Hans Theys is a twentieth-century philosopher and art historian. He has written and designed dozens of books on the works of contemporary artists and published hundreds of essays, interviews and reviews in books, catalogues and magazines. All his publications are based on actual collaborations and conversations with artists.

This platform was developed by Evi Bert (Centrum Kunstarchieven Vlaanderen) in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp (Research group Archivolt), M HKA, Antwerp and Koen Van der Auwera. We also thank Idris Sevenans (HOR) and Marc Ruyters (Hart Magazine).


Pierre Droulers - 2001 - To put one's foot in it [EN, interview],
Interview , 4 p.





Hans Theys

To put one’s foot in it

Interview with Pierre Droulers


This year Pierre Droulers is working on a series of short pieces that are based on his choreography MA and that have been called PARADES. The first PARADE is called SAMES.

The duo SAMES came to life when Pierre Droulers decided to start dancing again. He wanted to broaden and deepen some scenes of his last choreography MA in collaboration with the dancer Stefan Dreher, with whom he has created several pieces of choreography during the last seven years. By staging himself Droulers has tried to limit his cerebral constructions and to create a choreography that starts from the limits of the body and his own presence on stage. The theme of this duo originates from an impasse at the end of MA, where an utmost abstraction had conflicted with the wish to relate something about the world.

Droulers : When we started off with “MA” we immediately decided to conceive of a choreography that would consist of several parts which could be worked out later. We saw “MA” as a kind of pause, a breaking point and a start for new experiments.

One of the reasons of this approach resided in the nature of our financial structure. Our company receives financial support from the government. The amount of this support is determined every four years, linked to a contract that stipulates the obligations of both parties. Since “MA” has been created during the last year of such a contract, and since it took the government six months to put in place a new contract, we had to let go of four of the five dancers. Having foreseen this possibility, we had created a choreography that might be cut up into useful pieces to be developed later on. Nevertheless “MA” struck us as a very autonomous choreography. After performing “MA” in the theatres of our partners in Geneva, Brussels, Cologne, Paris, Marne-la-vallée, Cavaillon, Châlons-en-Champagne, Toulouse and Strasbourg, we did everything within our power to keep our technical and artistic team together, but we didn’t succeed. “MA” continues to be a part of our repertoire, but we won’t tour within the first year to follow. During this first year of our new contract we will concentrate on the development of new, concise pieces, based on several scenes stemming from “MA”. We call these pieces “Parades”.

Ever since “Mountain Fountain” (1995) I have been looking for a choreographic approach that is different from my previous theatrical, narrative and anecdotal style, which culminated in the diptych “Comme si on était leurs Petits Poucets” (1991) and “Jamais de l’Abîme” (1991), based on “Finnegan’s Wake”.

“Mountain Fountain” was about the tyranny of objects and about our attempts to put them in some kind of order, to classify or to name them, to eliminate them to have more space. The word “mountain” referred to the pile of objects to classify, the word “fountain” to the liquefying of things. At the same time the objects used on stage served as the very material of the choreography.

The show originated in a story by the artist Michel François who at that moment had been working a lot with objects, trying to bring them back to their materials and to simple forms. He also had created new forms, emasculated or heterogeneous objects on the basis of which we tried to invent new gestures and ways of moving.

For “De l’air et du vent” (1996) I collaborated with Ann Veronica Janssens. She is an artist working mainly with the retreat of the image. “De l’air et du vent” was about the madness of a way of thinking and living which is no longer linked to the earth. It was a storm raging on an almost empty stage, a spiritual tempest going through all kinds of emotions like excessive wrath, melancholy, etc. We started from very limited material. We took one choreographic phrase of “Mountain Fountain” and put it backwards or upside down, we copied it, turned it from left to right, we accelerated it, slowed it down, etc… always the same phrase. For example we told Thomas Hauert : “Do the phrase at the same time backwards and forwards”, and he did this… (He stands up and shows me.) Very bizarre movements…

In general one might say that those two shows formed a diptych that started from matter and evolved to evaporation, to the explosion of this matter. We have tried to eliminate the objects to create more space. Therefore we had to create a distance between ourselves and the objects, the anecdotes and the narrative approach… we even had to detach ourselves from mockery, which is still attached to the meaning of things.

Some years before I made a choreography called “Comme si on était leurs Petits Poucets” (1991). Its starting point was the work of James Joyce, who looked for the jubilation, the proliferation and the profusion of words and objects that for him formed an expression of the world. In the story by Michel François there are two piles of objects. A pile with massive objects and a pile with hollow objects. To make more space, the people in the story decide to put the massive objects in the hollow ones. One might say that Joyce did the same thing in writing. He covered an event with several layers of meaning, for example the fall in the beginning of “Finnegan’s Wake”. The novel starts by the Big Bang, which corresponds to the fall of Finnegan who was fixing the roof. At the same time the crash in Wall Street takes place. This way cosmic, comic, economic, judicial, pastoral and other layers overlap. Joyce has tried to exploit all kinds of syntaxes to invent a language… It was a completely enthusiastic project, an attempt to embrace the world in its totality. In my work I seem to have evolved to Samuel Beckett’s approach, a withdrawal from the world, an attempt to grasp the world in a retreating image, in a stripping of representation.

In “Petites Formes” (1997) I tried to integrate the matter of the author : the relationship between dancer and choreographer. I invited four dancers to create their own choreographic piece.

“Multum in parvo” (1998) explored the position of the individual in the group. Twenty-four dancers joined in a collective, creative experience. Every dancer created a piece of one minute on the theme “grass”. Then he taught his piece to a second dancer who taught it to a third and so on. At the end of this chain of learning the first dancer had to learn his own piece again, changed by the intermediate learning processes. We called this the field of grass.

“MA” (2000) is still characterised by a tendency to abstraction, with a stripped and open stage, ready for new propositions. The first image that came to us was the image of somebody strolling through a city, the image of an ideal moving through a city or the world. We asked ourselves how to reconcile individual mythology and social life. We started from the fact that things don’t function well anymore in the city. Fragmentation and all kinds of interests create separation. We tried to conceive of a place where people could be at the same time together and at home. Our work had a politic dimension without pretension.

We tried to imagine the ideal city : freedom as a result of the constraints created by constructions. We didn’t succeed because we didn’t find a middle way between an abstract and a figurative approach. Our looking for abstraction had been to elitist, which aroused anger and frustration. Things didn’t get any further. Strangely enough, this anger brings us back to the starting point of “Mountain Fountain”, because again we have to deal with the opaqueness and bitterness of emotions with regard to the stubbornness of matter, i.e. our wish to represent the phenomenal world. Our striving for abstraction had been to extreme with regard to our everyday concerns. The resulting anger and tensions reminded me of Michel François’ struggle with objects and his search for abstraction and of the couple Joyce/Beckett. Every attempt of representation seems to disintegrate into opposites. Bush and the others, good and evil, visible and invisible, the visual arrogance of the Twin Towers and the arrogance of making women hide behind veils.

I think my present-day position is really similar to the beginning of “Mountain-Fountain” when I really tried to look for answers to unsolved matters… matters related to vanity, ambition, claims, desires… That’s why I thought that something has still to be sorted out and that I have to retrace my steps — return to my starting point. Like salmons we will plunge into the troubled waters again and retrace the steps that led us to this point.

Since Stefan Dreher participated in the creation of “Mountain Fountain”, “De l’air et du vent”, “Petites formes”, “Multum in parvo” and “MA”, he is the most suitable person to accompany me on this journey. As I told you, we had planned to return to certain scenes of “MA” to develop and individualise them like little islands. This work will result in solos, duos and trios. For the exploration of our previous work, the form of a duo seemed to be the most appropriate. Moreover, two people on stage make a couple. Immediately I realised that the form of a duo made it possible to investigate the set of opposites I just told you about. Figurative and abstract, nomadic and sedentary, comic and cosmic, matter and light, body and soul, Jesus and Judas, Cain and Abel, Laurel and Hardy… This also implies the couple Joyce and Beckett : Joyce with his profusion of language and Beckett with his retreat. The oscillation between both approaches arouses the problem of identity, resemblance and difference.


I think the form of a duo will materialise the polarity between the same and the different. I like the idea to link this to the idea of the double and the couple. In a couple wrongs are generally ascribed to the other. The problem is to think that evil comes from the other. This brings back the question of anger, which is a physical manifestation of confusion. We feel the need to clarify a world that covers us in darkness. If the enemy is invisible, it’s because he hides within ourselves. There’s no absolute borderline between good and evil. They both exist in relation to the other.
At the same time the art of choreography seems to be condemned to look for answers in readymade schemes. The models are deceptive. For example we always depend on the same kind of organisation : financial support by the government, production and distribution. My goal is to find more proximity, a proximity beyond models. We should be able to invent our centre where we are. In the seventies we were against the family, against bourgeois values, against the government and the institutions. These days we know it doesn’t help to walk over other people… We know it’s time to look for a moral code that takes into account our differences, we know we have to understand that culture resides at the same time in ourselves and in others.

Stefan and me have integrated these matters in our personal development. I think it will do us a lot of good to study these matters together, now that we seem to have grown a little bit. We will reconsider the matter of the author and the dancer and we will try to avoid the game of the puppet-master. When we work together Stefan continually puts me in front of questions and ambushes… I would like to respond with more humour and less idealism, without proposing an identification scheme for the public… One of the first things we want to offer the public is a view on two people who try to occupy space and feel well with it.

We could call this putting one’s foot in it. I have decided to dance myself because it’s a way of putting limits. It will do me good to have a go at it and to get confronted with things again. When one is on stage, one cannot make people believe something else then what one is actually doing. It’s a strategy to bring back choreography to the measure of our body. I’m not twenty anymore. It takes a tremendous courage… It’s an exercise to limit my intellectual aspirations by means of my physical limitations and my presence on stage.

Montagne de Miel, 26 September 2001