Interview with Jo Strømgren
Drawn to the Tragic
and the Absurd
Jo Strømgren, 33-year old
Norwegian dancer, choreographer, and director of the Jo Strømgren
Kompani (JSK), was in Lithuania last October to present the European premiere
of “Tok Pisin" and a world premiere of film "Destination Moscow."
Author of more than 40 choreographic compositions and performances, Stromgren
is regarded as one of Norway's most innovative and successful choreographers.
After practising a number of sports, he studied dance and choreography
at the Norwegian National College of Ballet and Dance. Later he worked
as a dancer in the contemporary dance company Carte Blache in Norway and
in 1998 founded his own production company.
Strømgren, who first appeared
as a choreographer in 1994, uses an expressive and physical dance language,
where elements from theatre, puppetry and film are blended into innovative
dance productions. He shows a great variety in both style and content,
often with original subject matter and his specific mix of dance and theatre
and use of absurd humour appeals to a broad audience in Norway as well
as abroad. Open to all genres, he has collaborated with jazz ensembles,
contemporary dance companies and ballet ensembles. He has received a number
of awards and tours continuously world-wide, both as a freelance choreographer
and with JSK.
Besides creating new work
for his own production unit, he has also been commissioned to develop
pieces for companies such as Carte Blanche (Norway), Norrdans (Sweden),
Le Junior Ballet du Conservatoire de Paris (France), and Le Ballet de
l’Opéra du Rhin (France) as well as numerous theatre and film projects.
Strømgren’s most recent productions in dance are "When We Dead Awaken,"
" “Halfway to Reykjavik," "Halfway to Baku," “Antikvariatet,"
"Untiteld," and "Tok Pisin" and a film “Destination
Jo Strømgren was interviewed by a Lithuanian journalist and dance critic
Jurate Terleckaite during his tour in Vilnius.
does it mean for you to be Jo Strømgren?
A strange question. Being able to work in a lot of different places,
having personal ideas and making them happen. That is a luxury.
Are you happy with
who you are and what you are doing?
I feel good with myself since I work a lot. I used to sit and think a
lot, and now I think at the same time that I work. I feel very comfortable
being constantly in the process of what I have been thinking about.
How many times have
you been to Lithuania?
Perhaps ten times.
Why ten times?
I ask this question myself. I like Lithuania very much, but still don’t
know why. There is something about Lithuania that I don’t understand.
Even after ten visits to Lithuania, I am still curious. Lithuania is like
Norway, a small country. In the big countries it is difficult to find
an identity. For a foreigner it is more difficult to understand Lithuania's
identity than in most other countries.
Are you attracted
by particular cultural aspects, mentality or habits?
I feel very good in Scandinavian countries, Baltic States, Russia. Lithuania
remains a mystery for me, and I don’t want to discover this mystery. I
like to be somewhere where I don’t feel as if I am in the middle of a
have you received from the collaboration with Lithuanians? Do you feel
Yes. Lithuania is developing very quickly. When I came here for the first
time, I thought: "This is very East Europe," but now this is
almost Geneva! Nowadays, there are few places where you can experience
a society changing as much as here. Most other countries are the same
all the time.
Lithuanians have a different
way of being professional, making things happen, in spite of a lot of
problems. Each time we have been here we anticipate many potential problems,
but everything has gone fine.
Because of Lithuanians
or your enthusiasm?
If something doesn’t work here we have to take short cuts through the
system. Lithuanians have a lot of experience with this process. In Scandinavian
countries there are so many systems, but nobody goes through the system.
Why does the period
of the Soviet regime and history generally attract you?
I am attracted to a lot of periods. I grew up with the idea that everything
in East Europe was the same, associated with the Communists. All that
we saw were stereotypes of Soviet life’s conditions. I was interested
in exploring the Soviet phenomenon from different view points, from the
Scandinavian view point which is different from the West European one
because we are North countries.
What did you enjoy
about making the film “Destination Moscow“?
When we were making the film “Destination Moscow” people were telling
us that this or that was different about the Soviets. But we were not
making a documentary and every movie has its own point of view. The movie
tells a lot of what happened, but from a Scandinavian point of view. I
was myself in Moscow in 1984 and 1986, but it was shocking seeing the
centre of a totalitarian regime. I also wanted to study Russian, but I
chose dancing instead. Well, I always kept this kind of curiosity.
What shocked you
particularly in the Soviet Union?
It is like a shock you have when you get to a place like Paris. Paris
is the cultural epicentre of things; just like New York is the economic
monster of the world, and South Africa is the epicentre of apartheid.
In Moscow I saw enormous propaganda everywhere I looked: grey houses,
red posters. The whole city was like a big idea of power, inhuman in a
When making performances or
film, you don’t have to be an expert in everything. You have to
have experience yourself. The interesting thing is how you see the material
from the outside and have your opinion. For example, I am interested in
geography. I know so much about Latin America: I speak Spanish
fluently; sometimes I think I have been there, but I haven’t!
You are interested
in cultures and histories because you are curious or because you are interested
in mankind? Or because it helps you to create?
I am mostly interested in the absurdity of things. Maybe because my childhood
was filled with Walt Disney's stories. Mainly I was attracted by the tragic
and the absurd. I lived the whole my life in Norway which is very civilised
country without any problems at all, no problems to resolve or to fight,
unlike former Soviet artists or now English working class artists or the
Muslim population in France. They need to make things and to show, while
I have nothing of that. I live on a different planet. What I can
offer is a point of view.
you weren’t a choreographer, what you would be?
Anything that has to do about telling a story.
I have a big respect for literature because it is a very difficult profession.
Well, all jobs done
professionally are hard.
I like all that has to do with nonverbal communication. It opens
me up to intuitive things. Writing has more to do with the intellectual
things – and that’s a different planet.
Where does your
creativity come from?
I respect very much people who need to experience things to make them
happen who may take one or five years to make a product. I am in a category
that reflects things that are happening around. The source for the inspiration
is always there. That makes me have ideas all the time. Sometimes there
are good ideas and sometimes not. In the end, it is a nice contribution
to cultural life wherever we are.
One of my drives is also
to do things that aren’t part of the trend. Many choreographers are trying
to tell a story through dancing. Epic dance was so far out of the trend
during these last ten years. It is reactionary and not the avant garde.
Others can do the avant garde, but I cannot.
I also like to be inspired
by bad movies from the seventies.
What kind of music
do you like to use in your performances?
The same music my grandparents used to listen to. Also Rene Gibson.
What are you working
" Peer Gynt," "When We Dead Awaken," "Little
What is the modern
dance situation in Norway?
The last five years have been good. More people have accepted that we
are doing something different from others. We can create personal things.
We have many choreographers creating with different styles. It is a very
good process. The Cultural Council has been focusing on this and has made
What do you think
about the Lithuanian modern dance?
I saw too little of it, and it is difficult to create when one has little
funding. I saw Lithuanians studying abroad and doing a good job. I feel
the pressure to make intellectual things, but I just want to make banal,
What are your future
I never played in a band or orchestra and I want to try it. My friends
are in different bands, so next year we will create our little orchestra.
We are rehearsing now, and we would like to play some emotional and passionate
music, jazz.. I used to play piano. Now I am learning the clarinet,
bassoon, and flute. Others are trying to learn to play other instruments
Why have you chosen
Ibsen for one of your performances?
Because he is writing about issues that are not related to a certain
time. He is not culturally specific. Instead, he is very much
out of time, more like a Greek tragedy than about drug problems in England
in the seventies. So, in order to make the dance, I interpret.
In Paris, Berlin, or London,
I couldn’t do what I’m doing because expectations are much higher. Here,
I have a lot of freedom.
How do you feel
about having become famous and travelling around the world?
My father was a scientist. He was working in tropical areas every
year. When I was 16 years old, I told my father: "I will never travel
again." Since my 16th birthday I have never been abroad on holiday
or like a tourist.
Do you have choreographers
that you admire?
I really enjoy William Forsythe and Jiri Kylian, but sometimes I find
that what they are doing is too perfect, and I find myself asking what
to do with that. Sometimes I prefer not to watch too much.
Where is your favourite
France because whether the audience likes the performance or not they
know how to express it. It’s a good quality audience. They know how to
express their opinions. They also have a great respect for artists. You
are always treated very well in France. The most boring country must be
Germany because the arts are like a consumer product.
And what about the
audience in Lithuania?
The Lithuanian audience is quite critical.
Edited by Holly Messitt
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