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'I dance for the soul,' says choreographer Carolyn Carlson

Endlessly dynamic, Carolyn Carlson, a Finnish-American choreographer, with successes in France and internationally, shares her poetic world with Ahram Online

Nevine Lamei, Thursday 3 May 2012
Carolyn Carlson
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Even at the age of 69, Carolyn Carlson doesn't seem to get tired of movement. At the end of April, Carlson visited Cairo where she performed at El-Gomhorreya Theatre, before moving to Beirut. Carlson is one of today's most noted choreographers.

Ahram Online spoke to Carlson in interview.

Ahram Online (AO): Is dance a visual poetry to you?

Carolyn Carlson (CC): I do not dance for the eyes, I dance for the soul. Being a choreographer but also a poet, visual poetry is the basis of my work. My poems are short tales full of ideas, inspire my choreography, and are strongly linked to the creative energy of nature. My poems are inspired by Japanese Haiku. It is a way to pull ourselves together in our being here and now, by condensing the perceptions that provide direct access to the illumination of consciousness. This is sufficient to arouse the imagination and instantly feed the body with the magic of words. It is about stirring music, contemporary, sometimes electronic. The music is incorporated in the technique of solo improvisation. At the same time, the innovation comes from working with jazz musicians and internationally renowned visual artists.

AO:
From your large repertoire that includes 70 works choreographed by you, you chose Short Stories / Islands to be presented in Egypt. Why this choice?

CC: Without depending on a decor, this is the easiest (and cheapest) show to travel with. Short Stories / Islands was invited to the first edition of BIPOD — the Beirut International Platform of Dance Festival — a few years ago. Subsequently, the show was welcomed by the French Institute of Egypt.

Short Stories / Islands offers a poetic journey through three islands through three solo performances by women questioning their relationship with nature. We find three feminine gestures that touch the cosmos: Immersion (water), Wind Woman (wind) or sense of mystery and the ephemeral followed by the Mandala (mother of Earth and fire). The mandala becomes the symbolic purpose of the self. It is in the concept of Now — that the body and mind find themselves at a same place. And as I refer a lot to Buddhism and the I-Ching (Chinese classical philosophy), I chose to crown Short Stories / Islands with the mandala or the genius of creation accompanied by the hypnotic rhythm of electronic music by Michael Gordon.

AO: And what about the choice of "Immersion"?

CC: I was born in Oakland, California, which borders with the Pacific Ocean. I chose to perform "Immersion" for its fluid and lyrical style, that sometimes dries as the water drops. The water that regenerates energy connects me to the lyricism of a woman waving to survive in the flow of nature.

AO:
You have Finnish origins and in 1991/1992 you created a ballet "Maa" for the Finnish National Opera in Helinski.

CC:  "Maa" means earth in Finnish. The ballet was done to the music of a contemporary composer, Kaija Saariaho. Maa is a return to ideas about movement, composition and pedagogy instilled by my teacher Alwin Nikolais, who was guiding me for seven years at the Alwin Nikolais Dance Theatre in New York. Nikolais placed much importance in my training and development; during my studies of classical dance at the University of Utah and the San Francisco Ballet, he influenced the definition of my dance.

In Maa, there is a philosophical side translated by movement and shape, and a conceptual side expressed in time and space. It is the physical rather than technical aspect that fascinates me the most. In all my choreography, I start with improvisation which unveils like a puzzle inviting meditation, creating a tangible link between body and mind.

AO:
From Alwin Nikolais in New York to Anne Béranger in France. From the Paris Opera Ballet and Teatrodanza to Venice, your career is full of dynamism.

CC:
I was artistic director of the dance section of the Venice Biennale, while in 2006 my work "Inanna" was rewarded with the first Golden Lion. I also have a strong interest in supporting young talents who want to make a professional career. Rolf Lieberman, who created the Groupe de Recherches Théâtrales (Theatre Research Group), the first to perform modern dance experimentations in Europe, is the one who supported me when I arrived in France in 1971. Being a famous choreographer, Lieberman opened doors for me at the Paris Opera Ballet, where I worked between 1974 and 1980.

AO: Currently you are in charge of two bodies, the National Choreographic Centre Roubaix Nord-Pas in Calais (since 2004), and the Atelier de Paris-Carolyn Carlson at the Cartoucherie de Vincennes (since 1999).

CC: Yes, this in addition to choreography works. Atelier de Paris-Carolyn Carlson hosts artists in residence and the most renowned international choreographers who visit the centre to conduct master classes during the summer.

For its part, the Centre of Roubaix is funded by the state, the Nord-Pas de Calais and the city of Roubaix. I added to its structure powerful creativity, sharing its activities in a regional and Euro-regional arena. Today, the company presents over 100 performances a year, placing it among the five strongest national choreographic centres in France.

AO: And your next performance?

CC: My next creation is titled "Synchronicity" (a term coined by the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung). It consists of nine dancers and explores the concept of time.

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