<3 The Heart
Initially I had intended on penning down my thoughts on The Heart, a work by Mari Carrasco's that I recently had the great pleasure of experiencing at Hallen c/o Dansens Hus in Stockholm. But then I argued against it. I don't think my words would make it justice, not even close. So instead; here's a conversation with Mari that I've been dying to have ever since our paths crossed at Accelerator the fall of 2021.
The Heart (performers: Gustav Deinoff, Bianca Traum, Javier Perez and Stacey Aung), ph: Res
C-P: Hello Mari, You and I first met at Accelerator during Adèle Essle Zeiss’s Tyngdspegel in which you were one of the dancers. Before diving into your most recent work, The Heart, tell me a little about your background leading up to the present?
M.C: I’m born in Sweden and grew up in Vallentuna, a suburb outside of Stockholm. My parents are from Valparaíso, Chile. I felt like an outsider growing up. I was very shy and I afraid of everything, not so much different from how I am today. My parents were art enthusiasts. We watched Federico Fellini movies and all the classical movies at home. On weekends we would always go to the cinema. I loved being with my parents. They opened my eyes to another universe that felt remote and distant from the boring everyday life we normally led. They inspired me to dream big, to become an artist. I think I got a lot of my inspiration from just being with my parents as a kid. Also, my Chilean roots are and will always be a big part of me and what I do.
When I was about 8 years old some friends in school said they were going to take a dance class and I followed along. After that moment I was hooked. I did my dance education at Balettakademien in Stockholm and graduated in 2008. I have been freelancing as a choreographer for more than 10 years now. I started off by creating pieces without any kind of grant money for dancers and colleagues. I knew quite early on that creating work was more my thing than being a dancer. I knew what talent was and I knew my body wasn’t enough. I’m happy being on the other side, watching dancers in action while I dance in the shadows.
Bartolomeo (performer: Bianca Traum), ph: Martin Rinman
In 2011, I created a piece called Bartolomeo with Maria Ulriksson, Elin Hallgren, Rita Lemivaara, Lisa Brandt, and Bianca Traum (ed’s note: one of the performers in The Heart). It created a buzz in the dance world and allowed us to travel all over the world. It was a good learning process to work so much at such a young age. From that moment, I have been living with my dancing. That sort of sums it up to the great moment when we met! I’m so happy to have met you and thank you for inviting me to do this interview. It means a lot you came and saw The Heart the other day.
C-P: I enjoyed it very much. I’m forever grateful to my friend Sahar for booking the tickets already back in December. It was almost an emotional experience. For somebody who hasn’t seen the inside of a night club in what feels like years but has spent a great chunk of their time on dance floors, it really triggered something in me. Smoke, sweat, lust, bodies confined in a crammed space; very evocative. Run me through the process of working with The Heart and the four dancers? They all had very different styles so I’m assuming that they must have brought a lot of “themselves” into the piece?
M.C: Yes, it’s always a collaboration between me and the dancers. I start by giving them tasks and just try to keep an open mind and be vulnerable to let things organically unfold. It’s a lot of impro based tasks so the dancers are producing, constructing and deconstructing things. I try to evoke their tendencies as dancers but also try to challenge them.
The process for The Heart was tough for both me and the dancers. I wanted to find something that was new to me. My aim was to dare to experiment more and push my ideas to the extreme while trying to remain calm. I knew I wanted to find something uncanny, something Twin Peaks like… Jenny Nordberg’s set is a little like a sauna/club where both the audience and dancers share the space. The house is just a little over 5 meters long, so it’s a very contained space. I told Jenny that I wanted to break my habits for this piece so when she presented the idea of having a house that would limit the space and the movements I was scared but excited. Instead of exploding the movement I had to implode No running, no jumping, no floor technique and no set material.
I struggled a lot in the studio with the dancers. We worked for weeks without any major breakthroughs. Tilman O'Donnell was with us during rehearsals to provide some feedback and assistance and help out as dramatic adviser. One day during rehearsal, he told me “you have groove Mari, use it!”, and from there things started to evolve. The practice was based on my groove, my home in the body. It was when I told the dancers, pretend you are all alone in the club, it’s 3 am and you are at the bar and you are too shy to dance so you are doing a little contained dance and you are enjoying it like crazy. Then this awkward dancing happened and from there things started to grow. The practice: “contained groove” became the base of the piece. Then I just had to continue to listen to the material and stick with it. I questioned myself a lot; is this enough? And some of the dancers did too, is this what we are doing, just this? And I had to be like, yup just that! I really had no idea what I was doing, but trusting my gut was important. And the dancers stared to engage themselves fully and their own characters appeared. They really gave it their all for the premiere. They were so “in it”; it was so beautiful to watch.
The Heart (performer: Bianca Traum), ph: Res
C-P: Aside from working with Jenny Nordberg for the set design, tell me a little about the other people you collaborated with in terms of music (incredible by the way!), costumes (not your typical club attire) etc.
M.C: With The Heart I wanted to collaborate with a team that I look up to and a little intimidated by. For example, it was a dream come true to work with Jenny. I saw her work back in 2012 and I have just been waiting for the right moment to work with her. She is a perfectionist to the core. I can be quite sloppy with things so to work with Jenny is also making my own mind sharper. The costumes are also made by her. I remember she had a picture of a family dressed the same way on her mood board for the piece. We watched The Wolfpack, an American directed by Crystal Moselle. It is about the Angulo family, who home-schooled and raised their seven children (six boys and one girl) in the confinement of their apartment in the Lower East Side of NYC. In the documentary, you follow the family and how they get a hang of the world through watching films. They also re-enact scenes from their favorite movies. It reminds me of my own upbringing. This then became the essence of the ensemble in The Heart. Jenny created this knitted sweater design with high pants, boots and embroidered collars. They are not very timely, more reminiscent of something from the past. We don’t know. They became a weird family. A family that play chess on Tuesdays, have choir practice on Wednesdays and go out to the club on Fridays.
To talk and get feedback from Tilman O'Donnell has almost been life changing. Tilman is very articulate and he can put things into words in a way I can’t. He can see and feel everything in a space. To get his input and feedback during The Heart was absolute crucial to the work. If it weren't for Jenny Nordberg’s set and Tilman’s words, it wouldn’t have been the same piece.
Mira Svanberg did the light design for the piece. This was our first time working together. She is just fantastic! She is a rock’n’roll star and I loved her way of approaching the idea and concept. Mikael Karlsson the composer, yes, he is a genius! This is our fifth collaboration together. We started our creation for The Heart in the fall of 2019 in his studio in NYC. For The Heart, I challenged Mikael a little more than I normally do. I wanted a snippet that initially was 2 min to become 20 min. Those two little minutes was the golden nugget and I knew I had to be brutal and cut everything we had done before and make those minutes of music become the whole piece. The music was then recorded live. The fingers of the musicians were almost bleeding, it’s very hard to play so fast. Listening to the music more closely you can almost hear the dancing hands behind the music and the breaths of the musicians. I love working with Mikael. There is such a nerve in the music he composes. I feel his music in my whole existence. He is incredible, so professional and at the same time kind and gentle.
The Heart, Hallen c/o Dansens Hus, ph: Res
C-P: The Heart was postponed three years due to the pandemic (originally intended to premiere the spring of 2020 at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Vällingby). Did you revisit the work at all during this time?
M.C: I had The Heart in my mind during the 3 years until now. I lived with it and fantasized of how the end result would be. I also teach a lot when I’m not creating my own work so I tried to contain the groove in my teaching practice to try the method on other dancers and see how it could evolve. So, it was very present in my work but also in my fantasy.
Mari Carrasco, ph: Thomas Zamolo
C-P: Are there any plans of showing The Heart again? I would love to relive it and think there are so many people that would really enjoy it. I have the feeling that this could be an “eye-opener” if you know what I mean.
M.C: Wow, thank you! Yes, I definitely think so too. My goal now is to be able to show it again. But the plan now is to create a more tour-friendly version of the piece. I decided on the last day of the performance that I would get rid of the house. It was not an easy choice. It was never made to tour from the beginning and the cost of storing is too expensive for me as a freelance artist to pay for. Maybe one day we can build a similar house, perform it in its original form, that would be so dreamy. Since The Heart is also partly made for my father, who died due to complications stemming from a heart attack it also somehow made sense to “kill” the house. My father’s heart died, and so did The Heart.
The Heart (performer: Javier Perez), ph: Senay Berhe
C-P: The Heart is the first work of yours that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in person. Would you care to share some words about some other past works, and if there are any themes that your work is generally informed by?
M.C: I have done around 16 works prior The Heart. But with this one I knew I had to change my way of thinking, I was too locked in my old habits. It had almost become too easy to “deliver”. And this was also the first time I could actually pick my entire artistic team. The Heart was also the foundation for my work Remind Me I’m Not Dead, that I created for Skånes Dansteater. I used the practice from The Heart but it got reinvented in collaboration with the dancers at Skånes Dansteater. New words, new task and new questions arrived. If The Heart is confined to a small space with 4 dancers, Remind Me I’m Not Dead is performed in a huge space with 9 dancers. It’s very different settings and how to work with the movement from this point of departure was very interesting. The Heart is also a part of a trilogy with Remind Me I’m Not Dead as the sequel and Forever (to premiere in the fall 2024) being the third chapter. All based on the uncanny, loneliness, awkward and groove.
Remind Me I'm Not Dead (performer: Tiemen Stemerding), Skåne Dansteater, ph: Märta Thisner
C-P: Where do you draw inspiration from for your work, and who might be some of the artists that have had an impact on your practice?
M.C: Choreographers like Crystal Pite, Mats Ek, Johan Inger, Ohad Naharin and William Forsythe have had a huge impact on my dancing life. These choreographers made me want to pursue contemporary dance in the first place. It’s my dance history but also my happy place. I have never worked with any of these choreographers but we learned some of their repertoire during my formal education and I have watched their pieces on stage many times. It was my goal for many years to become a company dancer. These references still live with me even though my practice is in a very different than when I started.
I also love the work of Jefta Van Dinther, Cristina Caprioli and Tilman O'Donnell. Their work is informed by interesting topics and push the limits of what dance and choreography can be forward.
C-P: I hear you will be a part of the Unga Klara’s production (dir: Gustav Deinoff) of Romeo & Julia. How exciting! How do you approach such an iconic piece from your role as a choreographer?
M.C: Oh, lord. This one is a heavy one to take on, haha! It will be a lot of work. But the good thing is that I almost know most of the text by heart. I read Romeo & Juliet over and over again in high school. I was a pretentious Shakespeare nerd. Then I saw Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Lurhman’s adaptation, I almost died. I saw it maybe 10 times in the movie theatre, haha! But I think I will focus a lot on rhythm. The text is like music so I will use that to create the movement and the movement language together with the performers. I will try to use a lot of humor. There is a lot of dark humor in Shakespeare´s way of writing, so I will try to merge that into the movement.
This is mine and Gustav Deinoff´s third production together. We started working together in 2014. Our first collaboration was Girls Will Make You Blush, it was a huge hit! I was a total beginner at the time but Gustav somehow believed in me. I learned so much by working with him. He makes everyone around him relax. He also expects high quality output from you without putting pressure on you, I don’t understand how he does it! Working with theatre and with actors can be tricky though. The theatre world has another way of doing things. My experience is that it’s much clearer and more direct. In a way, dance is harder to explain. It’s different languages. The good thing is that Gustav understands movement and is not afraid of it. He stays during the process and wants to try everything. It’s liberating to work with people who are willing to try new things. After The Heart I realize more and more that I work with what I do not know yet. And to work with people who dare to be vulnerable is very inspiring. I like to take a risk in what I do. Something must be at stake.