Alexandra Bachzetsis is a choreographer and visual artist, based in Basel (CH) and Zurich (CH). Her practice unfolds at the intersection of dance, performance, the visual arts and theater, generating a conflation of the spaces in which the body, as an artistic and critical apparatus, can manifest. This fundamentally interdisciplinary approach is reflected in her educational background. She studied and graduated at the Zürcher Kunstgymnasium (CH), the Dimitrischule in Verscio (CH), the …
Alexandra Bachzetsis is a choreographer and visual artist, based in Basel (CH) and Zurich (CH). Her practice unfolds at the intersection of dance, performance, the visual arts and theater, generating a conflation of the spaces in which the body, as an artistic and critical apparatus, can manifest. This fundamentally interdisciplinary approach is reflected in her educational background. She studied and graduated at the Zürcher Kunstgymnasium (CH), the Dimitrischule in Verscio (CH), the Performance Education Program at the STUK arts centre in Leuven (BE), and then continued to post-graduate level at Das Arts, the Advanced Research in Theatre and Dance Studies centre in Amsterdam (NL). During these years of training, Bachzetsis began to work as a dancer in the contemporary dance and performance context, collaborating with Sasha Waltz & Guests (Berlin) and Les Ballets C. de la B. (Gent), among others. Collaboration, transference and a plurality of voices and bodies have informed Bachzetsis’ work ever since and is often thematized as a method of developing new work in her practice.
Much of Bachzetsis’s work involves choreographies of the body and, in particular, the way that popular culture provides source material for gesture, expression, identification, and fantasy as we continually create and re-create our bodies and the way we identify. Within this, she scrutinizes the mutual influence between the use of gesture and movement in the ‘popular’ or ‘commercial’ genres on the one hand (online media, video-clip and television as a resource) and in the ‘arts’ on the other hand (ballet, modern and contemporary dance and performance). For Bachzetsis, the artificial and often precarious relationship between such genres produce an inquiry into the human body and its potential for transformation, however conceptual or actual. Ultimately, the way we all perform and stage our bodies and ourselves – through stereotypes and archetypes, through choice and cliché, through labor and spectacle – is a question that continues to shape the work of Bachzetsis.
Text by Hendrik Folkerts
Since Bachzetsis started working independently in 2001, she has created over 24 pieces, often working collaboratively, which have been shown in theaters, festivals and public space venues worldwide. In addition to this, her work has been exhibited in a variety of contemporary art spaces and museums, including Kunsthalle Basel (Basel, 2008), the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, 2015/2013), Tate Modern (London, 2014) and the Jumex Museum (Mexico City, 2014), as well as a number of international biennials, such as the 5th Berlin Biennial (Berlin, 2008), (d)OCUMENTA 13 (Kassel, 2012) and the Biennial of Moving Images (Geneva, 2014). Bachzetsis was nominated for the DESTE Prize (2011) and is a laureate of the Migros Kulturprozent Jubilee Award (2007), the Swiss Art Award (2016/2011) and Swiss Performance Prize (2012).
In 2016, Bachzetsis participated in “The Parliament of Bodies” and “Continuum”, Public Programmes at documenta 14. In January 2017, she presented Massacre: Variations on a Theme at MoMA, New York City. Later that year her work was included in documenta 14 exhibitions at Athens and Kassel. In June 2018, Alexandra Bachzetsis presented her performances „Private: Wear a mask when you talk to me“ and „Private Song“ at the High Line New York. „An Ideal for Living“ (2018), a solo exhibition at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris opened and the performance „Escape Act“ (2018) premiered at Pact Zollverein in Essen (DE). The latest work “Chasing a Ghost” (2019) has been commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago and toured in Europe since.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” the choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis said on a recent afternoon, gazing up at the vast white walls of the Marron Atrium, one of the busiest spaces at the Museum of Modern Art. For the first time, Ms. Bachzetsis was seeing parts of her new work, “Massacre: Variations on a Theme,” on the scale she had envisioned. Two video projections, each taking up the width of nearly a whole wall, showed subtly violent scenes: A woman thrashed on the floor of a …
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” the choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis said on a recent afternoon, gazing up at the vast white walls of the Marron Atrium, one of the busiest spaces at the Museum of Modern Art.
For the first time, Ms. Bachzetsis was seeing parts of her new work, “Massacre: Variations on a Theme,” on the scale she had envisioned. Two video projections, each taking up the width of nearly a whole wall, showed subtly violent scenes: A woman thrashed on the floor of a cardboard-padded room; another woman straddled a mirror, her bare legs inscribed with what looked like the stitching of skintight jeans; a grand piano played itself, producing an ominous looping refrain.
“Massacre,” on view through Jan. 31, is a video installation by day and, on select nights after museum hours, a live performance. Each component stands on its own — you don’t have to see the installation to appreciate the performance, and vice versa — though they deal with similar themes, what Ms.
Bachzetsis calls “excessive rituals” and “personal and collective nightmares.”
Born in Zurich and now living in Athens, Ms. Bachzetsis, 42, danced with the Zurich Opera, the German choreographer Sasha Waltz and the Belgian troupe Les Ballets C de la B early in her career. Her own work, which often explores “the limitation of the feminine or the power of it,” as she puts it, has toured extensively in Europe, at theaters and gallery spaces, but “Massacre” is only her second New York show. (The first was at the Swiss Institute in 2015.)
Created for the atrium at the invitation of Stuart Comer, chief curator in the Modern’s department of media and performance art, “Massacre” grew out of her interest in “The Rite of Spring,” the Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 ballet to Stravinsky’s pounding score. Though Ms. Bachzetsis never intended to create yet another adaptation of “Rite,” “Massacre” possesses something of that ballet’s ruthlessness, in its furiously repetitive movement and its macabre original score by Tobias Koch.
For the video (created with Glen Fogel) and the live performance (featuring three female dancers and two pianists), Ms. Bachzetsis researched ecstatic dance and movement — “the idea of sacrificing
yourself or dancing yourself to death,” she said. These ranged from Northern Soul, the craze born in 1970s northern England in response to American soul music, to the convulsive phenomenon known as tarantism, most common among women in southern Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Ideas of phantom limbs, second skins and body distortions — the female body, in particular — also populate the work, taking cues from Dada and Surrealist imagery. “This is maybe the most feminine piece I’ve made, in a very brutal way,” Ms. Bachzetsis said. “I feel violence is so much part of what surrounds us and what we carry in the body.”
Over coffee near the museum, she discussed choreographing across disciplinary borders and near
geographic ones ravaged by war. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What’s challenging about making work for the MoMA atrium?
It’s huge. And it has a huge audience; it’s crazy the amount of people that stream in and out every day. The sound [of people talking] is very dominant. And it’s visible from many levels. But it’s also magical. It has an amazing energy, almost ceremonial.
Do you think of yourself as working primarily in one discipline?
I’m more interested in finding the right language for something. I never wanted to situate myself here or there. It’s more important to think “What does this idea need? What’s the strongest way to develop it?” rather than “No matter what, make choreography” or “No matter what, make a film.”
So you have to be well versed in many approaches.
Maybe. It’s also a matter of looking for the right collaborations or partners or institutions. It’s completely different to work with a theater on a commission versus a museum. It’s interesting to have this dialogue with a context. Often I formulate a work both for the theater and visual-art context. “Massacre,” for
example, could tour as an exhibition or only as a stage piece.
Did “The Rite of Spring” interest you because of the female sacrifice — the Chosen One dancing herself to death?
Yes. I was always very fascinated and kind of terrified with that story, and I love the music, in particular the four-handed version for piano, which was created for the ballet studio, so that the dancers could
rehearse. It really carries both that fear and ambition to get lost or lose yourself.
One striking image in “Massacre” is the use of mirrors to bisect the body and reflect it back on itself. You mentioned that this is a reference to mirror therapy for phantom limbs. Where does this interest come from?
I find this fascinating, thinking about what if the body isn’t there? Or what if what you think is your body is somewhere else? It became interesting to me in Athens, in both a symbolic and very direct way, from
witnessing the amazing amount of refugees and people in the streets who have been completely
displaced. When you live close to this direct impact of the problems of war, you’re confronted with
something very profound that’s missing all the time. What do you do?
In a way, it feels completely ridiculous and redundant to make work that communicates about an idea of loss or displacement, because it’s on such a meta level of relating to the thing. Should you abandon your family and go and work in a camp? What should you do?
Do you think your work can do something?
I don’t feel that I’m an activist performance artist. I think work is always political. Or the body is political — what you achieve through your body and through other bodies. But I don’t think it offers any straight-forward solution. You can only hope that it makes some people think for themselves.
Broschat, Natalie. “Alexandra Bachzetsis und Bruno Beltrão bei Tanz im August”, September 2018.
Poiré, Léa. “Trouble dans le genre”, Mouvement, September 2018.
Garcia-Carré, Céline. “Les Ambiguïtés d’ Alexandra Bachzetsis” L’ŒIL, November 2018.
“Au Bord de la Danse”, Les Inrockuptibles, October, 2018.
Seibert, Brian. “Fish, Stilettos and Underwear: The Dances Go On”, The New York Times, Jan 2017.
Burke, Siobhan. “A Feminine Dance Work, Made ’in a Very Brutal Way’”, The New York Times, Jan 17, 2017.
Tieke, Kristina. “Nach der Performance ist vor der Performance“, Artline magazine III, July 2016.
David Everitt Howe. “Dance in the Ruins“, Mousse Magazine issue #50, October-November 2015.
McLean-Ferris, Laura. “Can you feel it? Body and soul in the performances of Alexandra Bachzetsis,” frieze d/e, n. 20 June-August 2015.
Bachzetsis, Alexandra. “My influences. Artist, performer and choreographer Alexandra Bachzetsis on her influences”, Frieze Magazine, March 2017.
Wohlthat, Martin. “Mit Drumsticks und Stöckelschuhen“, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 2012.
Herzberg, Stefanie. „Eine virtuose Etude von Alexandra Bachzetsis“, Tages-Anzeiger, May 2012.
“Alexandra Bachzetsis talkes to Catherine Wood about confronting the audience with their own voyeuristic gaze” , Kaleidoscope, Issue Spring 2012.
Szewczyk, Monika. “Le paradoxe de l’autonomie“, Le Phare n.9, Sept – Dec 2011.
Hunt, Andrew. “A Piece Danced Alone“, Frieze Blog, 2011.
Ziltener, Alfred. “Grosses Solo für zwei Tänzerinnen“, Basellandschaftliche Zeitung, Februar 11, 2007.
Meneghetti, Christoph. „Verhör einer Doppelgängerin“, Basler Zeitung, Februar 12, 2011.