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Q&A Jefta van Dinther and Suelem de Oliveira da Silva, May 2021

Q: What would you say is the core of this piece. What ”state is it in”?

Suelem: Yes, the core of this piece is the relationship between us and nature.

Jefta: Mountains deals with the intricately interwoven relationship between nature and culture. In it, a human being interacts with her environment, which is a 500 meter long piece of fabric that slowly climbs up and gradually empties out from the stage. Through this interaction, their distinctness and separateness is clarified, but also blurred and confused. Nature and culture appear not so much as a dichotomy but as a bind, or as a continuum. Another central theme is that of the formation of culture, or cultures, plural. Mountains stages cultural expressions and questions how they appear in bodies, and in a body’s relation to their surroundings. In the theatre, these become representations giving rise to a field of associations. I Mountains we are dealing with various cultural expressions, from archaic to futuristic, from archetypal to uniquely idiosyncratic. From classicism and chiaroscuro to pop-culture and sci-fi.

Q: What do physical mountains mean to you, what do they represent? And what is the more abstract meaning?

Suelem: For me it represents something bigger than us, something powerful that I do not think we are actually able to comprehend. It is also a symbol for lamentation.

Jefta: Mountains symbolise permanence and stability and are seen as a gateway to transcendence. To the mountains, and from the mountains, we call out for guidance. They stand for something larger than human, beyond us. The mass of a mountain is, unlike anything else in my experience, experienced also immaterially – as a force, or as time, and thereby enters into a spiritual dimension of existence.

Q: In what ways do your different backgrounds play a role?

Suelem: Despite our different backgrounds we both grew up with close access to nature, but very different types of nature. But the experience of having nature in life I think made it possible to meet in that shared interest.

Jefta: Suelem and I have vastly differing backgrounds, in many respects the opposite ones. But what connected us, in working and in developing the performance, was actually more those aspects that we shared. We both come from evangelical backgrounds, we both started dancing in the church, we both live or have lived in cultures very far away from our own, we both have experienced an outsidership in the societies we have been part of and we both share an affinity for rituals, for the subjective sensemaking of the body and for certain contemporary subcultures and expressions.

Q: What is it you try to discover in this piece?

Suelem: I think my personal journey throughout this process was about finding the relationship between me and the world I cohabit. It is an unknown space that makes me think about the unnatural relationship humans have developed to nature.

Jefta: How to learn to love this world anew as it changes while still maintaining grounded by the beliefs that have formed us.

Q: Who is the performer on stage, what is her mission?

Suelem: The performer on stage has the mission to guide the viewer to enter gate ways to other realities.

Jefta: In many ways, the performer on stage is a being, more than a human being. She takes us into different dimensions, invites us into a place of fiction, of science fiction. She is a hostess, a creator, a sorcerer, who through both archaic and futuristic expressions of movement and voice sets a space into motion. By power of intention, commitment and ritual, she conjures a life force to which she then ultimately also surrenders.

Q: One of your main subjects, Jefta, something that you have been dealing with in your previous works is humanity, or perhaps more precisely what it means to be a human and be a part of the world/the society/a group/to belong. In what way does Mountains deal with this topic?

Jefta: The different here is that we deal with one person and her drive and quest to exist in a world, this world. The relational aspect of how a functional or dysfunctional society operates, is not so much present in this work but is replaced instead with the relation to the environment, and importantly, also a person’s relationship to the self. The performance carries in it a lamentation of our contemporaneity while being fully immersed and enthralled by it. The performance, in this way, gives voice to the complex and often contradictory feelings of living life and of belonging.

Q: Another topic is labour, the struggle, the fight every human has. Could you elaborate a bit on that, and how it is perceived in Mountains? The ”nature-culture bind” as in our description of the work.

Jefta: In continuation on my answer above, there is the aspect of turning in toward oneself, finding solace and power within. In one of the scenes in the performance, Suelem closes her eyes and wriggles herself into the tight suit that she is wearing – quite literally crawling under her own skin. There she spends some time speaking to herself, connecting to herself, while shutting out the outside world. Listening, as it were, to her inner landscapes, rather than those around her.

Q: Another characteristic is a somewhat heightened/altered reality. Everything is not what it looks like. The play with illusions, how have you created this in Mountains?

Jefta: The theatre apparatus is used to its fullest. The performance is made from a frontal perspective where the stage turns into a landscape hovering in a black void. In some way, we thereby forget about the theatre and enter into what I experience more as a film. The content and the aesthetics of the work bring us deeper into this place of altered reality.

Q: And the use of voice? Why is it important to you? What does it give?

Jefta: For a long time, I have been obsessed with voice, finding its disembodied nature, yet contingent link to the body, fascinating. Suelem uses her vocal apparatus as an extension of the body, by sounding, voicing and singing. In Mountains, the voice really becomes the external manifestation of the body, where power, territory and ownership is really made concrete. The use of the voice also makes of the performance something not so clearly categorizable. In a genre-bending effect, we enter into a performance, concert, music-video clip and sci-fi film, all at the same time.

Q: Mountains has been made as a work for the stages, as a short film for Kulturnatten Stockholm 2021 and SVT, and as a filmed full length show. In what ways does the work differ in different channels? Does it?

Jefta: It has been very exciting to work more thoroughly with the film medium this time. In many respects, the live performance acts like a film, so the translation is not that far off.

Q: You started with Mountains many months ago, even planned for a premiere in October last year. Is it the same Mountains today?

Suelem: I think it is inevitable that the way I perform this work will be very different after everything we have been going through in the world. The work has grown and it will keep on developing throughout the process of performing.

Jefta: We started working on Mountains already in September 2019, so the process has been stretched over a longer time. To be honest, as usual, I had no idea of where this process would actually take us. My approach has been to listen to the work and to what happens and let that guide the way. Much like the way a physical mountain can be our guide and landmark while being on a journey through a landscape. The performance Mountains has shifted many times since that first rehearsal period and has gradually become the dense and complex layering of both the work done and the life lived since then.

Q: Jefta, the one time before you made a solo work, it was for yourself, on your own body. This time Suelem dances. To both of you: how has this collaboration been?

Jefta: To me, this has been an extraordinary process, with so much generosity, wisdom and trust. Suelem has also really brought something new into my work, managing to “hack” it by understanding how to exist and operate within my world while at the same time pushing its boundaries, opening up new spaces and bringing in new expressions.

Suelem: I have learnt a lot, it has been a great journey for me. It was my first time doing a solo as well. Jefta and I have a similar background and that is something we could share a lot during this work.

Q: Your favourite mountain, anywhere, and what you usually do ”on it”?

Jefta: Here, I will be somewhat typical in my answer. The Swiss Alps, where I just spent 10 days hiking in the snow, are really very extraordinary. But you will find me mostly walking, looking up to them, not on top of them.

Suelem: I have been to many mountains and I personally enjoy being there by myself. It is certainly a place where I have the time to breath and feel the power it holds.

Many thanks!