An Interview with Dana Caspersen of Ballett Frankfurt

by Holly Messitt

October 2003 – As Ballett Frankfurt's October appearance at BAM's Next Wave Festival is most likely the last time that we will get to see the company in this city, I contacted Dana Caspersen, a dancer with the company, to ask about her reflections on the company, their relationship with the city of Frankfurt, and her plans for the future.

Q: You’ve been with Ballett Frankfurt for over 15 years. What are some of your highlights during your tenure there?

A: It would be hard to pick out particular highlights. I’ve had the fortune to work with a group of extraordinary artists on a large and varied series of projects throughout the years.

Q: There has been much written about William Forsythe’s collaborative process with his dancers. Can you explain the process from your perspective?

A: Bill creates a situation where something can arise. He has an extremely strong instinct for the possible, and a delight in transformation. The process of creation always involves collaboration to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the piece. Dancers will choreograph, write music, create costumes, write text, create structure, etc. The field is open. For a longer look at some of the creative processes that we’ve gone through, check out the article that I wrote for Choreography and Dance , “It Starts From Any Point” which has been re-printed on the Ballett Frankfurt website.

Q: Has this process changed you as a dancer?

A: It has taught me that a piece is not something that can be forced into being, but rather is a thing which has it’s own internal systems of logic, of functioning. It’s like a weather system. This means that performance, to be successful, is about the performer’s ability to sense what needs to transpire in a constantly changing environment.

Q: You wrote some poetic observations of the four pieces that Ballett Frankfurt brought to the Next Wave festival at BAM. Can you describe what you see as you watch others dance?

A: When I watch great dancers, I see how form loves time. I see how a human is a gorgeous palimpsest of the inscriptions that time makes on form.

Q: Why this program at this time?

A: It requires a kind of ecstatic attention. It is a kind of distillation of the thinking that we’ve been doing over these last years. It is a pure look at the ravenous intellect of the body, which is under-rated.

Q: Do you have any comment about political structure of arts funding in Germany ? It does seem ironic that some of the world’s most innovative work is coming out of the conservative state-run system in Germany . Yet, this innovation is also part of the problem between the company as it stands now and some Frankfurt politicians. Does the system of state funding undercut creative freedom in your opinion?

A: The truly phenomenal support that we have received from the city of Frankfurt , up until now, is what has allowed us to do our work. State funding has never undercut our creative freedom, but rather saved us from spending our time fundraising and doing Nutcrackers to scrape by. I know that in the US there is often a good deal of inhibition and direction that comes along with funding, whether via the government or from sponsors and boards, but, up to this point, this has not been the case in Germany . However, the funding for arts in general in Germany has greatly decreased, although it is still massive compared to the meager drippings in the US, and as ever, dance, being the least tangible of the arts, receives the first blow.

I would not label the system of state support “conservative”, in and of itself it is a boon to the society and to the artists. However, as we have seen in Frankfurt , if inept, non-visionary people are put into positions of power in a system like this, as in any system, the result can indeed be one of thoughtless restriction and destruction.

Q: What do you plan for your future?

A: I personally would like to continue to perform and write, we are still waiting to see if support materializes for some kind of a company.


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