in the Category: art

Femke Gyselinck

‘I’ve been kind of living outside of many boxes my entire life.’ Femke Gyselinck is hard to pin down. She’s a dancer yet she plays drums in Flamer and synths in the upcoming Moving Ballads. She has always been attracted to music, whether it’s Jennifer Lopez or Joni Mitchell. Maybe most of all, she’s allured by what escapes in between the lines. The boundaries between music and dance, between actor and spectator: ‘Grey zones. I love it’.

Interview by Milena Maenhaut
Photos shot in Leuven by Elies Van Renterghem

Do you like interviews?

Yes. It invites me to reflect on my work and to express myself correctly in order to convey ideas. That’s my responsibility as an artist. I think it’s annoying when people say ‘the work speaks for itself’. That’s too easy.

You said earlier that you have a soft spot for music. 

I think deep down I’ve always wanted to be a musician. Musicians have a very unique bond on stage. They have their own codes. As they watch and laugh at each other, the audience is left out. The same goes for dance: when you dance together with others you agree upon rules. It’s a similar connection.

Deep down I’ve always wanted to be a musician

In a lot of interviews you talk about the connection with your brothers. Is connection something that inspires you in general?

Yes. As a dancer I try to connect with the audience. When Flamer starts, the drums are in the spotlights, yet the first 30 minutes there is no music. As I play with expectation, the audience starts to feel uneasy: ‘Is this really going to be an abstract dance performance?’ Besides that, I always look for physical proximity. In Flamer the audience is sitting face-to-face and Lander and I are moving from one side to the other. It’s like we’re playing table tennis, we’re literally connecting both sides. My performative style creates a connection too. I usually leave some lights on and look for intimacy with the audience by making eye contact.

Why the urge to make an audience feel uneasy?

I like it a lot. (Laughs) I think it has something to do with my physical appearance. While I look small and cute, it amuses me to act tough. 

Moving Ballads is inspired by the work of Joni Mitchell. Why her?

I’ve always thought she was an interesting figure. It’s not like I was a huge fan of her music. Yet when I was reading her biographies, I started thinking about the potential to work with her. I read a lot to understand how she worked. I listened to her music and made very intuitive selections of what aroused my curiosity. I talked to experts who explained the specificities of each record and how to understand it in the course of her body of work. I spoke with Hendrik Lasure, the composer of the music of Moving Ballads, about what struck me when I was studying Mitchell. Afterwards he dove into his studio. There won’t be any covers, though. I like to think that Joni Mitchell’s music, her being and everything that surrounds her flowed through us like a fluid from an intravenous drip, yet everything is coded by our own algorithms.

Joni Mitchell’s music, her being and everything that surrounds her flowed through us like a fluid from an intravenous drip

Flamer on the other hand is based on the work of Jennifer Lopez. That’s rather far away from Mitchell.

The only link between both artists is me. (Laughs) My fantasy. Or my family: when we grew up both JLO and Joni haunted our house. For Flamer we used a similar method as we do for Moving Ballads: we reworked, studied and analyzed the work of JLO a lot in order to make something new. The music of JLO was a starting point to play with the relation between Lander and me. The JLO song we adapted is ‘I’m real’. On stage we venture between what’s real and what’s not.  Everybody knows we’re brother and sister. Yet we play with the ambiguous reality on stage by posing and performing ‘being real’. The audience is constantly wondering: are they acting or being themselves?

Which part of the biographies of Mitchell captivated you?

I read Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words. It’s a wonderful biography, based on interviews Joni did for 40 years with the same journalist, Malka Marom. Since the interviews stretch over such a long period, it reaches from when Joni was a star to later, when she felt like she didn’t get the recognition she deserved. Joni Mitchell thinks a lot about how she wants to evolve as an artist. She’s not someone who found her success formula and stuck to it. Every album she made is completely different. She plays with the genres journalists assign to her. When they say, ‘She’s a folk star like Joan Baez,’ she would make a completely different record. Journalists reconsider, ‘Oh no, she’s actually a singer songwriter like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen,’ she answers by making a jazz record. Her last album Shine was released together with a ballet. The music is very cheesy but has incredible harmonies performed both by a symphonic orchestra and amazing jazz musicians. Not to forget: Joni Mitchell herself is an incredibly skilled piano and guitar player.

Do you too want to break free from the rigid boxes people tend to put you in?

I feel too old to be concerned about that. It’s different when you’re a twentysomething. But you have to do your own thing. I’ve been kind of living outside of many boxes my entire life. It’s very liberating.

You have to do your own thing

You continue to search for the grey zones between things. Between posing and being real, between music and dance.

That’s true! (Laughs) During the rehearsal earlier I wondered: how can I explain to the other dancers what I have in mind? I said that I want our movements to be ambiguous, in the grey zone. We combine the movements the audience can read with others they can’t interpret that easily. It’s a game I’m playing the entire time. Grey zones, I love it.

You’re learning to play synths for Moving Ballads. How’s that going?

It’s a lot of fun, yet at the same time it can be frustrating. I have no idea what kind of effect my input will have. As a dancer I know what to try when someone would suggest me to dance around a barrel with a Vedett on top but I can’t anticipate the synths. Hendrik gives us directions and we follow, not knowing what’s going to happen. Suddenly we hear our own sound distorting, it’s wonderful. I would like to do it the entire day, but we have to dance too. 

Lastly, what are your favorite performances this season?

I’m going to recommend performances I haven’t seen yet, otherwise I’ll just be summing up the work of my colleagues. I might end up disliking some things I recommend here, though.


Brik Tu-Tok, 29 Nov - De Koer, Ghent (free for members)

In terms of music, it would suggest Brik Tu-Tok. I haven’t seen them live yet, but they seem exciting and funny. Brik Tu-Tok consists of two actors and theater makers performing music as if they are fictional characters.


Sonja Jokiniemi, Howl – 5 Dec

Sonja is from Finland. I briefly encountered her here in STUK when she was in residence. Her work is completely new for me, which applies to Doris Uhlich as well.


Dana Michel, Yellow Towel – 17 Dec

If I would have to pick one artist from the entire program, it would be her! I’ve already seen another solo of hers, it was the best thing I saw last year. Dana Michel is a very interesting performer. I like the way she thinks about identity and physicality.


Michiel Vandevelde and Platform-K, The Goldberg Variations – 18 and 19 March

It feels weird to recommend people I know, but I’m always interested in what Michiel is doing. The combination of Michiel, Platform-K and The Goldberg Variations intrigues me. The Goldberg Variations is a recurring theme in dance. Steve Paxton made an iconic solo and Mårten Spångberg too made a version of the Variations some time ago. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas will make her interpretation in 2020. It’s an iconic piece and I’m curious how Michiel and Platform-K will tackle it.


Doris Uhlich, Every Body Electric – 31 March (free for members)

Every Body Electric is said to be a ‘manifesto for the equality of all bodies on stage’, which will be confronting. Uhlich works with performers with a physical disability. Disabled performers are very underrepresented in the arts, something Platform-K tries to change.


Vera Tussing and Quatuor MP4, Tactile Quartet(s) – 13 May

This performance is accompanied by live music, which I like. Vera Tussing challenges the boundaries of what’s possible on stage. What if the musicians instead of their instruments would play the limbs of the audience? It’s intriguing. She questions the boundaries between performer and spectator as she touches the audience.


Liz Kinoshita, 11 O’clock – 26 May

I’ve appreciated the previous work of Liz so I’m looking forward to her next creation. She works with musical. I think it’s interesting to work interdisciplinary in contemporary dance. 

That’s it, I think I’ve just selected all the women of the program. (Laughs) And Michiel.

Moving Ballads
11 March - STUK, Leuven
Free for members