One of our many residents during this spring is a group called Atvara. They are five performers with a shared belief in the preciousness of the ‘moment’, dance as a tool for change and a shifted focus from deficiencies to abilities. We asked the initiatior of the group, Karin Delén to tell us more about their work and mutual driving forces.
– We are five women who meet each other through dancing. We believe that every moment (meaning the moment, but also the actual gazes we exchange) are of significant importance and very precious. We also believe in the consequences of every moment that are sometimes easy to predict, sometimes impossible to foresee. They can last some moments more, sometimes for eternity. Sometimes they affect a single person, sometimes they can change history. With this believe we want to question and change the existing structures within society and the dance world.
All the members of our group have different experiences with dance and movement, but we are also born in different places with different skin colors, abilities, sexual orientations, ways of thinking and understanding, believes, ages and life circumstances. All of these factors made us the individuals we are today. Our common dream is to dance and create work that allows us to contribute with our individuality, where we shape the structure according to our needs instead of trying to fit in somewhere we don’t feel like we can unfold our capacities. With our work we want to enrichen the dance scene by adding more body diversity on stage.
When and how was the project initiated?
– I worked as a dancer and workshop assistant with ShareMusic & Performing Arts for several years and experienced dancing with many different bodies and minds. I felt that I wanted to keep on working with this as I see endless possibilities for creation and change.
Share Music is based in Gränna and at the time, there was nothing comparable for me to attend in Stockholm. The initiative for Atvara started with the fact that it is difficult for me to travel around and work with dance outside of Stockholm. There was never enough money to be able to take my personal assistants with me. I wanted to keep on dancing regularly nevertheless, both as a form of training but also on stage, without having the hassle of traveling. The idea to initiate my own dance group in Stockholm, with different abilities originated out of this need but also the fact that different abilities make dance work exciting and colorful. My dream is to develop the group into a dance company and grow with more members, to have several projects happening at the same time and financial freedom.
As a group we all feel that we are off-norm and feel the need to create a space where it is possible to meet with all of our differences, bodies, abilities and experiences. We often feel that there is little space for differently-abled bodies within this society and we feel that we have a lot to give if we can create a space to work in that fits us, and doesn’t demand us to fit in where we can’t.
From a choreographic point of view we find it interesting to challenge existing working methods as many dance techniques are created for norm-abled bodies. We want to shift the focus from the deficiency to the abilities. As we function differently we all bring different abilities and with that in focus we can expand the notion of movement possibilities and how it enriches the scene of dance and performing arts.
We want to make it possible for more people to identify with the bodies that are represented on stage. We feel that there is a lack in representation of non-normative bodies on stage and we want to include a larger audience spectrum to participate. By doing this we hope to encourage more people and a more differentiated variety of bodies to take part of the dance field and question if dance is only for norm-abled bodies. We want to show that all bodies have the ability to dance in their own unique way and should get the possibility to take their own space and get the chance to contribute with their competence.
You are several collaborators in this project. How and when did the group-collaboration start and how has your way of working together developed?
– I initiated the group Atvara in the spring of 2016, as I wanted to join together a dance group with different bodies, personalities and experiences to create a performance together. I had been working previously with Mary who I knew from the Share Music project, but I felt that I wanted to work in a larger group. So I started to look for more collaborators for the project.
Mary and Lyn first met through the conference „Jämlik Scen“ in spring 2016. Later when Lyn attended a work-in-progress that I performed, I asked her if she wanted to join, and so Atvara was born. During the search for dance studios that would be accessible for rolling members we found Studiefrämjandet’s stage in Högdalen that fit our needs quite perfectly. We then started, in the summer of 2016, as a study circle within Studiefrämjandet.
Shortly after we decided to take part in DOCH’s course „Variation of Choreography and Function“, where we met our fourth member Cecilia, and later on Pernilla joined the group. Since then we’ve been working continuously in different forms, from weekly meetings to longer residency periods. We wish to concentrate more on a residential form of meeting because we feel that we can enter the work more deeply when we are able to spend several days in a row together. This form of dedicated working time got even more crucial when one of our members moved from Sweden.
We have put a lot of work in formulating our individual goals and purposes for our common work. We have discussed what we want to represent and show to the world. It is important for us to create a supportive working mood that allows everyone to be themselves. We actively work with respecting and accepting everyone’s practical needs and try to support each other with our strengths and abilities. That is how we have developed in to an effective team where everyone has their place and tasks according to what fits best.
Describe your working process, do you for example have a specific method for creating new choreographic material?
– We first started working a lot with improvisation to get to know each other’s bodies. We chose to improvise for long stretches of time and just see what happens. Then we talk about it and try to figure out what happened, what we think is interesting and what we want to continue working with. Soon we realized that a lot of our ways of connecting originated in the search for ways to meet. How can we meet bodily with our individual ways of being? How can we meet each other? How can we meet the audience? Sometimes we improvise with specific topics, such as leading and following, contact between specific body parts and changing constellations between couples, triples and quartets etc.
Another method we use is to sit down and discuss to articulate a shared concept or idea. Before we started our first residency for example, we talked about creating certain scenes that would challenge normative structures in society. We wrote down the norms we feel disturbed by, and want to comment and change through dance. We developed ideas for movement material and scenes that would reflect our discontent with these existing norms. We picked the one’s we wanted to concentrate on during our studio time in the residency, and then simply tried what worked and what didn’t. The one’s we felt represented our goals and also worked on stage, we kept. Other ideas that seemed great when we talked about it, didn’t work well in the studio, which led us to threw them out.
When we work together everyone in the group is involved in the choreographic process. We try to engage everyone according to their competence – we do what we are best at and try to complete each other. We want everyone to be seen and take place with their individualities. And when we create a solo, we respect the wishes of the soloist.
What were your plans for the process during the residency in our studio?
– We wanted to keep on developing the material we created during our last residency at Studiefrämjandet in January 2018. All of us created solos that we felt reflected our personalities, weaknesses and strengths that we linked together and showed in a work-in-progress performance at Studiefrämjandets stage Högkultur, in Högdalen.
During the residency at c.off, we wanted to shift the focus to more group-oriented scenes, to focus on collaborating as a whole and finding movement material for that. We are also looking forward to get input from external eyes by Linda Adami and Anna Grip, and develop the performance and working processes further with their input. We are looking forward to work with c.off and hope to make fruitful new connections within the dance scene.
How will the project proceed after the residency?
– We wish to develop a performance that we can show within the area of Stockholm. We want to show our work on as many stages as possible, and reach out to as many people as possible to open up the dance scene for a wider range of bodies and individual variations. We started, as a first step towards more variety on stage, by being part of „Danskarusellen“, and now we wish to continue and tour with the full version of our work.
We would also like to apply for money to be able to cover our costs and be able to pay ourselves for the work we’ve all been doing for free so far as we think it’s important to get support for what we do. Finally, we want to keep developing into a dance company with even more members and abilities.
The group Atvara consists of five members: Lyn (Selina) Bentschik, Mary Hagman, Cecilia Henrikson, Pernilla Henrikson and Karin Delén.
Danskarusellen is a competition tour organized by Studiefrämjandet, you can read more about it here.