MH: I am not so preoccupied with the idea of identity at the moment. I would say questions of identity were more outspoken in the time of creating “M.I.A.” In many ways I guess I am still preoccupied with it, but currently this is not my point of access for my work. My practice revolves around the idea of the uncomfortable, about the in-between which cannot be identified, about failure, about the crack, about an implosion and about collapsing structures. About extremities and an insistence into the unknown, unstable ground which demands stamina to stay on it. The work is about establishing a space where insecurity, questions and doubt can be shared with the audience. A space, a practice, which does not conclude.
VS: I find it extremely interesting that you have a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Mediation. How much is your choreographic practice informed by the knowledge and tools achieved through your studies?
MH: I think the clearest point of connection for me is in how I have been navigating big groups of people in the process of “A song to…”. First in the creation process together with 16 amazing and very different dance artists. How to bring into a space an additional 30–50 extras on top of that demands tools that I have developed in part from those the studies. Furthermore, I can clearly see that the themes I am dealing with in my work are informed by, and to a certain extent shaped by, topics, discussions and experiences from these studies. However, I must admit that one of the most important discoveries I made during my MA was how much we already know from the field of contemporary dance about group psychology, negotiation and mediation, just from our practice, from our way of collaborating, sharing and navigating together. How much we have a lived practice through our bodies of dealing with differences in a physical space. I often thought that mediators and negotiators should have additional training in our field of work. That would have changed a lot I think.
VS: “A song to…” is your first big piece with 16 professional dancers and 30 local performers. It is a huge undertaking by all means, but not least because you are asking them all to perform naked. How did you start with this idea?
MH: I wanted to investigate the human mass and its power through the idea of walking and running. At the audition we were looking for 18 dancers. But at one point we saw 55 people running as a part of the audition and we realised that we needed more than 18 bodies on stage. So we ended up with 16 dancers and around 30 extras. In the moment when we get close to 50 or more people on stage I actually do think we touch the energy of a mass of bodies gathered together in a physical space.
There are a few reasons for the choice of nakedness. The piece is, among other things, looking at the relationship between the individual and the mass. Each naked body is unique. At the same time, a multiplication of naked bodies creates a kind of unity, something which becomes very abstract when you zoom out and look at it. Something that is a long way from the individual. The other thing is how the spectators’ associations can flow while watching a mass of naked bodies. Collectively we carry many historic images of masses of naked bodies as well as associations to the animal kingdom, for example. In this way, this mass of naked bodies somehow serves as a projection screen for the audience.
And yes, it is a huge undertaking and does not come easily being a freelance artist with limited project funding and institutions used to co-producing smaller projects. But it is exciting to work on a production of this size and also realise how that choice pushes infrastructures around us.
VS: My way of reading the work is also to see it as a way of deconstructing the myth of the nation. How was this received in Norway? I cannot help but think about those images of the Norwegian Constitution Day, which are unique in their celebration of independence and the nation state.
MH: In Norway the piece was very much spoken about through the lens of the nudity and the amount of bodies on stage. I think this might be due to the fact that very little nudity has been shown on stage in Norway. However within German contexts we found that questions around monumentality and history enter into the discussion about the piece. As well as the connection to what we are witnessing today in Europe regarding human masses gathering in public spaces, either to protest, to grieve or to move across continents.
In a Norwegian context, the piece also references the work of the two sculptors, the Vigeland brothers, who worked in the time of the monumental ideologies of the body in the 30s and the 40s. One of them created a sculpture park consisting of naked bodies opened during German Occupation, and this park is a very strong symbol of Norwegian heritage and pride.
I have noticed that this has not been discussed or reflected upon very much in relation to the piece, other than a certain link to the beauty of it, or the boredom of it. I think it is difficult to conclude why the ‘dangerous’ questions have not been asked in Norway regarding the piece. But it might also be that we are still a very fresh nation in discussing stage art in relation to history, politics and society.
VS: How do you work with the extras?