Holding Present

Ula Sickle's choreography is immediately appealing, with clear, powerful gestures that speak of resistance, uprising and combat: arms raised, hands open, fists crossed, head dodging blows: gestures that are repeated from one dancer to the next, almost in canon, as the movement becomes collective, culminating in a climax of intensity and fervor carried by all participants. Amanda Barrio Charmelo and Mohamed Toukabri, in black tunics and pants, soft high-top sneakers (like the rest of the troupe) dance a duet, a more intimate, fluid moment of floor choreography during the improvisation of the musicians on the perimeter of the stage. They are also at their posts for the performance of A giant Blowing machine or a pocket tin sandwich by Berlin-based composer, performer and Sardinian cellist Stellan Veloce. The instruments used here are harmonicas and megaphones, which amplify the harmonicas, reactivating the idea of collective protest.

Composer avec L'espace à ManiFeste,  Michèle Tosi for Hémisphère Son, June 2023



Echoic Choir

Echoic Choir‘s Berlin debut recently took place as part of this year’s Club Transmediale Festival (CTM)–a natural fit for the festival’s “Transformation” theme. Within the roughly hour-long show, an ensemble of six performers transformed the space into a re-interpretation of the club environment. The interdisciplinary show asked the audience to take part in their “collective ritual” in which the performers moved around the space, creating club-like beats and rhythms with their voices. A highly interdisciplinary piece, Echoic Choir includes poetry written by the Dutch writer Persis Bekkering, and custom costumes designed by Joelle Läderach and Sabrina Seifried (Wang Consulting).

How 'Echoic Choir' brought the club back to CTM festival Caroline Whiteley for Electronic Beats, September 2021

“I must have more mirror neurons than other people”, I repeated to myself several times during the performance. While the viewers around me had no problem with sitting absolutely still as composer Stine Janvin’s “fake synthetic music” produced by human voices got more intense, I could hardly keep myself from starting to dance on my chair. It was quite a strange piece, of a kind unfamiliar to me, where six dancers, including choreographer Ula Sickle, were raving, breathing, raving, speaking or vocalising, as they simultaneously performed between groups of roughly ten audience members, each sitting on a high chair.

There is something quite generous in letting other people watch you breathe and get exhausted. And it felt great to get so close without the mediation of a screen or stage. Paradoxically – given that there were still strict rules for physical distancing in place – Echoic Choir achieved a more intimate relationship between audience and performers than most typical theatre or dance pieces. Retrospectively, I think that Sickle might have consciously aimed to answer the question, How can we get as close to the public as possible given that we need to respect all these rules? And sitting as close as you could legally be at that moment in time turned out to bring us much closer than we usually get to performers on stage.

Dancing with Death Klaus Spiedel for Spike Art Quarterly #69, Autumn 2021



In Nuit Blanche, Sickle turns the gesture of waving a flag into an ongoing installation. The black flag, which cannot be linked to one particular battle thanks to its colour and hence defies easy interpretation, is kept in motion by several performers for six hours on end. Conflicting meanings and connotations slide on top of each other.

The diverse group of dancers that the choreographer assembled for Relay – all approach Sickle’s question with their own history in mind. They each individually take on the responsibility to keep the flag moving, but it’s the collective effort required to do so for six hours on end that makes the installation such a powerful symbol.

It’s a symbol with a material presence in the space as well, with a certain auditive and visual impact. Thanks to the minimalist input of sound designer Yann Leguay, a frequent collaborator of Sickle’s, the flag-waving becomes an incantation that sharpens your senses.

Charlotte de Somviele, Nuit Blanche Brussels October 2018


Free Gestures - Wolne Gesty

Sickle is an artist and choreographer. In Free gestures, she moves from the stage to the gallery for the first time. She adapted the stage rules to the requirements of the exhibition halls. Because it is a dance, a kind of performance, but also an exhibition viewers decide what and when to watch. From the assumption, this exhibition cannot be seen as a whole, which starts at a specific time and ends at a specific time. Here the action takes place in several places simultaneously. In the perspective of a long corridor, a woman dressed in black dynamically waves a black flag. The flag is bigger than the woman. The material performs spectacular eights in the air. Elsewhere, the dancer lies on a couch in a distant pose. In another room, the dancer, staring at the ceiling, talks about a ruined city - she suddenly turns and looks you in the eye.

There is no accident here. Dancers keep eye contact with you, it gets intimate, as if they confided in you their secrets and deep thoughts. When one story ends, the next begins. You follow their voices. Dancers drag you with them from one room to another - with their eyes, movement, gesture. They imperceptibly lead the movement of viewers. But everything seems to be happening naturally.

"Free gestures" stretch between intimacy and technology, shared space and memory. Sickle brings out simple gestures from the sphere of invisibility. Because most of them are invisible. Performed unknowingly but innocent?

This is a story about the modern world. Gestures are not for sale - says one of the authors - but, like on Facebook, maybe someone makes money somewhere on our gestures. Maybe someone imposed them on us. Sickle uses movements and gestures observed in reality, in music videos, on the Internet. It shows that body movement is also an element of culture and even economics. As Sickle uses the sampling method, we sample, imitate, control our own movements.

Karol Sienkiewicz, Dwutygodnik March 2018


Light Solos

The performative body is a complex composite and shifting aesthetic fabrication, a heterogeneous ensemble of various percepts and affects that – notwithstanding its artificial nature – is ‘more real than real’. Producing such a hyper-real performative body differing from the involved performing body is the hallmark of Sickle’s performance works. This exploratory quest is vastly inspired by her interest in the multi-layered materiality of the live produced image and, concomitantly, in the physicality of the imaginary relationship linking spectatorship and stage-events. Simple but effective means may do the work. Thus in Lights Solos, a set of stroboscopic lamps accompanied by the sound of the amplified light remediates Sickle’s moving body into a succession of vividly juxtaposed images. Theirs is a slightly uncanny optical materiality that has a ghost-like quality but is at the same time all too real and genuinely affective in its fragmenting of the dancing body (and this even if one is acquainted with the stroboscope-effect from discotheques).

Rudi Laermans "Ula Sickle: Assembling materialities, creating performative bodies" - PARTS 20 years, 50 Portraits


Kinshasa Electric

Kinshasa is a constantly changing megalopolis in the heart of Africa, whose culture very much reflects globalization. Ula Sickle, a Canadian choreographer who lives in Brussels, plunged into the Congolese capital to create two solos pieces back in 2010 and 2012. She returned there for Kinshasa Electric, danced by three young Congolese - Joel Tenda, Popol Amisi and Jeannot Kunbonyeki - to a score by Daniela Bershan alias Baba Electronica. Rooted in the music and dance of Kin nightlife and in the full range of local variations on world pop culture, the show they have come up with is organic and energetic, a fascinating reflection of the sounds and movements of our times.

Gilles Bechet "Kinshasa Remade" - Agenda Magazine, May 2014

“Kinshasa Electric relies on a series of references […] which continuously branches off in the audience’s mind (and thus strongly differs depending on the context). Ultimately however it always “postpones” a fixed beginning or ending, a fixed origin or shape. What is traditional and what is contemporary? What is Congolese and what is Western? What is authentic and what has been construed? In Kinshasa Electric identity is “always on the move” and constantly undermines this type of opposition.”

“Identity has […] become a more flexible and more complicated concept. Because how can you find your own voice in a mediatised and post-national society, in which references travel faster than light? How to relate to all this cultural heritage, whose origin is sometimes lost? How can this cultural cross-pollination give rise to a more inclusive concept of identity and community, which is tailored to the twenty-first century?”

Charlotte de Somviele on Kinshasa Electric in “Ass Talk and Clubbing Vibes” - Etcetera Performing Arts Magazine, September 2014



In Prelude (2014), a production that was performed in the Brussels Kaaitheater, the Norwegian singer Stine Janvin Motland tried to adapt to a sensitive, overstimulating environment: aggressive wind machines, nervous ticking fluorescent tubes and speakers that transmit white noise, putting her vulnerable body to the test in a highly direct manner. With the help of her extended vocal techniques – in which the possibilities of the human voice are explored to beyond what we consider recognisable - Motland explores the boundaries between the organic and inorganic, between the human and the digital. Due to Leguay's subtle live sound modulation often it is no longer obvious whether we hear Motland singing or whether her airy notes are being manipulated electronically.

Charlotte de Somviele in "Contemporary Dance in Flanders" an online special by Flanders Arts Institute


Extended Play

Extended Play se déploie par l’alternance de solos et d’unissions, au fil d’une chorégraphie minutieusement écrite qui puise dans les codes du hip-hop – par ailleurs rappelés par la panoplie des danseurs, vêtus de baskets, de genouillères et de survêtements. Les puissants battements de bras sont ponctués de claquements de doigts, les ondulations du buste mâtinées de quelques déhanchés de twerk. Lorsque les danseurs battent la mesure au sol on en ressent les vibrations, qui introduisent une large gamme de jeux de rythmes : une mélodie saccadée tranche sur la fluidité des mouvements, une pulsation accentuée souligne la flexion d’une articulation ; la musique se fait ressort et caisse de résonance des gestes.

pour Ma Culture 30.03.2018

Extended Play voit les danseurs générer la bande-son de cette performance en utilisant une technologie dédiée qui recrée l'illusion d'un DJ set pour corps et mouvements. Proposé dans une forme libre où tout le monde, artistes et spectateurs, est sur un pied d'égalité, cette pièce devrait jouer les prolongations le temps d'un diptyque sur les mécanismes de la pop.

Philippe Noisette "Ula Sickle monte le son à Montreuil" dans Scénes, Les Inrocks 07.06.2016

Ula Sickle et Daniela Bershan observent et démontent les mécanismes du pop, isolent ses plus petits dénominateurs communs et poussent ainsi cette texture commune vers l’abstraction et le minimalisme. En s’emparant de la matérialité de ses éléments — de ses attitudes, de ses gestes, des émotions qu’elle génère, de sa rythmique, de ses algorythmes — plus que de ses références immédiates, de ses images et de ses signifiants, Extended Play propose un espace où les tensions et les codes de la culture contemporaine sont à la fois joués et disséqués.

Emmanuelle Mougne pour Les Rencontres Chorégraphiques de Seine-Saint-Denis

Ici les performers se chargent de tout. Ils chantent, dansent, envoient à l’aide de tablettes des samples préalablement enregistrés, mixent et remixent les uns et les autres. Par la maîtrise de ces différents procès, ils vont développer et matérialiser une énergie détonante. L’espace carré autour duquel les spectateurs peuvent s’asseoir ou se déplacer durant la représentation, relève à la fois de l’arène et du tarmac. Les artistes vont s’y échauffer, s’élancer, ou décoller, exploser, atterrir. Recroquevillés au sol, en cercle, les performers prennent le temps de déployer leurs voix et leurs corps. Comme ressourcés autour de ce qui pourrait être un feu (et qui semble plus être une tablette), ils émergent et commencent à composer une partition personnelle se transformant en partition collective.

La force de cet EP Extended Play relève, comme c’était déjà le cas dans Kinshasa Electric, de la puissance et de l’énergie déployées par les interprètes. Ils ont une telle capacité à circuler dans l’espace, à le balayer, à s’y inscrire, à créer avec leurs beats, leurs flows, leurs chants reprenant du Eurytmics ou du Maitre Gims, des univers pop singuliers où les corps sont autant présents que les voix. Popol Amisi, Emma Daniel, Zen Jefferson, Andy Smart, Lynn Sue sont les auteurs d’un show total. Danse et musique n’ont de cesse de s’allier. L’une entraînant l’autre et inversement, soulignées par des jeux de lumières aux couleurs chaleureuses signées Ula Sickle et Elke Verachtert. C’est tout naturellement à la fin de la pièce que les performeurs reviennent au centre du plateau, debout enivrés du paysage pop qu’ils viennent de peindre avec force et conviction. Le brouillard qui épaissit lentement l’espace, finit par ne laisser transparaître que des parties de corps et ce jusqu’à ce que ces dernières disparaissent complètement.

Sorte de mirage ou de rêve éveillé, Extended Play offre une palette de mouvements (on peut percevoir des soupçons de voguing et de krump), de propositions chorégraphiques et sonores, illustrant ainsi la variété de l’univers pop. L’envie de rejoindre les performers et de danser avec eux se fait ressentir tant leurs qualités de corps, encore une fois l’énergie y est pour beaucoup, et leurs présences sont attractives. Extended Play s’apprécie de par le caractère universel de la culture pop qui peut tout autant toucher qu’agacer et qui mérite intérêt pour tous les codes qu’elle véhicule. Scrutés, examinés, par les artistes, ces codes deviennent alors un objet créatif original.

Fanny Brancourt "Extended Play, Animal Pop"  The ARTchemists, 22.06.2016



Extreme Tension

The human body, which many still routinely regard as the principal locus of dance and choreography, is not one but many things. Consider it to be a material multiplicity or, rather, the embodiment of a virtual potentiality of countless material states that it only partially enacts or realizes over time through a continually redefined process of becoming. Some of these materializations come and go with ageing: Marie De Corte’s well-trained older body in Ula Sickle’s Extreme Tension evidently moves or gestures differently than a young dancer (and it will take many words to articulate this multifaceted otherness beyond worn-out clichés such as ‘less agile’ or ‘more vulnerable’). However, a twofold performativity is at stake. There are the movements and poses enacted by De Corte, which are intrinsically linked to her physical capacities; and there is the performative body that emerges out of the continuously metamorphosing intra-action between De Corte’s moving body, lighting, the audience’s collective attention and particularly the sound score by Sickle’s frequent collaborator Yann Leguay. His musical score entertains various micro-relations with De Corte’s gestures and poses, ranging from intimately close to aloof-like neutrality, but mostly in a way that clearly supersedes the mere act of framing. The evolving soundscape indeed co-performs the performative body: it is an agent in its own right, with a singular materiality and a peculiar agency

Rudi Laermans "Ula Sickle: Assembling materialities, creating performative bodies" PARTS 20 years - 50 Portraits



Both, “Jolie” and “Solid Gold”, are attempts to interrogate the conditions of our perception of the body, which define if we are able to apprehend a body in its movements as powerful and present or as dependent and precarious. These questions are formulated by means of postmodern dance. But they are also enlarged by a precise rethinking of contemporary issues of concern regarding the way bodies are increasingly colonized by digitalized, connected and globalized power structures. The performances call for a continued negotiation of these questions and remain a request for further consideration of body politics, precariousness and the social belonging of a body in contemporary dance.

Ana Hoffner - "Politicizing Contemporary Dance"