Earlier this year I started a strand on this blog where I invited a broad spectrum of artists – novelists, sculptors, choreographers, directors, poets, burlesque dancers, playwrights, visual artists, and many more in between – to engage with the same twenty questions about creativity and process. I hoped this might create interesting and illuminating reading, and an intriguing archive – not just in the often wise and considered answers these individuals give, but as a body of opinion, shaped by experience and form.
I’m delighted to continue this series with dancer and choreographer Johanna Devi, whose complex, graceful, and innovative work it has been my pleasure to witness in Berlin over the past two years.
Johanna Devi was trained in contemporary dance and ballet from the age of six at Jessica Iwanson, Munich, Germany. Additionally she has been studying the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam in India, Germany, USA and Canada since 1995. She concluded her studies with the ‘arangetram’ in November 2006 in Berlin under Rajyashree Ramesh .
Johanna completed her modern dance training at danceworks-berlin e.V. and at Alvin Ailey School of American Dance Theater in New York City. Besides her dance trainings she studied classical music (piano and music theory) with professors of music universities in Munich, Graz and Berlin. Since 2007 she has worked as a freelance dancer and choreographer throughout Europe, Canada, the Middle East, India and Cuba. She has danced for companies like Felix Ruckert, Sampradaya Dance Creations, Mavin Khoo, Sadhana Dance, Gwyn Emberton Dance and has created Solo and Company work as a choreographer. In 2012 she founded the Johanna Devi Dance Company in Berlin, Germany. In 2011 she has been invited as one of eight dancers worldwide to perform at the 2nd International Dance Festival (sponsored by ICCR) in Delhi and Chandigarh, India. In 2013 she won the prize for best staging at the 17th International Theater Festival in Baghdad, Iraq (Bernarda Albas Haus; director: Ihsan Othmann, choreography: Johanna Devi)
For further information please also see http://www.johannadevi.com
What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?
I started my dance training (ballet and contemporary/modern dance) as a child. I saw my first Bharatantyam performance when I was about 8 and started to train in that style at 14. I had visited India already and simply wanted to combine my passion for dance and India. Dance and Music just came naturally and easy to me and fulfilled me to an extend that I kept wanting to investigate more. So I feel like I didn’t really make a conscious choice.
What was your big breakthrough?
It’s yet to come…
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
To define what I am doing.
It seems like people like to label art-forms. But I am dancing inbetween different styles or languages as I like to call it. I am neither a ‘typical’ German contemporary dancer, nor an Indian dancer. I am usually confronted, when talking about my work, with questions like if the dance style I am doing has something to do with folk, ethnic dances, multi culturalism, esoteric spiritualism, Bollywood, belly dancing or other forms of show dancing. But I simply created my own choreographic signature. Merging contemporary dance with Bharatantyam, working with contrasts and just taking selected aspects of the different styles (such as polyrhythm, isolation, coordination, release and flow etc)
What’s more important: form or content?
Do you read your reviews?
What work of art would you most like to own?
An original (i.e. hand written) score from one of the great composers
What are you working on now?
I am working on a dance piece with my dance company where rhythm, sound and movement work symbiotically together. Complex rhythms are made visible and tangible before they are audible.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
How important it is to stand to yourself and to take the feeling of being ‘different’ as a strength rather than as a feeling of not belonging.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
I redirect my focus to a place that is free of my own judgement
And the best thing?
(translated from German; a review on my production ‘santosham’)
The movements are as soft as velvet, as fluid as water. Fareastern sounds are opening the heart, the soul is exposed. Magnetized one follows each of the soothing, soft gestures of the three dancers. They remind of priestesses of ancient cults, who try to bring themselves in accordance and unison with the world. Classical Indian and contemporary dance merge poetically into one wave, one stream of energy. Again and again one dancer breaks out of the triad of the synchronized movement patterns, tells her own story and depicts physically her conflict. Dynamic and reflection create a mystical dialogue throughout the fingertips of the graceful dancers. Everything flows. (ail)”
100Wort! independent newspaper of 100° Festival 2012, Feb 25th 2012
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
A flexible, transforming and flowing, labyrinth
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
To be determined and simultaneously be open to surprises and changes
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?