From classical to modern to improvisation. The dance career of Miquel de Jong (1971) was a personal voyage of discovery; the destination turned out to be a liberation. “That after all those years you see that it can also be done differently.” Miquel now works at Panama Pictures as a movement coach and assistant to choreographer Pia Meuthen. “It’s a lot of fun to respond to the other person and make choices for the sake of the whole.”

When Miquel de Jong joined the renowned dance company L’Opera de Lyon as a first soloist in the mid-1990s, he already had an impressive career behind him: trained at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague from the age of ten, six years with Scapino Ballet Rotterdam. Classical dance is his speciality. “That is training every day, strict rules, tight regime. Classical was my base for years.”

But then he met choreographer Russell Maliphant in Lyon. “Russell works from improvisation and body-oriented techniques such as tai-chi, yoga, acrobatics and capoeira. He showed me that in these ways you can end up in very different places. That was a real discovery for me, that after all those years you realise that things can be done differently. I was done with classical dance at the time, but that man put a smile on my face again.


Miquel became so impressed with Maliphant’s methodology that he decided to study the movement styles and techniques further in London. “That was quite difficult when you have danced classically for so many years. I had to drop the old, unlearn a lot and start all over again. Very intense.”

He incorporated the knowledge, supplemented with insights gained, into his own method: ImproXchange. “I called it that because I think it’s important to work together in improvisation.” ImproXchange combines improvisation with composition; dancers learn to trust their body’s instincts and follow natural movements. Meanwhile, they become actively involved in the context: their fellow dancers, the space, the sound, the light and the audience. “It’s great fun to respond to the other person and make choices for the sake of the whole.”


Miquel also dances – modern, with Piet Rogie, Klaus Jurgens, Jens Van Daele, Jan Martens and others. And at Panama Pictures, in performances such as Ergens; nearby, Go tell and Of knives and men. “There I shared my thoughts on improvisation with Pia, told her about my methodology. She saw that it fitted in well with her way of working, in which the performers were already very important in the creation of a performance. That is why she offered me a place next to her, as an assistant and movement coach. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.”

Since then, Miquel has been involved in the performances of Panama Pictures from the very beginning. “At the start of a new production we first discuss the theme with the performers; our ideas, texts, images. Pia and I have already determined which movement qualities we will be looking for. Then I suggest improvisation assignments and we see what kind of reactions there are, what kind of movements emerge. And then we adjust and polish, work in different groups, let everyone discover his own role. Until the performance matches what we have all come up with.

Beautiful role

The approach sometimes takes some getting used to for new performers. “Yes, you ask a lot of them, it is a growth process. But you also see that dancers are often hungry for more and for something different, not just technique and set exercises. If you can then involve them in their development in this way, by giving them input, by getting the most out of them together – that is fantastic, and I enjoy it.”

Miquel does not dance anymore. “I noticed that I couldn’t physically handle it anymore, warming up every day and the aches and pains after the performance.” And he has no ambitions to choreograph himself. “No, I don’t want the final responsibility, the pressure to create pieces. That is why I am so happy with this place. I have all the freedom to share my insights and proposals with Pia, to work with her on quality. To pass on my knowledge and experience as a dancer to other dancers. To make performances together. I have a very nice role at Panama Pictures.”

Miquel also regularly gives ImproXchange workshops at Panama Pictures, for dancers and acrobats/circus artists, students and professionals.

Photo: Martijn Kappers