“Every time we perform it’s completely different, yet at the core, completely the same.” Samuel Baidoo on connecting to an audience

In anticipation of this year’s BOUGE B, an innovative dance and music festival held annually in deSingel, we speak to some of the talented dancers and performers showcasing at the event. BOUGE B was originally founded in 2008, and has since developed from a contemporary dance event to fully-fledged dance and music festival and continues to grow and evolve every year. Combining music and dance to explore new means of presenting differing art forms and thus creating a platform for the audience to fully engage with the experience, this year’s Club Edition is sure to palpitate the senses.

First up in this mini-series is Samuel Baidoo, who shares his start, from studying graphic design and illustration to enrolling in the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp to pursue his love for dance, and his hopes and expectations – or, perhaps lack thereof – for the audience watching him perform. The exhilarating process of discovery in dance and Baidoo’s approach to his art form will translate into a captivating performance that combines movement with the musical stylings of Simon Beeckaert.

Can you describe your practice as a dancer / performer? How would you define your performances and where do you draw your inspiration from?

It’s difficult for me to draw a line between my practice as a performer or maker, so I’ll talk about both simultaneously: before I started my dance education at the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp, I studied illustration and graphic design. I was willing to let it go for a while when I started a new chapter at the conservatory, yet in hindsight I see how much of it has seeped into my practice as a dancer and maker. In my mind, the process or act of creating something is always the same, whether it be movement, stillness, 2D images (a drawing or collage) or 3D (bodies on stage). In this sense, I also don’t feel tied to just one art form. I create with whatever a particular work requires. In this way, I’ve done exhibitions with the Hanafubuki collective early on, and have worked with actors, dancers, projection, live music, poetry and so on. I would describe my work as very visual and simple, yet detailed. I put a lot of care in the physical quality and the shapes I give to the bodies on stage, knowing that if I make the images extremely sharp and clear they will somehow be read by the audience. This means that I seldom start from a story or interpretable concept, nor do I try to create linear narratives. I try to create the ideal conditions for the audience to project something of themselves into what they see on stage.

Being inspired is an ongoing process for me: I’m equally excited and inspired by the beautiful colours of the carpet in my living room when the morning sun hits it from the right angle, as from watching and getting completely absorbed into a theatre or dance performance. Another important source of inspiration is the time I spend with my fellow artists and friends, long train rides, morning brunches, houseparties and lost nights in the city. As a maker, I need people around me – confronting me and laughing at my stupid ideas – to find sense in what I do. This is why six years ago I started the Hanafubuki collective, where the end product is always the result of people with different backgrounds in different art forms working together. In 2018, with 12 other dancers, we started The Backyard, a platform for dance artists to research, create, think collectively, train and support each other in finding their way as a young artist.

Could you talk to us about your research and production process and your approach to dance / performance as a whole?

I’ve noticed from my past and current work that I like to set myself a clear framework. For Una Casa Cascata, a theatre piece without words that I made with the Hanafubuki collective, we decided on a very clear method of creation: we created a whole piece based on a collection of images, mainly pictures and paintings, that was built up slowly over time with the group. The collection became the content of the piece, and everything was born out of it. We staged the 2D images by translating them into 3D scenes, in the same way a director might stage a Shakespeare play. The images provided us with all the scenes, costumes and objects for the performance.

I continued this research on images for a dance duet I made, titled I started missing you on Thursday but I forgot to tell. Here, we really went in depth to embody the shapes of the bodies on these pictures. There’s something very strong and clear about the shape of a body. You could take any picture and cut away the background and be left with only figures – and even with all that information stripped away , it would still be a readable image. Our bodies are trained to read the bodies and body language of those around us. Therefore, only a body – standing, lying, hanging – will always provide us with a small readable narrative. Although we never entered into the content of the images we created on stage throughout our creation process, we noticed that the audience filled these images with their own imagination. This was a beautiful revelation – that meaning is not something I have to create or impose, but rather is something that arises individually.

I hope that when the people leave they feel altered, even if just a little, that they are inspired. That they feel like whatever they have witnessed was something truly valuable, even if they might not be able to express in words why.

What would you say were your formative years as a dancer / performer, and who would you credit with being instrumental in the development of your career as a dancer / performer?

I was dancing for just two years before entering the Conservatoire, taking mostly evening classes while studying illustration and graphic design. I would say that my formative years were mostly inside the conservatory, especially the second year when I got the chance to work with Agostina D’Alessandro for the first time. Her approach to dance and the technique she developed opened up a lot of space for both my dance practice as well as my life in general. Both physical space; getting to now my body better and how to use it; as mental space, food for thought. Early on in my education I gradually found out that I entered the school with a very different purpose than most of my classmates. I felt like they were there to perform; to be on a stage. I was there because dance was new to me, a revelation. Something that I had to dig my claws in and find out why it intrigued me so much – something which I continue to do today. On- and off-stage, as a dancer and as a maker, I try to get to the core of what dance means to me, and it’s as if the more I search the more I get lost, which is of course as frightening as it is amazing. Exhilarating actually. Graduating feels like a beginning point. Learning is a lifelong process, especially if it is learning through your own body, which is constantly changing, getting older, weaker, stronger, tenser, smarter and so on. I look forward to experiencing how moving my body will feel like in the future!

Looking at it from the audience’s point of view, what are you hoping to express through your performance and what do you hope the audience takes away from it?

I don’t have any hopes of expressing anything in particular. I hope to enter and reconstruct again the space I build up with my musician during our creation. A space in which we hope to envelop the audience for a little while. A space we hope opens up their minds to let their imagination run freely, inspired by our performance. I personally don’t think that as a maker you have a real grasp on what goes on in the audience’s head or heart. Therefore, I don’t feel like attempting to do that either. I hope, however, that my work doesn’t leave them feeling untouched. I hope that when the people leave they feel altered, even if just a little, that they are inspired. That they feel like whatever they have witnessed was something truly valuable, even if they might not be able to express in words why.

What, exactly, will you be performing during BOUGE B?

I’ll be performing De Zonnekoning, a short piece I created in my last year of education, together with musician Simon Beeckaert. What we present on stage is the result of a close collaboration and the time we spend together. During the course of our rehearsals we slowly build up a vocabulary in sound and movement, defining what the piece was becoming as we were going along. By making decisions on what to further encourage and what not to keep, we were bit by bit discovering the piece like how a sculptor would cut away marble from a big block inch by inch, revealing the shape that lies within.

Although we do have a clear structure and atmosphere we work within, there are no exact movements or sounds in the piece. Every time we perform it’s completely different, yet at the core, completely the same. Revealing a new statue cut out of the same marble time and time again.

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Music and dance festival BOUGE B will be taking place on 15th and 16th March at Antwerp’s deSingel. The Word Radio will be handling afterparty duties with 2F4F on the Saturday.