The way

Interview in De Standaard, by Charlotte De Somviele.

Choreographer Piet Van Dycke does not fit into pigeonholes. With his innovative mix of dance, circus and acrobatics, Belgium and the Netherlands have gained a new audience favourite. "Tricks don't interest me, but the way to get there."

The way
The way
The way

A few seconds

Easter holiday is not in the dictionary of Piet Van Dycke (27). This week he rehearses in Destelheide in Dworp with his 'glorious bodies' (also the title of his new performance), a group of circus artists between 53 and 67 years old who still do handstands as if they were young chickens. It is also busy because of the many circus festivals that will soon herald spring. With the humorous balance duet On point, Van Dycke heads to Hopla! in Brussels, and during the MAD festival in Antwerp, Exit plays at Park Spoor Noord as the backdrop.

Especially with that last performance, Van Dycke, who was previously called 'the best acrobatic dancer of his generation' in this newspaper, proved that he is here to stay. At first glance, the installation of Exit – a gray two-storey apartment building – seems rather colorless. Until the doors start to float and one of the walls turns into a life-size balance board from which the four circus artists – specialized in dance acrobatics, bascule and aerial straps – let themselves slide down like monkeys. “When we play school performances, that is invariably the moment when all young people pull out their smartphones,” laughs Van Dycke. “Afterwards they copy the choreography on the playground and send us videos.”

In Exit, the acrobats have to keep each other in balance all the time, which is almost a matter of life or death (or at least injury or no injury). If someone balances their weight a bit too overconfident, the rotating wall will shoot through and the whole group will fall to the ground. ‘I have now seen the piece about eighty times, but the tension is still there,’ says Van Dycke. "So much can go wrong, sometimes it depends on a few seconds. Or a dancer gets so much energy from the audience that he shifts up a gear, but then the rest is endangered.' It is precisely because of this togetherness that circus is the ultimate medium for Van Dycke. "It's about connection, you depend on each other. In solo disciplines, such as Chinese mast or trapeze, the relationship to the object is central. But I prefer to play with the relationship between people. Before each performance I do an extensive preliminary investigation. For me, the work only makes sense if there is a personal connection and the group also enjoy their time together outside rehearsals. The performers call me the bossman, but also daddy Piet, because I want everyone to feel good about themselves.' (laughs)

Tightrope walking

Just like Alexander Vantournhout, Van Dycke has one foot in the circus world and the other in the dance. Between his six and eighteen years old he learned circus in Atelier Salto in Tienen. Van Dycke started with tightrope walking, got a taste for trapeze and ended up with partner acrobatics. “I didn't like the first lesson, but my parents made me try it three times. Later the spark was there, because in circus, unlike competition sports such as football or basketball, you can move freely. Working hard and having fun goes hand in hand. That is still my motto. Van Dycke also discovered his passion for dance through fabuleus, the production house for youngsters in Leuven. ‘At the circus school we mainly learned tricks, but I always found the way to go into the trick more interesting. I learned from choreographer Karolien Verlinden that dance can also be something else than the narrative of show dance. She worked with everyday actions. Also in Exit, my main source of inspiration is my street in Leuven, where I live with my boyfriend. Every day my neighbors and I leave the house together and we come home at night, but we remain strangers. Don't we share more with each other than we think?' After his dance training at the Fontys Hogeschool in Tilburg, Van Dycke made the opposite move: he founded the company "Circumstances", where he mainly works with circus performers. “They are used to challenge themselves. Dancers rarely get me on the edge of my seat as an audience.'


Just as he interweaves different genres – from acrobatics to dance, circus and slapstick – Van Dycke is at home in many contexts and audiences, including the Netherlands, where he won the BNG Bank Dance Prize in 2021. 'My company is called Circumstances because we always look for different circumstances: one time we play in a classical theatre, the other time in a sheep shed in the countryside or on location in the city. We use different circus techniques, make performances with young and older performers... That way it remains interesting for me and I have to reinvent myself as a maker. Three performances will premiere next season: Glorious bodies with circus artists over 50, Beyond the edge with youngsters at fabuleus and Foon, a project with his collective dOFt (read: dance or theatre) that he co-founded. "I'm a yes man, so sometimes there's little breathing room left," Van Dycke admits. 'My agenda is full until 2026. That stability is nice, but also frightening. Exit is also about that ratrace of life. Yet I keep my feet on the ground, because I know how fragile art is. You never know how something will be perceived. But as long as everyone of my team is happy and gets recognition for their hard work, I'm happy.”

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