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Interview: 15 minutes with Larysa Bauge

I wanted to do an experiment. I wanted to meet her for 15 minutes only. To do an interview like in a pressure cooker. Very quick, yet full of sense and meaning. I am sure this is possible. But you do not want to meet Larysa Bauge for 15 minutes only. You do not want to write about her in oneliners. That would do no right to who she is, to what she does and to what she has to tell us. There is too much coming from one single sentence. Talking with her makes you want to explore a myriad of things with her. And today she has time to do so.

Larysa Bauge
Larysa Bauge

You are reading words here. You will miss the hot feel of this day. It is 5 in the afternoon at the backside of Leiden’s central station – not a spot where you really want to be right now. And even though summer is ending, you do not want to stay in the sun for very long. We run into the café at the back side of the station, preferring a bit of disturbing music above the sharpness of the sun.

Let’s begin with some biographic details. Just in order to understand how she became the performer that she is today. She was a musician for 20 years, starting at 7. “In Belarus you’ll have to start when you’re young. Here you can start to become a musician when you are a bit older.” She was a conductor in classical music, and she got disappointed. “The academic classical music world is full of unnessecary protocol, it has a very stiff atmosphere. There is no place for creativity. So I started to explore contemporary music. I started to compose. Later I wanted to add visual aspects. I wanted to involve the bodies of the musicians. I had problems to get the musicians doing what I wanted. Who wants to play violin while laying on the ground? And not many musicians want to do things that are not clear beforehand.” So here we are: she decided to make herself the agent of her own work – it brought her into performance art.

She went to T.I.M.E. This is a master specialisation from the conservatory in Den Haag and the University of Leiden for interdisciplinary musical theatre. “I started to explore the things that I can do with the means that I have: my own body, combined with space and sound – or the absence of sound. I believe I love performing. With performance the person is enough. And anyone can do it. Any person is powerful enough to deliver a message. I find it very beautiful.”

Does it mean that a performance can be anything?
“Performance is what an artist names a performance. It could be anything.”

So, if it could be anything, could it be there without any context? Uhm… maybe this question is not so interesting here. I’d better ask: what do you need to do a performance?
“I need to induce in a certain state. I need a deep concentration for that. And I need to do some kind of research in advance.”

Could you do a performance without knowing what you will be doing beforehand?
“I have seen people doing pure improvisation and it was amazing. Nothing you do is random anyway. You create a frame. It is a kind of a ritualistic thing: you initiate an event, people come. They know in advance that something will be happening.

What it exactly is that happens in a performance may be too complex to understand. So many aspects are involved at the same time. Body, sound, space – to name just a few. And what you do is real. You are not playing anything. That is the difference with theatre.”

 Are you in another state of awareness when you do a performance?
“The state of awareness is different. You try to abstract something. And with performance you put yourself in a very vulnerable state. For example, you can be very sensitive to how someone looks at you – it may influence what you are doing. That is why musicians often like their public to be in the dark. Or play with their eyes closed.”

It seems that vulnerability in different senses is an important aspect of performance for her. “Vulnerability is already a strong message in itself. Life is so much about being strong and successfull and responsible. We don’t like weakness. And we find it hard to embrace that we are also evil and greedy and jealous. We could stop denying that we are assholes.”

Here the interview comes to a little pause. I am working without a recorder, and sometimes, like now, I just want to write down every single word that Larysa is saying. Her talking is clear, but my writing is just not fast enough to jot everything down. So there is some silence now en then (the music at the background adds continuously though).

You are from Belarus. This is a country that I hardly know anything about. Do you mind to talk a bit about your country? I can imagine that you already get a lot of questions about that…
“Yes, I do get a lot of questions about this. At T.I.M.E. I was the only non-Dutch person. And many people hardly know anything about Belarus. It is a very closed country. A lot of Russians and Ukranians live there. There is hardly a national idea. The Belarusian language is dying, it is not used at all. Everybody is speaking Russian. In our history Belarus has always been part of another country. Our weak national feeling means that we can hardly resist to other countries. No one can tell why we should be our own country. We are very much orientated towards Russia. We used to be a part of it. We are very mild and calm people, we say. It is easy to surpress us. We have the same dictator for 25 years and there is no social movement at all. No one is objecting to anything. Last time he was re-elected by 90% of the voters. I believe that people really do like him. There is a very mild kind of fear. They believe he establishes order. Everyone is poor, but everyone is paid the same small salary on which you can live. I would say Belarus is a dump: it is not water, it is not land. It is in between. How we are is the opposite of expression. That is why I left. There is no contemporary art at all there. The winner of the Nobel Prize of Literature is a writer from Belarus. Not anything was dedicated to her in my country. She was not even mentioned in the news!”

Could I go there as a Dutch person. I mean, with the dictator and all that.
“I think it will be very safe to travel there. You will be welcomed warmly by the people and no one will bother you while going around.”

We talk further about music. Larysa tells me she has had a hard time with music. “I don’t like the organisation of sound. It is very difficult to make music in a natural way. Often a composition becomes artificial. And for me it is very difficult to listen to it without analysing. I turn towards the kind of contemporary music which is difficult to analyse.

The aspect that I really like in music is the context. Not so good music that brings you to your teenage times sometimes could be very attractive. The same goes for live interpretation versus a recorded version. Or listening to an aged music idol. The product itself might not be good, but the context is what brings you the emotional satisfaction. I actually like it very much to see people that I know, play. I like to see them, to see who they are.”

Then, after a while of talking about music and other art Larysa says: “You know, the seperation of forms of art is so artificial to me. It is actually all part of… oh, this obsession of us with classification!”

These are the last words that I noted in my notebook. I do not want to leave these words out, as I can imagine that they matter for how Larysa came to work in the way that she does now and also for art in general.

O, and I must say that I am glad that we have met for more than 15 minutes. Why did I want these 15 minutes to begin with?

Van onze correspondent: Leonie van der Plas
Uit ons fanzine: Le Generator #02