Interview with Alexandra Waierstall: “I was not allowed to take ballet classes as a kid”

This June, we are proud to introduce the work of German dance artist and choreographer Alexandra Waierstall to our Lilian Baylis Studio. Exploring our relationship to our environment and to each other, And Here We Meet intertwines movement, text and music by film composer Hauschka. In this interview, we speak to Alexandra to discover more about her as an artist, the creative process and the inspiration behind her work.

Tell us about your background as a dancer and choreographer
I studied dance in Holland, where I also did my MA in choreography. My training as a child was based on creative dance classes. My mother was also a dancer and choreographer and was one of those post-modernists at the time in the 80s, so I was not allowed to take ballet classes as a kid but I began with ballet later on. My main discipline comes from music. I studied the piano for 12 years before I decided to shift to dance. As a child, I started piano at three years old and when I turned 17, I decided to follow dance and choreography. Alongside this, I was also doing my creative dance classes with more of a kinaesthetic approach, authentic movement and creative play.

It sounds like your parents were quite important on your path to getting into dance…
My parents wanted me to become a musician so it was a big surprise to them when I actually decided to follow dance. It was the dancer Steve Paxton who inspired me to follow dance, and in particular a workshop I did with him when I was 16 where we worked with blind people. It was after this experience that I really felt I wanted to pursue dance.

The piece that you’re performing at Sadler’s Wells is called And Here We Meet. How did this work come to life?
I really wanted to make a piece with text so I started to develop this text exploring different potential endings of the world which would evoke an environmental consciousness and sensibility. I wanted to create choreography that would weave and align to this text. Two thirds of the work are text and movement together and the last third of the work is just movement and sound. It was a bit like editing a film, where the text, the sound and the moving body are completely choreographed in their co-dependency.

Where did the text come from?
It was inspired by a YouTube clip – a very trashy video pitching the potential end of the world in three minutes. I was fascinated because it was as if they were selling Coca Cola – it was very superficial but what they were saying was actually super interesting and traumatising. I’m interested in how material migrates from one form to another so I took the text out of the video and when I read it through, it was actually super poetic and very artistic. I changed the text but the base of it was inspired by this three minute YouTube video. I worked on it further with Dani (Dani Brown performs alongside Alexandra in And Here We Meet). So it was a joint process with Dani to create in its final form.

Our relationship with the environment is a prominent theme in your work. Why did you choose this subject matter?
I’ve been working on abandoned cities and hidden geographies and I’m always trying to find subjects that I can talk about that evoke a sense of reflection in the audience. I’m not trying to preach a certain way to think but I’m trying to mobilise in the audience a sense of awareness and responsibility. Our relationship with the environment comes with the responsibility that we carry in this world and for me, dance is a way of being and a way of moving in the world. It’s all about the relationship we have with each other, with the environment, with the place we live and the responsibility we carry.

You were born in England, lived in Cyprus and currently reside in Germany. How has living in these different environments influence your work?
I don’t have the sense of belonging to one place. My mother always said ‘you’re a child of the wind.’ My father is German, my mother is Cypriot, I was born in England and we spoke English at home but I spoke German with my father, and Greek with my mother. I went to Greek school. I had friends that spoke English. So it was always very mixed, very like the times that we live in today and also, I think, the future. I’m really interested in this in-between space of being and how a sense of home, comes from where the heart is.

You’re collaborating with the pianist and composer Hauschka on the music in this piece. How collaborative has that process been and what can audiences expect it to sound like?
Hauschka writes music for films and he’s best-known for his film compositions. The sound is a bit like film music in a way. I don’t want to spoil too much but it has a dark feeling in the beginning and a very euphoric and melodic feeling towards the end. How you hear the music is also dependant on the text that you’re hearing because it’s happening at the same time. As I did the sound design and he composed the music, how we timed it in the collaboration was very much choreographed in relation to the text that is being spoken so at times it’s very dramatic and sometimes it’s very abstract. It’s actually super complex and beautiful.

How important is thinking about the past and questioning the future in informing your work?
Dance and choreography are really about the present moment, encompassing all its potential of where it’s moving towards the future and all it holds and carries with the past. So I see them as very interconnected.

What message do you hope audiences will take away from your show at Sadler’s Wells?
Just making them able to connect back to themselves and trigger feelings and a sensibility and sensitivity towards who we are and where we are moving to.

And Here We Meet comes to the Lilian Baylis Studio on 14 & 15 June. Tickets just £17*, by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online.

*Transaction fee applies. Max £3.