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Interview mit Melanie Lane: Wonderwomen-Performance zeigt Muskeln

Köln | Es ist die vielleicht ungewöhnlichste Produktion beim diesjährigen Kölner Tanz- und Performance-Festival tanz-tausch: Wonderwomen mit den beiden Profi-Bodybuilderinnen Rosie Harte und Nathalie Schmidt. Im Interview mit Christoph Mohr spricht die australische Choreographin Melanie Lane über ihrer Produktion, die Idee dahinter und welche Verbindung zur Superheldin Wonderwomen besteht. 

Christoph Mohr: Who is Melanie Lane? What are the 10 things we/the public in Cologne should know about you?
Melanie Lane: Born in Sydney, Australia - I am a dancer and choreographer based between Melbourne and Berlin. I have lived pre-dominantly in Germany since 2001, but have recently spent more time also working in Australia and Asia. I am Indonesian-Australian, I’ve also trained in Javanese dance, pole dance, boxing and flower arranging. Many years ago I visited the amazing Christopher St. day parade here in Cologne.

Although it is a difficult question: Could you describe in a few sentences what you are looking for/what you want to achieve as a choreographer/performer/artist?
As an artist I am constantly learning through research and collaboration. One of my pursuits is to engage with people who are interested in asking questions about the body in all it’s many forms and representations. My most recent work has connected me with a professional ballet dancer, professional boxers, exotic dancers, a 12 year old girl and now female bodybuilders. There are always many other stories than those represented in the popular public image, and so these are the stories I’m interested in learning from and translating into performance.

Your website says that you are a choreographer who investigates the relationship between body and object. What exactly does that mean?
My earlier work was focused on working with materiality, meaning integrating inanimate materials and objects into my practice as a choreographic tool. For me it was and still is an important part of my practice in developing a choreographic language that is dialogue with architecture, space and environment.

You are living in Berlin and Melbourne (Australia). What do you like, what do you dislike in Berlin?
I love the diversity of culture and dislike the hard Winters.

What do you like, what do you dislike in Melbourne?
Melbourne has a similar vibrant and progressive arts culture plus incredible food - I dislike its distance from Berlin.

You come to Cologne with your new production called “Wonderwomen“. What is “Wonderwomen”?
“Wonderwomen is a performance for two pro female bodybuilders Nathalie Schmidt and Rosie Harte. The performance is offering a space for an audience to reflect on the highly disciplined sport of these two women and speaks about their personal and intimate experiences with their bodies. There is of course the subject of physical strength and female body image, but in addition there is also an insight into the fragility and mental perseverance that is inherent in the discipline of this sport.

The title “WonderWomen” makes us think of wonder woman, the well known comic super hero, which also was a TV-series. Any connection?
The comic super hero ‘Wonder Woman’ definitely had some philosophical influences in researching this work. The history of the creation of Wonder Woman is born from writer/psychologist William Moulton Marston during a period of the beginning of a feminist movement. He believed in a new type of woman, that should rule the world! Although the work is not about ruling the world, the idea of re-claiming the female body and the image of super heroins and strong women is certainly spoken about in this work.

How did you get the idea to work with professional female bodybuilders for “WonderWomen”?
Some years ago I became deeply interested in highly disciplined physical training as it becomes more popular in society. So I began searching for and engaging with other forms of physical training besides contemporary dance such as ballet, exotic dance and boxing. I was particularly interested in female bodybuilding for it’s multi-faceted layers. It is a highly disciplined sport in a male dominated industry. It resists popular female body image and works intimately with the body. I found it fascinating that the bodybuilder is trained for a sculptural purpose and less for the purpose of movement, and so I was interested in working with women in this field to find a physical language to translate the  rare and intimate relationship they have with their bodies.

How did you find/choose the two bodybuilders Rosie Harte and Nathalie Schmidt?
Google. Long internet searches and many emails. I have been in contact with Nathalie and Rosie since two years about this project. In 2014 I choreographed Nathalie’s bodybuilding routine for her Ms.Olympia competition.

A word about Nathalie Schmidt…
Nathalie is a highly experienced german female bodybuilder competing in the Pro Women’s physique category of bodybuilding. She is 3 times german champion, vice world champion 2005, bronze medal Arnold Classic 2001, winner of the Pro Mozolani 2014 and participant of the Ms.Olymoia 2014. Alongside her sport she is also a nutrition and training coach, has appeared in television series such as ‘Ninja Warrior’ and recently performed in the opera ‘Turandot’ for Oper Chemnitz.

A word about Rosie Harte…
Rosie is UK based pro bodybuilder also competing in the Pro Women’s physique category. She has a background in dance having completed a BA in Theatre Practice and Contemporary Dance at UCLA. Alongside her bodybuilding and dance, Rosie is a highly experienced singer having performed as the lead singer with an Electro Swing group. Most recently she competed at the prestigious event The "Ms Olympia" in Las Vegas, winning the Rookie of the year award.

To perform for female bodybuilders normally means, to be on stage in a rather tight bikini and to go through different poses to show their muscles. That is an aspect of female bodybuilding which did not interest you at all.

Actually it did interest me a lot. All of the elements that are part of bodybuilding are totally intriguing and are important parts of the whole sport. In developing this work, we did a lot of investigation about these experiences and worked on finding ways to approach these subjects in alternative ways. The bodybuilding poses were a very important part of the process and have been consciously integrated into the work.

In general, Wonderwomen is NOT a display of muscles/the muscular body.
No, I was not interested in ‘displaying’ muscles, but rather experiencing them. This project is really focused on the experience of the body, and in this case it is a highly trained muscular one. It is a challenging subject as it is easy to exploit these bodies as a muscular fetish, but I believe there are much deeper narratives within this work.

Would you consider female bodybuilding a form of self expression?
It is certainly a form of expression. It is a definitive choice, especially for a woman. Body image is an inherent part of our current social fabric and so the choice to embark towards the image of a strong physique is a clear message of strength, control and independence. Also perhaps a resistance to the popular image of femininity, where-by manifesting a new reclamation of what femininity can be. Ironically, to achieve this body there is also great sacrifice and immense discipline needed which can summon a fragility in contrast to its muscular strength.

In some way, female bodybuilders create their own body. As an artist, do you consider building a (muscular) body an artistic act?
After learning a great deal from Rosie and Nathalie I was profoundly impressed by their deep connection to their bodies. There is a unique understanding of the body by working with great detail and control not only through the training but also through diet and lifestyle. There is certainly an art in sculpting the body towards its most minute detail. There is a focus on symmetry, shape and projection - all elements that are also considered in other forms of art.

You do not seem particularly interested in (showing) the sexual dimension of female bodybuilding…
Sexuality is deeply inherent in female bodybuilding and it was certainly a great interest for me. We talked a lot about femininity, we talked about fetish. We talked about the resistance from the general public to accept this image of the female body. This is one of the many facets of female bodybuilding that we were interested in addressing, but it’s also not the only story.

Is this a one time shot or would you be interested in continuing to work with female bodybuilders for your dance projects in the future?
It was an amazing project from which I learnt so much. Wonderwomen 2? Why not?

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Foto: Hannes Kempert

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