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Frieda Hyman

Frieda Hyman interviews Norwegian choreographer Kari Hoaas about her new work, "Shadowland," that opens the 2023 La MaMa Moves! Dance Festival

Kari Hoaas. Photo by Ake Nilsson.

In anticipation of the New York performances of "Shadowland" by Kari Hoaas, bringing her company from Oslo, Norway, I had an on-line chat with the choreographer.  Once again, LaMaMa brings a company from overseas, making it possible for dance folks in NYC to see the work of international groups.   Ms. Hoaas spent a few years in NYC, studying and dancing here, and I wondered how that experience has informed her work.  She has continued to create and present her dances in her home of Norway, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to see another company in the wide wide world of dance. It'll be April 6 to 8 at La MaMa, the opening event of the La MaMa Moves! dance festival.

"Shadowland," we are told, contemplates the world's pandemic-imposed state of liminality. From watching a video preview, I am expecting a rather poignant reflection of how the pandemic has forces us into living as much in cyberspace as in our tangible environments. Hoaas seems to capture the sense of alienation and disconnection that comes from this existence, where everything is mediated by technology. "Shadowland" is comprised entirely of coordinated solos, so a sense of isolation is palpable. There is also a sense of despair, but also resilience and resourcefulness. Two versions of these solos have been produced in 2022 as dance films and the first of these films has already won seven awards.

The three-night concert at La MaMa will employ Norwegian dancers Ida Haugen, Matias Rønningen and Christine Kjellberg and a short appearance by Kari Hoaas herself.

During the period 1993-2006, Hoaas danced with Maureen Fleming, Poppo and various other independent choreographers including Sarah Skaggs, Susan Rethorst, Seán Curran Company, and the Merce Cunningham Understudy Repertory Group under the direction of Chris Komar. She curated PS 122's "New Stuff" series from 1998 to 2003.

Matias Rønningen in "Shadowland."

FH: I see that you spent time studying dance in NY, and I wondered who were your main dance teachers and influences?

Kari Hoaas: I´ve had so many great teachers, it is hard to single out just a few. But I did a course over I think six months called New York Dance Intensive in the early 90s. It was organized by Frances Becker and included different somatics like kinetic awareness, body mind centering and different release techniques, Klein, flying low, contact improvisation, voice for dancers and more. This course opened me up to this whole new world of dancing and put me on a new path.

FH: What was your overall impression of living in NYC?

Kari Hoaas: I love New York. It is where I became an adult. I love the fast pace of the city and the energy. I like meeting people from all over the world. New York attracts lot of talented and accomplished people. That is very inspiring. But that lifestyle is also challenging. The city is expensive, cramped and a lot about working. As I am getting older I also enjoy the slower pace of Norway and having more free time.

FH: Are there any performances you saw here that you consider particularly memorable?

Kari Hoaas: Another difficult questions. I have seen so many great performances in New York by so many wonderful artists. But there are certain performances I saw early on that somehow has stuck with me. I think it is because I saw them at a time when I had just began discovering a whole new world of performance art and dance that I didn´t yet know, and these performances opened my eyes to new possibilities. One of those was a performance by Benoit Lachambre at PS122, another was with Blondell Cummings at The Kitchen and a third was the Trisha Brown Dance Company.

FH: Do you see any difference in young dancers - in their training or their feeling for the art - from years ago to today?

Kari Hoaas: Yes, the training has evolved. Acrobatics, or soft acrobatics have become a big part of contemporary dance and young dancers are required to master more of those skills now than before. Then its the internet. Today many have a social media presence and build their careers also online. There are also so many opportunities to learn from different people online. This begun before the pandemic, but during that whole online learning really took off.

FH: Please tell me something about the work that you'll be doing at LaMaMa.  What was your inspiration?

Kari Hoaas: Shadowland is my choreographic response to an increasingly unstable post-pandemic world. It is a poetic investigation of continuum and the body moving through loss. It is about being in the state of liminality and investigating the transitional moment of uncertainty. Together with three dancers I have created a series of distinct solo´s that are scored together as choreographic bricolages. The solos are set, but the structure of the scores can shift. I see this work as something then that can keep evolving, grow and change, where we can add and subtract performers. Visually Shadowland is inspired by the work of Norwegian visual artist Jan Groth. I love his work and he was also a mentor and friend to me in my early New York years. Jan loved postmodern and experimental dance and was actually the one who introduced me to Blondell Cummings. In Shadowland I aim for an abstract, but poetic expression, highlighting movements affective, kinetic and energetic powers of expression.

FH: How has your work changed since your time at PS122?

Kari Hoaas: I think I have always begun with the states of the body and physicality, but my work has maybe become a little less theatrical, less dancetheater? I have stripped it down more and it is more just about dancing and how the body moves through space now.

FH: What will be your next on-camera project?

Kari Hoaas: I like to complete the Shadowland dancefilm trilogy by doing the last film of Christine. Then I would have one dance film with each of the original dancers that could be screened together or alone. I hope we can get that done this year.

FH: What do you look for when choosing dancers?

Great question. Being well trained and having a keen interest in physical exploration is important. The other is being able to work collaboratively and independently with tasks and being open to trying different new ideas. And last, being a nice respectful person and having a sense of humor, is so important. So many things in life are hard, dancing is hard, touring and travelling can be stressful. I believe we need to have a good time, even when situations are stressful or we are working with difficult subject matters.

Ida Haugen in "Shadowland."

For more info, go to https://www.lamama.org/shows/shadowland-2023

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