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In conversation with Belle and the Beats

“For me, art is questioning things”

Last week, Belle and the Beats brought us to the floor of Door Open Space to witness something we’d never seen before – a seamless blend of live music, rope art and theatre all coming together to tell a story with extreme passion and sincerity. Deep under the hypnosis of the performance, the audience sat motionless, building their own narrative of what toxic love and power is for them. A musician at heart, Belle redefines how musical storytelling is experienced. In light of the digital premiere, we caught up with the boundary-demolishing artist to find out more about the project. “Is there power in surrendering yourself?” – a question Belle arrives to in the project, and we surrender to her intimate narration.

Congratulations on the show! I’m still processing – it was so impressive. Could you tell me a bit about how it all came to life?

It started off with the music, this is how I usually work. I made a song about a toxic relationship with a lot of power play between the two, and it eventually became a murder ballad. I was very intrigued by the story of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue – it made me think about what if women had the same tools as men and would use them in the same way. In the old narrative of a murder ballad, a man kills a woman – if she doesn’t want to give her love, he has to take her life. As I’d been developing this storyline, I had an idea for a film, so I contacted Rolf van Eijk. We were looking for ways to express this power play, and eventually came across Shibari. I got in contact with Papilicious, who is the Shibari artist. We had a lot of sessions with him to feel what it is, which also got us thinking about the whole subject of power switch further. Is it about surrendering yourself? The person who is tied up is also in power.

So the performance started with the film?

Yes, for the film, we thought of creating a space within which is only visible for these two people. Anyone outside the relationship will never know what happens between them. There is aways a lot of love in a toxic relationship – there has to be a lot of love in the first place for it to become toxic. We wanted to make this switch: she seduces him into going through the same thing she goes every time. At some point, she shows him what it is – she kills ego, to let go, to find a new starting point. I then thought of creating a show surrounding it. The film was my perspective on a toxic relationship, and I wanted to create a storyline in which there are more perspectives. This show was a chance to involve more people with new ways of expressing this theme that luckily came out well.

More perspectives, hence opening up the space to the public. How did it feel to perform it finally?

It was beautiful. It was the first time I directed a show like this, while also performing in it. I was so happy to have all these people with me – we had two Syrian violinists and my friend from Israel joining, of course Papilicious with one of his partners. I had been visualizing this project for a while now and had been asking people to join, and in the end, we created this small magical place together. All the artist contributed in their own way and their own story somehow – they all shared a piece of themselves within this project. I was most proud of bringing these people together. We didn’t know what to expect, and I’m really happy they all trusted me.

How do you think the audience reacted to it? Were there any particular moments that were especially memorable?

There was a girl coming to speak to us after the show, full in tears, she was so moved by what she saw. I just didn’t expect anything of it, but there were so many responses. A lot of people who found it shocking, as it was something completely new. People didn’t know what they were going to, the promo was pretty vague. I loved that a lot of people were questioning what they had just experienced – for me, art is questioning things. How was it for you?

Very moving and definitely unexpected – in the best way possible! Would you say you kept it vague before the show on purpose?

The show really developed in the last week. While we were creating the whole promo, it was really hard to describe what we wanted to give to the audience. It’s an immersive experience, we didn’t want to give too much away. We wanted everyone to have their own impressions. 

Immersive is definitely the best way to describe it. Especially towards the end, there was so much stillness and focus in the audience. It really was mesmerising.

Yeah, people said they were especially hypnotised by Papilicious and how he was working with his partner.

How did you come across Shibari?

I’m actually not sure. I think I saw it a lot in art form, not necessarily a fetish form. It moved me, so I started to dig into it. I had some friends who were into that scene, and then I came across Papilicious. The director of the film and I thought that if wanted to do something with Shibari, we should experience it ourselves, of course. Shibari opened up a whole new world for me. I’m an extreme control freak and I had to learn to let go – for it to work, you have to surrender yourself and give the other person all the trust. The first session was a big eye-opener for both me and Rolf. We had a few more session to practice the knotting ourselves and how the sequences work. It was my first experience with Shibari.

It came out so well! Within your musical career, how would you say the show project fits in?

My intuition has been making more art lately. The start of any Belle and the Beats project is always in music. That’s where the story always starts, as I believe it’s the core of everything. Somehow, we’d been moving closer and closer towards performing art without losing our “normal” (I mean, it’s never normal) club show. “Make Love or Die” was one of the tracks off the album, and I thought it deserved a more in-depth experience by the audience. For me, it was much more than just a song or just a visual.

As for the projects to come, is this the direction you want to be moving in?

It’s definitely something I want to develop for the future as well. Taking pieces of the stories I create and place them into multidisciplinary shows for my audience to tap into the narrative a bit more.


Images courtesy of Belle and the Beats

Words by Evita Shrestha