More than a succession of individual works or the construction of a body of work, ZOO’s trajectory pursues a vision: that of a collective experience, resolutely physical, playful and sincere. Based on trust, respect and complicity built up over time and in depth, this group of artists has developed a singular creative environment based on continuity, which develops and matures over the course of its creations. In addition to a pluralistic artistic project, ZOO is defending and living a horizontal organization. Although Thomas Hauert is the initiator and director, the work and decision-making processes are mostly collective. In both artistic and organizational processes, the conviction that the diversity of perspectives, skills and experience offers a complexity and a richness that is invaluable mobilizes the creativity of each collaborator, multiplying resources and energizing potentials that would be unimaginable for a single mind. Respect for each individual and shared responsibility are founding principles of ZOO’s functioning and contribute profoundly to its sustainability.

“My fascination with dance has a lot to do with its sensual aspects, with the sensation of dance/movement in the body and what it feels like to watch it. An important part of my creative processes, and by extension my teaching methodology, is the result of my desire to explore and maximize the creative possibilities of the body in movement and in interaction – with other bodies, with inner and outer forces, with music – and to go beyond the habits inscribed in it. It’s a very concrete approach, where material emerges directly from our bodies confronted with forces and space. An abstract yet expressive dramaturgy unfolds that is closer to musical composition than to theatrical narrative. The audience is taken on a sensory and emotional journey that engages the unconscious as much as the analytical mind.” (Thomas Hauert)

Choreographic field

ZOO is widely recognized for its original contribution to essentially choreographic work. It is primarily based on movement research. At Hauert’s instigation, the dancers explore the widest possible variety of forms, rhythms, qualities and interactions with space and external forces. One of the main methods used to open up movement possibilities is improvisation, seen as a means of freeing the body’s potential from the limits of the mind. Not a totally free improvisation, as an unconstrained body would tend to take the most comfortable paths, but a directed improvisation, one in which tasks, rules and forces are imposed to shake up the dancers’ conditioning. Improvisation makes it possible to create complex movements involving so many factors that it would be impossible to repeat or write them down.

Going beyond the individual, ZOO also develops work on the group, on the “body” made up of all the dancers – one could say “the social body”. While the exploration of the individual body tends towards the expression of diversity, the work on the group tends towards cohesion, communication and connection. The dancers’ bodies are coordinated by flexible, responsive organizational principles, favoring an order assured by the trust each dancer places in the others rather than by individual authority. The idea of trust, central to the choreographic project, is also reflected in the company’s structure and work process: ZOO is a company where each dancer brings their own creativity to the group. Where each dancer is free but also responsible.

In ZOO’s shows, dance has little narrative or figurative dimension. Yet the audience doesn’t experience it as abstract. This is because, while it illustrates nothing, it proposes a model that is itself potentially rich in meaning. The artistic project appears as a micro-utopia, an alternative vision of man, power and society.


Thomas Hauert sees improvisation not as a tool for self-expression, but as a tool for the creation and composition of movement. It allows for the development of complex dances that are created between bodies at the moment of execution. So, it is a directed improvisation in which tasks, rules, constraints and forces are imposed. The aim is to shake up the body’s conditioning to bring out the unexpected, but also to unify the group around a series of shared objectives.

In fact, improvisation can be found in the work of most choreographers, in one form or another. Moreover, even the execution of a “written” piece does not consist in the mechanical reproduction of pre-existing movements, but rather in their “re-creation” through kinaesthetic memory and the incorporation of verbal indications. In turn, based on a long and intense period of research, “rehearsal” and training, the creation of movement on stage as proposed by ZOO also calls upon the kinaesthetic memory, which has developed a certain knowledge of the appropriate solutions to a given problem or situation. Between writing and improvisation, there’s a continuum rather than a clear-cut opposition…

But if Thomas Hauert places particular emphasis on improvisation, it’s because it plays a fundamental role in the meaning of his work, and in the mode of communication with the spectator that he wishes to create. Improvisation forces dancers to concentrate entirely on their own bodies, their actions and those of other dancers. For the spectator, the apprehension of this concentration contributes to referring the movement to their own physicality.

More than on explicit knowledge, improvisation calls on intuition, defined as a neurophysiological faculty that can be developed through experience. The physical, “embodied” systems inherent in dance call on cognitive aptitudes that are independent of the more clearly representational systems. Many of the processes at work in the conception, execution and appreciation of complex movements remain inarticulable and unconscious. By emphasizing improvisation, Thomas Hauert invites the spectator to hone these kinesthetic cognitive skills, so as to experience dance first and foremost in an active way, within their own body. The spectator can then project themselves into the dance to perceive it not as a set of forms and images, but as a fluid action created instantaneously by a cohesive group of body-subjects rather than body-objects.

In ZOO’s shows, the dancers are presented as human beings – practitioners of movement – rather than as symbols of a universal experience. Although the dancers do not engage in a voluntary exhibition of feeling through their bodies, they always remain subjects. Because the dancers’ “I” is not absorbed by self-representation, but participates fully in the activity taking place, it creates an opening through which it can be perceived.

On a reflexive level, the spectator can then relate this mode of creation and composition of movement to the world, to give it meaning. The particular balance manifested in dance between the body’s knowledge and intelligence and those of the mind, between freedom and constraint, between the individual and the group, between order and chaos, are likely to refer by analogy to experiences of the outside world. Viewers of ZOO’s pieces are often moved by the strange combination of kinesthetic, essentially intuitive experience and the enigmatic recognition of a utopian human model.

What’s special about choreographic art is that its formal medium cannot be abstracted from the very medium through which humans experience themselves. Subjectivity is always embodied. Enlightenment philosophers often remarked that freedom of movement forms the very foundation of political liberty. So choreographing movement always invokes such notions. The choreographic codes observable in ZOO’s performances, in particular the improvisation and self-organization of the group, signify a social and political ethic, expressed not metaphorically but reflexively, through the very materiality and physicality of the relationships between the dancers.


The questions raised in the choreographic work are sometimes also expressed through other scenic media, such as text, drama or song. Music, in particular, plays an essential role in ZOO’s work, both as a generator of movement and as an organizing principle for the group. Since Cows in Space, Hauert has explored a rich and original set of specific relationships between dance and music. Several collaborations with musicians, composers and sound engineers, as well as with IRCAM (Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique, Paris). For Jetzt, the unexpected timings and sonorous qualities of Thelonious Monk’s piano playing inspire a dance of unexpected interactions with gravity. Several pieces feature original songs written and sung by the performers. In Accords, the dancers incorporate musical scores by playing their bodies as instruments, remaining synchronous through visual means, the music, then inaudible to the audience, structures and coordinates movements through a complex network of individual and supra-individual actions and reactions. In Inaudible, the dancers attempt to make each note of a concerto for piano and orchestra appear in a single body. Other pieces use music as an element of dramaturgical composition.


After working as a dancer with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Pierre Droulers, David Zambrano and Gonnie Heggen, Swiss dancer Thomas Hauert launched his first personal project in 1997, inviting four dancers and friends – Mark Lorimer, Sarah Ludi, Mat Voorter and Samantha van Wissen – to create Cows in Space. The show was an instant success, awarded at the Rencontres chorégraphiques de Seine-Saint-Denis (Bagnolet) and presented on numerous international stages.

“A first choreography, offered casually, and it’s already an enchantment. (…) With Cows in Space, Thomas Hauert and his brand-new company ZOO have shown (…) that abstract dance can be a feast, and convey formidable emotions.” (Le Temps, 1998)

This first production paved the way for an artistic experiment that continues to this day. From an animal book used by the dancers in the studio, emerged the name ZOO. This choice seems to suggest that we are just another species of animal.

The same founding quintet created Pop-Up Songbook (1999), Jetzt (2000) and Verosimile (2002). In 2001, Thomas Hauert presents his solo Do You Believe in Gravity ? Do You Trust the Pilot ? In 2003, for the production entitled 5, the five ZOO dancers each produced a piece. The artistic team was later joined by Martin Kilvady and Chrysa Parkinson. They take part in the following ZOO productions: Modify (2004), More or Less Sad Songs (2005), Walking Oscar (2006). Zoë Poluch joins the ensemble in 2007 for Puzzled (2007) and Accords (2008). During this period, ZOO begins long-term collaborations with set and lighting designers Simon Siegmann and Jan Van Gijsel, musicians and composers Bart Aga, Peter van Hoesen and Léa Petra, and stylists Thierry Rondenet and Hervé Yvrenogeau (OWN). Liz Kinoshita, Fabian Barba, Gabriel Schenker and Albert Quesada join the company in 2010, followed by Federica Porello in 2017. A new artistic and technical team joins the project: lighting designer Bert Van Dijck, sound designer Bart Celis, textile and set designers Chevalier-Masson. ZOO created You’ve Changed (2010), Mono (2013), Thomas Hauert’s solo (sweet) (bitter) (2015), inaudible (2016), How to Proceed (2018), If Only (2020) and Efeu (2022).

Recent work

The last three pieces created by the company form a kind of triptych, in which the driving force of movement comes from the emotional states brought on by the current state of the world. Although the context – widespread crises and existential concerns – is similar in all three pieces, the spirit, dramaturgy and material that emerge are extremely contrasting. In How to Proceed (2018): anger, agitation, force, even violence, permanent change but also humor, diversity of forms and looks and entertainment propose an active presence interacting with the audience. The scenography is constantly and deliberately transformed. In If Only (2020): resignation, monotony, lethargy, sadness instill a constantly low level of energy, without evolution, in a state of marked seriousness, of “absent” presence and without any address to the audience. Short sequences of sparse movements emerge from the immobility. And finally, in Efeu (2022), the tormented state of the world is transcended, as it were, to plunge us into the physical relationship between life and earth. Driven perhaps by the need to remember that human beings are part of nature.

“His proliferating invention does more than exercise the imagination: it unearths a new gestural vocabulary, shakes up syntax and refines unprecedented rules of grammar, resulting in a singularly vivid language.” (Rosita Boisseau, Le Monde)