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August is hot for dance!

INTERVIEW. While summer cools down, Berlin’s stages will be heating up. Tanz im August, Berlin’s biggest international dance festival, steps up on Aug 15 around the city under the lead of new artistic director Virve Sutinen.

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Photo by Ian Douglas

New artistic director of Tanz im August Virve Sutinen re-examines the very practice of theatre with an eclectic programme of “fine, raw” ballet, punk and urban dance.

Exacting, high-energy and unconventional, Sutinen comes from punk rock beginnings – her first project was the creation of a punk club in Helsinki, and she was active in the squat scene before moving to New York to study performance. She went on to work with major institutions like Kiasma, the contemporary art museum in Helsinki and Dansens Hus Stockholm. This season, she’s expected to bring a bracing breath of Finnish air to Germany’s most important dance festival.

This year you are introducing a few new names to the festival…

It’s nice that you say ‘new’: they are new to Berlin, but they are not young or emerging either. I looked at the programs from the past 25 years and I saw there were gaps, people who should have been here but haven’t. For instance this old favorite of mine, Big Dance Theatre from New York, has never been to Berlin. I don’t understand why not! They create kind of a unique, brilliant combination of theatre, dance, film, singing… with fantastic performers: the best of New York’s avant-garde. I think there is a great variety of aesthetics in the programme. It’s not really one trend or one curational line, it’s looking at very different things, from hardcore conceptual to very theatrical. This was my intention, to have that kind of richness. It’s like a department store! That’s a very bad example, but you know what I mean.

As for different aesthetics, the festival’s first show has to do with voguing, a rediscovered dance style. Is that on purpose?

Not really. I think voguing is just a means to an end in that piece [Antigone Sr./ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (photo) by Trajal Harrell]. I chose that because it’s Antigone, it’s about theatre, this art form of coming together to share some stories. I was thinking a lot about theatre when I was doing the programme.


I think it’s time to return to theatre as a place. What can we do in the theatre that we cannot do in other places? Which a lot of artists abandoned for a little while: they wanted to work in white spaces, to work site-specifically, to go out on the streets, but I think there is a moment when you return to something. And I think in this interpretation of Antigone – I mean it’s fantastic, it’s a Greek drama, it’s done in a very new way, there is storytelling, singing, dancing, the Greek mask becomes the fashion show – there is a lot to think about the theatre. Why do we still like to come together and see something?

Art forms seem to be blending more and more – how relevant is it to still dedicate a festival to dance?

Actually it’s quite important. Dance became kind of a fetish of the fine arts – the museums and the galleries have this special relationship with dance. It spreads everywhere, that’s lovely. It’s great to see that choreographic practice is applied in different places. But for dance it’s important to have its own institution to secure its future. Dance is still not always an equal partner in cultural life. It needs to be stronger; it needs more resources. It’s still the little sister when it comes to theatre or music.

Why is that?

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it’s dealing with the body. In most of Europe, you have music and fine arts as a part of the educational curriculum, but not dance. Dance is bodily, which is something that is suppressed in the culture; in some ways it needs to be controlled, especially in education. Once we start from there, in the end it will probably change society. It will be understood how meaningful and important it is for people to dance. Maybe it’s also us who should be thinking about how we present dance. Maybe we don’t always think enough about the audience.

So how, as a curator, are you approaching the audience?

I have one leg in the arts and one leg in the audience, I’m the inbetweener. I’m accommodating this meeting between the audience and the artists, and introducing new names. You can do this by just presenting things or you can try to intensify this by being more proactive. For instance, we do physical introductions where dancers and choreographers offer, before the show, to investigate their choreographic language using dance exercises. It creates a different kind of spectatorship when you have tried out something yourself.

Tanz im August, Aug 15-30 | various venues, www.tanzimaugust.de