Living art – Interview with Troels Primdahl

In the fall of 2015, DUST – an opera dinner – was shown at Katapult Theatre in Aarhus. We were lucky enough to be spectators to one of the few intimate performances, in which a boys' choir welcomes you with beautiful opera to a divine eating experience – all in complete darkness.
Our enthusiasm was great and we have met the director and choreographer of DUST, Troels Primdahl, for a talk about an alternative way into art, the role of being an instructor and the nerve in live theatre.

By Louise Holmskov in Talks

How did you become an artist and a director?

I entered the industry on a different path than other artists, since I didn’t get an education from an academy. I studied aesthetics and culture at the university, and at the end of my study I slowly started directing some small performance works in Aarhus. Through this I met a ‘chaos pilot’, who served as a producer on some of the setups I made. We started a small theatre company together and then it just took off from there. Initially we were very politically engaged and had relations to something called ‘Immigration Advices’, which was a great support for us, financing our setups. Then we moved out of the political scene and into a more essential space, where I started working more and more nonverbally. That also meant having to work with dancers, without having any choreographic background. But I found physical expression exciting and that is where my passion lies right now. However, I work with all possible forms of expression. From dance performances to operas, concerts and other interventional performance works. Setups that do not necessarily need a theatre stage but can be played in public spaces or special locations. For example, I set up a concert in Aarhus Airport, which is a very atypical place for a concert.

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In Berlin, I started working with a performance group, which is working in the field between physical theatre and public space. We love to create a scene in a place where there usually is no scene.

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I also know that you have seen DUST, which is an experimental opera that has different dimensions. It is a performance evolving around an eating situation, where a chef prepares a dish – in this case a dessert. Meanwhile, a beautiful opera unfolds in the darkness.It is quite unique. DUST was a cultural empowerment project that tried to create a bridge between Jordan and Denmark. Jordanian women produced the pillows and plates for example. My job was to create a collaborative work. The instructor’s role is not just to decide what to do, but also how to create a good working relationship with all the artists involved, hereby getting the best possible spirit into the work and the expression to flourish.

What is your most important task of being a director?

To make people feel safe. They are the ones who stand on stage and perform, and you want them to show the greatest nerve possible in front of the audience. My primary task is to make the ethical nerve bloom. Perhaps one can compare it with being in love. I’ll just make sure that there’s this felling full of intimacy and presence on stage. Every little sound and movement needs to have a meaning. A safe and calm atmosphere is essential when we produce. The work must mean something to everyone involved – from the costumier, to the lighting guy and the performers. If it does not matter for those involved, I can’t expect it to matter to the audience. That’s the whole philosophy of it.

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What is the most difficult task of being a director?

Continuous movement and transformation. You can’t stay in the processes of what you are good at – you need to keep moving and take risks. That risk is very much present when I’m doing performance art and live performances. It’s different with movies and photography, where you have the opportunity of taking things over and over and to edit. The moment there is a stage, and we invite the public inside, and everything is only played once, that is when it becomes risky. Creating a nerve on stage is the far most exciting form for expression I can imagine. Far more exciting than film and photography, where the events already have played out.

And you are living in Berlin now?

Yes. Last summer I completed a residency at Bora Bora in Aarhus, where I was allowed to work for three months. Afterwards I went Iceland and later New York. When I was in New York, I saw that there was an open call for a residency in Berlin. I applied and got in. It should really only had been a month but I was not finished discovering all these possibilities, I could see in Berlin. I did not have a huge professional network when I moved there, but it happened rather quickly and I got into some different networks with this one performance group that I work with.

How is it to be an artist in Berlin versus Denmark?

It is both easier and more difficult. It is easier to have a diversity of expressions in Berlin. That has clearly something to do with size, but there is also something about the spirit in Berlin – the spirit of daring to step outside the norm. There are way more possibilities to experiment with shapes, sizes and collaborations across disciplines. However, I still have a very large attachment to Aarhus, where I often go home and produce different setups. The good thing about Denmark is the professionalization of the artistic culture and the possibility of financial support, which makes it possible to do productions of a certain size. In Berlin, there are many artists but not a lot of money to make art for. Those are the premises of being an artist in Berlin.

There are so many aspects of ‘the good life’ in Berlin. The ceilings are higher, and there is a greater willingness to take risks. I think you see it very clearly in the cityscape. People live a little more direct in a way – it is not all about appearances. I really like the raw brutality of it.

 What is next for you?

The ambition is that DUST is going to be an entire show, with starter, main course and dessert. We are continuously working on get it financed. At the same time, I work with my performance group in Berlin on some interventional works in the public space.

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