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Get inspired at Trondheim’s dance festival this week

Tabanka Dance Ensemble (Photo: Tale Hendnes/Dansens Hus)

Today the week-long dance festival Multiplié returns to Trondheim. Organised by DansiT and held at the wonderful Rosendal Teater, the festival will offer an incredible range of performances, workshops, and events from March 18th to 25th. And as always at Rosendal Teater, you decide what price you pay for tickets (yes, seriously).

The List couldn’t wait for Multiplié to begin, so we sat down with artists Claire Cunningham and Thomas Talawa Prestø to talk about art, challenges, and what you can experience by joining this dance celebration in Trondheim.

Making the mould your own

Claire Cunningham, '4 Legs Good' (Photo by Meyer/Un-Label)

Claire Cunningham is a Scottish artist, known for thought-provoking performances and is one of Britain's most acclaimed and internationally recognised disabled dance artists. However, her career came about quite unexpectedly.

“It was really an accident, I never really intended to go into dancing,” says Claire. “I was a trained singer and wasn’t getting enough work so I began to think about how I acquire more skills.” That’s how Claire found herself at the relatively late age of 27 taking her first steps in dancing.

“In the beginning, I was surrounded by people who had gone through traditional schools. So I thought about learning all these main dance techniques as this was the vocabulary of the people in the room and what everything was built on. However, these techniques don’t make sense for my body as they’ve become so codified.”

That’s why Claire sought out different artists and finally saw Bill Shannon perform on crutches, which opened up a whole new world. “I trained with Bill Shannon, who also dances on crutches and pioneered the field. I learned what was transferable from him and then also developed new methods that worked for me” says Claire. That’s how she created her own space, outside the confines of the traditional.

Thomas Talawa Prestø is the director of Tabanka Dance Ensemble from Oslo and agrees that the obsession around codified ‘technique’ in the dance world can be restrictive — especially for underrepresented groups.

Tabanka Dance Ensemble (Photo: Tale Hendnes/Dansens Hus)

“The dance world is dominated by technique, so you have to study it. But even in jazz, which is considered a ‘black dance form’, there is not a single official technique that is by a black person,” says Thomas. This type of stringent and uniform way of thinking also creates gatekeeping for funding possibilities and professional opportunities, which is in part why Tabanka Dance Ensemble went its own way.

“We created our own technique called Talawa Technique, it’s one of the few techniques that bridges the Atlantic and deals with movement, vocabulary, and traditions from the continent and also from the African diaspora. It’s gaining a lot of traction and it’s now taught in almost 40 countries,” says Thomas.

This is the approach that fuels ‘Jazz Ain’t Nothing But Soul’, the piece Tabanka Dance Ensemble will perform at Multiplié. The performance draws heavily on dance and song that have played a crucial role in the fight against segregation, apartheid, slavery, and racism. It’s a uniquely balanced performance as the dancers lead while the musicians and singers need to follow and react to the movement, rather than vice versa, creating an extraordinary effect.

Peak behind the curtain

As we chat in the foyer of the Rosendal Teater, the festival’s organisers run around us moving furniture and doing last-minute preparations. We laugh as all the noise from the hustle and bustle disrupts our conversation more than once. Thomas, however, says he wants the audience to know more about this less glamorous side of performing arts to get a deeper understanding of the work that goes into it.

“You have to enter a world completely and you’re supposed to bring people into that world with you — while all this is going on, usually up two minutes before you’re on stage,” says Thomas laughing and adds this is actually quite calm compared to normal.

Attending Multiplié, you will get a peak behind the curtain like this, for example, through Claire’s performance lecture ‘4 Legs Good’. But wait a minute, performance lecture? Do we need to bring a notebook?

Claire Cunningham, '4 Legs Good' (Photo by Meyer/Un-Label)

Claire laughs and says there’s no need for a notebook, but that you might still learn. “In ‘4 Legs Good’ I perform movement but also talk about my practice, how it developed, and how the lived experience of disability frames a direction and how that becomes a choreographic practice,” says Claire.

“I also get to actively research with the audience on stage who are learning and thinking about it with me. So, in a way, the performance is about what’s going on behind the scenes when I create the shows.”

Inspire to break free

Tabanka Dance Ensemble (Photo: Tale Hendnes/Dansens Hus)

During the Civil Rights Movement, black protestors resisted oppression through soul. Thomas explains one of the practices was called shifting the air. So when police showed up with the intention to kill, black protestors started to sing. The force of their song, which was so full of spirit and humanity, halted the violence and turned it into a peaceful demonstration, rather than a killing frenzy.

“In our performance, you’ll get to see the soul behind the survival,” says Thomas. “Part of the essence of the dance is also to vibrate the soul so strongly, that the onlooker can no longer see you as non-human.”

The members of Tabanka Dance Ensemble draw inspiration from their ancestors, parents, and themselves, as many have experienced war, migration, and violent racism — the very same issues their ancestors faced when creating soul, gospel, and jazz spirituals.

“We onboard the audience on this feeling and then we burn up the excess emotional experience for them through a full concert and dance performance,” says Thomas. “Some have criticised we end with joy but African diasporic practice like gospel is about the transmutation of energy, taking these experiences and transforming them into something else.”

Tabanka Dance Ensemble (Photo: Tale Hendnes/Dansens Hus)

Many of the events at Multiplié may deal with difficult topics but Thomas and Claire say it’s important not to let the awkwardness of dealing with them lead to resistance to think or engage with them. Featuring these ideas brings a new dimension to Trondheim as we take a step closer to navigating these topics, learning how to talk about them, and seeing new possibilities are achievable.

“Once you see a performance that ticks all the boxes of inclusion and the non-traditional and you realise you survived, you can see they are not dangerous or rough to stand in. They might actually give you something and you can enjoy them,” says Thomas.

So get inspired to discover something new. You can find the programme here and make sure not to let this festival pass you by.


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