Efva Lilja interview with Blacklisted Magazine

Dancing between a smile and a tear

Speaking to the artistic director of Dansehallerne, Efva Lilja, about the changes coming to the house and the ongoing battles with bureaucratic policy

Published: February 2, 2017Words: Efva Lilja & J. Scott StrattonArtist Link: www.efvalilja.se/

For my readers that are unfamiliar with your career, can you give me a little background on your work and career as a choreographer?

I work with choreography, visual art, films and writings that takes us through layers of conscience, into passionate erotic episodes, contemplative stillness or maybe just playfulness with a political edge. Choreographic sequences challenge and present imagery we can use in the formation of reality. This work of mine has over the years been presented in more than 35 countries, often described as controversial and innovatory.

Some of my most celebrated works were produced for art institutions such as Centre Georges Pompidou, Stockholm Museum of Modern Art and The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. A more odd example would be a two months expedition to the North Pole where I explored my abilities to dance under extreme circumstances. There is a lot of images, films, and texts on my web (efvalilja.se) for those who want to know more. And on Youtube of course.

Is there a particular genre of dance that influences and shapes your work?

I believe that we all think and act through movement. Language has its abode in the body that is the foundation for thinking. To me, choreography is the practice of thinking transformed into survival strategies through action. It is my toolbox in the process of making, where
reality must be made real, reframed into alternative imagery and events that can motivate living.

Through choreographic action, we are stimulated to think beyond what has been said, beyond what we’ve already seen, beyond what we think we know. All our senses are activated by other incomprehensible elements than those presented by so-called reality for us to decipher. So, my primary source of information is life itself. I try to live attentive, listening, observing.

What prompted you to begin to make the transition from strictly choreographer and artist into the academic fields of professorship and writer?

I do not see it as a transition. As a choreographer, I research in and through my artistic practice, I share the process and findings with colleagues to exchange experiences, insights, and knowledge to get further with my art. That’s what I do as an artistic researcher. It’s a continuation of my artistic practice.

Art and artistic research create movements, which develop in a cultural and political environment where conventions are questioned and new traditions established. Innovative art keeps its focus on the contemporary and shines its strongest light towards the future. Through research, we can take over the right of interpretation and assume responsibility for questions where art may hold the answer. Artists engaged in research create peer environments that hone our ability to critically reflect upon each other’s practices, to share processes and develop our methods. This, in turn, puts new demands on society’s systems of governance. We are on the move.

Efva Lilja interview with Blacklisted Magazine

Now that you are based here in Copenhagen, do you still maintain a connection to the Swedish performance community?

I maintain my international network, with friends and colleagues all over the world.

As still currently creating works, or has your work at Dansehallerne dominated your time?

The work at Dansehallerne dominates for sure! I work day and night to secure the future for the art of choreography in Denmark, to support the many very gifted artists, to connect their work to international markets and to alert the growing audiences on the possibilities to approach. It’s a beautiful challenge!

To maintain sanity, I do exercise (for example from my book: 100 exercises for a choreographer and other survivors), I make my drawings, writings and on occasion, I dance. I exhibit, publish and perform. That’s a given in my life.

Many changes have occurred with the Dansehallerne with you behind the helm, can you give me a little bit of a background on what your vision for the house was when you began as Artistic Director?

In short? Well, I wanted to find out if it’s possible to create an institution of relevance for the contemporary artists as well as audiences in today’s diverse and complex society. I have this firm belief in the importance of art for our development as cultural beings. It’s good to put it to test.

With the changing of location, and the constant battle with the Ministry of Culture, what do see for the future of Dansehallerne?

Dansehallerne is a unique institution with its manifold activities. We house the work of about 200 artists a year who train, rehearse, produce, present or meet. We don’t just show performances; we invite to a variety of encounters. Together with the staff and the artistic community, we have stated in our vision that Dansehallerne should be a national platform and a leading institution for contemporary choreographic performative art in Europe. That’s what we are aiming for!

One could say that dance creates itself in a void, in the space between the public and the private and that it cannot excuse itself from its political, social, cultural or individual context. The movement articulates the self and puts the work within the framework of what the viewer can interpret. This ability, in turn, is dependent on the position our culture affords man as a body. Neither dance nor choreography exists in itself. It’s created in the eyes of the beholder. Dansehallerne provides the possibilities for this to happen. We generate the meeting-place for the dialogue between the artist and the audience, between the work and the public.

To become a leading institution, we have to expand concerning support to the artistic community, provide residencies, research facilities, administrative support and more. We have to establish our new premises to secure the possibilities for presentations and sharing with an ever-growing audience, to provide participatory events, courses, and other interactive formats. And we will!

What we lack is proper support since the art of dance is so poorly funded. There is an equally poor infrastructure and not very much knowledge on the contemporary art-scene among bureaucrats and politicians in power.

Efva Lilja interview with Blacklisted Magazine

What is your opinion on the current political state and their perception of culture and arts?

We live in a benevolent welfare state that has fallen on hard times. A significant portion of the European population is on the dole, in a cultural void. Cultural policies are in a state of vacuum, most often with a fuzzy leadership whose actions are based on a materialistic view, where art is seen as goods and products and the artist is steered toward usefulness and adaptation to the ”creative economy.” The journey to the many mansions of power provides a host of opportunities for reflection on powerlessness and impotence. If we want a society with creative, innovative, strong citizens that can apply and utilize their voices and creativity, we need a belief in our common commitments. The dominating political philosophy puts art into the ”icing-on-the-cake” box. Is this what we want?

Culture is what we live, our common foundation, our societal contract. The arts are part of this culture. Through artistic expression we can both gauge and affect the state of our culture, creating our story. I want to see policies that don’t just put survival and material well-being in focus but have an excellent cultural climate as its ultimate goal for long-term sustainable development.

For that which we are after, we need policies that create possibilities for deeper artistic processes with an outlook that places us not only in Europe but also in a global perspective. Policies that generate both understanding and legitimacy for art’s specific power to contribute to a good society where we can all live in awareness, creativity, and empathy as seeing humans. Art just makes it more fun, more exciting and more challenging to live. Europe (read Denmark) need artists. Art defies borders. Denmark has a lot to do to “catch up.”

How do you feel about the introduction of more and more artist born collectives, like Danseatelier, that are choosing to operate independently of the institutions?

Creativity presupposes dissatisfaction with current conditions. You want something more, something beyond what you already know, feel and have. Asking questions and the desire to change something demand in their turn a form of risk-taking, which means that we must be prepared to fail. There are those who find new ways of organizing and producing art within peer networks that seek to deepen knowledge and improve conditions. In Denmark, there are several very interesting collectives that contribute to this development, among them Danseatelier. And you see the same tendency around Europe. More and more artist-driven forum appears and challenges traditional institution.

A significant threat to creativity is posed by the obstructive nature of clarification: where the middle way holds sway, and the utilitarian aspect overshadows the goal. This is very present in culture policies in Denmark. At it’s worse, it makes our awareness less acute, and we are reduced to using obvious and more acceptable solutions out of an erroneous ambition to make the middle ground palatable for everybody. Misguided benevolence renders people passive, and indifference comes to reign over the aestheticized surface of a blended and jumbled consensus that has as its sole aim to reflect the expectations of the world around us. At Dansehallerne we put it to a fight and support the artists who indeed dare to stand up for their practices and willingness to share their work with various audiences. Language lives in the body, which moves us into thinking.

Do you have any advice for emerging artists or choreographers on how to navigate the industry and it’s current climate?

The industry, or the market, is in rapid change. Be brave. Be generous. Be proud. Help one another. Artists are facilitators of change. We are the bearers of an enormous body of knowledge, which needs to be communicated, reflected on and analyzed critically in our encounters with others. Our skills and expertise may be rejected or adopted or dressed up in a different form. The contribution to be made by the contact is based on enjoyment, desire, and educational skills, on trust, respect and mutual ability but also a responsibility. Together we make art available as an indispensable stimulus of curiosity, wellbeing, cultural and societal development. Dansehallerne enables arenas needed for this in collaboration with international partners.

Efva Lilja interview with Blacklisted Magazine