steijn is 65 and works internationally as a choreographer-dramaturge. The others are still fairly young. Anna Franziska Jäger and Simon Van Schuylenbergh have already made their names as actors, but Vincent Focquet is performing on stage here for the first time. Martina Calvo is a circus artiste who helped create the videos. And then there’s Gäsper Piano, as musician. How did this lineup come about?

SR: My perspective on performances is primarily that of a dancer, but there’s also a lot of text in this case and I wanted ‘real’ actors like Anna Franziska and Simon. I knew them through Ne mosquito pas, as its cofounders. Robert joined because he himself has been working with healing and shamanism for a long time. He automatically became our dramaturg. I’ve known Vincent Focquet since he attended a theatre workshop for young people. Since then, he has always followed and supported me in very diverse roles. I taught Martina Calvo as well. And you already know about Sofie. So, the cast developed organically according to the needs of the project as it took shape over the past two years. But the roles are not so strictly defined. It’s a fluid connection. For instance, everybody worked on the script. 

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