Milka Djordjevich speaks with Moriah Evans and Emma Kim Hagdahl, who help organize the production of the Swedish Dance History, a book “creating history right now, right here: across nations, styles and cultural policies.” The all-inclusive collective book is 1,000 pages, distributed for free, and will be produced for 20 consecutive years. The first edition was made in 2009, with subsequent editions in 2010 and 2011. Interview Date: June 18, 2011
Milka Djordjevich: Do you want to start by telling me about the Swedish Dance History–how it started and how you each got involved?
Moriah Evans: I was invited by Emma and others from Inpex [International Performance Exchange, a Swedish non-profit arts organization] to partake in the second version of The Swedish Dance History in the summer of 2010. I first heard about the Swedish Dance History when I got a mysterious email in 2009 from a friend, Marten Spangberg, asking people to send in texts that they had written about their own dance practice or something that they had read in relationship to their art practice, or just an image–anything that was not self-promotion, that was actually dealing with the system of knowledge that informs our production of contemporary dance and that is also produced through our practice of contemporary dance. It was asking for all of these things to be sent in and accumulated, and Inpex would spend the International Day of Dance in April making a book, The Swedish Dance History, in Stockholm.
Emma Kim Hagdahl: I became involved in Inpex, a Swedish-based organization that is working for the internationalization of dance and choreography which consists of 12 people who are all artists in the dance field, in 2008. Then in 2009, Inpex had a meeting and we spoke about what types of activities or projects we wanted to do for that year. One of the projects that came out of that meeting was to encourage people in the dance field to articulate their practices in written texts and to find a way to share that with each other—not to just work in the studio quietly and then have a premiere and have two performances; and then go back into the studio or apply for more funding without ever really sharing what they were up to in terms of their discourse, or what their interests are, what it is that makes them keep doing work. It came out of both a curiosity to hear what people had to say and what they were up to, but also as a question or an encouragement to push our colleagues and ourselves to actually articulate what we are doing in terms of dance and choreography. It’s something that I, and many of us, feel like the dance field often gets accused of not being able to do. The visual art world maybe has a longer tradition of writing and articulating their discourses.
Emma Kim Hagdahl with books, photo courtesy of the Swedish Dance History
I was in school at that time, and I was being very obnoxious with who decides what history or what information that it is that we learn in school, in dance institutions—and how that is being authorized by certain people. In the discussion about inviting people to write, ourselves as well, it’s not only the people who have high degrees about writing about dance and history and theory that are allowed to write, but that anyone is invited to write. In that conversation, I felt we also encountered questions of authorization and thinking about claiming that space—saying we are the ones who do it. We are the practitioners of dance and choreography, so we should have the right to our own history. When we claim the right to our own history, we alse take the future in our hands. That became a little bit of a mantra for the production. It isn’t a history in the linear sense. It’s very much a book that is reflecting what’s happening right now, and also projecting into the future.
Moriah, for example, got the invitation from Marten, but there were plenty of people inviting others. Here are all the names of the people who have been involved in Inpex from the beginning: Anders Jacobson, Anna Koch, Emma Kim Hagdahl, Halla Olafsdottir, Jessyka Watson-Galbraith, Johan Thelander, Josefine Wikstrom, Malin Elgan, Marcus Doverud, Marten Spangberg, Moa Hanssen, Tor Linstrand. Basically, there were twelve people sending out invitations through all of their networks, and asking people to whom they sent their invitation to pass on the invitation to other people. In this way, spreading the invitation through the networks that we engage in.
Moriah: People are given the chance to know about it or to contribute because it is so open. It isn’t really edited at all—for instance, many mistakes and oversights are made accidentally. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t have the same kind of production mechanism of other publications. It’s not precious like that. One of the lessons to be learned from the book and with the book is that you can create your own self-promotion in the right kind of way. You authorize yourself, arbitrarily empower yourself, as a dance practitioner to say, “This is what I’m about. This is what I’m interested in. Listen to me.” It does not seem that dance has done that, historically, as much as other forms. There is always this burden of dance history and technique, of learning how to “dance” well, virtuously, relevantly, accurately.
Editorial meeting, photo courtesy of the Swedish Dance History
Emma: I think the book is an invitation for an opportunity to claim space to say whatever it is that you need to say, want to say, want to do, or want to produce with the book. It’s an open call in that sense. A lot of people, including myself, can get really scared and a little bit intimidated by such a proposal because you want to know: how do I do it right? What is right? What is wrong? It’s up to you. If you want to write a shit text and put it in the book, just to have your name in there, then it’s gonna be there. That’s what you did for the book. It’s really up to you. No one else is going to be there to tell you to do it better. That’ s one of the hard lessons of life, in some ways. Maybe the difference here is that there’s actually a possibility for you to claim this space. We invite you to do it.
Milka: I’m really fascinated by the energy, marketing and attention that the team drew to the book to give it a lot of power and make it an important thing. It was also interesting to have the 2010 book put together during ImPulsTanz, which is set-up as an uber-market of dance. This market has many negative aspects to it, but it also draws a big population of the European dance community together, and of course it includes the international DanceWEB community. So, to have the book piggy-back on the festival, it helps the Swedesh Dance History perpetuate energy around itself and gets people more involved, and ultimately capitalizes on the festival’s marketing strategy. I think it’s interesting because it’s simultaneously participating in the construct, but it’s also doing it in this very smart and alternative way.
Emma: The reason we came to Vienna in 2010 was because Inpex got invited after we came there in 2009, uninvited, and during the last week of the festival we made a daily newspaper of eight pages. Basically, we crashed Vienna. We were a team. We had Will Rawls and Moriah with us from the States, Louise Höjer from Stockholm/Berlin, Egle Obcarskaite from Latvia, Jessyka Watson-Galbraith from Australia/Sweden and myself. We came there uninvited, and we set up an editorial in an apartment that we borrowed from our friend Berno Odo Polzer. We produced this newspaper that we spread all over the festival.
It was a parallel proposal to the festival—we were not there to oppose or to react against the festival as something bad or positive, but just to be there as another type of vehicle or catalyst for conversation or activity. The newspaper became something that could facilitate a type of reactions or whatever it was that you wanted to air. Through the newspaper a lot of danceWEBbers wrote articles. When I was a danceWEBber the year before, I had the experience of feeling a little bit captured in this festival as some sort of happy, spoiled kid that is supposed to run around and just be grateful and enjoy and have ImPulsTanz on my forehead, which is great, but is also a little problematic sometimes in terms of how one can air out or ventilate that.
ImPulsTanz is a very cool place, in that they recognized and appreciated the presence of the newspaper that we did there during the last week of 2009. They invited us to come the next year to help us a little bit financially. They gave us a place to stay. They paid for our trips and they gave us a room that we could have editing in. Then we decided, let’s go there and do the book next year. The thing about many Inpex activities is really to create a very social environment around the production of something. To gather around knowledge production is sharing. It’s not so much self-promotion, but it’s really about sharing things together, doing things together, empowering each other not to be scared to articulate. Let’s be ridiculous. Let’s be stupid. Let’s just try this out. Let’s write something this year, and then next year we write something else…not to be so precious with our own thoughts and minds.
Reading party, photo courtesy of the Swedish Dance History
Moriah: We can get so precious as thinkers or makers…People are afraid. As young artists, we need to be working together to articulate ourselves, to think about what we’re doing, to propose and to insert ideas into the world—and also to have a certain kind of politics to it all. Don’t just be like, “Oh, I need to produce this in order for the marketplace to understand it, so that it goes around the globe, so I can pay my bills.” It’s better to be like, “Okay this is what I’m really, deeply interested in. This is how it’s interesting to me in terms of the frames of production around the work. It’s not just interesting as an aesthetic project, but it’s also a commentary around the apparatus through which work gets received and understood.” I want to talk about this with my friends and colleagues, and try to understand these things together. I feel like the book has that potential if you’re talking about the relationship between the Swedish Dance History crew and ImPulsTanz as two different types of structures that were producing experiences for people and giving people agency, or different types of privilege in terms of access to information or exposure…
Emma: I do want to give some credit to the editorial team, who was there working all the time and so on, but also apart from that, it’s really a project that we give away to everyone. We want to share it with everyone. It’s not one person’s project.
Moriah: It’s no one’s project.
Emma: Many times this project gets mentioned as being one person’s project, but it’s not. Everyone who is involved, it’s their project. It’s a chance if you want to. It’s not that it’s imposing… Maybe we should say about the format of the book.
Moriah: There’s no table of contents. There’s a list of contributors. There’s no index. Essentially, you open the book and you’re lost. You can’t be like, “Oh, who wrote this, or let me find what this important person wrote.” You have some major thinker, say Elizabeth Grosz, right next to someone that nobody’s ever heard of like Nang Xuo or John, and then there’s a tutu on the next page. The meaning that is made is the subjective meaning that the reader is going to make. It’s not the editorially-controlled vision of the book.
The completed books on display, photo courtesy of the Swedish Dance History
Emma: From the beginning, what we said is that who ever considers himself or herself a practitioner or maker related to dance or choreography in whatever way, and who feels that they have something to say, here’s your chance. Take the chance. Do it in your own way. The concept of the book is basically that it’s going to be produced every year for twenty years. It’s always going to have the same title. It’s always going to be 1,000 pages. It’s always going to be written by whomever.
Moriah: Everybody and nobody.
Milka: When you guys actually format the book and design it–when you’re making the order of how things are flowing–is it just done very randomly?
Emma: Partially, but in a good mix…We try to spread people out so that it becomes this high and low.
Milka: It’s more of an intuitive distribution.
Emma: In terms of the editorial team, it’s minimum creativity. We’re not trying to come up with funny ideas of how to put the things together, because that’s not important. There is a strive, an attempt–with having no index—to break down hierarchies in terms of who is a good writer or not, or who has a name or not. No, you just open the book and you see what you get. Take it or leave it.
Moriah: I think something to think about in terms of a parallel with the festival or with life, let’s say: you stumble upon something interesting, or you meet a person who changes your outlook. You just happen to meet this artist who then changes everything for you. I feel like the book is organized a bit like this. The collapsing of boundaries and divisions is similar to how you experience the book as randomly as we all experience our lives, as randomly and chaotically, and being honest about that. It’s not some organized activity that we’re controlling all the time that is moving us through the world. The book has this kind of politics to it in terms of how it’s organized.
Milka: I was there when you guys put the book together and was helping out, and I never felt like there was a sense of ownership by anyone involved–even with people who were maybe more involved or whatever…I think that any boundaries that are put around the book has to do with time and distribution. It’s a matter of who is spreading the information out to people and who do they know. What are those networks?
Emma: We initiate something, but there’s no amazingly beautiful, huge, idealistic ideas about including everyone and having the perfect editing, and working with this for a year. No. It’s supposed to happen really fast. It’s supposed to be a publication, because there is no money to pay people who are working with the book in a decent way whatsoever. Basically, all the work being done is done with volunteers, with the minimum: food and shelter. We’re working for free, which is the case in a lot of productions. Therefore, let’s not try to claim everything. You need to include yourself. Don’t sit around and wait for someone to drag you in in the perfect way and introduce you. It’s fucking barbaric. You have to claim space. No one else is going to do it for you. It’s more important that we do this book, and then we do a new one next year.
There’s no numbering of the books. We did one in 2009. One in 2010, another one in 2011, but it doesn’t say the year anywhere. We just do a new one every year, that’s the ambition. We just hope that it’s going to continue year after year.
Photo courtesy of the Swedish Dance History
Milka: Maybe you guys could talk a little bit about why it’s called the Swedish Dance History.
Moriah: When we were speaking a bit about the contradiction involved with it. The fact of the matter is, Sweden is basically paying for the book. It is The Swedish Dance History, because they’re creating the opportunity for the production of the book, and the initiative and Inpex is a Swedish group, but it’s international. It’s about Sweden and then it’s totally not. The assertion of Sweden, and then the simultaneous erasure of Sweden as the nation-state. It deterritorializes a certain kind of power structure or identity mechanisms than we’re used to. The fact of the matter is that Sweden does have a more, let’s say friendly, system of funding the arts, than the United States.
Milka: What I appreciate is that The Swedish Dance History is being really up front that this is where money is coming from. I think it is highlighting what everyone already knows, but putting it out there in a very honest way, because that’s how the world works. I think that’s a big aspect of my frustration often with the arts community. People have this struggle with ownership and ego and identity and acknowledgement.
Moriah: That’s because the marketplace asks us to label ourselves as single authors. This is how you have to get an artistic identity and move it through the world. This is where value lies. Is that where value lies today? Is that what we should be thinking about as young artists? Our identities? Our name? Our stamp? Is that going to produce anything different in the world or produce a discussion? Maybe it’s going to get you a show.
Emma: This is definitely an attempt to try to move away from that. I also want to say that it’s not only called The Swedish Dance History because the funding comes from Sweden. It started in Sweden, and because we knew we wanted to do something for the International Day of Dance, which is the 29th of April. We wanted to do something that was an actual international project that would invite the world to write The Swedish Dance History together with us. The Swedish dance history, right now, as we speak, what is that actually? It’s not only what is being presented in the theaters. Swedish dance practitioners are spread out all over the world. In Sweden, there’s dance practitioners from all over the world as well. Who actually are those people making Swedish dance history? Where is it? Let’s find out. Let’s open it up as a question in a way. Let’s write that together. There’s also a real claim.
When we came up with this thing, I remember that meeting when we were sitting there, and we said—once this book is done, even after the first year, no one else in Sweden will be able to write a book called The Swedish Dance History. There will always be one. Whenever a young dance practitioner will search for ‘what is The Swedish Dance History’, nowadays, they will get this book. They will find articles about this book. They will find audio recordings that we did on the first book last year, and so on. The book inscribes itself into the real Swedish dance history inherently, in its name. After awhile, even if it doesn’t have to do with Sweden, or even if it doesn’t have to do with dance, or even if it doesn’t have to do with history as we knew it before, the content of the book fills the title rather than the title fills the content. Maybe we can say that the title invites for a content and then that content makes the title. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
Moriah: I think that the title is a lesson in how you can mess with meaning and agenda in interesting ways. It’s about Sweden and it’s not. It includes people outside of Sweden and it doesn’t at the same time. I’m sure more people in Sweden know about it than in the world. Also, it’s history, but it’s the future. It’s these kinds of paradoxical relationships. We have to think now in complex operations.
Emma: Also who the fuck knows about Swedish Dance History? Let’s say it will be called The American Dance History. I think most of the people, dance practitioners, or people who know about art, they would know a little bit about American dance history. They would have an idea at least—even German Dance History; they have a history. But what do people, in general, know about Sweden? It was also a claim on our own before someone would write the big book about the ones that they think should be included in the Swedish dance history. It’s like, let’s fill this space because we are doing things and this is real and this counts even if maybe the people who are contributing to the book aren’t the people who are being programmed the most in all of the theaters in Stockholm or Gothenburg or Malmo or in Sweden at all, or in Europe. We are doing shit, but we are using unconditional ways to produce artist courses and art practices, but it’s equally important because we say so.
Moriah: Also there’s this idea that perhaps history can be obliterated, that history is written by those who want to do it. The simple fact of the matter is that history always has an ideological agenda in its writing. In terms of returning to the question of self-promotion or not, European history, American history, in a bigger structural sense, academic knowledge hierarchies, it always has some kind of agenda behind it. The winner of the war gets the spoils and writes the story. There is this happening with the book that maybe makes it unfair, but on the other hand it has integrity because it’s transparent about its irony.
Emma: Is there anything else that we need to say about the book?
Moriah: I have some books in my apartment. People can call Moriah Evans if they want one.
Milka: There are three editions: 2009, 2010 and most recently 2011. There’s a limited amount that’s actually printed, which means there’s only so many people that can get the book. During the production period of the 2010 edition, there was also this audio version of the first book that was being created. Can you guys talk about that?
Emma: We ran out of the first book, so there’re no more copies. So we made an audio version.
Moriah: Because that preceding book was absent. It was really fun. We did all these readings from everybody. We would go up to Meg Stuart and be like, “Will you please read for the Swedish Dance History?” We recorded everybody reading, every single page of the book. It is insane.
Emma: It’s completely incomprehensible, but they’re all on the blog.
Meg Stuart reading aloud, photo courtesy of the Swedish Dance History
Moriah: The whole book exists as oral history, which is kind of beautiful…People read one article each.
Emma: Some people read with extreme French accents and you can’t understand anything. Some people read half-asleep or something. The whole book is read and recorded.
Moriah: The images are sometimes described and sometimes not.
Emma: We did it in a marathon in the apartment that we had during ImPulsTanz, and so people would come over. We had made Chili Con Carne or Chili Sans Carne.
Moriah: We had all-night sleepovers and we did it during the ImPulsTanz festival workshops or at night in the lounge.
Emma: During one night, people were reading nonstop from 10 in the night until 10 in the morning.
Moriah: It took us a week.
Emma: We just read the last pages. We did the first 500 pages in a week and then we had one night to finish the last 500 pages.
The book has this thing. It activates communities and people, not only in the location where it’s being done, which I think is very sweet. This year’s book is going to be done only in that way. It’s not going to be one big location where it’s happening. It’s going to happen through people’s own initiatives to engage their local communities. Less carbon footprint this year.