Choreographer Ina Christel Johannessen has been a pioneer of Norwegian contemporary dance for over 30 years. Her troupe, Zero Visibility Corp, was established in 1996, but it was the 2003 production, It’s Only a Rehearsal, which placed the company firmly on the world stage. Having toured extensively throughout Europe, Australia and North America, Zero Visibility Corp is renowned for intensely physical pieces. Johannessen explains the company’s ethos and discusses the wider dance landscape in Norway.
How would you describe the company’s aesthetic?
Physicality has always been important for me. I’ve seen many trends moving towards more of a conceptual approach, but I’m really into skilled dancers who can use their physicality in different ways. When you put a body into the space, it’s a person, it’s a life and a story. But it’s not a story that starts and ends – it’s a suggestion for other stories, open to be read in different ways by the audience. For example, when we performed I have a secret to tell you (please) leave with me, there was some debate about whether the production was focussed more on the one female character or the three male ones.
What’s behind the name Zero Visibility Corp?
It came from the idea that everything is not what it seems. We use strong visuals, and I like to work with opposites, so the meaning turns or changes the more you look at it.
Tell me more about how you work with set designers and visual artists.
For me this collaboration is very important. I have a vision which is produced by the costume and set designers, and then I have to find a solution as to how the set is used practically. And the performers also have to find a way of working with it. I like to use the set to change the direction of the performance. Our 2012 production Again [a collaboration with the composer Marcus Fjellström, designed by Kristin Torp]has a very simple, abstract set design, almost like animation, in that it moves around with the dancers. It’s also about allowing the audience to understand the space and its limitations.
How has dance in Norway evolved over the years?
Dance production has really changed since I was first educated in the 80s. There has been a large increase in the number of creators, artists and productions over the years. Unfortunately, however, my company isn’t able to perform many shows across Norway – the facilities and venues are there, but we don’t have the money and resources to run tours ourselves. This has led to a situation where we will create a big production, which we show perhaps four times in Oslo, then tour abroad.
Why is it not as easy to tour within Norway?
We’ve had a change in government here, and I believe we’re moving more to the right. Government officials say they have been supporting culture and arts too much, but actually, what they have been doing is putting a lot of money into building [dance]houses, but not into people and a touring network. So we can perform, but we have to do the marketing, pay for the hotels, everything. That’s why we go elsewhere in Europe because they pay for, or at least organise, the trip for us. I have been supported by Arts Council Norway, so I am really lucky. And certainly there is a lot of financial support for dance, compared to other countries, but everything costs so much; it just disappears in taxes, rent, salaries and construction. I’d like to show more of my work in Norway, so it’s a pity. But we’re working on it. We want to build more of a network over the coming years.
What’s coming up next for the company?
At the moment we’re working on Motel. We’re building a little motel on stage, and it’s about people trying to live in a place no one owns. I’ve been working with both new and established dancers to get some diversity into the group. We are rehearsing now and preparing for a residency in Barcelona for a few weeks, then at the end of January we’ll have the premiere at Oslo’s Dansens Hus.