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Flamand himself is looking much more rested when we meet for breakfast the following morning. But then his wild nights are pretty much behind him. Back in the early 70s, however, he was at the cutting edge of the cutting edge. In 1971, Flamand and his brother formed Belgium‘s first experimental theatre company, performing their own take on the work of Polish dramaturg Jerzy Grotowski. Less than a year later they were accepted into the international arena, playing festivals around the world (including a certain arts gathering in Edinburgh). Then in 1979, with his brother relocated to Paris to pursue a literary career, Flamand became the Flemish Andy Warhol. Desperate for a performance space, he and his fellow artisans acquired a disused sugar refinery — four floors, 25 rooms — into which poured visual artists, musicians, actors and dancers from EurOpe and America.
‘We wanted to be like the people we’d stayed with in New York, creating art in their loft apartments,” laughs Flamand in recollection. ‘It was an avant-garde place without strategy. All the young artists in Brussels came to perform, then artists
from New York, musicians from London — Echo & The Bunnymen played there long before anyone had ever heard of them — William Burroughs, Philippe Decoufle. Many, many people, none of whom were known at the time.’
Creating and performing in such an unusual space fired Flamand’s imagination, and his company Plan K went on to use factories and churches, rather than traditional theatres, as its venues of choice. A decade of dance later, Flamand was invited to become artistic director of Belgium’s Ballet Royal de Wallonie. He quickly renamed the company Charleroi Danses, freeing it of its stuffy classical tag, then continued the search for new and interesting alliances. Given his love of cross-artform collaboration and the importance Flamand placed on his surroundings, it was only a matter of time before he hooked up with an architect. Or two to be precise. New York duo Diller and Scofidio was his first port of call, resulting in a successful double-bill with Lyon Opera Ballet.
It was while flicking through an architectural digest. that Flamand first spied the work of a woman rapidly becoming one of the most famous and controversial architects in the world; Zaha Hadid. Although, for a number of years. Hadid was more famous for the buildings she didn't make than the ones she did. Designs for projects such as the Cardiff Bay Opera House and a sports complex in Hong Kong won her many prestigious awards, but nervous purse holders continually refused to break ground. Today. however, Hadid‘s London practice is flying at full mast. A new arts centre and museum in Cincinnati and Rome have put them firmly on the map, as has its set for the recent Pet Shop Boys tour.
But prior to her partnership with Flamand, the architect had never worked on a stage show. Jumping in with both feet. she agreed to design not just the Meta/9011's set, but the costumes as well. ‘I’m really interested in modem dance and Frederic’s work in particular] says Hadid of her decision to enter the unknown. ‘He likes to integrate ideas of design into his sets — plus he‘d worked with other architects before, which attracted me.‘
After much discussion, Hadid came up the concept of three moveable bridges, which the dancers move over, under and through. ‘I wanted to look at the set and costume as one piece.’
she explains. 'And I was interested in how the set could become a costume and vice versa.’ Simple yet effective, the structures almost become part of the cast, moving across the stage with the same fluidity as the dancers.
But it is Hadid's costumes which really dazzle. Almost sci-fi in appearance. the outfits become increasingly bimrre as the dance progresses, from single-legged trousers to a skirt made entirely of cushions. Quite apart from
their aesthetic appeal, however, the costumes play a vital part in illustrating Flamand’s philosophies. Utilising the ‘blue screen’ technique, scenes of city life —- jostling pedestrians. busy motorways — are projected onto the dancers‘ costumes. which are in turn projected onto a large back-screen. ‘Each time it’s the body which gives the city its shape.‘ says Flamand. ‘The city is human — it‘s an exchange.‘ The Belgian denies categorically that he’s a technophobe. but buried within Metapulis are very real fears for the future of man and machine.
‘lt’s a battle I think, more than a relationship,‘ he says. ‘Because more and more we are living in a material world. a virtual world with new realities — it‘s like the whole universe is trying to replace itself. Not that we should go back to the stone age. But we need to be very vigilant as citizens. and make technology work for us — not be replaced or imposed upon.’
Metapolis project 972 (EIF) is at the Edinburgh Playhouse, 24-26 Aug, 8pm.
23 Aug—£3 Sect 233‘ THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 7