“True Art Consists of Gaps”: Interview with Cristina Caprioli – the Golden Lion in Venezia Biennale de la Danza 2024

By Maina Arvas*

“Precision, complexity and physical virtuosity,” the conclusion of the body of Cristina Caprioli’s works comes without hesitation and is very clear: a tribute to a choreographer who “quietly and substantially influenced multiple generations of choreographers during her three decades of provocative physical research.” The words of honor, in the motivation for the Golden Lion award, are written by Wayne McGregor, director of the Dance Department of La Biennale di Venezia.

Cristina Caprioli has served contemporary dance for almost 40 years. Photo: Jens Wazel

But when I meet Cristina Caprioli, she says she feels bewildered. We have sat down on the couch in the office of ccap, the platform for productions in Stockholm for her choreographic work since 1988, to reflect on the prize. The occasion is a happy one: she is awarded The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of Biennale Danza 2024. Among former awardees mingle names as Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, William Forsythe, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and Simone Forti. So, why the confusion of Cristina Caprioli? What is provoking in taking place in this row of stars of dance?

Outside the windows, the grey rain of winter in transition to spring keeps on falling, and the city traffic keeps on the move. Indoors, Cristina Caprioli is moving constantly. Even when sitting and talking, she creates vortexes and circles with arms and hands. Even if still, there is movement in her eyes and, definitely, inside her head.

However, the reason for being puzzled is the sensational news that she is about to receive The Golden Lion. The Lion has shaken her mind and created long chains of thoughts. Since she got the news, she has been distracted and absorbed by these thoughts, largely in connection with the dismantling of Swedish cultural life and of dance as an art form in particular.

Always Sometimes. Photo: Thomas Zamolo

–In all this, I see huge points of interrogation: what will happen to the arts of this kind, my kind? All conditions for working have changed, and it has become difficult even to find arguments for the survival of the artists. I am not only referring to the neo-liberal, hysterical chasing for quick production and immediate consumption but also to society as a whole under reconstruction. To receive this kind of recognition for long-term work and basic research is truly a great honor. And to receive the prize in July in Italy, with its right-wing government and its populist climate—it is very special.

Do you prefer to think about this long-life achievement award as a prize to your kind of dance as species rather than an award to you personally?

–Yes, in my thoughts I feel a strength in seeing a much larger group of people awarded together with me. Here, in Sweden, I often experience this art form regarded as an exception. Seen in this way, the prize is a beautiful confirmation.

Cloth. Photo: Håkan Larsson

Even so, Cristina Caprioli, born in 1953 in northern Italy, is considered one of the leading choreographers in Sweden, active in the country since the mid-1980s, with the independent producing platform ccap since 1998 and, behind her, a stream of performances, installations, video films and publications. 

She has been touring nationally and internationally and created works for, among others, the touring company of the national Swedish opera as well as the opera of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city. She was a professor of choreographic composition at the University of the Arts in Stockholm from 2008 to 2013, she is running long-term research projects and has produced festivals and conferences, such as Talking Dancing in 1997, T.lab in 2004, Weaving Politics in 2012.

Cristina Caprioli received a row of Swedish decorations, among them the Illis Quorum Meruere Laborers (to those who so deserve for their toils) in 2021. The following year, she presented a retrospective in Tanz im August, Berlin, with 22 of her works from the years 2002–22 under the title ”One Over Time.” The Swedish dance critic Örjan Abrahamsson described her Imperfect choreographies (2017) as ”the touching beauty of inter-human interaction” and her A Line-up (2017) as ”a capriolitypical norm, form, power, and gender-critical transillumination of the contemporary dominant ego-winner-elitist set of validation of humans.”

The latter would possibly serve as a resumé also for our conversation in the ccap’s office couch. Trying to interview the most intellectual choreographer in the country is a joyful challenge. Cristina Caprioli strives to maintain complexity, totally uninterested in simplifying or convincing. In a while, I fold my paper together where I have written down questions and start to launch themes instead, such as time and space, Munich or postmodern dance, which she returns in brief complete lectures. 

Talking about New York in the 1970s makes her eyes shine.

–This is when I discovered postmodern dance. In Europe, it did not exist at the time, the only thing counting was emotional dance theatre.

Scary Solo. Photo: Dajana Lotherth

You already knew as a very young person that you were interested in something else?

–Yes! Coming to New York was a revelation. My thoughts were: is this possible? Is it possible to be both a subject and an object at the same time? I do not have to choose? All this was part of the flood of performance-oriented works, already established in the Judson Dance Theatre collective a decade earlier. Lots of dancers already had left the traditional techniques and topics, creating ”durational pieces,” dancing on rooftops. It was a truly radical shift, opened up by Merce Cunningham. Beautiful times, bold and extremely energetic, a brief time of a window being opened before commercial powers took over. Myself, I was just lucky to be there at the right time.

Anything commercial is something that Caprioli wishes to avoid. One detail in this position of hers is that several years ago she stopped selling tickets to her shows; the entrance is free.

–This is extremely important. The profit from the tickets is such a minimal part of the whole production. However, purchasing a ticket is a starting point of a kind of exchange of goods, an economy between what is happening on stage and the viewer, and it is all wrong as a starting point. The exchange needs other forms. I believe firmly in the arts, and when art is genuine, it moves or touches anyone regardless of understanding. Through this experience, we let the door open for the visitors.

Trees. Photo: Håkan Larsson

To let the door open, to see and create an in-between and an opening are of deep significance to Cristina Caprioli. In these spaces, you can find something only possible to express through dance.

–When dancing, you will always receive the question: what does this mean? As if there was a conclusion, one single answer—it should be the other way around. Maybe someone in the audience came, watched and left and did not understand anything, even less than before. True art consists of the gaps, the hatches. The Nobel Prize to Jon Fosse made me happy! His texts are nothing but gaps. It felt really good, particularly in these times. Dance that accepts the gaps is what interests me. Presence through absence. Giving space for the viewer to fill out. The non-spoken words are the most important. Jon Fosse knows this.

You left Italy when you were 18 . . . for dance or to see the world?

–The world. And to get away . . . but I was very fond of dancing. I had the energy and the go, but I was extremely shy. I approached dance and started to take classes, in New York and in Europe.

And then you came to Sweden.

–My mother is Swedish; she married my father in 1951 and moved to Italy. So, Sweden has always been on my map, and I have always been fascinated and impressed by the social democratic political project back in those days. Now, I am deeply disappointed, but, nevertheless, all this existed for me as an alternative to the nomadic life I was living and began to get tired of.

Always Sometimes. Photo: Thomas Zamolo

At the time, did you also think Sweden was a good place to be for the kind of work you were planning?

–It is my impression that there was a place for all this. At the time, 1983, there was still a kind of . . . Olof Palme was still there. The vision existed. I left great metropoles, rough times and shouting people behind me and found something civilized and respectful.

And cultural politics…?

–. . . very different at the time. You were not forced to always defend your existence; it was possible to talk about intentions and directions. Problems did exist, of course, maybe the climate was somewhat dogmatic, but you did not meet—as now—contempt in front of intellectual work.

During our conversation the sound of bouncing feet passes as well as the rustling noise of people changing training clothes. Dancers pass through the room to and from what Caprioli calls ”the dryer,” a soft and comfortably heated training studio, where the warmed-up piece being rehearsed is Always Sometimes, soon to be premiered in the stage The Hall, in a suburb south of Stockholm.

The Hall is a place of great importance to Caprioli. Situated in a former gym, in an area of what was earlier the headquarters of the Swedish National Telephone Agency with workshops and laboratories, it is today restored and under development for a new block of apartments and offices. The old gym space is unique in size, 650 square meters, and rented by ccap since 2019, and it is established as a public venue for dance, choreography, music and other arts.

–We launch some 200 shows a year, which is incredibly rewarding. The Hall is a fantastic place, shared by many, but, in the deconstruction of the cultural politics we are going through in Sweden, its future is most uncertain, as for the totality of the non-institutional field of choreography. ccap could be seen as representing both the new liberal and politically correct dream as we produce such a lot and work with so many different groups and constellations, both locally and internationally . . . Still, it is difficult to see a future, both for my own work and for the field of dance. If all free and independent artists disappear, how will it be possible to preserve culture and the arts? My most important strategy now is to maintain my type of work, to produce as much as I can and as honestly, and to make sure that it is accessible to as many as possible.

She sees a promising perspective for the future in the award from La Biennale di Venezia.

–In conjunction with the prize, I am invited to show what I am doing right now, and I will have the opportunity to work with young dancers in a new piece, initiated right there, in Venice—which is particularly awarding.

Always Sometimes. Photo: Thomas Zamolo

The 18th International Festival of Contemporary Dance in La Biennale di Venezia, one of six themes for the biennale, is open from July 18 to August 3. Cristina Caprioli will present some of her latest work such as Deadlock, Flat Haze and Silver, and she is also opening up for the creation of an entirely new piece, The Bench, with the dancers and choreographers selected for Biennale College Danza, dedicated to specific training projects.

Cristina Caprioli. Photo: Jens Wazel

–There is an idea, a thought, that dance is only for and together with young people. If so, dance will never be allowed to mature. So, that La Biennale picked an older woman and let her work in the very present now certainly gives me a lot of hope! 

Photo: Jenny Gustafsson

*Maina Arvas is a Swedish theatre and dance critic, senior critic in Dagens Nyheter, Swedish daily national, and a freelance culture journalist and editor. She is also chief editor for Tecknaren, a magazine about illustration and graphic design published by the Association of Swedish illustrators and graphic designers. She studied literature, gender science, the Swedish Language Consultancy Programme, journalism and publishing studies at Stockholm University, and she has worked in publishing and television. She was the editor of the anthology and art book Pippiperspektiv (Pippi-perspectives)—Strong Voices About the World’s Strongest Girl, Astrid Lindgren Text, 2020.

Copyright © 2024 Maina Arvas
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