Interview by Hannah Pezzack
Images by Angela Lidderdale & Juri Hiensch

WhyNot is a dextrous, dance-focused platform, based in Amsterdam. At Front Row Festival, they will present OurSpace, an interactive game that interrupts the practices of social media. ‘Zoom in on your new friend’s profile, observe from really close by: smell this person; touch this person’. A ‘must-swipe-right performance bot’ gives instructions, fusing the break between bodies and smartphone tech. 

How did WhyNot begin? 

We started WhyNot in 2009 to create space for emerging dancers and choreographers, whilst also generating work of our own. In addition to the biannual WhyNot Festival, we also organize various activities throughout the year and produce interdisciplinary works to experiment with new formats. We think it’s important to connect dance to different art forms and fields like science, to inspire and each other, and to connect to a wider audience, to come together; talk and celebrate. 

OurSpace is a performance and a quirky social experiment… it tests the boundaries of space in our hyperconnected world”

And who are you, exactly?

Marjolein Vogels is a dancer, choreographer and curator. And Daisy Benz (me) is a cultural marketeer, concept developer and curator. We grew up in the same village in Brabant but went to different schools, so when we met again in Amsterdam twelve years ago that’s when we became friends. 

That’s a good way to segway into some of the themes of OurSpace: connection, communication. Can you tell us more about the show? What exactly does it involve?

OurSpace is a performance and a quirky social experiment that choreographs the bodies of participants using a chatbot in WhatsApp. The performance tests the boundaries of space in our hyperconnected world. It reflects on the relatively new but seemingly normalized behaviours and movements we show in our virtual social networks, like “following”, “zooming in” and “liking”. The chatbot, your social companion in this performance, asks you questions and provides assignments that translate online social habits into physical movements. It’s like a dance ritual for new encounters. 

“We wanted to create a collective choreography as a meeting ritual, and we found our inspiration in online social platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and Tinder.” 

Why did you develop this work? 

We wanted to create a collective choreography as a meeting ritual, and we found our inspiration in online social platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and Tinder. How do we “move” online, what new gestures are being developed and used by everybody? What is the value of our online movements versus our offline movements? How do our online movements change our offline social behaviour?

There are elements of technology, dance and audience participation here. What’s the motivation behind such an interdisciplinary piece? 

WhyNot likes to inject the dance and performance field with new, fresh ideas and methods from other disciplines and science fields. For this idea, we needed a specialist in the online world; hackers but also interactive designers. This is what we found in James Graves and Klasien van de Zandschulp who co-created the performance with us. 


What dance styles do you draw influence from? 

Our background is in modern contemporary dance. We used exercises that make you more conscious of your environment and other dancers/participants of the game. We also especially wanted to use different senses, like the sense of smell and touch, since that is what makes a real-life so much different from online.

“These are all movements, and all movement is dance.” 

On your website, you say that you want to “break out” of the theatre? What do you mean by this? Can dance offer us a different way of interacting with the city? 

If people become aware of the power of their movement they can find new perspectives on their work, lives and art. The only thing that we really “have” is our own body. And all the experiences people have come from the senses. How do you work, move around, meet each other? And how do you design cities with the body as a starting point? These are all movements, and all movement is dance. 

You’ve performed in so many different institutions. From the Van Gogh Museum to De School. What’s been your favourite space to work in?

The idea for OurSpace actually started in the Van Gogh Museum, where we made an app with the same team that translated the ideas and feelings of Van Gogh’s art into physical movements. Over the past year, it transformed into OurSpace. At De School, we had the sixth edition of the biennial WhyNot Festival.  One of our latest projects is the production that was an outcome of our research into architecture/space and the body/movement. We brought together choreographer/dancer Amos Ben-Tall, architect/interdisciplinary artist Gosse de Kort and researcher Katìa Truijen. Together they developed a kinetic art installation with choreography and an extensive online publication of the working process. The result of this beautiful collaboration demonstrates how movements can shape our environment, and how the environment can shape our movements.

Any big plans for the future? 

This fall we are cooking up some new ideas, involving the dance of the landscape… so keep an eye on our website or socials to catch the latest news!   

Front Row Festival takes place on 28 September at various locations in Amsterdam Noord. Free for Subbacultcha members.