Everyday feminism, 10 questions for Siri and Snelle.
With a long freelancing career behind them, Siri Jøntvedt and Snelle Ingrid Hall continue to insist that they have more to offer as performers. This week sees the premiere of their newest piece, about everydayheroes and falling short, choreographed for the male dancers of Carte Blanche.
By: Venke Marie Sortland
Foto: Kjetil Kausland
Translation to English: Ida Uvaas
1. What are you working on these days?
Siri: We are working on a piece for the six male dancers in Carte Blanche (CB); Ole Martin Meland, Mathias Stoltenberg, Timothy Bartlett, Hugo Marmelada, Jack Lorentzen og Magnus Myhr. The performance is called ”Notes on Cracking”, and is one part of the triple bill “Birthmark”, which is Hooman Sharifi´s first programming as artistic director of CB. It is part of Bergen International Festival, and in August it will be shown at Dansens Hus in Oslo, as part of an Autumn tour.
Snelle: We have never been part of a triple bill before. The umbrella theme provided by Hooman – feminism – puts its mark on the piece, at least indirectly. It is exciting to be part of a bigger context like this.
2. How does this project differ from your previous work?
Siri: Usually, we work with performers we know very well, and we have never worked as choreographers within an institution, and usually we perform in our own pieces, so to sit on the outside is also a new situation for us.
Snelle: This is a commissioned piece, so this a different and refreshing process. Usually our process starts with forming a concept, and writing applications. We would probably not have applied to create a piece for six men, with a feminist theme, but when the opportunity arose, it´s impossible to resist. The twenty minutes formate is also unknown to us, and challenging; in a full length piece we would use ten minutes just to establish something.
Siri: It is very good to be thrown out of the familiar.
Snelle: At the same time, we have partially brought our own team; composer Ivar Grydeland, with whom we have collaborated for a number of productions, has composed a new work for this, and Tilo Hahn, who is designing light for the entire triple bill, we´ve worked with several times before.
Siri: Same, same, but different. Even if the situation is new, we are, as always, mostly interested in what it is like to be human.
Snelle: The performance takes courage and vanity as starting points. But we are not looking at the glorious, heroic courage, but rather that everyday courage; that of being imperfect and inadequate. We haven´t enlightened the gender issues any further, it is already there, in the casting.
Siri: Working with these performers has been great fun. They contribute with experience, physicality and energy.
Snelle: I feel the dancers has met us very openly, they are positive and generous. As we are performers ourselves, we are occupied with how each individual dancer offer their own expression. The performance is not only composition and form, but how the performer relates to the situation in that given moment, if they feel free to play with the circumstances, if they are present in the moment. We are probably more occupied with who they are, than what they do. To be able to see people, is something that excites us about dance.
3. Can you describe your working process, do you follow a certain method?
Siri: We both have a background in scenic improvisation. When we decide on movement material, it is often both set and free. We bring our experience in improvisation into the choreography.
Snelle: I feel it´s hard to describe method, because it blends into the aestethic and physical expression as a whole.
Siri: What we actually do have as a method, is to have run throughs of the performance very early in the process. We quickly arrive at a phrame of structure, a dramaturgical line, which we then can start to fill with content. We also use dialogue as a way of working, we talk alot with eachother.
4. When, how and why did you start collaborating with each other?
Siri: We met at Statens Balletthøgskole (now KHiO), and became good friends. We were also part of an improvisation project initiated by Ingunn Rimestad. In the elongation of this, we made our first performance at Gallery F15 at Jeløya, with six other musicians and dancers.
Snelle: Our training background was different, and we chose different directions during our education: I chose ballet, whilst Siri chose modern. After we finished, we both went to New York. I continued to focus on ballet, but also joined more experimental stuff. I thought it was exciting to share my experiences with Siri.
Siri: For me, it was only release work and improvisation after graduating. I worked with a.o. Frances Becker and Nina Martin. The early ninenties was a good period with many opportunities. We were a lot of people who had gathered experiences and impressions from abroad. We arranged classes and workshops, and invited international guest teachers, and this became an important hub in Oslo.
Snelle: In the beginning we created larger collaborations with several others artist in different constellations. We also performed alot for others at that time. Our integrated choregraphic collaboration saw it´s establishment when we were given the opportunity to make something for The Year of Dance (1993).
Siri: The first few years our own projects were kind of bonus projects.
Snelle: We´ve always found it easy to work together. We have a shared thought on aestethics, and match eachother in a way so that it has always been impossible to divide who came up with what.
5. What do you hope to accomplish through your work as dance artists? Do you have any prospects, any defined aims and ambitions for the future?
Siri: We have several projects lined up. In the autumn we are showing the performance GRUMS, which was produced last year, in Oslo and Hammerfest. Furthermore, we are premiering a new performance at Dansens Hus in March 2016.
Snelle: We have always questioned the hierarchy within dance. When we started working together, questioning the one artist, the choreographer, at the top, was quite radical. Today, this structure is not as protruding, but still current. It is interesting that Hooman is attempting to address such questions within an institutional context.
Siri: The fact that we continue working as performers is also an important and conscious choice, and also an aim. We are both well into our fourties. In a feminist perspective it is important to continue working, and insisting that experience is valuable.
Snelle: To meet, work with and talk to people across generations and experiences is nice. It is important to have diversity within the dance world.
6. How would you describe the Norwegian dance scene today?
Siri: It is diverse and unpredictable! It accommodates many different expressions and voices – which is great.
Snelle: Since we, ourselves, are part of the dance community, it´s hard to take a look at it from the outside. In Norway we are very privilaged to have funding bodies who accomodate experimentation and production. Yet, we wish for more exchange, both within and outside the borders: it is hard to travel with the pieces that are produced.
7. Can you mention any performances or artists who have influenced you, and which artists do you find especially interesting today?
Snelle: Arriving in New York when we were young was a real eye-opener. Anything was possible, nothing was right or wrong, contradictory to what we had the impression of from our training. I remember seeing Ina Christel Johannessen og Un-Magritt Nordseths performance “Scirocco”. For me, with my background from the Opera school of ballet, it was a monumental experience. Suddenly I realised that it was possible to express something entirely different. That performance defined my later choices. The first time I saw German Tanzteater, Susanne Linke and Pina Bausch, was also of great importance to me.
Siri: I think I have to say Julyen Hamilton.
Snelle: And David Zambrano. They have both been important voices, for how we work. Right now, we are both fascinated by Jefta van Dinther. In general, I love seeing performances, and I am easily pleased.
8. What is important for your artistic development? Are you, for instance, inspired by theoretics and/or other art forms?
Siri: For me, it´s alot about music. I go to alot of concerts. Often, I find it more inspiring than watching performances.
Snelle: In a way, I am nerdy with theory, and I believe it influences my creative and performing work in one way or another; it is part of shaping how I think; but it´s not something I directly take into use when we work together.
Siri: Most often, our springboards lies closely to everyday experiences.
9. How can dance art build a larger audience without loosing its artistic integrity?
Snelle: I sincerely hope it does not automatically connect, that you have to loose your integrity to have a large audience. I do not believe it is dance that has to change and adapt, rather I believe it´s about how we talk about dance, or its attachment to bigger societal issues. I do not think it necessarily becomes easier to sell a product which is compromised into a crowd pleaser. I believe the audience is a smart group of people. The strength in the arts is rather the complex than the simple. And I am thinking many small audiences makes one large.
As dance artists we are engaged with communicating something, not only through structure and form, but through a tactile and kinaestethic experience. These experiences are maybe not so suitable for the bigger stages.
10. If you were granted one wish on behalf of dance art, what would it be?
Siri: More places for production and performance in Oslo, and a better infrastructure for touring; surely that´s what everyone wishes for?
The triple bill BIRTHMARK has its premiere during Bergen International Festival on the 29th May, and runs until the 9th June. It is touring in Norway Autumn 2015.
*Siri Jøntvedt and Snelle Ingrid Hall were interviewed by Venke Marie Sortland, for Danseinformasjonen.