THREE QUESTIONS IN THE DARK Interview with Mårten Spångberg by Luca Lo Pinto and Valerio Mannucci

19 April 2016

We first met Mårten Spångberg about ten years ago when we interviewed him for NERO. Knowing little, we immediately found his conception of dance enlightening. But enlightening is an awkward word to use today, especially in relation to Spångberg and the new work that the choreographer presented last week in Bologna at the preview of Live Arts Week V.
Natten – Swedish for “night” – seems to be not so much the title of the work, but rather that of an invisible container, a dark, conceptual envelope that contains a world of indefinite forms and lost identities within which the work happens. A container in tension, ready to cease containing, inside of which a different form of existence of things is defined. Contradiction, uncertainty, possibility, disappearance, are incidences of that, of Spångberg’s way of thinking about choreography, which coincides with the relentless pursuit of a total experience – unique and elusive. For him choreography is a specific terrain, but at the same time expanded,  attraversed by experimental practices and creative processes using different languages and manifesting themselves in a variety of formats and expressions. In his career that goes back more than twenty years, Spångberg has produced choreographies, curated festivals, published books and has dedicated himself to teaching (theoretical and practical), becoming one of the most original choreographers of his generation. A few days before the premiere of his new work, at Live Arts Week V, organized by Xing, we asked Mårten three simple questions.

Luca Lo Pinto and Valerio Mannucci: On the occasion of Live Arts Week V, you are going to present a new piece entitled Natten. It seems to be a work influenced by a different constellation of thoughts and concepts – Speculative realism, horror literature, pessimism and dark vitalism. If you were to introduce it to Kendrick Lamar, how would you present it?

Mårten Spångberg: You know what, Natten is totally “Untitled Unmastered” but instrumental and looped into 6.5 hours. So yeah, I’d just say that. Have you heard the new album, really crazy. Love it.

The piece is a sort of journey into the dark, into an emptiness conveyed by the night – “Natten” is Swedish for the night – occupied both by dread and bliss. It is, in many ways, a deeply romantic lingering but the emptiness is also full, full of its own emptiness. I’m interested in dance’s capacity through living bodies to produce a sense of excessive anonymity. The night is the time when identity is rendered meaningless, when time dissolves and locations are fluttering. To me this is the place of dance. The sensation of dance.

One could also say that the night is the time of speculation in the sense that it is undetermined. Or to somehow quote Bruce Nauman, the night brings mystic truth. Obviously, mystic truth can only be brought forth by an individual without identity. The night only carries a vague sense of causality, and its teleology is totally porous.

LLP and VM: You have performed in many different contexts: dance festivals, theaters, museums, private galleries. How have your audiences evolved since you started?

MS: Oh, I guess they are a few years older nowadays. In fact the audience today is younger. Even though I really try to make work for an audience older than myself, I’d say the average audience is twenty years younger than me. For real, my ideal spectator is fifty-five and female.

Perhaps it’s more me that has evolved. I’m way more generous and open to the spectator. My later works, and I think especially Natten, doesn’t try so hard – look who’s talking – but is instead an invitation to the individual spectator to be with him or herself, it is permission to be anonymous.

I like to think about this, a stretch of time where one loses one’s privacy. Natten is addressing this moment, a necessary and important moment, the moment of becoming public. To me this is a moment of intense vulnerability and at the same time extreme strength. When you give up your privacy, you can experience this endless bliss of becoming one with everything.

When I was a kid, I often went with my mother and my grandmother to the beach. You know in November just when the sun was setting. We sat together on the beach and watched the waves disappear into the darkness. I like that moment when the image fades but the sound is still there. When here are only waves, so present is their absence.

LLP and VM: You have referred to your work as choreography, not performance, clearly distinguishing between the two. Choreography for you is a tool for organising time and space whereas performance is about being an entertainer. Can you elaborate on this?

MS: I have probably published more nonsense than anybody else in the dance world but yes I make a strong distinction between choreography and dance, and dance and performance. This will be a brief and somewhat abstract response, so here we go. Choreography is a matter or organisation, it’s structuring. One of its possible expressions is dance but a score or a memory can also express choreography. Dance on the other hand is an expression into the world and as such it needs to apply itself to some form of structure in order to operate in time and take stability. Dance is the expression of form independent of the subject expressing this form. Performance on the other hand is the expression of a subject or subjectivity. It also has form but here form is subordinate to the subject expression. Performance is a “display” of identity, whereas dance is the performance of form. Briefly one could say, that performance is stuck in possibility, it’s full of possibilities. Dance on the other hand understood as the performance of form, is empty and can therefore transgress possibility in favour of potentiality. In other words, performance is associated with probability and determinacy, dance on the other hand hooks up with contingency and indeterminacy.