Dutch born Didy Veldman is an active figure in European contemporary dance. As a freelance choreographer, she makes works that are clever, ambitious, full bodied, darkly humorous. While her name is not particularly well known in the United States, her work is highly regarded by artistic directors, dancers, and critics. Her dances have been performed at the Pillow by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance. She has also been on the faculty at The School at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010, 2013, and 2017.
She began her career training seriously in both ballet and modern dance, which prepared her for her dancing career with Scapino Ballet (Netherlands), Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève (Switzerland) and Rambert Dance Company (Britain). As a dancer, she worked with some of the late 20th century’s leading European choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, Mats Ek, and Glen Tetley. It was while she was dancing that she began to choreograph, making works for all three of the companies with whom she danced.
On Dancers' Individuality
In 2010, when Veldman was making a new work on the students in the Contemporary Program in The School at Jacob’s Pillow, she sat down for an interview with Pillow scholar Philip Szporer to talk about her creative process and her interests as a choreographer. Whether working with professional companies or students, Veldman works to identify distinctions within the ensemble. As she explained, “I love individuality. I love personality. When I can find that in people and they’re willing to share that with me, I get inspired and want to use that. The more differences, the better almost.” For some ballet dancers, Veldman’s open exploration can be challenging. She remarked, “Dancers get taught that things need to be finished and there needs to be a position at the end…I am so interested in the process that I don’t need an end. Just show me where it starts and we’ll find out if there needs to be an end.”
Working with Ballet Companies
Veldman created the full company work TooT for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal in 2005. Drawing on images from the circus, the dancers appear clownlike, with white faces and stylized cone-shaped hair. Musical themes from Shostakovich’s “Jazz Suite No. 2” further suggest movement ideas and clowning. Veldman developed a group identity through quirky movement ideas, with hunched shoulders and turned in feet, giving way to explosive unison phrases. As is often the case with her work, TooT’s playful humor gives way to elements of loneliness. In his review of the Pillow performance, New York Times dance critic John Rockwell called the work “charming,” finding “the result was continuously ingenious and beguiling” with “cryptic speech and plenty of cute but not too cute dancing.”John Rockwell, “Re-creations With Classical Past and Revolutionary Present” New York Times, August 19, 2005.
In the 2005 Pillow program, Veldman wrote about the piece.
The inspiration for TooT started with ‘Jazz Suite No. 2’ by Shostakovich. Being a Russian composer under Stalin’s regime, he was forced for economic reasons to compose music for a huge variety of arts, film, and entertainment, but still managed within that spectrum to keep his own identity.
I started to question identity, individuality, and the relationship of the individual to society. Surely society was created for the benefit of the individual —or has it become the other way around? Do we have to let go of individuality to be part of society?
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performed an excerpt from Veldman’s Frame of View on the 2009 Pillow Gala. Like TooT, the work appears to be a light-hearted investigation of human interactions. Frame of View takes its name from the three bright yellow door frames through which dancers enter and exit the space, as solos and duets alternate with ensemble sections. The dance draws on the dancers’ virtuosity as ballet dancers, while challenging them to explore falling, talking, and pedestrian action.
In the excerpt from Frame of View, duet sections demonstrate Veldman’s interest in partnering. As she explained in her Pillow interview, “I love partnering. The relationship between people whether it’s sexual, sensual, friendly. In life it’s all about relating, opening up, and getting to know people. Duet work is like that. It’s discovering each other and discovering space.“
Whether making work for ballet companies or contemporary dancers, Veldman ultimately defines her work as dance theatre. As she defines it, “Dance theatre is exactly describing itself. A mixture between movement and theatricality.” She goes on to suggest that “maybe theatre when we normally see it is slightly more direct and dance more abstract” with dance theatre as a “balance.”
That’s my world. I’m playing with human beings. Once you put human beings on stage, you end up more in the theatrical side than just in pure dance. In pure dance, people are treated as figures or as objects. So its more about the outside dynamic than the inside.