Ahead of this week's opening of STHLM DANS, now in its second edition, we check in with Marie Proffit, one of the festival co-founders and also one of our favourite people in the local dance and performance scene.
If Only I Knew, Norrdans & Ioannis Mandafounis, ph: Lia Jacobi/Norrdans
C-P: Hello Marie, congrats on this year's fantastic program of STHLM DANS. Before we dive into this year’s edition; what would you say are some of the takeaways from the inaugural edition last year?
M-P: That is a tough question to start with! We were pleased with the whole programme of the pilot edition, which was rich and diverse. We were testing ideas, trying out formats for the first time which felt refreshing, especially after the long period of Covid-19. So I would say that the main takeaway was actually to manage to create a new dance festival without a lot of resources, but with plenty of passion and dedication. On this, my team mates and partners in crime Eva Broberg and Jonas Robin would agree, I’m sure.
C-P: I know you have been talking about the need of an international dance festival in Stockholm for a long time, but what finally prompted you to (co-) found STHLM DANS?
M-P: The idea of creating a new dance festival in Stockholm was a shared dream with my STHLM DANS co-founders Eva Broberg and Jonas Robin. Eva currently runs European Dancehouse Network, and was previously a programmer at Dansens Hus and Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, and also has experience in the visual arts sector. Jonas is a producer with years of experience for dance theaters, festivals and companies, and has a great knowledge of works for young audiences. I have a mixed background as a producer and a curator in performing arts, digital arts and cultural diplomacy at European level. So in a way our fields of expertise are very complementary.
Eva and I were introduced while ago and we have not stopped talking and meeting since. In a funny way, I think that Covid-19 really helped us. For our sector, the pandemics meant less networking events, and more one-to-one meetings, but also some space to think and challenge existing models. From January 2021, we met and talked regularly with Eva, starting to shape our common vision of what a new dance festival in Stockholm could and should be, and contacting partners we felt would understand our idea. Amy Fee from Danscentrum later introduced us to Jonas and he joined the team.
Our common vision was around the development of new audiences for contemporary dance in all its diversity, from experimental performances to family shows. Our programme overall should be diverse enough to enable artists to meet new audiences in different contexts. So our role is to constantly helicopter up to make sure that many different aesthetics and genres are represented in the curation. And of course also by placing dance in new contexts, all over Stockholm and its region, by presenting dance in museums, on the street, in forests, as well as on stage. I don’t think we can thank enough the artists and the partners who trusted us from year 1 to be part of this collective adventure.
With most of our partners, especially the non traditional dance stages, we come up with proposals that respond to their contexts. The curation we propose can bring contrast, reveal new connections or explore a theme deeper, but it is always a weaving process. There are hours of discussion and exchange between us, the artists and our partners, which is the best part of the work, really.
The Art of Making Dance, Dovydas Strimaitis, ph: Dmitrij Matvejev
One of our main questions was also on how to create a new festival post Covid-19, in a period of lower mobility, as the environmental questions became more and more critical. How could we create a sustainable festival, for the artists, for the audience and for the environment? We are still exploring these questions and we are trying to provide a slower model of a festival, in which the audiences have time to see things day by day, rather than in a jam packed schedule, in which artists can travel for more than a gig, and ideally in the future to be able develop more opportunities for them regionally.
Talking about audiences and sustainability, we really see STHLM DANS as a complement to the already existing dance festivals in Stockholm. I’m of course referring to MDT’s Lustholmen, SITE/Specific festival, Björn Säfsten’s Within Practice and My Wild Flag, which you previously covered in C-Print, but also AFIA which features Swedish-South African dance exchange. I really encourage you to check all of them, especially since AFIA, Lustholmen and the SITE/Specific festival are coming up in June. We are all part of the same ecosystem and due to the current political situation in Sweden which is not really favorable to our sector, we feel it is our duty to collaborate even more.
C-P: With several years of vast experience from arts and culture as a producer/curator, I’m wondering what drew you to the field of contemporary dance? What is your own rapport with dance by the way? I've always wondered!
M-P: Of course, most people in Stockholm would know me in my roles with Nordberg Movement, MDT, Aerowaves or the French Institute, but as you say there has been a lot peregrination in France and in the UK before all of this. I don’t have a 100% dance background, but the human body, the collective experience and the need to co-create with audiences have always been at the center of my work.
I studied political sciences and did some research on the Italian squatting movement for years, so I would say that the concept of TAZ, as in Temporary Autonomous Zone, coined by the anarchist theorist and poet Hakim Bey has since been a guiding principle. A rave party, a protest can be temporary spaces that break free from norms and controls of course, but so can be a performance. A new territory, a temporary time frame in which a collective spirit can emerge and empower all its participants. In a way, it is connected to what the French philosopher Michel Foucault described as "heterotopia", a space in which a culture can escape the dominant culture and its forms of repression. A dance theatre can be an heterotopia, and it probably should. I think that MDT in Stockholm is a positive example of this for instance.
Actually my first real job in culture, back in 2006 was with the contemporary dance company Mille Plateaux Associés (Geisha Fontaine and Pierre Cottereau) based at Mains d’Oeuvres just outside of Paris. I loved working with Geisha and Pierre who were real intellectuals with an immense culture of dance, art, films and books but who also had the elegance of constantly being mischievous. One of my tasks was to try to sell a piece called Je ne suis pas un artiste which was a 12 hour long night odyssey in 12 episodes, mixing dance, live music and film. Needless to say it was not an easy job, but we actually did manage to tour the piece! It was also the first time I saw a young François Chaignaud on stage, who since became one of France’s most promising and daring choreographers, and whom we would love to see in Sweden again soon. Studying and working in Paris at the time meant to go to the Théâtre de la Ville as often as we could, and it is where I discovered the work of Pina Bausch and Maguy Marin among many others on stage for the first time.
The following years in London were a time of fabulous experimentation with telepresence, robotics, virtual worlds and responsive installations, as I collaborated with Ghislaine Boddington and the collective body>data>space which envisions the living and moving body at the centre of digital interaction. London is an incredibly stimulating cultural capital, and there is a lot to learn from the British cultural sector, which truly promotes access and diversity, without compromising on artistic quality.
One of the proudest achievements in the last years is without doubt creating a dance film inside the Giacometti exhibition at Moderna Museet for SVT. Moving Giacometti invited a voguing dancer, Silva Prodigy, and a contemporary ballet dancer, Nathanaël Plantier, to respond to Giacometti’s sculptures and to reveal the image and the movement that are not yet visible.
C-P: For this year’s festival, you not only have some of the leading institutions on board including Dansens Hus and MDT but also some less expected venues in the suburbs, e.g. Botkyrka Konsthall and Hagsätra and Haninge Library. Tell me a little about the considerations when targeting “new" audiences and areas.
M-P: In the context of a recession, when the current government is diminishing funds for libraries and making culture more expensive, we feel that it is our mission to make dance accessible to people who otherwise could not afford it or who usually don’t go to theaters. Talking about dance and movement, we feel our role is also to make people move around town, to connect different areas in the centre and in the so-called periphery through dance. This year, we are extending to new public spaces, to art galleries, to public libraries and to new stages, and to the region with Haninge and Botkyrka.
Audiences and passerby will be able to watch Anna Koch’s Unfolding II, her new piece commissioned by the festival with a choreography that responds to the architecture, energy and history of three different places: on Sergels torg, by Fittja Centrum and by Tensta Centrum. Norrdans will enchant public libraries in Hagsätra and Haninge with If I Only Knew by Ioannis Mandafounis, playfully questioning how we experience public space and how it affects us.
Bubblegum Paradise, Amelis Riquelme Nicoletti
STHLM DANS new dance film commission by Amelis Riquelme Nicoletti will be available from the 4th to the 14th just outside of Botkyrka Konsthall, by MDT on Skeppsholmen and on Sergels torg. Bubblegum Paradise is a surreal, pastel-colored world of dance performances featuring Krump and Afro Dance styles. These three new dance films will undoubtedly bring a smile on your face, which is precisely what we need right now.
Moreover, one can say that STHLM DANS is having a mini edition in Botkyrka this year, which we are incredibly happy about. We have been planning collaboration with Botkyrka Kommun and Riksteatern in Hallunda for months and the ideas have just been blossoming one after another, and we hope to do even more with them next year. The fantastic and energizing Yebo Yes! by Afia with iPantsula dancers from South Africa will be presented at Riksteatern in association with a local dance crew, Crazy Dancers Crew, who are between 16 and 25 years old. They will run an open session in Alby with Yebo Yes! and the festival closing party at Hallunda Folkets Hus with an open stage and jam sessions. So yes, in a nutshell it is about doing "with" rather than doing "for".
Yebo Yes!, ph: Zivanai Matangi
C-P: I recently brought a visiting family member to MDT for their first ever dance performance (Ingrid Berger Myhre’s In Other Words). Afterwards, I found myself explaining that it’s not a matter of articulating what you’ve seen but rather “feeling”. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t, and either way is fine. That might be given to some, but in reality, it’s not for most people. Hence, I was very happy to see that this year’s festival will host a talk at Scenkonstmuseet on the topic of “How do we talk about dance?”
M-P: We are definitely expecting you for this one, Koshik! This topic was proposed by the Swedish choreographer Björn Säfsten who is doing a series of talks in collaboration with Dansens Hus. We felt very strongly that this was an important topic for the festival, as it is rarely discussed. This is why we brought together a panel of stars with different angles and backgrounds: Virve Sutinen, the previous Artistic Director of Tanz Im August in Berlin and of Dansens Hus, Anna Kozonina, a dance critic and curator based in Finland who regularly collaborates with Springback Magazine, Maria Naidu, a Swedish choreographer with a fabulous and lived knowledge of the American dance history, and Dovydas Strimaitis a Lithuanian choreographer based between Marseille and Brussels and who will perform at Accelerator as part of the festival.
For dance venues and communication managers, it is often a challenge: how can we stay true to the intention of the artist while communicating to the audience? How do we, as professionals, bridge this gap and make our art form accessible without over-simplifying it? Dance scholars, choreographers, critics and communication managers are all part of this ecosystem producing knowledge about our art form but we sometimes feel that they rarely get the chance to meet and exchange ideas, and that very little actually gets through to the audience.
I sometimes can feel a bit frustrated when dance reviews get descriptive, as in telling me things I have already seen on stage. How can one offer more context, history but also opinion, rather than a mere retelling of the piece? Maybe that is me being French, but I do love a pinch of disagreement and opinions. One of my favourite programs on French Radio is the long running ‘Le Masque et la Plume’ in which critics argue and contradict each other for an hour about films, plays and books. So we hope for a bit of fruitful friction during this debate.
C-P: On a personal note; what would be some of your personal highlights? I’ll go first; I’m curious about Amelis Riquelme Nicoletti (I’ve in fact taken some dance classes with her!), Sylph by Cullberg & Halla Ólafsdóttir at Elverket, the piece with Dovydas Strimaitis at Accelerator and the talk we just mentioned.
M-P: I think we have covered quite a few pieces in the programme in the previous questions already but, yes, to answer your question, there is so much to look forward to this year!
First of all, we are so thrilled to start the festival with a bang, that is to say Cullberg’s new commission with Halla Ólafsdóttir Sylph, where art and pop culture meet and in which we meet a mythological creature, the sylph, an ethereal being with the power of shape-shifting.
A few pieces invite you to slow down and take time to contemplate.
In Dovydas Strimaitis’ The Art of Making Dance at Accelerator, a choreographic sentence is built in front of our eyes. Yet, the additions are so subtle that the evolution is almost unnoticeable. Dovydas, a Lithuanian choreographer based between Marseille and Brussels, takes inspiration from museums and art galleries, in the way the audience’s gaze reveals new details and impressions while the artwork in itself is "static". Can we look at dance as we look at a sculpture for instance?
With Echoes with echoes filling up the orbit, but damaged … (damaged, damaged, damaged) by An*neely and Moa Johansson is a durational performance installation made of rope, fabrics, embroidered speakers, metal carbines and loops – and two performers. Placed within Boxen at Arkdes, it is a sensual deconstruction and an invitation to witness a process of between bodies, space and material.
Takuya Fujisawa, a Japanese choreographer based in Sweden will present a workshop and a performance, Skumitate at Östasiatiska museet. Bringing together wooden material and dance, Skumitate is an attempt to create a bridge between cultures and art forms, blurring boundaries between dolls and humans, between tap and contemporary dance.
In dancing archive, her new commission for Scenkonstmuseet and Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research, Swedish choreographer Lina Palmgren will explore a fascinating question: How can we dance the archive? Her contemporary folk dance meeting with dancing “voices” from other times, different layers of time and media.
And finally, for a final sweat out and a collective experience on the phenomenon of ‘jympa’, make sure you join Medelgympa by dance collective Johanssons pelargoner och dans from 13 years old at Midsommargården.
Sylph, Cullberg & Halla Ólafsdóttir, ph: Nina Andersson
Medelgympa, Johanssons pelargoner och dans, ph: Chrisander Brun
For more info and the full festival schedule, please visit: