Since 2014, Jenny Beyer has been offering OPEN STUDIOS in Hamburg in close collaboration with her artistic partners Nina Wollny, Chris Leuenberger, Matthew Rogers (until 2019), Jetzmann, Anne Kersting, and Igor Dobričić, among others. Together, they explore practices of equal encounter and movement between artists and audiences. Beyer sees this work of mediation as a nourishing format for artistic research, which in turn becomes a shared dance practice. In close dialogue with non-professional and curious spectators, they have created six pieces since 2014 (LIEBE 2015, GLAS 2016,FLUSS 2017, DÉBUT 2019, DEUX 2021, ENSEMBLE 2023).
Even during the lockdown, the OPEN STUDIOS continued. Through Zoom conferences, moments of closeness and exchange were created despite the closed theaters. The continuous rehearsal work for DEUX in distance, with Nina Wollny in Norway and Chris Leuenberger and Jenny Beyer in Hamburg, and the invitation to the audience to accompany the piece digitally during the process, created new and sustainable artistic tools.
WHY DID I START THE OPEN STUDIOS?
I started the OPEN STUDIOS in 2014 because I was no longer satisfied with the regular rehearsal work as mere preparation for performances. The moments when I truly encountered people with my pieces were too few and too sporadic for me. I reached a point where I questioned how my work could actually communicate and whether it even took place in communication. I enjoy working in the studio, refining aesthetics, and developing artistic questions in movement with other amazing people. It's fun, but it also takes a tremendous amount of time, and it is a very introspective work with few people involved. As an artist, I wondered if that was enough, if that was the way I wanted to produce my art. That's why we decided in 2014 to try something different. We started inviting people to our studio regularly. We aimed to open up this intimate and uncluttered space for people who are interested in being present, who are interested in asking us questions and answering our questions, people who want to get closer to artistic material. And we made this invitation without knowing exactly what and how the whole thing would happen.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE OPEN STUDIO?
First and foremost, the OPEN STUDIOS are an invitation to a rehearsal process. They vary from time to time, but there are a few elements that recur. We often invite people to move with us and share exercises and warm-up phases. Then we seek opportunities to engage in conversation with them about our choreographic material, which we present when it is new and unfinished. We often pose an open artistic question and develop an improvisation based on it, which we evaluate together with the participants. There are also phases where we write to give voice to those who may not feel comfortable speaking in front of the whole group. And then there are OPEN STUDIOS that are open in a different sense, not guided by a specific process or attached to rehearsals, where we investigate the act of coming together itself: What does it take for people to feel connected?
WHAT DO I HOPE TO ACHIEVE THROUGH THE ENCOUNTERS IN THE OPEN STUDIO?
I hope that my choreographic materials, which are very personal to me, can open up and come to life through communication. I want to learn something about the social component of this artistic work and how a piece functions socially. I want to know what people derive from such a process for themselves, what artistic work can give them. What qualities and abilities are inherent in contemporary dance and choreography? Qualities that become visible and shareable in the OPEN STUDIOS and contribute to our coexistence, to interact better and more peacefully with each other. I want to meet people whom I wouldn't have met otherwise because we would be in different places or wouldn't have a reason to encounter each other. I hope that sharing artistic work can provide a positive input to society and generate meaningful time in which the encounter with others can be practiced as a collaborative act over and over again.
I want the OPEN STUDIO to be a place for self-critical and diversity-sensitive openness. I am willing to engage in this lengthy and instructive process!
I hope that with the OPEN STUDIOS, I can fill the time between pieces with encounters, that the communication thread with people doesn't break. Because what actually happens during the time between two pieces? I hope that with the OPEN STUDIOS, I can fundamentally question and dissolve the hierarchy between process and product, and that the process itself becomes the work. I no longer want to manifest everything only in the performance. Through the OPEN STUDIOS, many things already happen in the process, things that are valuable in themselves, moments that stand on their own. Each OPEN STUDIO is an event, an experience in itself, and does not compete with the performance. I don't expect everyone to find every aspect of my work equally interesting. It is possible that the OPEN STUDIOS may inspire people, but they may not find my pieces as appealing.
I have been involved in volunteering in refugee aid for many years, and I am very interested in how I can establish more concrete connections between social engagement and my artistic work. The OPEN STUDIOS also create space for topics that are fundamentally important but initially feel too big for the studio. Topics such as the threatening climate change, to which I have dedicated several OPEN STUDIOS. Through continuous work with people and the creation of an artistic process, I hope that these topics can be addressed repeatedly, that they can be contemplated, and the question can be posed: What does this detailed, very specific artistic work have to do with such big issues, and can it contribute something to society?
WHAT HAS THE PANDEMIC DONE TO THE PROCESS OF THE OPEN STUDIOS?
I am very glad that we found ways to continue the OPEN STUDIOS even during the time when theaters were closed. After a period of reflection, we started meeting people via Zoom in the summer of 2020. In these OPEN STUDIOS, we initially tried to familiarize ourselves with the medium of video conferencing and then test how it works to connect with people. We experimented with participants in a kind of encounter training. In this training, each participant, in a ping-pong manner, could make physical and dance-related proposals for coming together. We tried to incorporate movement and play into this medium. It was fun, and we immediately noticed that beautiful moments of closeness could be created, and that the participants had the desire to continue. At the same time, we started working on a new piece, using video conferencing as a rehearsal tool. In the early stages of the rehearsal process, it turned out that Nina Wollny couldn't travel from Norway to Hamburg because of the pandemic. She stayed in Trondheim for the entire rehearsal process and performances, and we consistently rehearsed at a distance using Zoom and video projection. For me, it was a completely new artistic situation. And then something beautiful happened: We started sharing this long-distance work through the OPEN STUDIOS via Zoom with other people, and ultimately, the format of the piece emerged from these digital OPEN STUDIOS.
We had the premiere in April, and the performance took place simultaneously in Hamburg without a live audience, in Norway with a very small audience, and worldwide with people connected live through Zoom. From this work in distance – with Nina in Norway, Chris and myself in Hamburg – and the invitation to the audience to accompany us digitally throughout the process, we have carefully developed artistic tools that I find sustainably interesting.
WHAT CONCLUSION DO I DRAW FROM THE CRISIS REGARDING DANCE?
The protection against Covid infection demands physical distance, but there has already been distance between dance and the audience before: for example, lack of understanding, misunderstandings, fear of touch, and expectations. Now, in this time when we cannot simply be together in one space, there is an opportunity to reflect on this often difficult relationship. This time of missing each other offers a chance to look forward to each other. It offers a chance to fundamentally question how we want to spend time together in the future, what we need from each other, what we give to each other, and what we want to take from each other.
For me, working during the pandemic has been an important experience, a wake-up call for how art can respond to and act within concrete social and ecological crises. Of course, such a global crisis initially leaves one speechless and paralyzed, but then it demands a stance, a positioning towards social duties, practicing solidarity and societal responsibility. It is beautiful to observe how valuable interpersonal moments and artistic materials can emerge from this detailed work in this new situation for everyone.
WHAT SETS MY TEAM APART?
Regarding the team, I observe that long-term collaborations are very important to me. I want to spend continuous time with people and remain in exchange. This leads to long artistic partnerships. I have been working with the dancer Nina Wollny, the dancer and choreographer Chris Leuenberger, my dramaturgs Anne Kersting and Igor Dobričić, and the composer Jetzmann for many years. In my opinion, this is reflected in the quality of our work. We can draw upon a wealth of shared experiences, which are evident in the pieces and also in the atmosphere in the studio. It is extremely important for me to create a relaxed and considerate atmosphere in the studio. Friendship is an enriching element of collaboration for me. It is interesting how, based on this familiarity, we repeatedly open ourselves to new and unknown people in the OPEN STUDIOS. Practicing this and developing individual approaches has been the essence of the process in recent years.
At this stage of our development, it is now important to deliberately expand the team. This should primarily happen in the area of dancers. I want to get to know new people and specifically involve more performers living in Hamburg. Another important area is diversity. We want to initiate and sustain learning processes and are looking for experts who can support and become part of the team to ensure the sustainability of these processes. •