‹shifting contexts›

Interview with Jasmin İhraç, questions by Johanna Ziebritzki

Dear Jasmin,
specialist for shifting contexts,

it’s great that your taking part in the forth issue of reciprocal turn on ‹The Specialists›! As briefly said in the Mail, I was present at your piece ‹On Confluence› at HAU, Berlin, in December 2016. The announcement made me curious. It sounded like a real invitation to a party or a game, and I like both. The piece was an investigation of the communal form in which House Music and Dance comes to life. While leaving the theater I was telling my friends that I was astonished by the smart happiness your piece brought to my body and my intellect. This I consider the success of your art. For the upcoming issue of ‹reciprocal turn› I ascribe to you the role of the specialist for ‹shifting contexts›. To me the success of your specialization seems to stem from your artistic media, which is bodily movement. In this sense, ‘shifting’ indicates the physical play with patterns of behavior which are common to a given cultural frame. I’ve read on your website that you studied sociology before becoming a professional choreographer. It’s quiet interesting that you have chosen physical movement as your language and not the written or spoken word.

For now, enjoy the questions!

Johanna Ziebritzki: To start, please describe what happened at the HAU from your perspective. Which other forms does your specialization take on?

Jasmin İhraç: For the piece On Confluence we worked with a group of dancers from contemporary (Lee Méir, Andreas Merk, Jasmin İhraç) and urban dance (Wilhelmina Stark, David Mendez) and two musicians from the electronic music scene (Jan Brauer, Patrick Flynn). We worked as well with the dramaturge Lidy Mouw and the lighting designer Catalina Fernández. Our group was quite diverse concerning our artistic backgrounds which made the process in itself special. We had a lot of debates and discussions around the subject of how to consider dance and the moving body, as our reference was a special form of dance and social movement: house dance.

House Dance began in the 1980s within the black, Latin-American and gay communities in the clubs of New York and Chicago, and was based on the idea of exchange from the very beginning. Regardless of heritage or class, the moment of freedom in the club was a contrast to daily life. On the dance floor a collective of the many emerged, a multiplicity of styles and the idea that support is more important than competition.

The aim of the work was to highlight the utopian potential of house as dance language and social movement by dealing with the form of the dance and the special energy it can create.

In HAU the public was involved in a more unconventional way of seeing the piece. There was no actual stage. We wanted to cross both spaces, the space of the theatre and the space of the club without trying to copy one or the other. For me this makes sense as in house dance the groove or ‹jack› in the music is something to experience in the first place, which works through various senses not just through seeing. As a spectator you could make the decision of how much you wanted to be engaged in the dance. People reacted quite openly to this invitation.

JZ: Was there an awakening moment which led to your specialization? Do you perceive your as your vocation?

Jİ: I guess I would not consider myself as en expert or a specialist, but in any case thank you for considering me as one. The main point for me as the piece is concerned, is that when I got to know house dance, I realized that this form of dance actually makes more sense if you experience it through your own body. That is why I thought about a different format to present it. So in that sense it was rather something connected to the subject itself. In order to deepen my first impression of the dance I went to New York in 2015 to get to know house and the scene in the context it came from. In Germany there is not such a big house scene. Although the scene has shifted more from the club to the dance studio there are still clubs in New York where this spirit of House of the 80’s seems alive.

JZ: Do you feel responsible for those attending your pieces? Or are you foremost responsible for the piece and the other performers? Or are you simply responsible for your own well-being?

Jİ: The question of responsibility is important and not an easy concept in that context. I would consider us maybe not responsible for the people themselves but more for the invitation we give out. In that sense if we open up the conventional space of a theatre we might be responsible to guide people through it. Or to leave them with question marks but to know why, at which point and how we do it. Of course you cannot be responsible for an experience. We cannot be in control of what others feel, see or experience but we can be responsible for the communication we chose.

JZ: Is it your goal to democratize your way shifting contexts, of heightening low culture and lowering high culture? Or is it necessary that you are the only one capable of it?

Jİ: I am not so sure if I agree with the distinction of high and low culture. What I am often concerned with is how to bring things from one context into other contexts. I think if it is done in a sensible way it can bring a benefit to the subject itself and open up different perspectives on the matter. For the piece ‹Mj’a sin-Verflechtungen› (with Silvina Der-Meguerditchian), I worked on Armenian folk dances. I have no dance education in Armenian folk dancing, but I dealt with the question of loss, longing and absent community. I tried to understand what these dances could actually still tell us today after a cut in the Armenian culture had taken place. In what way could these dances be a means of survival and a way of dealing with loss? So I looked from another angle on these community dances mixing them with a contemporary dance language against the backdrop of a contemporary perspective.

JZ: Would you like to found a discipline based on your special practice? What would you call it? What would the enrolling procedure be like? What would your favorite teaching method be?

Jİ: I think I could not call it a discipline; maybe it is more a way of being and staying curious. I think it is about constantly finding, defining, refining your interest, not being afraid to go on unconventional tracks. It is not really something I could teach other than talking about my experience or giving an insight to my work and dancing. So far my method is asking questions.

JZ: Is there a question important to you, that I didn’t ask you?

Jİ: Thanks. I think not. As a little insight to On Confluence, the trailer can be found here. The next stop of the piece will be in Hannover in the frame of a music festival, 11th of August 2017.


For further information check out the artists website.