Long limbs, Finnish presence, and those piercing eyes that charm and seize your soul. Carolyn Carlson has the simplicity and generosity of all great people, no need to show off anything as their personality is so outstanding and involving that brings you straight inside their life.
We are in Bassano during Operaestate festival 2015 to assist at Short Sories – three performances by Carolyn Carlson | Dance Company: All that falls (duo with Juha Marsalo and Céline Maufroid), Immersion (solo with/by Carolyn Carlson) and Mandala (solo with Sara Orselli).
Together with the Dance director Roberto Casarotto she welcomes us to assist at her rehearsal, and starts a conversation on what is dance and the contemporary world, leading us through a journey that goes from La Biennale of Venice to the Paris Opera, always bringing with her the love for her dancers and her master.
What is dance today?
This festival, for example, is very interesting. It’s a multicultural programme; it has of course performance, but there is teaching and lectures, and most of all, it involves the community, so people get more interested to return. It’s strange but dance is always the lowest level of art. You do a classical music programme, you have 500 hundred people because everybody knows it. But contemporary dance is another venue. We are so used to Ballet where everything is story story story, but we don’t need a story. Sometimes people are afraid to come to contemporary: what’s the story about? It’s about how you get to the poetry, we have to go back to it.
Italy has signed several important moments of your career – from Teatrodanza at La Fenice to Academy Isola Danza while you were director at La Biennale of Venice – realities that have disappeared since you left.
For me it’s a shame. Academy Isola Danza? I should have made a contract for life and put it in a museum! There is a tendency about Italians: they go somewhere, and then they drop it, there is no continuance. It’s funny, but I also think you live on history, on the past, you have it everywhere. The only contemporary exception is Milano, because of the fashion and what Strehler did for theatre; it’s a city more energetic and dynamic, see the Expo.
And your teaching?
People should invest in this. That’s why I’m here with Roberto, we are going do big things! I hope to continue here in Italy, especially school. I’ve just given a workshop in Paris with 30 students: half of them were Italians!
But I must say too that Simona Bucci has an incredible influence. I’ve just made class with her; she’s built a group of great teachers developed in a two-years diploma. I really like her work very much.
You are also still choreographer and interpreter of your own choreographies.
I own my career to Alwin Nikolais, he’s my master. I was so impressed by the way he worked: he did lights, costumes, scenes, choreography, music, he did everything! I grew up with Nikolais, and with him we worked on improvisation. This is how I’ve learnt to work and how I work now with my dancers: I tell them what I want them to do and then we work closely, like with Nikolais. Earlier I always performed with the Company, but the more I work the younger the generation gets, so now I do Solo! Sara Orselli is my invaluable assistant everywhere, always giving me suggestions even if she doesn’t choreograph, and I trust her in everything.
But look at Raffaella Giordano, Caterina Sagna, Roberto Castello, Michele Abbondanza; they all work in their choreographies because it comes from their training, you develop an outside eye.
So after all these years Alwin Nikolais still remains your reference point.
Yes, the greatest teacher. But I must say that time space shape emotion…are the principals that are eternal. I still use these parameters like all people do in every field.
But Nikolais started from Mary Wigman. People said I was very close to her; well, Nikolais didn’t wear a skirt! But he had a very interesting spirituality too, even if he had never talked about this. Instead I talk about poetry, as the new generation is different now from the 50s 60s and 70s.
How do you choose your dancers?
You have to study with me. I choose people of course for their technique, but what I really look at is their capability of taking risks in improvisation.
At Fenice I had three days of classes before I took those seven dancers. I hadn’t chosen for example Caterina Sagna, but the last day she did an incredible emotional improvisation, and I said ‘you are in’. Or Juha Marsalo, he doesn’t really have technique, but he is a genius in improvisation.
Everyone in the company brings something, they are searchers, like Riccardo Meneghini, he is incredible coming up with choreographies, ideas, suggestions.
So, yes, I do give audition, but you still have to work with me.
Why do you play so many Solo?
Solo is about sharing your solitude. We are all alone, and when you see someone alone on stage you are sharing something of that.
You’ve also created Solo for ballet dancers who weren’t used to work with you, like Woman in a Room for Diana Vishneva.
Diana Vishneva was incredible. She has always been taught to do steps steps steps, and I thought, what do I do for Diana? So I selected five poems in Russian from Arseny Tarkovsky – the father of Andrei Tarkovsky, one of my favourite filmmaker – and she chose an extraordinary one.
We started working and she said, ‘I can’t do this poetry’. So I started choreographing and she kept looking at my assistant Sara asking herself, What am I doing? It was quiet difficult at the beginning. After the fourth day I asked her: Diana, what do you think about this last line? What do you feel about it? She looked up, and she started trying to reach an imaginary kite. I said, fantastic! keep it! and she was amazed… Then on the fifth day she cried. It was incredible because Diana said: no one ever asked me what I feel. This was really poetry, and for Diana this was really special. And then she wanted me to do something for her again!
Also with Marie-Claude Pietragalla? How was your experience at the Paris Opera?
Marie-Claude discovered improvisation with me. She was very open, she started improvising, she didn’t look back, she just discovered she could improvise.
Ballet dancers is different than working with my people. The first year at the Opera was a nightmare, they were all laughing when they did the improvisation, especially the women, but it was 1997. Now after the work Brigitte Lefèvre had done there…it’s incredible what she did! Now they are more open and acknowledged. And I respect Benjamin Millepied, I might teach for him. He has Larrio Ekson there; he wants to do more open classes, improvisation and choreographic workshops. But I like working with people of my own.
Ah, and then there is Sylvie Guillem, a phenomenon! No one is gonna tell her what to do, she just does her own way.
Has anyone asked you to do something his/her way?
People keep on asking me to do the Rite of Spring. No way! After Pina I will never do this, it’s a masterpiece of all time. I miss her. It was great how she worked with men and women, with people. I’m not capableof that because I work in a cosmic ground, a dreamland. I’m a Water lady, fluent, transparent. Someone said Pina is Earth, Bejart is Fire, Cunningham Air, and I’m Water.
And it’s not by chance that we are going to assist to her solo Immersion, where Carolyn Carlson plunges into the unfathomable depths of water and its vital energy.
Interview to Carolyn Carlson by Lara Crippa
Bassano Operaestate – July 17, 2015