Minnesota native Dana Caspersen made the leap to Europe in the 1980s, dancing with choreographer William Forsythe at the Ballet Frankfurt and in his independent company after the ballet dissolved.
She’s also collaborated with Forsythe (now her husband as well) on a number of works, including the installation White Bouncy Castle, which is currently occupying the Lokhalle Schöneberg as part of the Foreign Affairs festival.
Caspersen is also performing in two of Forsythe’s more traditional evening works, I Don’t Believe In Outer Space (premiering Friday, July 5) and Sider at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele in Wilmersdorf.
How did you first become involved with the Ballet Frankfurt?
I wasn’t aware of Bill’s work until I came through Frankfurt pretty much by accident when I was 23 and on an audition tour of Europe. Once I got into the studio and saw the work that was happening, and the open vitality of the environment, I was fascinated. Bill hired me the same day.
A character you present in I Don’t Believe in Outer Space was described by one British critic as a “suburban Minnie Mouse”. What was your inspiration for that section?
I actually play two characters at once in Outer Space; one is the deeply tense and proper character the critic was describing and the other is the crazed, somewhat lascivious, funny but very inappropriate neighbour who comes to call. I flip back and forth at high speed between the characters as they have their conversations and confrontations. When I began developing the characters, one of the things I was thinking about was the wonderful, complex intensity of the scenes and characters created by David Lynch and the actors he works with. The characters in Outer Space took on their own life and invaded the piece.
This power ascribed to the characters makes it sound a lot like a theatre piece. Do you think there’s still a difference between the two genres of dance and theatre?
For me, there is no difference. I think any form of shaped, live event that engages the human capacity for transformative seeing – whether it is a pure dance work, a text/character-based work or a giant bouncy castle – is theatre. It’s just a matter of the medium you choose to work with.
If you had to pick one, which would be your favourite Forsythe piece?
I don’t think I could choose. I have been in the company for 25 years now and the work has such a diverse breadth. One of the things I love the most about Bill’s work and working with Bill is that the pieces themselves are always a kind of flowering of what lies underneath. They aren’t fixed object-like things. They change constantly, in subtle or drastic ways, as time passes and people and circumstances change, so that the forces at the heart of the piece remain intact. Bill always moves.
Does your personal relationship with Forsythe affect the professional one?
We love to work together. We love to share our lives. The two aspects are sometimes intertwined and sometimes separate.
You’ve been an American expat in Germany for a while now. Does it feel different than when you first got here?
As a dancer/performer, I am very much part of a wandering, international tribe. My sense of this web of relationship has deepened over the years; I feel connected to Germany and to the US, but mostly I feel internationally grounded.
You completed a master’s degree in conflict studies. Where did your interest in that field begin?
At a certain point in my life, after encountering a number of challenging conflict situations, I decided there had to be a better way to be present with conflict and I went looking for it. What I have found has been so fascinating and exciting. Like theatre, conflict is a place of possibility, and our capacity to engage its energies determines, to a large degree, what happens. We shape the world, whether we are conscious of it or not, and we can choose our actions.
Have you noticed an effect on your artistic practice?
My artistic practice is definitely fed by thinking about the systems and dynamics of conflict. I think about choreography differently now. I am curious about what it means to be part of creating larger systems that enable conflict to emerge in productive ways. I think I have also developed a kind of heightened relishing of the intensity and beauty of human emotion and drive; how the seemingly impossible tangles that we get into are also the locus – and site of potential flowering – of what is important to us.
You wrote “We work on how to release into these complex coordinations of the body, seeking clarity of articulation without inappropriate muscular control…” It sounds like a self-help programme! Is dancing another attempt to solve issues through movement?
I think dance is a basic human action, like speaking. We can use it to whatever purpose we choose, so conflict and dance are connected by our intentions, desires and capacities. We decide whether we use dance to close things down or open things up.