One of the main partners in the "Culture Futura" project is Carte Blanche, the Norwegian national contemporary dance company. Often referred to as a forerunner in dance innovation, presentation and development. Dawid Lorenc [DL] talks about the future of dance theatre, Carte Blanche's unique repertoire and the ongoing changes in culture using technology in a conversation with Natalia Podyma [NP].
[NP] Please tell us about your story. What was your path to joining the team like? How many years have you been with the Carte Blanche team?
[DL] My story begins with my mother, not only in a biological sense but primarily in the context of what she does professionally to this day, which is dance. Even as a child, I accompanied her to sports acrobatics training, and when I was about 9 years old I also participated in the rehearsals of the amateur dance theatre Figiel. At the age of 16, I was invited to join his company in Kalisz - Alter Dance Theater - by Witold Jurewicz. At that time it was one of the best companies in the country, and in my hometown - Połczyn Zdrój - there were no better prospects for me at the time. So I decided to move to Kalisz. Until my high school graduation, I thought I would study psychology, but my girlfriend at the time persuaded me to audition for PARTS in Brussels. I managed to get into this elite university, which offered a holistic approach to the body and art and placed special emphasis on the individual development of each student. While still at the school, I started working with Wim Vandekeybus's team or,,Ulitima Vez". It was there that I first heard of Carte Blanche. After a few intense seasons in Ultima, I came to the conclusion that this kind of lifestyle was not for me, and that I wanted to explore various other forms of movement and art, and I was particularly interested in stage improvisation. In 2012 I returned to Poland to work with Jacek Owczarek, who drew on process-oriented psychology in his work. At the same time, I pursued various projects and collaborations both at home and abroad. When my first child was born, I realized that freelance work in this profession would be difficult to reconcile with family life. So I thought about finding permanent employment in a friendly place and then I remembered Carte Blanche in Norway. Later that year I auditioned and have been a full-time dancer with the Norwegian national contemporary dance company for more than seven years.
[NP] How do you go about working in an international team? And life-related to dance? Constant travel or, however, a lot of work and a lot of rest?
[DL] The company consists of fourteen dancers from all over the world. It is very exciting to work in such a diverse company as Carte Blanche. A huge advantage for me is the incredible opportunity to discover the unique perspectives of artists from different cultures and nationalities. Often, it requires a great deal of flexibility and openness to cultural differences in order for such a large group of individuals to communicate and collectively take aim at an artistic direction.
[NP] In that case, is a danced life based on constant work? Do you find room for rest?
[DL] The dance life can be intense and demanding, but also full of fulfilment. We usually create two productions a year, although there have been years when we did three or just one. As Norway's national contemporary dance company, we are obliged to present our performances on an annual national tour. We also play several performances in Europe every year, and once every couple of years we go somewhere further afield. As for me, it's the perfect balance between stationary creative work and travelling performances.
[NP] Speaking of performances... What kind of productions does Carte Blanche create?
[DL] The productions are not infrequently manifestations, being a form of protest or giving voice to those whose opinions are marginalized. An example is our recent production, which is jointly created by two Saami (people who live in Laponia): Elle Sofe choreographer Sara and visual artist Joar Nango. In this performance, audiences are challenged to reflect and engage in discussions to better understand other traditions and perspectives, emphasizing the importance of dialogue between different social groups that have previously been marginalized or excluded.
[NP] Which performance is your favourite?
[DL] My favourite performance currently in repertory is "Sovaco De Cobra," choreographed by Lander Patrick. It is a work manifesto based on street dance techniques, addressing, among other things, the history of racism in the world. The performance is extremely expressive, lively and humorous. It requires a lot of concentration from both us and the audience, but rewards with a fun and unique show.
[NP] From what you say, it seems that political and social changes significantly influence the themes of the performances, thus creating an engaged dance theatre…
[DL] Art has always been a reflection on the reality around us. The current pace of political and social change is naturally reflected in contemporary dance art. Depending on cultural changes, new themes emerge and old themes are reinterpreted in new ways.
[NP] What do you see as the biggest differences between Poland and Norway in this regard?
[DL] In my subjective opinion, the biggest differences in the approach to art between Poland and Norway relate to the different cultural contexts and the different social problems present in both countries. Since I joined, political and social changes have had a significant impact on the content and themes of Carte Blanche's productions. The previous artistic director, Hooman Sharifi, already had a vision that the art created by the guest choreographers should serve to express current social and political messages, and that it should become a space where artists can express their stance on topics related to social inequality, identity, migration, gender equality, climate, political conflicts and other relevant social issues.
[NP] And what are the themes of the performance that you will come to Poland with and play on our MOS stage in Krakow in October?
[DL] We will come with the performance "GAME", which is aimed at young people and is a dance play combining: art, science and entertainment. It tells a science-fiction story about the journey of the first man to another star system to the new Earth 2.0. During the flight, an unfortunate accident occurs, resulting in the need for a multidimensional repair of the astronaut, which is a kind of analysis of human functioning.
[NP] A very interesting concept. Where did the idea for such a story come from?
[DL] The idea for this show germinated for many years. In 2019, Annabelle Bonnery, the artistic director of Carte Blanche, gave me the opportunity to realize my own ideas within the atelier of the theatre. The topic of my research project was consciousness in a broad sense in relation to the work of the performer. For more than a year, Adrian Bartczak and I researched consciousness, looking for both the content and form of what we wanted to share. After the first stage of research, we presented a performative lecture as part of the #dancefest festival in Bergen, and a work-in-progress screening of the performance at the Rosendal Theater in Trondheim. The opportunity to continue the production came a year later through a collaboration between Carte Blanche and the Juliusz Słowacki Theater in Krakow, as part of the Culture Futura program.
[NP] As part of the Culture Futura project, you held an artist residency in Krakow in early May, can you tell us what happened at the residency?
[DL] During the artistic residency in Krakow, we continued working on sound design and complementing the performance with video projection by Mauricio Gamboa. So far, the show has been performed in English. During the residency, the idea emerged to translate the script and perform the show in Polish for the fall show. There was also the possibility of working with actors from the J. Slowacki Theater in Krakow on a Polish version of the play. Ultimately, it will be produced in Norwegian as a Carte Blanche offering as part of the national program to present the play in schools Den Kulturelle Skulesekken.
[NP] Your team has already been hosted in Poland. Which time is it?
[DL] Gunnar Innvær, our sound engineer, remembers the first Carte Blanche performance in Poland in 2015. So far, it was the only performance of this ensemble in the country on the Vistula River, and interestingly enough, it also took place in Krakow. It took place as part of the International Festival of Theater of Form - Cultural Poles of the Groteska Theater. The next performance will take place on October 18, 2023 on the stage of the MOS Theater during the Culture Futura Biennial.
[NP] What do you expect this time?
[DL] I think that GAME, being part of the idea of this forum, can be an interesting proposition in the futurological context of the event. I also expect that cooperation with the Theater in Krakow will be, as it has been so far, a great pleasure and honour.
[NP] And what are your plans for the future? After the exhibition of "GAME" during the Culture Futura Biennale?
[DL] After the presentation in Krakow and screenings in Norwegian schools, I plan to create a second part of the story, telling the adventures of the main character already after the landing. I would like the show to be realized in VR technology, in order to literally transport the audience to the planet Teegarden-C and further show the complexity of the issue of consciousness. The additional possibilities of creating and integrating reality could be extremely useful for dance as a non-verbal medium.
[NP] You mentioned VR - what technologies in theatre are you, as a dancer, most interested in? What would YOU expect from technology?
[DL] As for the best technology of the future for dancers, in my opinion, it would be one that would allow us to replace our bodies with fresh ones from the refrigerator after work. But I don't think I'll live to see that anymore. Instead, I dream of catching still such a console where you can transfer yourself and body movements to virtual reality.
Globally, as far as future technologies are concerned, I fear that their development and future advancements may serve, if not necessarily evil, then certainly debatable purposes such as genetic engineering. Like most great inventions, they will continue to be a blessing for some and a problem for others for some time to come. Artificial intelligence will revolutionize our lives in the coming decades, causing huge social changes. It's also possible that by the end of the century there will be a personal quantum computer, and that would be a reality from science fiction movies.
[NP] Do you think we can predict what theatre will look like in 20 years?
[DL] In 20 years, theatre will probably be even more interdisciplinary and integrated with new technologies. The technological revolution in culture started many years ago and is still gaining momentum as science advances. Sooner or later, holograms, virtual and augmented reality, as well as robots and artificial intelligence will take the stage as artists. However, I don't think robots will dominate the theatre. Emotions are important in art, and machines are still a long way from those. We will have to wait tens or hundreds of years for so-called AGI (artificial general intelligence) with consciousness on par with humans. It is more likely that humans will turn into genetically modified cyborgs, with a range of enhancements and much longer lives.
[NP] Speaking of people... Since they will be changing then their preferences as an audience for dance theater will also change. What challenges are ahead of us?
[DL] If he could evade the answer to the last question? I'm not an art theorist so I won't try to outline a constructive answer. However, why not ask ChatGPT and check his answer?
Dance theatre faces various challenges in the context of changing audience preferences. Here are some key challenges:
- Changing audience expectations and interests: Audiences have diverse preferences and tastes that evolve over time. Dance theatre must be aware of these changes and adapt its productions to meet changing expectations. This may require exploring new dance styles, themes, technologies or modes of presentation that appeal to new generations of audiences.
- Competition with other forms of entertainment: In today's world, there is tremendous competition with other forms of entertainment such as movies, television, video games and social media. Dance theatre must meet this challenge by creating unique and engaging stage experiences that not only capture the audience's attention, but also provide them with something they cannot experience in other media.
- Accessibility and diversity: It is important to make dance theatre accessible to a diverse population, regardless of age, background or physical ability. The challenge is to make it financially, geographically and physically accessible so that as many people as possible can enjoy the dance theatre experience. It is also worthwhile to ensure diversity in the repertoire to meet the needs of different audiences.
- Communication and promotion: Effective communication and promotion are key to attracting new audiences. Dance theatre must use a variety of communication channels, such as social media, websites and advertising campaigns, to reach new audiences and effectively convey the value and uniqueness of its productions.
- Changing demographics: Changing demographics challenge dance theatre to adapt to diversity and inclusion. It is worth considering the representation of different cultures, identities and perspectives in productions to appeal to different audiences and create a space where everyone can identify.
It is through flexibility, innovation and openness to changing audience preferences that dance theatre can persist and grow, attracting new audiences and creating unique stage experiences. Here are some additional aspects that can support this process:
- Collaboration with local communities: Dance theatre can engage with local communities, creating productions and activities that reflect their history, culture and experiences. This makes the theatre more accessible and attractive to local audiences, involving them in the creative process and allowing them to identify with the content presented.
- Creating interdisciplinary performances: Integrating dance with other artistic disciplines, such as music, theatre, visual art or literature, can attract a wide range of audiences. Combining different art forms in a single performance creates unique and surprising experiences that appeal to different tastes and preferences.
- Exploring and experimenting with form and content: Dance theatre should encourage artists and choreographers to experiment with form and content, exploring new narratives and modes of expression. This allows for the creation of fresh and original productions that can intrigue new audiences and generate discussion among viewers.
- Promoting diversity and inclusion: Dance theatre should strive to promote diversity and inclusion on stage. This includes representation of different social groups, as well as creating spaces that are welcoming to people with different abilities or identities. This builds a connection with diverse audiences and makes dance theatre a place where everyone can find something for themselves.
- Constant improvement and adaptation: dance theatre must be ready to constantly improve and adapt to changing audience preferences. This requires both openness to new ideas and perspectives and continued training and development of artistic skills. Ensuring a quality production and stage experience is key to attracting and retaining audiences.
In summary, dance theatre must be ready for dynamic change and adapt to evolving audience preferences. Flexibility, innovation, openness to dialogue with audiences and creative experimentation are key to the continuance and development of this art form. It is important that dance theatre continues to seeknew forms of expression, create diverse repertoires, promote inclusion and collaborate with local communities. Through continuous improvement and adaptation, dance theatre can continue to attract and inspire new audiences, creating unique and memorable stage experiences.