"A work of art is never finished without the spectator"

A conversation with Ivana Müller
by Olivia Ebert

Olivia Ebert: We are sitting here on a day in April 2021, one day before the scheduled premiere of FÄDEN, which cannot take place due to the lockdown. Events and social life are interrupted while we continue rehearsing and it is incredibly difficult to estimate how long this state will last. What effect did this particular experience of time have on the work on FÄDEN – a production that is very specifically dealing with the passing of time and lifetime as a topic of the work and whose conception began even before the pandemic?

Ivana Müller: I think that the topic of time is present in every single piece of theatre. Maybe what I do and what we did often in pieces is, addressing it in a more, direct or conscious way. Probably without the pandemic we would have chosen to follow the passage of time and ageing through different perspectives from the past, the present and the future. But with the pandemic the most interesting was to focus the “now”. Because we are all in this suspended moment. We are floating in this reality, which is uncertain. I am thinking we are like in a boat traversing the ocean, with good days and bad days. We have the idea that after that experience on the sea will we find ourselves again on a firm ground, that we will reach a shore. But for the moment it is really difficult to situate where that firm ground is and we don’t know how that place will be. When we do a full circle, will we find something completely different? What will be on the other side of the experience? So, it felt like the most interesting or honest place to speak and think from is from where we are in this moment and with the resources that we have right now.

What however was always the idea for this project is working with this specific group of people: actors from Münchner Kammerspiele, that work in the context of Stadttheater and dancers, that work in Dance On Ensemble, which is a freelance company. It is a meeting between people, who are at on one hand more rooted in a place, or a house, but also in traditions of text – and on the other hand people, who travel and work internationally, who are mainly rooted in their movement in and in the constant flow of changing places. This constellation has brought us to an interesting encounter which allowed us to work, exchange and construct reflections which possibly propose different ways of being and working together.

As you just described, a completely new group of artists came together for the production. Did this also provoke new ways of working for you as a choreographer?

I think that every time you make a new work, you work differently. Here it was interesting, how certain ideas about what does it mean to perform, what does it mean to be on stage, how can texts get embodied with a very particular physical condition – all the practices, each of us has developed over years and our experiences we have had – can meet. Most of the performers are very experienced, they worked in their practice longer than me. There was something very generous and beautiful in the fact that they don’t have to prove anything anymore.

For this project I proposed to work with a very specific material: thick strings of wool. The whole piece is a tissage, a knitwork and texture, which is constructed from certain reflections about the idea of time, interwoven with some personal stories, experiences, points of view. We started from a specific physical condition, which is connected with the material of the woolen yarns: What kind of stories can we tell while ravelling and unravelling the treads, by touching these them, by being touched by them?

It is the third piece that I have made that deals with threads, symbolically and concretely.

In the first piece, entitled Entre-Deux (2019), we worked with live embroidery, using very tiny threads, embroidering texts that appear and disappear. In “Forces of Nature” (2021) we worked with mountain climbing ropes and developed a choreography throughout the whole piece in which performers are connected with the stretched ropes – which influences their decision making, their movements, their collective thinking and creates the sense of interdependence

And in Fäden we use woollen threads: they are soft and so is the piece. It’s not a “tensed” piece, it’s a soft piece. I think especially today it’s very good interesting or even important to produce some softness, something that we are able to relax with and connect to in an almost tactile way. The intention of the work is thus not to create tension or drama; it’s actually to create release. All the knots, that are produced on stage while manipulating the wool, are resolved again. I see the piece as a perpetual process of unknotting and releasing.

Another material which is very present in the piece is the text. How do you relate with text as a material of your choreography?

I often work with texts as vehicles that carry potential of imagining, relating, and creating new points of views. This approach is very much influenced by my practice as a choreographer. I see them as poetic, philosophical, or musical structures… as language that is more based in poetry than in psychologization of characters. In that sense they cannot be really related to tradition of theatre texts. These texts contain the memory of the processes of working and thinking that we have had in this specific group of people. And their function only if they are embodied in a certain situation or in certain physical condition. The text is like a partner in a pas de deux, also in terms of musicality, tensity and rhythm. So yes, the piece is developing in a certain form a storytelling – but more in a way stories are told through poems.

I think all of my pieces as of environments, or landscapes in which all the different layers of working come together. And the spectator is always included in its contingency. Works of art are never finished without the spectator.