Photo: Jelena Janković
Photo: Jelena Janković

- Since the beginning of your career as a choreographer, your poetic and choreography opus seems to be dominated by diversity - the diversity of themes and approaches. You worked with dancers, actors, children, elderly people, and the focus has always been on some social problems. How difficult or easy is it for young choreographers to decide to focus on social issues in their work rather than establishing or insisting on the virtuosity of the dance technique itself?

I decided to work on social issues and diversity of body because I live in Belgium, I'm Belgian, but the Netherlands is just above us. And in Belgium, there is a history of dance, which is amazing actually, with the works of the Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Fabre, Vandekeybus. So, when I was 17, 18 years old, I saw my first work of dance.  That was the context I saw. Those were the pieces I saw, and I think the human was there very much on the foreground. Then I started studying in the Netherlands because that's the academy which took me, which I auditioned for. And in Netherlands, there was a whole different canon. They didn't have a wave called the Flemish wave of the eighties. So, it was very neo-classical, a lot of lines. And suddenly I became aware of the fact that maybe I was studying for a job which I didn’t really want to do. So, I felt like maybe I will have to create my own possibilities because - one: I don't have the body and the technique to do these works, and two: these words don't speak to me. It's just about lines. In that sense, it was an easy decision, on the other hand, not so easy, because that was what the big companies in Netherlands and Belgium were asking for.

What we see is more formal work, in Netherlands especially, Belgium is different, so I felt I was very soon convinced of the capacity of my own body, but my body was not trained well.  And I felt there is a capacity of a, what I call “underdog body”, an actual capacity of each body to communicate.

So that became the essence through the work and a conviction of the necessity to show these different bodies too. I don’t know how it is in Serbia, but in Belgium and Netherlands, we have sometimes problems to fill the theaters because the theater goers are getting older and older. Part of the solution is that we need to make works with people who resemble the audience. That’s why diversity, different backgrounds, different body types is very much important for that as well.

- If you could point out three key concepts or terms that define your work, what would they be? And how can we recognize them in your work at this year’s edition of Bitef festival?

The first one is rigor versus freedom. In all my works, there is a sense of formality of mathematics, of a really clear frame. And on the other hand, if the dancers respect these basic rules of the frame, they can take a lot of freedom. I think that is really important for me that there is a form, a structure underneath, which keeps it together, which keeps it tight, but which is so tight that it actually offers the performers a lot of freedom. That is one of the key concepts.

The second one is humanism, trust in human beings. It's about making a contact with the audience, mirroring their expectations. Before I became a choreographer, I was a theater goer myself and I always loved it when I learned something. Sometimes they say, theater shouldn't be pedagogical, but I think my work is very much so. Maybe not in the way that people think of it, but I hope that people hear, see new ways of looking at dance, hear new music, that they think of composers and writers that they haven’t heard yet, and that they are eager to discover. So I think that's also a key concept - going away from the canon and trying to tell people: hey, but there is something else then Bach or there is something else then virtuous dancing, like showing other possibilities.

- any attempt will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones is a title that says a lot in advance, especially if we know where it comes from. Would you call your play dystopian or does it open some space of hope?

I think it's not dystopian at all and that it opens a lot of space for hope. And on the other hand, it also tells us about the time we live in and how important it is to acknowledge what is going wrong nowadays. That's also the violence of the title, the violence of the words that we project in the piece is because I feel like we're getting so used to it that maybe we don't question it anymore. And that's a very dangerous point, but it offers hope because there is a metaphor of persisting. If you persist, I suppose you can achieve freedom, but you need, yes, you need to be that person who is, or that people who are going to come on the streets again and again, and again, to make the same point, because otherwise, otherwise we go back in time. As we can see now with abortion rights in America.

- To what extent do you think that contemporary art can illuminate and communicate the pressing problems of our civilization? What can be expected from art in general today, and especially from contemporary dance performances?

The problem of contemporary art is that we don't reach enough people. On the other hand, it's not because we don't reach enough people that we don't reach people at all. And I think we can make people aware. We can let people think, we can open their spirits to a different ways of seeing, and those might be small things, or not. As a start, it isn’t the most spectacular one, but I do think it can lay important fundaments for a change in society. However, I don’t think I'm making the world a better place. I feel like my work is getting known now and receives a lot of attention and can travel to your country and can be shown there. And on the other hand, the people I grew up with don't have any clue what I'm doing or don't find it important at all. So I think it’s important to keep on thinking how we can reach all those people. How should we price the tickets, what kind of art should we make? I think it is super important not to overestimate your audience, but even more important to not underestimate it. So yes, I think that what can be expected from art in general today is something, but not too much.

- How and why did you make such a specific choice of participants, above all such a heterogeneous team of dancers? What was your choreographic idea and method in this process?

The choice of participants is really special thing to me, I feel sometimes it's more important how they are as humans than how they are as dancers. If you make a piece about society and about community and finding harmony together, you have to look for people who have that within them. I am extremely lucky to be able to make art and to receive funding to make my art. And then, I feel we should make that as nice as possible in the creation process. You know, there's a lot of things happening in Belgium now with Fabre, for example, but he's not the only one who is having a very toxic relation on the work floor. I think I'm really advocating for that, that we need to get rid of that. They say: yeah, but you know, you need to push your dancers over borders, otherwise it stays so safe. I totally don't agree. I think that with a good spirit and a nice working hours, with focused attention, you can also achieve something transgressive in a good way.

The choreographic idea and method in this process was to look for a way to combine different expressions of individual dancers into a common language. We can let everybody stay in their own strengths and in their own language, and still have a rhythm together. So the idea to let everybody create their own material on the grids came very soon. It only became bigger, and more repetitions came from the Gorecki (composer), I think, because I was so amazed by the material that the dancers came up with. And of course I had to dance. I had to work with every dancer a bit separately. Some need a lot of restriction, to others you need to say like you can, you can, use your fantasy, it can become wilder or it's too strict now while with others you are all over the place, or take one concept. What do you like to do most? What is a movement you feel that fits you? So there was also a lot of ‘one on one’ working and on the other hand, a lot of all together, again and again, watching each other, learning from each other.

- Do you recognize the question of identity, which occupies a certain place in this work, as a universal question of the entire contemporary society, including art? Why is it more important than some others, or more precisely, why has it come to the point that all other issues are viewed today through the prism of identity? Is it possible or should it even be otherwise?

I find the question of identity very difficult. I think it's very good that we look at specific needs of individuals. However, we are also kind of stuck in a neoliberal society, which actually doesn't offer much space and time and money to be able to consider everyone's individual wishes. So I think it is important to find balance. We need to consider wishes and demands, and subtleties of individuals. On the other hand, we also need to agree that we are working towards something together. It's also dangerous, I think, to have identity so much in the foreground. I mean, if you look at fascist countries, that is what happened is that identity came so much on the foreground. Of course, it happens in a different way now, but I think the danger lies in that it could tip over to something like that.

- On the other hand, how important is humor to you in the process and how do you manage to transpose it into the performance itself?

I think it’s important. I think in this work, it's maybe a little bit less present than in other works I made, but, it is there, and I think it's also important to take a breath. And not to take yourself too seriously. I think that's also important to do in life as in work as in art.

- What is your opinion on the current choreographic tendencies and how progressive do you think they have been over the last ten years?

Quite a lot is happening. I feel that bigger companies like classical companies are opening up towards choreographers like me and opportunities to other choreographers, who 10 years ago would never get a chance with a classical company. Like I may now make a piece for The Royal Ballet of Flanders, which is crazy if you think about it, and a lot of people who come to see the show, like their audiences, are also in shock. I think that’s good. And I think it’s good we're thinking about inclusion. It can never go fast enough, but I do feel that things are happening. And again, here is it a matter of persistence. I think we should not let it go too much and tap ourselves on the shoulders. Okay. We did the good work now and we need to really keep working on diversity. On inclusivity and those things.

- For the very end, do you think there are prospects and ways for all or at least some of the heroes of their work to pick the fruits of their labor in the near future?

If it's a question about the work that we do to make a change, I think that's very important. I mean, for example, the concerto of Gorecki was written in the time of Solidarność in Poland. Those people fought very hard and worked very hard in a different kind of labor to achieve rights. And I believe in that incessant need to change and to demand change. This is the only way. Not sure if that is an answer to your question, but - I hope.