A new work that subverts expectations through a practice of “Allowing”

Jeffrey S. Stratton

Before their upcoming Copenhagen premiere of pour it, we recently spoke with Nanna Stigsdatter & Snorre Elvin about the piece.

One might argue that audiences often subconsciously hold certain expectations when entering into a stage performance—expectations that can shape an audience’s engagement with a piece. And for many artists, subverting those normative pressures is often a challenge.

However, this does not seem to be the case for choreographers Nanna Stigsdatter & Snorre Elvin and their new piece pour it. Their long history of friendship — through schooling, working, and being active members of the Copenhagen-based, independent dance collective Danseatelier — has given them numerous tools to explore and integrate complex, and sometimes atypical, aesthetics into their work.

On the subject of “Allowing”

It might be easy for those unfamiliar with artistic development to assume that artists can simply do, or follow, any particular path they want when creating a work. However, many outside factors can pressure or influence artists to follow certain dramaturgical, choreographically, or aesthetic norms.

When we spoke to Nanna & Snorre, they spoke of their approach of Allowing. This methodology gave the freedom to imbue the work with a diversity of compositional, thematic, and aesthetic components. Of course, we needed to know more:

Snorre: “Through this practice of Allowing, we were able to let images exist within the piece, without them having to fit into the concept explicitly. Our dramaturgical concepts could create objects that exist out of context, which could appear and disappear within the piece—but of course, still within a critical mindset towards what they add to the work.

And by allowing, we could also explore a diversity of stories, all expressing different ways of co-existing in a space. In a way, it allowed different types of performativity to all come together to create an even grander expression of performance.”

While this methodology of Allowing provided more freedom to explore, it begs the question as to whether the duo had any framework for how they developed the material? Were they afraid that elements of their work would be perceived as naive or direct representation?

Allowing and subverting Representation

The term “representation” in the context of performative works does not refer to ideas like race, gender, or equality as one might see it used on the global stage. In the context of dance, and this article, one should think of Representation in the context of describing choreographic movements that model, or mimic, non-corporeal things. Perspectives on Representation within choreographic works can vary, but it is not uncommon for direct Representation to be perceived as simple, easy or amateur. However, by adhering to their Allowing methodology, Nanna & Snorre found a process that “allowed” forms of controlled Representation to happen within the work.

Nanna: “We wanted to avoid being in struggle with representation, and somehow let it sometimes happen within a strict context. Always asking, “what do we layer it with? How do we frame it?”

Snorre: “Ya, but, we never wanted to give away too clear of an image. For example, if the light, the music and the movement really build a “swamp” feeling…then we were like, okay, are we now too deep into the swamp? The representation became too explicit. So then, we could ask which one of the elements could be altered to kind of pull it into another direction?”

Understanding that this process allowed more freedom for diversity within the work, what was their process for constructing the interactions between this multiplicity of expression, aesthetics and compositions?

Photo: Veronika Vidø

Exploring thresholds and transitions

Throughout our conversation with Nanna & Snorre, another compositional methodology kept making its presence known within their answers—that being the idea of dealing with thresholds and transitions. As one might expect from a piece containing a diverse set of various choreographic, dramaturgical and aesthetic ideas, the transitions and thresholds of these elements were always present in the development of the work.

Snorre: We thought a lot about how things can co-exist and weave together. This brought us to the exploration of thresholds and portals, charging up energy and then releasing it through a sort of portal or threshold.

Nanna: For me, I think it has been very playful in this sense, working with the notion of thresholds. For example, exploring the length of a threshold…like, when does the in-between become a thing of its own?

Snorre: We worked a lot with time and “spending time.” Like, how long is a transition before the transition is actually felt? Is there a length of time when a transition becomes a place in itself?

Our Thoughts

Without revealing too many specific details of pour it, in our experience, there are numerous moments where your expectations of the work will be surprisingly wrong—lending an even more pleasant mystery to the work.

Just as Nanne Stigsdatter & Snorre Elvin allowed themselves the freedoms to explore various expressions to manifest themselves within pour it, there is also an argument to be made that the audience should also “allow” their experience of the work to be many things—to allow their own expectations to be subverted by the complexity of the work.