Departures and Arrivals

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SHAPES OF STATES - interview with Stina Nyberg
Rita Natálio

Shapes of States, the new work by Swedish artist Stina Nyberg, comes from an interest in the way we physically exercise the body, ideologies and values that are expressed through movement. In her previous projects, Nyberg tried to work with different body techniques and somatic practices, practices that convey certain values of work (like flexibility, strength, etc) and that can, eventually, propose in their structure a certain sculpture of the body.In Shapes of States, her focus gets more precise, because she decided to harbor within the same research, ideas and expressions from the development of the Swedish public health program (Folkhälsan), Taylorism and Mayerhold's biomechanics, three major body programs from the beginning of the 20Th century that can make us enter the realm of ideology through body practice.

The public health program in Sweden developed in the early 1900's, and it maintained the idea that a healthy society needs healthy citizens. The logic was to build a good state of the body and to form good citizens, as well as to heal a sick and poor population. Ultimately, the collective utopia of doing something to "heal" or to "transform" society led to a development of the program into uneasy categorizations of valid and invalid bodies, but initially it strived for equal physical wellbeing and a nourished a hope for the body. Secondly, Biomechanics, a training technique developed in the Soviet Union by theatre director Meyerhold, was based in a strong belief in the capacity of the body and its mechanization. Rather than proposing a theater of emotions, Meyerhold worked with control and rationalization of gestures, proposing a strong physical training. And finally, the US Taylorism, was an economical project that dealt with measuring the body and the control of the gestures (of workers) by electing necessary movements and discarding unnecessary movements, ideas which were also connected with the idea of building a good body for a good society.

In general terms, efficiency, rationality and collective harmony were some of the principles of these three practices which structured our 20Th century, both socially and politically. When we asked Stina about her reasons to translate these principles to her present dance context she reacted:

"To a certain extent these principles are still contemporary, I believe there is still a big concern about body's productivity and efficiency. At the same time, if we think about the appraisal of individual freedom and individual expression today, we will probably see that back then there was something about a belief in joining movements for a greater good, about working with each other, that we might have lost. How can we still work together in creating the society we want to live in? Which inspirations, ideas and ideologies from that time can be re-learned today?"

Maybe the core question of Shapes of States can be: what do we perceive as contemporary constructions of freedom today? By simply looking back to times where these expressions could have looked different, this piece proposes an experience of differentiation. The task is simple and complex at the same time: to mime some structures and sculptures of movement from the past that can help us understand better the context in which the concept of freedom was forged. But Nyberg also told us that, for her, the idea of miming historical forms is an artistic choice of bringing narrative back to dance, and also to enact an operation of literality in the simple initiative of "quoting" the past. Bringing things directly to our sight, near us, instead of trying to invent a brand new concept of dance, maybe this is the contemporary task of works like Shapes of States.

 

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Shapes of States will premiere at MDT in Stockholm the 30th of March 2016 followed by a Swedish tour to Uppsala, Malmö, Umeå, Skellefteå and Göteborg. Read more on Stina's website

(Choreography and sight interpretation: Stina Nyberg. Set design: Tove Edlund Dreiman. Producer: Sara Bergsmark. Production: MDT, Inkonst, Norrlandsoperan och wpZimmer. Supported by: The Swedish Arts Council, The Swedish Arts Grants Committee, The Municipality of Stockholm. This presentation is part of the project [DNA] Departures and Arrivals, which is co-financed by the Creative Europe program of the European Commission.)