DAZZLING TAP DANCER WANTS TO CROSS BORDERS
Photo above: © Nellie de Boer Fotografie
The feet as a musical instrument
Daring, discipline and imagination. If you want to get ahead in the world of tap dancing, you need them all. Marije Nie has them in abundance. She nearly became a lawyer when she realised that after years of piano lessons and playing the trumpet and other instruments, there was no single musical instrument that felt completely right to her. So she decided it had to be something 'dry' like law, but of course she and law didn't go together well. At 21, Marije was too vivacious and dynamic, and had to be surrounded by music and dance. One day she was introduced to tap dancing. It was love at first sight, and she knew right away that she wanted to be a tap dancer.
"I don't come from a particularly artistic family, but I felt drawn to music. I also loved wild dancing in the disco, even though I never had dancing lessons. I tried playing many instruments, but couldn't find the instrument that I really clicked with. Then during my law studies, I found a tap dancing class. I read in one of those student papers that tap dancing is music and that you can even improvise with it. I was intrigued straight away - I thought that was special. When I got there, it turned out the teacher, Peter Kuit, nicknamed 'The Master', was one of the world's best rhythm tap dancers. After five classes I knew I wanted to be a tap dancer. I felt that I could express and communicate things with tap that I couldn't in any other way. Peter Kuit has an amazing technique and what's special about him is that he deconstructs the tap movements into their most basic elements, like building blocks. Not all tap dance teachers do that. From him, I learned how the instrument works. You can't really be creative with tap dance until this technique becomes a natural part of your motor skills, your muscle memory, how your body can move and knows how to move. Once that's completely embedded in your system, then you can start to play."
"Peter Kuit encouraged us to find our own style, and I seized that opportunity. My style can best be described as musical, experimental, narrative and subtle. I feel like tap dancing has completely liberated me. You can pull out all the stops, you can cover the whole spectrum, from just walking to ecstatic leaps, frantic beats, crazy rhythms; forwards and backwards, left, right. It's a wide open field, changing very fast, and there is just so much to explore. You can see that every tap dancer has their own style, they all have a different sound. This shows you that it's a real instrument, and it's expressive because you're working in such a personal way. My interest isn't so much in perfecting my echnique, but in the content, the subtlety of what you can express and the adventure of new paths for tap dance. Mostly, I love the huge variety of music that I can play. I have danced with classical orchestras, experimental electronics, modern dancers, theatre and jazz, of course, like a season tour with a Benny Goodman sextet. This is very traditional jazz, but it was one of the most demanding performances I have ever done. The tempos are high, and everything has to swing like crazy. I love it that I can dance my way into all of these worlds."
Dancing on water - A dream comes true
Who on earth would dance on water? And tap dancing at that? Marije Nie did it. Tap dancing is an adventure, discovering new worlds, making combinations with other musicians. She wanted to leave the beaten path. Often, sitting on the train, she would look out at the dreary sodden pastures and wonder: couldn't you dance on that water? A few years later she made this fantasy a reality, along with the festival organiser and film maker Jaap Verseput, from the Dutch province of Zeeland. Together they thought up a way to do it that worked. So indeed, you can dance on water. Marije: "When you see those ditches in the fields from the train, they really look like little silver paths when the sun is low and shines on them. Then I thought: 'It would be great if you could tap your way along one of those ditches.' I wasn't thinking about the technical difficulties at all. Then I met Jaap Verseput in Zeeland, in 2007, and he happened to have the same idea. Then we realised the idea in Zeeland, in de 'Grevelingen', a shallow lake, even if you are 30 metres from the edge, it is still shallow. Jaap made a table of very thick glass, thick enough for me to tap on, and put it exactly 2 cm under water. It worked, and you could hear the water splashing with every tap! We attached wireless microphones to my shoes so you could hear the tap sounds better. That was really exciting, but also a bit dangerous. It was a small stage and both rthe glass and my tap shoes got slippery. I really couldn't fall into the water or else those expensive microphones would be ruined."
Dancing on water - Marije Nie and Jaap Verseput (2007)
Marije Nie can see worlds in her head that others can't see, and she wants to make them reality. She took on a project called 'LunchBreak', a musical encounter with the famous Dutch jazz trombonist Wolter Wierbos, a musical meeting in a tram tunnel in The Hague, filmed by Jellie Dekker (see video below). Wolter Wierbos has played throughout Europe, Canada and Asia and has many awards to his name, including the Podium Prize for Jazz and Improvised music and the most important Dutch jazz award, the VPRO Boy Edgar Award, in 1995. Marije Nie: "Wolter is one of the most creative trombone players, he has incredible energy and can make lots of different expressive sounds with his instrument."
LunchBreak - Marije Nie (tap dance), Wolter Wierbos (trombone), filmed by Jellie Dekker
A musical encounter in a tram tunnel between two people, two musicians
With fiery enthusiasm, Marije Nie talks about her spectacular musical underground encounter with Wolter Wierbos. "Wolter is an internationally famous trombonist working in experimental and improvised music. He is a member of the ICP, the instant Composers Pool, and he plays in Micha Mengelberg's and Han Bennink's bands. A fantastic musician."
"Wolter and I are both improvising musicians. We wanted to meet each other in a place with some life, a place where things happen and not a sterile venue. The place also had to have a good floor for me of course, and good acoustics. And then we thought: 'Wouldn't it be great to meet in the new tram tunnel in The Hague?' It is a great tunnel with really good acoustics, and it is also photogenic. It's a place to meet, where you can make a date. Our idea was that two people have a lunch break and they have made a date to meet there. There's very natural tension to the encounter. The instruments we play, Wolter on the trombone and me with my feet, are very close to our own personalities. The trombone sounds like a human voice, especially the way Wolter plays it, with all the effects he uses. It's really a meeting of two different people, each with their own voice. Wolter speaks through the trombone, and I speak through my feet, like two very different personalities."
"Out of the collision of sounds arises the truth"
What happens when two musicians with irrepressible imagination come together and join musical forces? Marije Nie can tell you about it. Marije Nie may have boundless imagination, but there is an older colleague from the music world, who can justly be called 'untameable', and who always takes things one step further: jazz drummer Han Bennink. Bennink is a percussionist, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist. Already playing drums and clarinet at a young age, Han Bennink (71) has a huge reputation and is one of the great international drum legends. Over the course of the late 20th century he became an important figure in the worlds of free jazz and improvisation. Bennink drums in several different styles, varying from conventional jazz to free and very personal improvisations, using anything near him as a percussion instrument (for example chairs, music stands, instrumental cases) including his own body (for example, holding a drumstick in his mouth and hitting it with the other drumstick), and the entire stage around him (floors, doors and walls).
To celebrate his 65th birthday, Han Bennink invited Marije Nie to join him performing in Amsterdam's BIMhuis jazz podium, along with other guest performers. Marije looks back on the evening - with a smile. Marije: "Han Bennink is an animal., a musical animal, and he is completely free when he is playing." Marije was tapping in an unbelievably quick tempo, inspired by Han Bennink, who didn't seem to care about anything. Marije: "I got totally swept away by Han. He has an amazing power, it is so immediate, whatever is inside him just comes out. There is no filter. He also really enjoyed it. It was new for him too. New things make him as happy as a child. It was great, especially because we really clicked. I think that we can do more really fun things together. Han is a legend."
ONE MILLION STEPS
In between everything else, Marije Nie is working hard on her first film project 'One Million Steps', set in Istanbul and directed by Eva Stotz, a film maker from Berlin. In 'One Million Steps' one can see the vibrant, rhythmic sound of a tap dancer's feet on the streets of Istanbul, seeking interaction with the people. How do they move through this city in flux, rapidly transforming from an ancient culture into a global metropolis? Then suddenly the beat of Istanbul changes, the steps of the people create a different rhythm and their voices demand to be heard. 'One Million Steps' tells the stories of protest of these days in Istanbul, with rhythm as the universal language, representing the millions of steps we take in our lives - and the freedom we want for them.
The film is not only about the Turkish situation, nor is it only about tap dancing, it poses the question of the steps everyone takes in their own life, and the freedom whe want for them. Marije Nie: "We thought Istanbul was the best place to tell this story, because the city has such a long tradition of being a crossroads for many people, culture and times. The rhythm of the city was what we wanted to catch.
Most people just walk functionally from A to B, but we wanted to know if there was also room to just stop and stand still, and be creative, or make music or dance. That means the human aspect. The head producer of the film is a company called Ronja Film in Berlin. I think our film will be in the Dutch film festivals in 2014."
A new band: Köçekçe - Marije steps into the Turkish music scene
With her new band Köçekçe, Marije Nie recently stepped into the rich musical world of Turkey, where the traditional rhythms are both danceable and poetic. Köçekçe is a combination of Turkish music and Dutch improvisation.
The group plays music from the court culture of the Ottoman empire, the sufi tradition and folk music from various parts of Turkey, improvisations and sound poems. In October 2013 they gave their first concert in Splendor in Amsterdam. Köçekçe consists of Oguz Buyukberber (cvlarinet), Mehmet Polat (ud), Raphaël Vanoli (guitar) and Marije Nie (tap). The first concert had a special guest, master percussionist Bart Fermie. Marije says: "I really fell in love with Turkish music. It happened after we made the film 'One Million Steps'. I'm intrigued because it's a completely different musical world. The rhythms are different, the whole approach is different. It is much more poetic. You have rhythms that can be 120 beats to the bar, while in the West we usually have 16 at the most. So there is much more rhythmic complexity, but also rhythmic poetry, it’s like story telling. I find it very inspiring for tap."
Marije has formed other ensembles in the past, such as Limoncella and Villa Sonora (both are now disbanded). With Villa Sonora, consisting of Meike van den Akker (puppetry), Alessandra Patrucco (voice, electronics), Saskia Meijs (viola), Marko Bonarius (contrabass) and Eva Bauknecht (direction), Marije Nie won the 2007 Jur Naessens Music Award for innovation in music. There are two composers who have written music especially for Marije's tap dancing: Theo Loevendie and Maurice Horsthuis, who made a name for himself as a theatre music composer. Marije has also performed as a tap soloist with an orchestra, performing the Tap Dance Concerto by Morton Gould. She has a duo with harpist Miriam Overlach, whom she met at Radio Kootwijk Live sessions. They hit it off immediately, with the power of Miriams’ playing balanced very well with the subtleness of Marije’s dancing.
Marije also worked with many other chamber musicians. Not only is this the music she grew up with, but she also enjoys to find ways to approach classical compositions, which usually don’t have a part written for a tap dancer. Also the importance of silence in classical music is very inviting to her, because it gives so much space.
Since a couple of years she is proud to be a member of Splendor, an initiative of 50 top musicians to create a new home for music in Amsterdam. Splendor is like a kitchen for musical initiatives, where many new things can happen and audiences can be close to the source. Marije's private life also has a musical touch, since she has been living with top jazz drummer Erik Kooger for a while now. Marije: "We have a lot of percussive ‘discussions’ on our kitchen table a lot at dinner."
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