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Milla Koistinen on Tanznacht, minimalism and the power of performance

We chatted with Berlin-based Finnish choreographer Milla Koistinen about her upcoming performances at Tanznacht.

Photo: Tero Ahonen

Milla Koistinen is a Berlin-based Finnish choreographer whose recent pieces, Breathe and Magenta Haze, straddle dance and performance art and have taken part in festivals across Europe.

In September, she will participate for the first time in the 25th annual Tanznacht, a 25-hour-long marathon of dance performances at Uferstudios.

You’ve been performing in Berlin for 12 years. How has the dance scene changed? 

I was kind of in shock when I first arrived here. I was coming from Brussels and it was very physical – and I was working more as a dancer and not as a [dance]maker. And then I landed in Berlin, which was very different. I had a hard time transitioning into this more conceptual and calmer world after all the time I had spent physically pushing the limits. So I stripped everything down and took out a lot of things from my work. I went into something very minimalist as a maker.

But what I really enjoyed in Berlin when I arrived was the theatre scene. I went a lot to see theatre, even if I didn’t understand the language. It felt more physical than the dance that was going on at that time. And I think now the dance scene is much more diverse and there are a lot more things – and a lot more space for different kinds of things.

Breathe. Photos by Jan Isaak Voges and (c) Tanz im August / HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, photo: Dajana Lothert, 2021

Tanznacht comes shortly after Tanz im August. Do you see it as a kind of capstone for this month of dance? 

Tanznacht feels like it’s more about the scene in Berlin, and Tanz im August has a lot of international guests. It opens up the scene into something else. Earlier there were a lot of local people, local artists, but now it’s not so much of that anymore. Tanz im August is really this big event with a lot of big companies and big names. And then Tanznacht gives more of this feeling of locality and the people who really are working in Berlin and are based here. 

Your work tends to have your audience moving around as you perform. How come? 

A big part of my work involves working with the audience and what kind of experience we try to provide them – so it’s not only people coming and sitting, observing. I mean, it’s still very subtle; it’s not like it’s somehow participatory or forcing people to do something. It’s very much that you can approach it however you want, and how you feel like doing it. 

Magenta Haze. Photos (c) Dance House Helsinki, Ilkka Saastamoinen, 2022

What can audiences expect of your work at Tanznacht?

The stage is like this cake for the performers, divided into four ‘slices’ where people perform. And it’s a relatively small space. This, of course, restrains what you can do and how – and there are other people performing at the same time. But I think it’s also about people wandering in. And I really enjoy this, that people can just come and go as they please.

It’s kind of like this gallery feeling, which I like. But I think in that sense, there is maybe not so much participation – and also because I won’t be working with objects, as in my previous work, there’s nothing in the room in that sense that would make people move. So I think in that sense, it’s going to be a little bit more traditional.

  • Tanznacht is taking place at Uferstudios, Uferstr. 23, Wedding, Sep 8-9, starts 19:00, details.