Behind The Scenes In The Body
Elke van Campenhout

Last year Ivana Müller made a piece about the weight of her thoughts, How Heavy Are My Thoughts. In her new production the Croatian choreographer lets the audience accompany her on a journey through the body.
With Under My Skin, Müller once again makes a very wilful statement as choreographer. For a start, no one dances in the production but instead the instrument of the dancer is explored. An instrument that unfolds as a land of infinite possibilities for the observer. The body is revealed as a theatre of interpretations.
‘To me, dancing is simply another means of thinking’, says Ivana Müller. ‘Before I became a dancer, I studied literature and I was involved in fine arts. They are all different forms of dealing with structure, of organising thoughts. What is important to me is not so much the discipline itself. What I want to do is to put forward other ideas about how you create identity within your body, within your imagination and your perception. In Under My Skin, you walk as an observer though the body of someone else, of the person to whom I have given my name and my face.’
For this production, Müller used the Monty in Antwerp to build a theatre within the theatre, subdividing it into small rooms. It is through this construction that we enter the body. We find ourselves in red boudoirs, at mysterious way stations, each with its own unique atmosphere and setting.
Müller: ‘I find the relationship between the body and the theatre crucial to this piece. You could in fact envision the stage as the outside of the body, the surface of the skin: what we look like, our facial expressions, our scent, everything that is part of the surface. What I now want to do is take the audience backstage: to where the mechanisms of this exterior are produced.’
‘Theatre can only come into being when there is an audience present, and each audience responds differently. In this case it can even start wandering around lost. Theatre can’t be fixed and neither can the body. We try to, through meditation, through science, but it just can’t be controlled, it has its own will. The obvious question becomes: how is it operated? By a strong leader or by a collective? Where are the hierarchies inside that body? The body is an impossible utopia: it is so close to us and yet so elusive when we try to understand it. Even the relationship between the body and person who has it isn’t clear: are you the owner of your body? Can you identify yourself with your body? And with scans? Or how do you imagine your body from the inside out?’
Under My Skin can be classified somewhere between a philosophical treatise and an adventure trip, in a hotel, a theatre or in Wonderland. In the imagination of Ivana Müller there is little distinction made between science and fantasy, between childlike curiosity and adult theorising. Müller: ‘If I had to say where my inspiration comes from, what comes up spontaneously are writers like Laurence Sterne, Rabelais, Jules Verne and of course Lewis Carroll. Especially for this production. Alice in Wonderland is also a journey, a closed web of associations. The production also contains interesting shifts in the perception of the body. How you experience it as big and small, for example, how it constantly takes on other forms. The point of departure is perhaps childlike: What would it be like inside your body?, but in the course of rigorously developing this naive question, surprising answers emerge.’
‘I’m not at all interested in taking the position of the scientist. I’m an artist. In the last production, How Heavy Are My Thoughts, we decided to use the form of a scientific oration, now we are using the form of a guided tour.’

published in De Standaard

translated by Mark Verschuur