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Artiklar från 2008 – till idag

Artiklar från 2008 – till idag

FAS Cullberg1

Figure a Sea–with Unn Faleide, Eleanor Campbell and other dancers. Photo Urban Jörén

20 nov
2019

Cullberg muting their skin

Interview with Gabriel Smeets

STOCKHOLM: Since May 1:st 2014 Gabriel Smeets is the artistic director at what was earlier known as the Cullbergballet, now Cullberg. He comes from Valkenburg, Netherlands where he was born in 1958.

I meet him in Hallunda, south of Stockholm where Riksteatern has their premises. My intention was to get to know more about what is now going on with Sweden's largest company in contemporary dance. Gabriel Smeets has a lot to tell us about that.

Gabriel Smeets Cullberg

Gabriel Smeets–artistic director for Cullberg. Photo Ninja Hanna

How he wants to describe the time that has passed since his start as Cullbergs new director, and what the major changes has been?

It is already 5 years and three months ago! He tells me that was a very different company from today.

The assignment was, to some surprise for Mr. Smeets, to “make a change in Sweden and internationally into the heart of contemporary dance”.

He found the company divided into two groups. Some dancers had been with the company for a very long time, and some were quite new with Cullberg. The groups also varied in the preferences about choreographers they wished to work with.

Another discovery was what he believes was a big difference in how the company was received in Sweden compared to outside of the country.

It was a big surprise for Gabriel Smeets that he was asked to apply for the job. He was the head of the School for New Dance development, tied to Amsterdam school of Arts. They worked with avantgarde and experimental projects, grounded in conceptual dance and postmodernism.

Surprisingly he discovered differences in the assignment expressions: The Swedish ministry of Culture wanted the new director to bring Cullberg forward in “lyrical modern dance theatre style”.

Riksteatern itself mentioned Modern and Contemporary dance.

This was something that remained unclear for mr. Smeets when he arrived in Stockholm.

With his background he declares very specific definitions on these names and their directions. For instance, he mentions how “modern dance” includes a historical period with developers as Isadora Duncan and Louie Fuller. Modern dance also has their own special techniques like the ones by Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham.

Protagonist Cullberg

Protagonist: Suelem de Oliveira da Silva och Cullberg, Photo Urban Jörén

I am curious about the change of the name?
Gabriel Smeets explains how this soon occurred as a problem in the public view of the company that was now in transition. In his opinion, the word” ballet” leads the thoughts to a technique. And that is not what they are doing.

He believes that the content is far more important than the technique itself, but often is dominating. You must know what kind of dance you want to show, defining what company you want to be.

Furthermore, the use of only the name “Cullberg” was already common among people. Research was done, media and programmers informed. In the end it never became a big question.

One example of confusion was in a collaboration with hip hop artist Yung Lean. The press wrote that he was writing music for a ballet! Mr. Smeets emphasizes this was absolutely never the intention.

Following this story, I would like to know how Cullberg relates today to the family name Cullberg as in the company's founder Birgit and her tradition?
Gabriel Smeets wants to be clear about that they work in her spirits. He says, Birgit said dance changes all the time because it is rooted in the time we live in, which he totally agrees with. The Cullberg is trying to do this by bringing in works that has not been done before by others.

Birgit Cullberg also made it important with a social and political content as well as a feminist aspect in what she was exploring in her works. She started in the tradition of Kurt Jooss, who was a great inspiration of hers. This is another deep component in her artistry that the company tries to involve into the future.

The repertory today contents no works from earlier days.About the choreographies Mr. Smeets answers:
One reason is that Mats Ek [Birgits son] as her inheritor, but clearly in his own style, is still performing his works. It is logical for the Cullberg take their own path. That means, look at what is covered on stages and what is notthere.

In Gabriel Smeets point of view, it can be compared with Visual Art. He explains: If I had an art museum and I see Giselle by Mats Ek or Sharon Eyal for example, they can be seen in many places, but what is missing? Mr Smeets asks himself why Cullberg should do the same things that are already served people in dance art, and he thinks no.

From these thoughts came the idea to invite Deborah Hay, who had never been represented by a big professional company.

He continues: Jefta van Dinther is another choreographer that is really ready to do pieces on big stages for large audiences, and so is Alma Söderberg.

The Match Cullberg

The Match, dancers: Adam Schütt, Suelem de Oliveira da Silva and Eleanor Campbell. Photo Urban Jörén

I wonder about the daily training, how your dancers work to keep in shape?
We do have class and a very strict schedule of training every day, mr. Smeets answers. But we also have intense discussions with the dancers and the choreographers. We feel that being contemporary should not only be about bringing fancy choreographers but also in the way we work. Training is a very important part of that.

We have defined our training schedule to be partly individual, partly collective as a group. We do some ballet, we do somatic training, yoga, martial arts and Klein technique. There are many ways to support the process and of course we try to connect classes to the choreographers who work with us. The training is formed by the repertory.

At this moment we have two former dancers with Deborah Hay giving classes because they know how to approach Ms. Hays practice. We try to make those links all the time.

Gabriel Smeets says his impression is that when the training is adapted to a choreographer like Deborah Hay (who really made the dancers to work together) they build experiences that can be useful with others.

Tell me about your repertory right now?
Yes, we have five pieces on the repertory this season. It is Deborah Hays “Figure at sea”, recently performed in London, and “The Match” coming up in Stockholm in October. “Protagonist” by Jefta van Dinther. “Near” by Eleanor Bauer which was performed in Stockholm outdoors in Vita Bergsparken in August. “On the Cusp”, by Ian Kaler. A new piece by Swedish choreographer Alma Söderberg will open in January 2020.

Kaler Cullberg

Camille Prieux in ON THE CUSP of Ian Kaler. Photo: Eva Würdinger

Do you consider this as your home base or fixed point for the company? Is it here in Hallunda, Stockholm?
This question we have been exploring as a part of our change. We want to increase our visibility in Stockholm, despite that Cullberg has a busy touring program. We did shows in June at Sergels torg, center of Stockholm city as well as in the suburbs like Vällingby, Skärholmen and naturally, Hallunda. We like to bring dance to where people are.

We also would very much be more present in theatres in Stockholm, not only in Dansens Hus [which will be renovated]. Smeets mentions Orionteatern as an example and collaborations with Riksteatern and Parkteatern.

He says Hallunda is a perfect embedding for Cullberg, but it is hard to bring audiences there. He admits they perform a lot more outside Stockholm than in the city.

Many stages are being rebuilt in Stockholm for the moment, how hard is it to find scenes?Extremely hard. Everybody is looking for space, mr Smeets says. Stockholm really needs a huge center for dance where there is room for many groups to express themselves.

Gabriel Smeets tells me that the opening of the piece with Yung Leans music was at Dramaten [National theatre in Stockholm city]. Two nights packed with a young audience; he points out. It shows how important the availability is, he adds. We have to look to the future.

When you take over a company with such a reputation like Cullberg, then you have an audience that have seen you when they were young, and they want it to stay like they know it. But there are also new generations, young people who have a new taste, new views and new experiences of dance. They dance themselves in a completely different way and are used to different music and so on.

Near Cullberg

Camille Prieux, Suelem de Oliveira da Silva and Gesine Moog in NEAR av Eleanor Bauer. Photo Urban Jörén.

Tell us about your touring situation?
We are connected to Riksteatern, inside their system but we tour separately. Generally, we tour 30 percent in Sweden and 70 percent abroad. One problem is the sizes of the stages which is difficult to find outside the major cities. Mr. Smeets says sometimes programmers are afraid to hire them and he means the reason can be habit of a certain tradition.

Abroad there are so many big festivals, many of them has no problem to get an audience of a thousand people. In Sweden that might happen in Dansens hus or in Umeå [university city in northern Sweden]. But how often can you do that? Naturally, it's important for us to sell tickets.

Are you satisfied with your current position?
“Tanz im August” in Berlin is one of the biggest festivals for contemporary dance. Gabriel says they received a great exposure and a very good feedback, especially for the quality of the dancers. One of the qualities of this company is that they always have had amazing dancers. And, he explains, not amazing ballet dancers, but amazing for the work they are asked to do!

Tell me about the turnover of your dancers?
Well, the structure is that we have 17 contracts, of which 11 are long term contracts. You start with one-year contracts, and after some time you get a long-term contract, which allow you to stay until the age of 43. That's the agreement.

The thing is, people like to be with us, they don't want to leave! Now two dancers are retiring, it's sad because they are so experienced and an asset to us.

Gabriel Smeets says he likes the combination of different ages a lot. He tells me that he teaches every year at a school called École de Sables in Senegal, in west African dance technique. The founder, Germaine Acogny is in her sixties, and was a dancer with Maurice Béjart company. They dance on the beach and she brings choreographers and dancers from all over Africa.

Smeets continues: We have now one dancer whom I met there with us, a dancer with no conventional western traditional background.

Blending of different backgrounds is really important. That corresponds much better with the world we live in right now. It is important for the white traditions to open their doors to share and be generous, says Gabriel Smeets.

The mental state of Sweden Cullberg

The Mental States of Sweden in Dance av Mattias Andersson. Photo Urban Jörén

Do you feel the reputation of the company has changed?
Yes, it has changed. Of course, we have had different reactions, some people are disappointed. Inside the company there has been a huge loyalty about the development. This is something we have done together.

There is a difference between Sweden and abroad. What is applauded abroad is not looked upon with the same eyes in Sweden. It is like we are expected to glorify the past, but what we are doing now is looking forward and turning to young audiences.

At the festivals we are invited to there is no other repertory company in our size but Cullberg, only individual artists and choreographers. So yes, we are unique. There is a curiosity for what we are doing. We want to contribute to this art form in many ways. We look for audiences in various locations like museums and parks. It is beautiful that people can go and see dance for free, too.

Would you say you try to educate the Swedish audience?
It can be a project that we like to develop in several ways. We discuss how to improve our visibility, publicity and to have more workshops. In our programs we include texts of prominent dance persons explaining their experiences, like Baryshnikov now has written about his work with Deborah Hay.

With this our conversation ends, with several visions to keep an eye on! Looks like many directions to move towards the future in, in Cullbergs new costume.

Marie Louise Waldenström
20 Nov 2019


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