What have been the focus points that led you to this year’s program?
When I started working for Moving in November, I was curious what the month of November culturally represents in Finland, as the festival carries the month’s name in its title. Not only in Finland, November is understood as the month of death. The month when the transition into wintertime happens throughout the northern hemisphere. Leaves fall, plants die, people retreat indoors. I learned that marraskuu, the Finnish word for November, also means death in the old tongue. Translated, Liikkeellä marraskuussa could hence also be: Moving with death.
In relation to this, I was fascinated by the extreme weather changes I have experienced in Helsinki around October and November. Strong winds, heavy rain, grey days exchange with the first freezing cold days, blue sky and winter-sun. A sun that barely crosses the horizon. The first snow might appear, and the sea surrounding Helsinki changes its appearance and color every day. Days get shorter, nights longer. People move from social spaces into their homes. Moving in November seems to be one of the last social events and possibilities to gather before the winter curtain falls.
The notions of death, age, and the passing of time are very present in this year’s festival. How do we mourn loss in our society? How do we deal with age and death? Neither one nor the other are topics that our neoliberal society embraces. They are mostly dealt behind closed doors. Both questions became very present again during the pandemic. In this year’s program, they alternate and are extended by the reflections on how we interact with nature and other beings. How do we look at the full circle of life?
Also, I wanted to concentrate completely on other formats for this edition in combination with the notion of time. This years’ program gives an extensive place to only non-frontal pieces, different formats that often also deal with another sensation of time. For example, we open the festival with an 18-minutes piece. I enjoy experimenting with assuming, that an 18-minutes work can stand alone and give us the same intense experience, triggering or thinking as much as a one-hour long evening.
This brings me to the social, communal aspect of the festival and its collaborations. Interrupting the movement to the indoors, into homes and workplaces, it was important for me to continue enhancing exchange, encounters and conversations on different levels also in this year’s program. Through the performances themselves, in the foyer before and after the presentations, and during the Soup Talks.
One focus during the past year and regarding this year’s program was to enhance the collaboration between Moving in November and the local field. New collaborations have been built with the Sibelius Academy, Sibelius High School, Baltic Circle International Theatre Festival and independent artists from the local scene. Collaborations that are made visible throughout the program in different pieces.
Last but not least, I also should mention an accidental focus that came through the global pandemic, travel restrictions and mainly closed theaters. The program has been built without being able to see works live. I will have the pleasure to discover the works live together with you in November.
Regarding this, I had to come up with a strategy for myself to work with the obstacle of not being able to sit in a theater and discover works live. How to find performances and artists that I had not seen or necessary known about yet? How could I make this search enjoyable for myself, believing so strongly in the live aspect of our scene and enjoying so much being seated in a theater, sensing the reactions of my fellow spectators. The selection was made mainly through conversations with artists, friends and colleagues, through reading texts, looking at recordings and having the chance to get to know artists I did not know yet through jury work for example. But constantly dealing with the question: how to evaluate what I see and hear?
At a certain point I decided to fully trust my curiosity and enthusiasm when they appeared during conversations with artists, and while watching the bits and pieces I could see of some works. Trusting the quality of the encounter, trying to sense how the ensemble of the selection I made would function together. A key for me when working on a program.
Was there a clear idea of what kind of works you want to bring to the festival?
In the beginning not at all. At a certain point during my selection process subjects, themes, directions started to form and then I started looking and searching for the missing bits and pieces to complete the puzzle.
Working on a program, I often ask myself, how would l like our world to look like in the future. Can art be used as a lens to imagine and dream up other possible realities that differ from the ones we are living in right now? What kinds of beings, bodies and generations are represented on stage? What kinds of forms of life am I looking at when visiting museums, festivals, theaters? These questions guide me to a certain extent. But I also like to try to make myself free from them and see where I am carried and what surprises and challenges my thinking, to also observe when and why my enthusiasm kicks in.
The program has become a rather pensive one. Continuing with the impulses I have set already during the 2020 edition and the Traces from November program from June 21, bringing in new subjects and reflections. But when starting to work on this edition, I did not know in which direction this years’ program would take us. With the exception that I wanted to take away the principle of the yearly co-production of a local work and replace it with already existing performances by Helsinki based artists. Works I experienced as remarkable. By this, prolonging the lifespan of these performances, and giving the choreographers a possibility and visibility to show them in an international context. Placing them naturally alongside international works. At the same time reflecting on the sustainability and modes of presentation in the performing arts scene. Thinking about how and especially for how long performances are shown and can be seen by an audience.
This stands in relation to the social aspect of the festival and the question, in what way Moving in November can enhance exchange and encounters. How can the festival bring communities together, helping, building and strengthening them? One of the central ideas and concerns we expressed, when I started directing this festival together with producer Isabel González.
One of my urgent wishes for this years’ festival was to take the audience outside into the November weather, to experience a work together, seated in whatever weather condition these days will bring. By this, going against the logic of retreating indoors in November, and instead stepping outside, looking closely at nature falling asleep, and watching a familiar landscape through an artistic lens.
You already mentioned this, but I would like to hear more about how do you think this past year and a half with the pandemic has affected the program?
It seems unavoidable to me that the exceptional time we have lived during this past year and a half, in one way or the other, sneaks into this year’s program. Already by the way the selection process was done. Without traveling, without seeing live performances. Having basically only seen one of the invited works live. This past time will be present and resonate in the program, without making the pandemic a topic as such, or without inviting pieces that speak explicitly about it. This became evident while watching pieces and discussing with artists. As I cannot look at it, not acknowledging that something has happened and might have changed in our world, on the level of society. My 2020 program was almost completed before the outbreak of the pandemic. And this one now was done completely under the influence of these times. Let’s discuss after if you notice an influence of the pandemic in the program.
In relation to this, do you think the pandemic has affected programming in general? Are there changes you might think will stay in the field?
First time seated again in a fully booked theater in the beginning of July, sensing the warmth of the arms of my neighbors, I had a very twisted feeling. Being fully blown away by the joy of this proximity to people I did not know and at the same time feeling a slight discomfort being seated so close to others. It was as if my personal space was invaded. But I could also finally sense something like an audience body again that I had missed since such a long time.
I am wondering, if experiences alike, also the longing to be back in art spaces has an effect in general on programming. I actually hope that this surprise to find strangers back in close proximity will have a broader impact on the way we come together in art spaces, on the way we converse and exchange, speak about art and look at it, and on a wider level, interact with strangers in our world.
In strong connection with that reflecting on what kind of position art/contemporary dance and artists have in our society. Could we have survived the past lockdowns without art being streamed into our homes? Consoling us and taking a bit away from our daily routines and boredom?
I am not sure if we can fully overlook yet what this pandemic has done to our performing arts scene. It certainly brought up a lot of issues that have been cooking under the surface for a while already. For example, the way works are produced and distributed in relation with the question of how artists are funded, remunerated and can make a living. International circulation has gone wild in the years before the pandemic, pieces travelling from A to B without rhyme or reason. There are so many works that are premiering, seeing the light for three nights, but are barely getting any attention, any visibility in the long run. Artists are as quickly picked up as they are dropped again. The pandemic brought a big standstill, a full stop of international performing arts circulation. And raised these as well as many other questions regarding our field. I assume that they will continue resonating in the coming years.
The pandemic also enhanced the reflection on locality and opened frames on how to show contemporary dance and performances far off from the set frame of the Black Box. Inventing other formats and strategies to make work visible, in local communities and our nearest surrounding. I see this as an opening and hopefully something that will stay.
Looking forward seeing you in November!
Photos: Mariangela Pluchino