Interview with Katja Heitmann
choreographer of For iTernity

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Katja Heitmann. I am a choreographer, but I’m not really creating dance.
I rather observe the world around me from out a choreographical view and transform this into unconventional performance-formats.
Originally I am coming from Germany / Hamburg. I studied at the Fontys Dance Academy in Tilburg and since my graduation in 2012 I am living and working in the Netherlands.

What is your opinion on the social relevance of theatre?
Theatre and arts can provide an intuitive and non-verbal way to address things and thoughts that you cannot reason, you cannot express in words or logic. Through transforming thoughts and actions in an abstract manner people might have a new ‘understanding’ or even a ‘not-understanding’. I think this is a very important part of being human: to be able to understand, to accept to not always understand, to be able to wonder, to remember that not everything needs to be efficient or logical, to question the existing and therefore think up new thoughts. In this way of thinking theatre and arts is of huge relevance to mankind.

What drives you to be creative?
I actually don’t know or better I don’t want to know…
Actually I never want to be done… I never really want to be finished, never want to be there… each work I create keeps me going or better I keep myself going…
As an artist you have to find your own truth. There is no rule, nobody can tell you if the choices you made in a work are ‘correct’ or not. That’s why you have to keep on working, searching, trying to find your truth in every next work… it is a never ending task, which in my eyes stands for all of us… If I ever will think that a work is done, then I should better stop I guess…

I always keep on questioning my work, so I will never get stuck in a formula. If something becomes a formula, it is losing its soul. You can see this everywhere in our society. There are too many things which are just done to keep the formula alive. But the original function has been lost… it is like making a piece on stage because the stage needs to be filled…

And maybe if I know the answer on this question, I should stop as well…

For iTernity is a requiem for an eternal dying swan. Why did you choose this motive?
With For iTernity I wanted to create an never-ending dance performance. A dance performance which could last forever, so it cannot die anymore. For me the virtual world is a next step of humanity longing to become immortal. At least now all our online profiles will keep on living, although our bodies still can die.

This idea of immortality I transformed on the famous ballet solo “the dying swan”, danced by Anna Pavlova in 1905. Could the dying swan in our current era of virtual immortality still die at all? I wanted to create a modern version of the dying swan which in the virtual world cannot die anymore: so the eternal dying swan…

Furthermore I researched the development of this ballet solo from 1905 until now. It is striking, however the dance material stayed the same, that the aesthetics and body of the ballerina look very different nowadays than 100 years ago. Anna Pavlova interprets this dance in a very expressive way, the solo was not about her technique but about her unique expression. Within the years you can see that the solo is executed more and more technical and accurate. The ballerinas push their skills to the highest perfection, their bodies are way thinner, more trained. The dying swan of  the 21st century is dying in a very controlled, perfectionized and staged way. This evolution of the dying swan stands for me for our evolution in general society and daily life…

Your performance is inspired by the coming of the virtual world. What is your view on the coming of the virtual world and what influence does this has on you personally?
For me as a choreographer the virtual reality is a very fascinating phenomena, because it is not physical. However our virtual world seems to get more and more impact on our daily life and therefore on our physical world. There is no clear border anymore. So we are moved by an intangible world which is there and not there at the same time. The invention of this virtual reality stands for our everlasting search for finding the truth. Humans always tried to understand the incomprehensible aspects of life, to make the invisible visible and therefore get grip on our existence. This is an never ending search and we will never see the whole complexity of life (whatever this may be). The internet is for me a perfect symbol for this: a system, we created, and which is becoming so complex that we cannot understand it anymore. We do see some parts but cannot grasp the whole anymore…

The music you use in your performance is by Mozart, yet it is sung by Trisha Paytas. Trisha Paytas is a very special YouTube-vlogger but also very special as a person. Why have you chosen to use her lyrics and her voice in your performance? What message would you like to give to the audience with these texts?
(answered by Sander, composer/music-editor) The creational process of For iTernity started – besides the idea for creating an everlasting performance – with Katja’s dogma to find all inspirational material exclusively on the internet. We already virtually worked with Trisha and she became sort of our ‘muse’. We found out that she died on Wikipedia. Well, somebody pulled a prank on her, but her vlog-story about this was so genuine and personal and the thought of dying on Wikipedia and crying about this on YouTube was very inspiring. I wondered if we could make her sing. For accompanying an immortal dance piece we choose to use a requiem, and Mozart’s requiem can be found online as midi (digital music-notation). With this midi-file and autotune-software I could indeed make Trisha sing, without her even knowing about it. We knew this was right: a vlogger singing her own requiem about her own virtual death. Above all Mozart’s genius makes it sound soothing, which was good because the experience needs a soothing and almost sacral musical environment. We hacked and harmonized Trisha and Mozart, so to speak. In the end it took me one full day of labour per minute of music, but hearing Trisha sing makes it all worthwhile.

Why have you chosen to perform your piece in a public space?
I think the virtual reality is like a new public space, although we can shape it much more easily than the physical space. But can we really control it? That is why the visitors will recognize the physical background in the ‘augmented reality’ I created, to link this reality to physical public space. Every time we film the dance on the same spot as we perform the installation. When we filmed and performed For iTernity in a shopping mall, also the regular shoppers in the mall were eternalized. This became a meaningful extra, because it is nice to recognize and follow ‘real’ people, and now it also comments our presence – for example via security cameras – in this virtual ‘public space’.
I’m very happy with our location on the Neude. I hope the regular city-inhabitants will play a beautiful role and come visit at night to see themselves. I’m always looking for more places and people to ‘eternize’!

Why do you let the audience play such a big role in your performance?
Besides filming people in the preparations, I think a performance or artwork is always co-created with the audience. Even if you – as audience - are sitting on a chair, you still have the responsibility for your own expectations and perception. And - like I wrote before – I believe that everybody has to seek their own truth. Even though nobody has a big enough scope to see the complete picture.

This happens – quite literally – in For iTernity. Your screen is not big enough to see the whole projection, or all what happens around you. You will only see a small, fragmented part of it. But you yourself can decide what you see, which size and for how long. You can even (for the more creative people among us) create your own unique image of the dying swan: distorting her, make her move in unexpected ways or blend her together with her clones.
So you as a spectator decide how long the performance will take for yourself. The performance is always there but just becomes visible by the presence of the spectator.

However, the most beautiful thing that happens, and we didn’t anticipate on this, is that people start to work together in the installation. They combine their screens to be able to see the whole picture, to make more of the projections visible and even move together to follow the dance.
Well… this might give us a little hope for the future;)
… that technology can also play an positive role and does not isolate people, but even get us back again in contact with each other in the physical world.