Dancing with Robin.
Photography by Michael Ivnitsky, Interview by Isa Prieto.
Robin is a dancer and artist based in Tel Aviv. With a classical dance education from Rotterdam, and explorations in the world of hip hop and now modern dance with the Batsheva ensemble, his style evokes emotion and explores the edges of inspiration and identity. We asked him a few questions about his life and his artistic practices.
IP: Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? RN: I grew up with my mom in Papendrecht, Holland. I grew up without my father and a really small family from my mother’s side. When I am abroad people ask me if I’m from Amsterdam, and I would say yes, because I did live and study there for a while. Currently I live in beautiful and ugly Tel Aviv, in Israel. I came here almost 3 years ago to dance with the Batsheva ensemble and pursue my dreams as a dancer and artist.
IP: How did you learn your love for dance? Did you train or are you self-taught? RN: As a small boy, when I was alone in my room I would listen to music, wear my moms clothing or play teacher. In my room I would have this fantasy world without shame and when friends would come over we would go into this fantasy world together. My mom put me in a ballet class when I was 3 years old. Going to ballet class as a boy was very rare, so I was special and I liked it. I liked the attention from the teacher, sometimes during the ballet class I would just sit with her and talk, until she would say “Robin, why are you not doing the exercise?!” A year later I had to stop, because I needed to go to swimming class and my mom couldn’t afford both. I danced with friends, classmates and by myself in my room until I was 10 years old. Then I started to dance professionally at a dance academy in Rotterdam. Codarts is one of the utmost dance academies in Europe for modern dance, conservative and strict in my opinion. There I discovered I have a big problem with authority. I got in a depressed mood and was very confused. This made me doubt why I was even dancing. It was an uncomfortable experience, but besides that it taught me important stuff to become a professional dancer. After the dance academy I condemned “dance” for a while. I stopped dancing ballet and wanted to be a cool kid. So I went to a hip hop school called Bounce in Papendrecht. Eventually I ended up in the selection hip hop team. I learned to really dance here, besides technique I could be creative and express my inner dialogue. In hip hop culture it is about finding your own style and self-expression, and using a lot of improvisation and freestyle. Something I didn’t really experience before in teaching classical dance. As a dancer now my improvisation is very different than dancers who just dance at the academy. It makes me stand out more. I enjoy my solitude and my personality is more introverted, but dance gave me a place to let my energy out and show myself But still up until now if someone asked me ‘Do you want to become a dancer?” I would answer in a stubborn way ‘No!’. I was shy and didn’t want to be vulnerable. While being vulnerable is really important to connect with yourself, your passion and others. Because the encouragement of a member of the hip hop team and very close friend, back then she was my girlfriend, I started to dance professional again. We both ended up studying dance. I went to the Modern Theatre Dance bachelor in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I rediscovered myself. After a while I got out of the closet and my world shifted. Connecting different with my masculinity and discovering my feminine side made me an even more versatile and open dancer. I wasn’t fully understood at the dance academy in Amsterdam. They found me too ambitious, not with the right attitude, not open enough. So I did never expect to dance after my study at one of the most popular and foremost contemporary dance company in the world. Batsheva is a dance company in Tel Aviv, Israel. Known by Ohad Naharin and Gaga, the movement language created by him. It is one of my biggest dreams coming true, learning a crazy amount of things as an artist and I became someone who years ago they would describe as the total opposite. Gaga and the artistic mindset in Batsheva really allowed me to be myself. I rediscovered myself in Tel Aviv to be as queer as I am now. Thinking beyond the frames of my mind and expanding them.
IP: How would you describe your dance style?
RN: Dance for me is a violent transformation, erotic, aggressive and sensitive all at once. In dance I play with my differences. I am a bit of an outcast in life and when I allow this feeling more into dance I discover new things. Instead of copying dancers and following rules, then I create. Mixing all the things I learned and love and what inspires me. Being an outcast is both my strength and weakness at the same time. My dancing is a collection of inner dialogues, with things I can’t really comprehend in text, but my body knows how to deal with and process it. In dance I can show my revolutionary way of thinking. I dream about my own identity.
IP: Do you have any influences or inspiration for your style?
RN: Everything is inspiration to me. Connecting with the inner child is something that I really identify with. My mood swings give me different qualities in movement. In total ecstasy I connect with my subconscious and lose control. Expressing the invisible, using the bizarre. I always have this underlying sense of sadness that gives me the drive to dance, love and live more fully. ‘Being alive is a killer (quote by Murakami).’ Art (Salvador Dali), fashion (McQueen), urban - hiphop culture (Juste Debout), music (all genres), the nightlife (party’s in the Bronx NYC), make up, poetry( Kahlil Gibran), novels (Jack Kerouack). Everything gives me impulses in my mind and spirit. The mind and spirit are the true dance. Without them, it’s just physicality.
IP: What is one of your most memorable or favorite experiences dancing?
RN: Dancing in my hiphop team, dancing in Amsterdam at my bachelor Modern theatre dance and now dancing with the batsheva ensemble are all experiences I would never give away. It gives me life, expression, connection, new words and new languages. It connected me with my best friends, lovers and big inspirations for probably the rest of my life.
IP: Looking through you Instagram I can see you are playful with blurring and bending gender norms. How would you describe your identity? Does it influence your performances, how so?
RN: I would describe myself as androgynous and queer. I wouldn’t call myself trans or female. I do wear dresses, make up and heels, but not really as a man or woman, just human. I recently shaved my head, because I felt it was time to experience the world different. I was curious if my long hair defined me. I got sent to the woman’s toilet, I got asked in a gay club by straight men if I was a girl or knew where the girls were. Because even though they were in a gay club they were straight….. obviously. I got a boyfriend, who just came out of the closet as bi and wasn’t fully sure if he was ready to be in a relationship with a guy. All this accumulated made it time for me to get rid of my insecurities and to be more confident in how to deal with this problematic thinking patterns of people and how to think about this myself. I don’t need to be confused myself, when others are confused about my identity. I’m various colorful and transparent and should embrace myself. I see myself as the future and the people in oblivion as the nearby past.
IP: This interview will be featured along side images from a photoshoot you did with with Michael Ivnitsky. What was that shoot like? Did you get to have any creative direction? What story did you want to tell?
RN: Mike is an amazing guy and great conversationalist. Asking me things like if I would call myself confident. (I would say no.) In the talk with mike I discovered myself more through his questions. It created a certain atmosphere, where I could allow myself to be whatever I was in the moment. I love to create new connections, the start when you don’t know someone at all and basically ask everything your interested in. People are more interested at first… haha, before the magic gets lost.
IP: In a music video for Yaeli (House of her own, feat. Sal.P) , your performance was great – I really loved your emotional movements, and the way you played with the camera! You choreographed this as well. I wonder what is your creative process for pieces like this?
RN: Thank you so much! My best friend and I made this video with an amazing team. My friend Ayala Pavo was the art director and gave me a pathway through the club, Alphabet (where we always go out together) and how I should time the pathway with the music. We started with improvising and set some moments together with the cameraman (Lael Utnik). The improvisation was based on groove and being human. The collaboration was a lot of fun and we actually learned a lot from it, we hope we will create something soon again!
IP: What do you want a viewer to take away from one of your performances? Do you have any message you would like to spread through your art?
RN: I like the dialogue between the public and performer. The audience is judgmental and has a lot of information. I am actually not talking about a real conversation here, not what artists do afterwards, not just talking about the show. I actually mean that after a show my guts and instinct are judging what worked and what didn’t. The reaction and energy of the public is something I analyze by default. Only then can I judge myself, which I use to grow and discover.
IP: What are your dreams and goals for the future? Is there any upcoming events we can look for you in?
RN: Today, I started a singing class by one of my friends. I really want to discover all possibilities as an artist, performer. I feel like I found more confidence in things that were always inside me, but I maybe didn’t give a real chance yet. I am kind of rediscovering myself. Wondering where in this planet I want to live, work and what new dreams I want to persuade. A moment of liminality, learning and discovering more and more! I am now creating a new creation in collaboration with a composer (Sivan Cohen Elias). We are transforming sounds of the dancers in pieces of music. Also I am making costumes together with Omri Alvo. We will make a Flamenco dress, inspired by the red flag of a bullfight. The plan is to work sustainable, so we are recreating a Kimono I already have into the Flamenco dress. I feel really blessed to do all these different things, collaborate and getting in touch with all different creative art forms and beautiful people.
IP: Is there anything I missed out you would like to add? Feel free to tell me about yourself, or anything that comes to mind
RN: Pursue your dreams; although it might be hard, you deserve it!