Dance to the music

Detmar Leertouwer is bringing together solo cello and dance in an exciting series of dialogues – as well as performing in castles across Europe. He shares the details with PAY.

Dutch cellist Detmar Leertouwer had two loves when he was a child: music and dance. But unlike most of us, Leertouwer is living out those childhood dreams, thanks to his programme ‘Dialogue between a Dancer and a ‘Cellist’.

But it might all have been very different. Because, while Leertouwer is now an established figure in the music world, he almost called it quits on more than one occasion. First, there was dance itself, which as a child was his main hobby. “I used to love ballet,” recalls the cellist, “But when I was about 12 I started to think about my future, and the idea of a dance career ending in my thirties scared me. So I focussed more and more on the cello, and really only rediscovered dancing much later.”

That focus on the cello saw him spend many years with a Russian master in Amsterdam and Utrecht, and then later over to Scotland and the US to follow Jane Cowan of the International Cello Centre and her disciples.

“Working with a Soviet-style teacher was an intense experience,” says Leertouwer. “But it really wasn’t until I learned from Jane Cowan and a former student of hers that I began to find the freedom I wanted in music. It wasn’t about using all the tools of expression all at once as I was taught before; instead, it was about letting the music lead you to the right form of expression at the right moment.”

Still, Leertouwer wasn’t sure that the cello was the correct path for him. So, while living in the States, he took a soul searching hike through the Grand Canyon. “I did some hiking for about a fortnight, all on my own with a backpack,” he remembers. “That gave me a ‘green’ brain wash and a new kind of perspective on my life and what I wanted to do. At first I was thinking I wanted to do something more useful, like psychology or medical studies of some kind. But then at some point I realised that it was music that I truly loved. And if I want to do music, I have to do it now. Other things could come later, but I couldn’t start music at an older age. So that’s how I found my way back to music.”

After that pivotal year in the US, Leertouwer returned to Europe. He then spent 11 years in Switzerland, first studying and later performing from his Basel base, focussing in particular on early music. He performed in ensembles like Musica Antiqua Köln, Concierto Köln, l’Orfeo Barockorchester, Le Concert des Nations, Holland Baroque and Wiener Akademie. It was during this time that Leertouwer reconnected with dance, thanks to a project with Nacho Duato’s Compañía Nacional de Danza. That was followed by projects with Introdans from the Netherlands (Bach cello suites and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden) and with Basel-based choreographer Philippe Olza. All of these partnerships inspired him to create his own dance and music programme.

“I was asked to perform on the island of Föhr, which is right by Denmark,” he says. “For the programme, they wanted me to perform solo repertoire with a local dancer from Hamburg. She moved so beautifully that a spark lit up inside me, and I wanted to make more performances like this.

That was 2005, and since then Leertouwer has performed all over Europe with his series ‘Dialogue between a Dancer and a ‘Cellist’. For each performance, he picks a programme of solo cello pieces, with half of them being accompanied by a dancer. The result is an evening of emotional peaks and valleys that has made a big impression on audiences.

“It flows without interruption from one piece into another, with the dancer joining me for about half of the works,” notes Leertouwer. “I start with a Mongolian melody, which is like the sound of the wind, and then pick up the melody of the first piece. We then go through works from the likes of Bach, Britten and Ligeti, before finally returning to that Mongolian melody – only this time with dance.”

The power of the performance is heightened by the setting: they usually take place in a church, with the audience sat in the round. “When the dancer stretches out her hands she can almost touch the audience,” explains Leertouwer. “It’s not like the theatre with a 10 metre distance between the stage and the audience – it’s very intimate. And it’s also a very spiritual programme. The fact that we usually perform it in a church only adds to that sense of awe and wonder.”

The final surprise comes when Leertouwer himself suddenly takes over the role of the dancer, thanks to his former ballet training, while the real dancer holds his instrument.

As well as touring his Dialogue series, Leertouwer is working on a programme that takes his cello into some rather resplendent locations. ‘Bach in Castles’ will eventually see him perform all of Bach’s solo cello suites in different castles throughout Europe, putting the great composer’s music in an appropriate setting.

“These works were not actually written to be performed in a church,” observes Leertouwer. “These cello suites are often performed or recorded in churches. Performers come up with stories about how the architecture of Bach’s music coincides with the architecture of churches and cathedrals or how a church amplifies the spiritual content of the cello suites. I sense it differently. When he wrote them, he was actually living in Köthen and working for Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen. Because of strict religious reasons music was not allowed in the church at his court. Instead, I perceive the suites as a pleasant pastime.

“Of course you can play Bach the cello suites in a church, but the more historically accurate venues that create the right mindset are dining halls, bedrooms, dance halls or a even cafés. So I thought a castle could actually be an interesting place to film my Bach suites.”

In the music videos which just came out, you see me playing of course, but half of the footage depicts the castles or the house, the gardens, the paintings. It makes for a visually-rich experience for the viewers.”

Leertouwer released the first instalment of the series on 31 December 2021, with the music and video coming together as a complete package. “The ‘audio-only’ component, through streaming platforms like Qobuz, Apple Music, Spotify, is only one part of the project,” he notes. “The most important part is the music video, which you can rent or purchase through Vimeo. It also comes with some behind the scenes footage, which I think people will really enjoy. It’s an amazing project, and I’m really only at the start of it – there’s so much more to come over the next few years.”

Next season, Leertouwer will be performing Bach’s fifth cello suite in the 2-men duet ‘Corpus Bach’ by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui with Introdans.

Detmar Leertouwer’s Dance Dialogues and Bach series are available to book right now for dates in 2022-23.
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