Artists With Impact: Danish Choreographer and Producer Jules

“I believe in story-telling as a healing art” – Our exclusive interview with Danish choreographer, producer and artist Jules, who’s putting authenticity center-stage.

JULES
Jules - Image: Nikolaj Rohde Simonsen

After a year of having our collective guards up and keeping our distances from one another, there’s something extra to be said for the authentic connection that arises when a group of people gather. One powerful facilitator of this is, and always has been, the theater, where artists and audience members come together to share an experience – something we’ve been missing during these long months. The eagerness is palpable; both for us to return to the seats, and for the performers to take the stage again. But a lot has changed in our time apart from one another.

This past year has been revealing in a number of ways, much of which has left its mark on how art is being made, performed and experienced. Conversations about representation, diversity, identity and historically oppressive power structures have been brought into the open as never before, and the spotlight is now on how we collectively intend to move forward. How has all of this affected the world of performance art – where lived experiences are given center stage . with so much in flux?

To get our heads around everything, we spoke with Danish choreographer and producer Jules, an artist who makes their home in the “in-between” and whose last project, VANITAS, dealt with change and authenticity – two crucial (and timely) elements of the moment. Check out the full interview below the video portrait.

We know that words like “choreographer” and “producer” often contain multitudes – and that much what you do takes place out of the spotlight. Can you help us introduce you?

I’m a visual artist and I create large scale performance works. This means that I have an idea, often departing from something I don’t understand, and I research and conceptualize this idea in a lot different mediums simultaneously – I start scribbling ideas for choreography, costumes, objects, images, sound, light, location. For a really long time a move forward this way – and then I start separating it – and inviting people in.

So for VANITAS I had researched change, authenticity and baroque paintings for a while – but I was still trying to figure it all out – then I invited first two, later four dancers to think with me and embody some of all the concepts and ideas. And in that process, I start building the actual choreographic part of VANITAS. We also tested some ideas I had for both film, cyanotype and costumes. Some of those parts of the process then comes back a part of the final piece. I also sometimes invite other artists in to make costumes, sculptural pieces or filmmakers to think with me in terms of transferring some things to digital formats.

To be more direct – I love working with a lot of expressions simultaneously – it is a kind of chaos, but also for me an essential part of embodying my thoughts of multitudes, non-linear process and thinking. At the moment, my praxis is very influenced by tarot, astrology and numerology, which for me provides images and systems for circular and ever-changing process.

You spent a lot of time in this latest project focusing on the “in-between”. What is it about that place, or that idea, that resonates so deeply with you?

Yes, the in-betweens have been a theme for me my whole life. I’ve always been interested in the voids or the undefined cracks of language, symbols and understanding. I guess being non-binary, pansexual or whatever can show some obvious resonance, but for me it is really everything – also challenging both visual arts and performing arts by attempting to be both and none at the same time. I find an enormous potential, joy and openness in that which has no name.

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At the moment I am also working on an opera-performance over Sapphos poems – and the translation from ancient Greek is so wonderful. Sappho as a poet was also an expert of double meanings – which makes the poetry so open and so interesting. In VANITAS I feel like I am actually shifting the focus from” in-between” to ”always moving”. Enlightened by decolonial writes and thinkers I realized that the” in-between” itself is a risk of being stagnant – much like the concept ”queer”.

I believe a language of many layers, many forms and meanings, many temporalities composed with both opaqueness and transparence is much more likely to mirror what identity feels like, than any singular and defined image. The motivation to dwell in this kind of language- is to be whole. Always being mirrored as fragmented by a cis-straight-world is an othering and alienation – that I refuse to accept. In VANITAS the dancers all have different lived experiences – but none of them know the world from a dominant perspective – they all have been forced to articulate their identities in opposition or in the language of a dominant culture. And VANITAS is an attempt at letting us all feel and tell our stories without explanations or translations.

Even from the outside, we can see there’s a persistent lack of representation within the arts. We’re curious to hear more about your perspective on that from inside the creative world…

I am very grateful for all the different perspectives the dancers have brought to VANITAS. It is very difficult to hire a diverse team in Copenhagen – the scene, both in visual and performing arts, is very homogenous – and very, very white.

This is obvious looking at people on and off stage – but what I find much more concerning is that very few gatekeepers, grants, museums, galleries and so on seems to be aware of the aesthetic and artistic homogeneity they promote or what the lack of difference does to the artistic and cultural development in general. I am tired of the same stories, I’m tired of art for the sake of art, I’m tired of institutions that don’t examine their own gaze and power –  and I’m so sad to see amazing artists not being funded, not being able to share their work and their stories. And I’m frustrated that the Danish art scene is so slow to change – and I’m angry to see people burning out trying to fight these systems of white supremacy.

I always want to have as many different voices, experiences and skills in a project as possible to avoid an undetected internal logic and to avoid decisions on autopilot. This way of working is hard and time consuming – but it is extremely generative for change. I learn so much from the dancers I engage, and they are a big part of shaping the piece. I think this way of working is pushing me as an artist and also challenging genres and what we see on the Danish art scene. 

JULES

Your latest project ends on an incredibly hopeful note, with the dancers creating their own rhythm together. Does this speak to your vision for the future, and if so, in what ways?

I don’t know if I can say that it is my vision or expectation for the future, but it is hope. And maybe inspiration to find your way home. Healing for me is to make it home, but it can be a long journey. Sometimes home can be hard to recognize when you have never felt it before.

Other than that for marginalized bodies to experience joy and happiness and especially to put that on display is unfortunately still radical. Narratives where a Black woman or a transperson is thriving and not harmed or othered are still underrepresented.

Much of your earlier work focused on sadness and hopelessness. Was this representative of a season in your life outside of dance – and, if so, would you be willing to share a bit about that with us?

My work always reflects my own feelings or interests one way or the other. Looking back at some of my earlier works fx ZOMBIEHÅND and ROMANCE I see a lot of distance, anxiety and alienation. They were also made in a period of my life where a lot of break ups had to happen. It was a tough, but very necessary and beautiful time even though everything was falling apart. VANITAS departs where these two works left off, but I was determined to not just critique and reproduce the structures and situations I found destructive – but also suggest something or point to something meaningful and beautiful. That goal sent me into a very long period of reflection and research.

I found a lot of inspiration in Philosopher Eduoard Glissant’s “poetics of relation”, poet Ocean Vuong’s “night sky with exit wounds” and the global trans community – both people close to me and scholars interested in decolonizing trans*. In this process I found something very very beautiful. Telling your story, being seen (not being transparent) and being part of something as you are. I believe that a lot hurts are behind me and it is time for me heal my wounds and help others to do the same. And inspired by Jessica Zinchuk – Protector and Keeper of Kelp Medicine – I believe in story-telling as a healing art.

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