Berpke van Oers
Gia van de Akker is one of the eurhythmists who started to steer their own course in the nineties. Against the eurhythmy rules of the time, they were looking to emphasize the individual experience and to connect with contemporary art. Love took her to Italy, where she has been living and working since 2007.
An interview with Gia van den Akker
In a small village in the north of Italy, she prepares for her performances in La Fabricca, her eurhythmy studio in a former factory for machine parts. This is where she teaches eurhythmy classes and directs performances by young eurhythmists. She has recently started to coach these young people while they are taking their first steps on their path as self-employed eurhythmists.
Gia has returned to the Netherlands for a couple of weeks – the perfect opportunity for an interview. She lights up when we enter the large, bright and surprisingly high-ceilinged grand café in Utrecht, where we have planned the interview. ‘They serve fresh mint tea, wonderful!’. Gia has lively, dark brown eyes, which add sparkle to her tall figure. If I hadn’t known, I would not have guessed that she is almost fifty. I find myself wondering whether her appearance could be the effect of years of practising eurhythmy.
First steps in eurhythmy
Born in the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant, Gia attended a small village school near Breda. After taking her finals at the Breda gymnasium, she had a hard time deciding what to do next. ‘There were so many things I liked, from playing the violin and the trombone, to anything to do with languages, and I always had an interest in philosophy, too. I was looking for a degree programme that would combine all these elements,’ Gia says. ‘One day, someone gave me a prospectus with information on programmes offered by universities of professional education, which had a section on eurhythmy. I knew right away that eurhythmy was the thing for me! I was in my early twenties when I started at the Eurhythmy Academy, the precursor of the present Bachelor of Dance in Education department. To me, eurhythmy was an eye-opener. When you practice eurhythmy, you get the feeling, even though this may take some time, that a universal force is flowing through you. That you can connect with a different dimension by moving in a specific way, and that you are part of a larger scheme of things. To me, this is still a very special sensation. The programme provided an all-round education, both in terms of the movements and in the anthroposophic background we were taught. After my graduation, I worked with the Netherlands Eurhythmy Ensemble, run by Warner Barfod. In addition, I taught for a year at the Geert Groote School in Amsterdam. Later on, I worked for fourteen years as a teacher at the Eurhythmy Academy. In the late eighties, I participated in Else Klink’s performance group in Stuttgart for a year. Working with Else Klink was different from working with Barfod: she is very intuitive. She taught me a great deal. She encouraged me to follow my own artistic path. A highlight for me was our performance at the 1992 Kassel Documenta IX, a major international happening for contemporary art. We had created our own performance called Tierkreis, dancing on music by Stockhausen. The choreography of this performance was a collective effort, we performed together with an actor and wore trouser suits. What we did to the music was eurhythmy in its purest form, but it looked different and new. We were called the avant-garde of eurhythmy and I loved it.’
Universal or personal?
‘It took me a long time to find my own voice in the world of eurhythmy. The eurhythmy that was practised in anthroposophic institutions often had a suffocating feeling. In the fourth year of my training, I did an internship in a community centre where nobody knew what eurhythmy was, even though the Academy was right around the corner. It gave me the freedom to pass on the sparkle of eurhythmy in my own way. Surely this wonderful art of movement was not meant to be exclusive, practiced and experienced only by a few, I often thought.’
‘I felt and still feel that eurhythmy should seek to connect with the outside world, and this has always been my motivation. Along the way I found that I could only connect the two after I had made the connection myself. For instance, I could only do eurhythmy at a funeral after I had experienced the death of my parents. Many people had a different view in those days. They often felt that things were too personal and, as a consequence, too subjective. Before, you were expected to study the intentions and feelings hidden in the language and the music. Your own connection with the two was not discussed. As a result, eurhythmists often did not really ‘get’ the meaning on an existential level, and audiences would be unmoved by a performance. You would analyze a poem: which sounds do you hear, which rhythms are there? How the poem affected you seemed to be irrelevant. The result of this approach was that eurhythmy performances at the time were often very similar. The new developments in eurhythmy, which meant that the personal did shine through in performances, were said to cause the art form to become too full of ego, whereas for me, it was exactly that – the personal – which made eurhythmy much more credible. I noticed that as I showed more of my personal feelings, the audience was able to connect with the performance a lot more. In order to bring something across, as an artist you must have lived through your own joy and pain. If you do it well, you create a balance between the so-called objective and the subjective. By transforming your personal experiences into art, something from the inside is turned outside. How could I leave my own life aside? It may sound absurd today, but we fought a real battle in those days. Luckily, things have changed. Biographical motives may be added, if it is done in a way that the audience can relate to. From 2000 onwards, more and more eurhythmists started doing solo projects. They paid more attention to their costumes, and involved outside theatre experts and directors. These people helped to get the professionalization process going.’
Going your own way
‘It is wonderful to be a self-employed eurhythmist,’ Gia van den Akker says with conviction. ‘However, it may be hard to earn a living for newly graduated eurhythmists who want to make a career as performing artists or who just want to work with adults. Many performing eurhythmists choose a second profession to make a living and keep doing eurhythmy on the side. It really is a pity, since eurhythmists have so much to offer. I would like to help these newly graduated eurhythmists to become independent, and that is why I have become a coach. We discuss ways in which they can handle their publicity and network, how to tackle fundraising and how to handle their finances. Above all, I teach them develop an interest in their target group and speak their language. Finally, I tell them to be patient, to keep trying and to hold on to their ideals.
As a self-employed eurhythmist, you spend of lot of time pioneering, finding out how far you can go. In Italy, I keep things really simple. I teach at the village school, often using only a CD player. I love working like this. I make sure my classes are accessible to adults by using images from their daily lives. I often begin with a really ‘down to earth’ approach and then start looking for ways to climb up. In my village, I sometimes notice old ladies spending their days merely looking out of the window. How I would love to invite them to my eurhythmy classes!’
Text: Petra Essink
Photography: Marion Körner en Helmut Hergarte