Jan Martens: any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones

Anyattemptwillend 1 Phile Deprez
Show photographer Phile Deprez

With any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones, Jan Martens is for the first time fully turning his attention to the main stage. A production about the power that lies in being out of step, performed by a seventeen-strong, atypical corps de ballet made up of unique personalities.

The heterogeneous group of dancers spans several generations, the youngest being 18 and the eldest 71, with significant differences between them in terms of track record and technical background. In any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones, they seek their own voice within the dance and beyond, looking for an idiom that fits them like a glove. One by one they claim their place on stage, without cutting off the others for all that. A horizontal exercise in giving each other the necessary space, while being careful not to steal the limelight.

any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones is a rich performance that does not hesitate to seek out the ecstatic. In times of extreme polarization, this group sets social dogmas aside to recognize and embrace a range of distinct identities. Being uninhibitedly themselves - in both life and art - with the stage as their ideological testing ground. They are supported by a soundtrack that consists of atypical protest songs from different ages – from Henryk Gorecki via Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln to Kae Tempest.

The performances are part of the Dance House Helsinki's series of international guests, which brings the most interesting dance groups and artists to Finland. The series is supported by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation and will take place during the opening years of the Dance House Helsinki 2022–2023.

Interview with Jan Martens

After ten years in the profession, choreographer Jan Martens is ready for the main stage. In his latest creation, any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones, no fewer than 17 dancers are on stage, as usual a colourful mix in terms of age, colour and gender. The youngest is 15 and is still studying at the Antwerp Kunsthumaniora. The oldest, Dutchwoman Truus Bronkhorst (68), has been around since the Swinging Sixties (although this iconic dancer was more of a punk than a swinger!). A delegation from the Berlin Dance On Ensemble, which brings together experienced performers over the age of 40, is also present.

"Like Pina Bausch, I like to build up a family during the creative process", says Martens from Sweden where he is currently rehearsing. "Hopefully you’ll see that in the show. The group is extremely heterogeneous. Some have a background in mime or performance, while the dancers of Dance On are technically very strong. It’s a matter of finding a way to bring out everyone’s unique value." Fortunately, that is something right up Martens’ alley, as the moving shows he has made in the past with amateurs (The Common People) and children (Victor) demonstrate.


For Any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones, Martens was inspired by the global wave of protests, from the Black Lives Matter marches (*BLM added after the interview, which took place in February 2020), the gilets jaunes to the young climate activists and the women’s marches in the US and Chile. How do you swim against the current? Or, applied to dance: how can standing still be a form of resistance or rebellion?

"Passing the Bechdel Test, a performance about feminism that I made last season with 13 young people at fABULEUS, changed me fundamentally. I now dare to be more explicit politically", says Martens. "We have little reason to be happy today. Radical right-wing thinking is creeping up everywhere, just like in the 1930s. With Brexit, a profoundly nationalist discourse has become mainstream again. In Flanders we have a government that is drastically cutting back on culture and welfare, and in Hungary Viktor Orbán is taking control of the city theatres. Have we seen the worst of it or is this just a prelude? Should we panic or wait? That’s a question that’s on my mind."

For the title of his new piece, Martens used a threatening quote from President Xi Jinping of China addressed to the demonstrators who have been occupying the streets of Hong Kong for months to demand more independence. "It’s interesting how Xi Jinping’s words were translated differently on different websites", says Martens. "In these post-truth times, language is no longer a tool with which we report facts, but an ideological weapon. Look at Trump! The most political act, as activist Rosa Luxemburg once said, is to name what is going wrong in society. How can we still do that today when language is no longer our ally? Therefore, as in Passing the Bechdel Test and Rule of Three, text will again play an important role."

Of course there’s also dance, lots of dance. "For the movement material we draw on different themes", says Martens. "For instance, we play with physical boundaries. How do you indicate that something is enough? In addition, we are also conducting research into folk dances. What interests me is that they not only create a connection between people, but also try to define a national identity, often using gender-stereotypical movements and costumes. How do you resist such physical oppression?"

Photo: Stine Sampers


Despite the sombre title, Martens also raises the question of hope. "The young climate activists are often dismissed as naive, but what if hope is the only engine to do something? Here too it’s interesting to bring different ages together on stage: we can expect young people to believe in a better world, but what about Truus Bronkhorst, who has seen history repeat itself over and over again? How does she see the future?"

For the music, Martens is collecting protest songs from different times, from Max Roach and Lauryn Hill to Górecki's Concerto for Harpsichord & String Orchestra. "I’m currently trying to determine what my parameters are for labelling a song a protest song. I’m researching music that reflects the generations on stage, but I’m also going further back in time: for example, who were the musical rebels of the sixteenth century?"


Conducting rehearsals with 17 dancers and 4 understudies is the biggest challenge Martens ever faced. "I’ve never been better prepared than for any attempt. Imagine also how much input I have to process after an improvisation exercise with 21 people! (laughs)."

After deSingel, Any attempt will travel to Julidans in Amsterdam and Sadler’s Wells in London. Not bad for a choreographer who will soon only turn 36. "For a long time I didn’t find it important to demand a place on the main stage with my work, but now, after ten years of making performances, the right moment has come. When it comes to big dance pieces, people often have certain expectations: they want a virtuoso ensemble, spectacular movements, preferably set to classical music … I feel like playing with that a little. (laughs)."

"In my opinion, the big stages are too busy with proficient but meaningless movements that alienate an audience from art. I want to see the audience reflected in my group of dancers so that the audience feels connected to them, instead of showing gods who have dropped down to Earth and are capable of performing five perfect pirouettes. But don’t worry, now that I have the chance to make a dance production with bells and whistles, I’ll grab that chance, but in my own way.(winks)."


Any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones is Jan Martens’ 18th performance in the space of a decade. He has also toured the world. Not only on stage, but in his own life too, the choreographer occasionally longs to step out of the maelstrom. "This is the first creation in which I have weekends off", Martens beams. "My studies (Germanic languages and literatures) put me off reading for a long time, but the need for study and immersion is back. Books by Ali Smith and Joke Hermsen calm me. I even bought myself a keyboard recently, because as a teenager I liked to play the piano. I think you can officially say that I’m in a pre-midlife crisis. (laughs)."

translated to English by Patric Lennon

first published in the bimonthly brochure (March/April 2020) of deSingel international arts campus

Monologue. Extract from Ali Smith's Spring (p. 3, 4, 5, 6).

Now what we don't want is Facts. What we want is bewilderment. What we

want is repetition. What we want is repetition. What we want is people in

power saying the truth is not the truth. What we want is elected members of parliament saying knife getting heated stuck in her front and twisted things like bring your own noose we want governing members of parliament in the house of commons shouting kill yourself at opposition members of parliament we want powerful people saying they want other

powerful people chopped up in bags in my freezer we want muslim women a joke in a newspaper column we want the laugh we want the sound of that laugh behind them everywhere they go. We want the people we call

foreign to feel foreign we need to make it clear they can't have rights unless

we say so. What we want is outrage offence distraction. What we need is to say thinking is elite knowledge is elite what we need is people feeling left behind disenfranchised what we need is people feeling. What we need is panic we

want subconscious panic we want conscious panic too. We need emotion we want righteousness we want anger. We need all that patriotic stuff. What we

want is same old Scandal Of The Alcoholic Mothers Danger Of The Daily Aspirin but with more emergency Nein Nein Nein we need a hashtag #linedrawn we want Give Us What We Want Or We'll Walk we want fury we want outrage we want words at their most emotive antisemite is good nazi is great paedo will really do it perverted foreigner illegal we want gut reaction we want Age Test For Child Migrants' 98% Demand Ban New Migrants Gunships To Stop Migrants How Many More Can We Take Bolt Your Doors Hide Your Wives we want zero tolerance. We need news to be phone size. We need to bypass mainstream media. We need to look past the interviewer talk straight to camera. We need to send a very clear strong unmistakable message. We need newsfeed shock. We need more newsfeed shock come on quick next newsfeed shock pull the finger out we want torture images. We need to get to them we need them to think we can get to them get the word lynching to anyone not white. We want rape threats death threats 24/7 to black/female members of parliament no just women doing anything public anyone doing anything public we don't like we need How Dare She/How Dare He/How Dare They. We need to suggest the enemy within. We need enemies of the people we want their judges called enemies of the people we want their journalists called enemies of the people we want the people we decide to call enemies of the people called enemies of the people we want to say loudly over and over again on as many tv and radio shows as possible how they're silencing us. We need to say all the old stuff like it's new. We need news to be what we say it is. We need words to mean what we say they mean. We need to deny what we're saying while we're saying it. We need it not to matter what words mean. We need a good old slogan Britain no

England/America/Italy/France/Germany/Hungary/Poland/Brazil/[insert name of country] First. We need the dark web money algorithms social media. We need to say we're doing it for freedom of speech. We need bots we need cliche we need to offer hope. We need to say it's a new era the old era's dead their time's over it's our time now. We need to smile a lot while we say it we need to laugh on camera ha ha ha thump man laughing his head off hear that factory whistle at the end of the day that factory's dead we're the new factory whistle we're what this country's needed all along we're what you need we're what you want.

What we want is need.

What we need is want.



Jan Martens

Dancers, 17 out of dancers:

Abigail Aleksander, Pierre Bastin, Georgia Boddez, Ty Boomershine, Truus Bronkhorst, Camilla Bundel, Jim Buskens, Baptiste Cazaux, Zoë Chungong, Piet Defrancq, Naomi Gibson, Simon Lelievre, Kimmy Ligtvoet, Solal Mariotte, Cherish Menzo, Steven Michel, Gesine Moog, Dan Mussett, Wolf Overmeire, Tim Persent, Courtney May Robertson, Laura Vanborm, Zora Westbroek, Loeka Willems, Lia Witjes-Poole, Maisie Woodford, Paolo Yao

Artistic assistance

Anne-Lise Brevers

Lighting design

Jan Fedinger


Vito Walter


Cédric Charlier


Alexandra Sebbag, Thibault Kuhn


Marc Vanrunxt, Renée Copraij, Rudi Meulemans & Siska Baeck


excerpt from SPRING by Ali Smith. Copyright © 2019, Ali Smith, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Limited


“Concerto pour Clavecin et Cordes Op 40” Réf Im: 108884 Musique de Henryk Mikolaj Górecki (PWM Editions représenté par Alphonse Leduc Editions Musicales), Kae Tempest and Dan Carey: “People’s Faces” (Domino Publishing Company Limited (50%) & MANATA LTD & Warner/Chappell Music Belgium N.V. (50%)), “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace” (Maxwell Roach, Milma Publishing Company & Kobalt Music Publishing Limited).


Michel Spang


Michel Spang, Valentijn Weyn/Vincent Philippart


Sylvie Svanberg


Marie Luyten, Saskia Vervoort


Klaartje Oerlemans


Ruud Van Moorleghem, before: Lotte De Mont


Sam Loncke


Phile Deprez


Luis Xertu


Paul Sixta, Stanislav Dobak & Jan Fedinger




Dance On Ensemble


A Propic / Line Rousseau & Marion Gauvent


DE SINGEL (Antwerp, BE), Theater Freiburg (DE), Sadler’s Wells (London, UK), Julidans (Amsterdam, NL), Festival d’Avignon (FR), Le Gymnase CDCN Roubaix Hauts-de-France (FR), Norrlandsoperan (Umeå, SE), La Bâtie - Festival de Genève & l’ADC - Association pour la Danse Contemporaine Genève (CH), tanzhaus nrw (Düsseldorf, DE), Le Parvis Scène Nationale Tarbes-Pyrénéés (Tarbes, FR), La Danse en grande forme (Cndc - Angers, Malandain Ballet Biarritz, La Manufacture - CDCN Nouvelle-Aquitaine Bordeaux – La Rochelle, CCN de Caen en Normandie, L’échangeur - CDCN Hauts-de-France, CCN de Nantes, CCN d’Orléans, Atelier de Paris / CDCN, Collectif Fair-e / CCN de Rennes et de Bretagne, Le Gymnase | CDCN Roubaix | Hauts-de-France, POLE-SUD CDCN / Strasbourg and La Place de La Danse - CDCN Toulouse Occitanie) & Perpodium


De Grote Post (Ostend, BE), Charleroi Danse (BE), CCNO - Centre Chorégraphique National d'Orléans yhteistyössä la Scène nationale d’Orléans (FR) and December Dance (Concertgebouw and CC Brugge)


Flemish Government, Antwerpenin kaupunki, Tax Shelter of the Belgian Federal Government & Cronos Invest

Thanks to

Mr. Jean Chabert (STANLEY/STELLA), Wannes Labath, Nadine Scheuer and de! Kunsthumaniora

The performances are part of the Dance House Helsinki's series of international guests, which brings the most interesting dance groups and artists to Finland. The series is supported by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation and will take place during the opening years of the Dance House Helsinki 2022–2023.

Photo: Phile Deprez

Jan Martens

Since 2011, Jan Martens makes work that talks about how people relate to each other and to the here and now. This resulted in a wide array of pieces: a duet (SWEAT BABY SWEAT - 2011), solos (ODE TO THE ATTEMPT & lostmovements – 2014 & 2018), meetings between people who never saw each other before (THE COMMON PEOPLE - 2016) group pieces that are buzzing with surrender and ecstasy (THE DOG DAYS ARE OVER with 8 dancers & RULE OF THREE - 2014 & 2017), a work for young people that tackles issues such as gender diversity and gender equality (PASSING THE BECHDEL TEST – 2018).

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