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Amsterdam born, Nanine Linning is a choreographer passionate about the world of art and the magic and riches it holds. Her work is layered, multidisciplinary and in a constant state of flux. She is a woman always ready to take a step into the unknown, and this season she takes on a new challenge as she makes her first choreography for the Stuttgart Ballet. She discusses with ICONS what is important in her life and her chosen career.

ICONS: What made you become a choreographer?

Nanine Linning: Since I was little, I had the desire to tell stories in a physical way and I wanted to share my passion with other people. What fascinates me in art is dance, drama, music, sculpture, and architecture but also science like psychology, neurology, and biotechnology. These fields have shaped my being. 


I grew up with art; it was the essence of our family. My dad was an architect; my mom was an anthropologist. They would take me to the opera, to museums, to churches, to concerts and dance performances. We were always connected with visions from artists, questioning or mirroring society. Where is the source of your own inspiration and passion? And what creativity can you give to society? I started playing violin when I was very young. I created paintings and sculptures, and at three or four years old I was dancing around the house and improvising. My parents supported me to discover life and to travel freely.


ICONS: What shaped your choreographic style?


NL: In my late teens I started with contemporary technique, then ballet a little later but I think I am the artist I am today because I haven’t been pushed into a technique or a style from an early age. I have always created from my own source and validated that. Feeling comfortable in the unknown has helped me develop my own artist’s signature and to develop my own body language. 


ICONS: Did you consider becoming a performer?

NL: When I was growing up, I thought of dancing and choreography as one thing. I created my dances and I performed them. Then, at around 13 years of age, I saw a performance of the Dutch National Ballet and I realized that the dancers on stage were not the people who created it. Then I realized that is my identity; I wanted a voice and I wanted to be the mastermind behind everything. It hit home and totally excited me. I don’t need to be the person on stage performing -- I am more interested in people who can enhance my creativity with their performance. 
ICONS: You are now working with Stuttgart Ballet rather than working with your handpicked group of dancers. Is this a different process?

NL: The difference is in the educational background. For my dancers this is contemporary; for Stuttgart the base is ballet. It creates different body awareness and a different way of physical coordination. With my own company, the co-creatorship is more intense because we have more time for research, but the Stuttgart dancers are so open to trying anything and incredibly fast. There is a lot of excitement in the studio. I am very inspired to be working with these gorgeous dancers; they open a new realm of possibilities for me to express. I want to continue to collaborate with ballet dancers and even incorporate the use of pointe shoes in my dance language.



ICONS: Do such highly trained dancers find it difficult to move in a more contemporary way?


NL: I love highly trained dancers. Nothing is better than a Stradivarius, nothing is better than Bach and nothing is better than a phenomenal dancer. So, I never strip down -- I add to their artistry. They are super dedicated to their passion and are eager to learn how I move. 




ICONS: What is your working method?

NL: I have worked for ten years with dramaturge Peggy Olislaegers. We brainstorm and discuss all my visions, my ideas, my passions until I get to a point where things start to resonate. It’s about opening a door, finding a new door behind the door and then another behind that door. Sometimes it also means going back and closing a few doors. But it’s a phenomenal process and so inspiring how we share and learn from each other. I visualize the process in advance -- how I want to work and what methods I want to use. I prepare for almost a year for a new creation. I work relentlessly, like a possessed person, developing a story, a concept, an idea to layer on many levels, kinesthetically and visually. Then I spend a lot of time with my creative team to develop it. So basically, I come into the studio with a scenario, a script full of music cues, a script of the imagery, the spatial architecture, the movement quality I am looking for and a clear dramaturgical line.

ICONS: How is your process in the studio? Do you prepare some movement vocabulary?

NL: I do, but I really like each concept to dominate the movement. I really listen to the concept, so my pieces are sometimes very different because one thought is not the same as another. Then I ask my dancers to be co-creators. I bring in a vast amount of inspiration, the images, the books, the documentaries, the photos and my sketches of the costume and we start a conversation. I take a lot of time to research with the dancers to create experiences together to give them physical information that we can use later in the process. I am less interested in dancers just executing my steps. I am very hungry for an exchange, deeper insights, and different angles. The dancers bring in their personal vision; life and art are not separated. I see the studio as a research platform and a playground. It’s a place where we don’t judge, a place where we think with our heads, our bodies, and our spirits.

I like dancers who have trained their instrument to a very refined level and still know how to connect with primal, human behavior. For me, body language is the primal language. Body language was there before spoken language and everyone can read it; it’s the way to talk with an audience. The next step is to communicate through stories, aesthetics, emotions and so on. I like to give the audience the opportunity to identify themselves with the people and the stories on stage so it resonates with them in an intimate way. They then forget the rationality of … ‘do I understand it?’ By tuning in to the body language of the dancers, the audience starts reading the piece physically, feeling it, taking in the emotions. That I think is crucial. Body language is universal, like music, it’s so strongly embedded in us as a species. Both speak to us on a visceral level in our gut.

ICONS: The Stuttgart programme celebrates the founding of the Bauhaus Movement in 1919.  Is Bauhaus relevant today?

NL: When Tamas [Detrich] gave me this commission we discussed the ideas of Bauhaus and the context of the ‘Weimar Verfassung’. It was the first law for German democracy established in 1919, as we know it today. It was a huge thing to say in 1919 that men and women are equal, that everyone has freedom of speech, no gender, no class, no social status. I have been observing with great sadness - and excitement - the Women’s March, #MeToo, the Time’s Up Movement, Black Lives Matter, so many of these revolutions and to tell you the truth, we haven’t achieved what was set out 100 years ago. So, in that sense, I am very sad and at the same time, I am excited that I see people today standing up for themselves, speaking out and demanding equality. It’s urgent and necessary that we continue to do so. Because without freedom of expression I cannot be an artist, the audience cannot see art, we cannot be ourselves, we cannot live the true core of ourselves.


ICONS: As a female choreographer, has it been challenging for you to work in a male-dominated profession? Has this been an issue for you?

NL: Well, about 10 years ago my passion to do an opera got stronger and stronger. I wanted to direct and choreograph operas next to my practice as a choreographer. And then I realized that in the Netherlands at that moment, I needed to be over 50 and I needed to be a man in order to be taken seriously! It was absolutely not acceptable for a young woman to have this desire. I found the opportunities in Germany where I have been given the chance twice and in December 2019, I am going to create the third opera.


This was the moment probably when I realized that in general,l the art world is very male-dominated. I really encourage women to choreograph and bring a female perspective on art, a female point of view and female energy.But the bottom line is that I want to be taken seriously because of my art and not because of my gender. I am also very aware of how privileged I am. Let’s face it, I am a blonde woman and I would have a very different life if my skin was black, if I was gay or if I was living in Saudi Arabia.


ICONS: Many dancers know little of film techniques. Do you have a different approach to your dancers when directing a video/ film section?

NL: What I envy in films is the possibility of close-up. To bring your audience so close, so intimate, so under the skin of the performers. This is something very special and gives a completely different way to identify with the character or the person. So, I created concepts where the audience is on the stage in the performance, so they have an interactive immersion, an all-around physical experience. It’s not me on stage and you in the audience with the orchestra pit separating us, but just a meter distance. It taught my dancers and me how to deal with intimacy, and as a performer, you discover there are completely different rules. So, with that experience under their skin, the dancers understand very well the proximity of the camera and the interaction of the camera in a dance film. The camera movement is as choreographed as the dancers.


ICONS: In your productions, you often create incredible intimacy with the bodies. Does this excite you?

NL: Yes, the body is the most beautiful artwork on this planet. To capture that and enjoy the complexity and the knowledge of the body is, for me, crucial. Shapes are helpful to literally shape ideas, but I am looking way beyond that. I want my audience to have a transcendental experience to see the spiritual being and the energy coming out of a body. Movements are a beginning, a vehicle, for this inner dream, a vehicle for the soul to speak. It was when I started diving, I realized the third dimensionality of the body under water and the possibilities you don’t have in a studio. I don’t like to accept gravity and I use every opportunity to defy gravity. Sometimes I do it with dancers manipulating other dancers, like lifting and sometimes I develop it in the concept of my pieces to use the space on stage above the dancers. 


ICONS: Do you find audiences open up to your dreams?

NL: Very much so. I think my audiences come with a notion that they can expect the unexpected. The connection with the audience is through the dramaturgical construction you give, and then you take them on a journey. From the moment the performance starts, I look for ways to get them out of their daily ‘to do’ list and aim to physically bring them into the here and now. By movement, by music, by costume, by lights, I create a new world that they can dive into. I ask my dancers to invite the audience in. I also speak to dancers about creating magic in the auditorium. Magic is where things start to fly, where the brain is no longer steering, and the subconscious mind bubbles up. It is that transcendental feeling that your life is moving in a very different way.


Another thing I want from my dancers is to create secrets inside themselves, so people become curious and want to follow. We as dancers have been trained a lot to present and, don’t get me wrong, we need those moments too when the audience needs a statement. But we also need a magnet to pull the audience to us. I continue to discover more and more with dancers, how to connect their artistry, their secrets and their passion with the spectator. The moment I feel I have done a good job is when I see a dancer let go and dare to take a step into the unknown and be really free, free to transform in any way they can and share that courage with our audiences.


ICONS: During the creative process when is your happiest time? In the studio, on the stage, or watching the finished product?

NL: Well, I’m very grateful for the moments when things click together, and that magic is in the air. But I love it all. I love to watch my dancers perform, and it is sometimes also confronting to watch my choreography. I am very critical of myself and continue year after year to rework pieces if I have the possibility. There is always more to give and more to improve. Working with a new cast, deepening the emotional and psychological layers is so exciting, and diving into myself like an archaeologist to discover new meaning.

ICONS: Does it excite you that your piece is developing with each performance?

NL: Yes it’s a wonderful process. But I feel moments of sadness that, unlike visual artists who have in the end sculptures or paintings, I have nothing. My work only exists in the bodies of dancers, and then just a couple of dark videos. On the other hand, I am so blessed that every night I can improve, recreate, rework, add, change, and take out so there is not one evening the same. 

ICONS: For someone who strives for innovation, what is consistent in your work? 

NL: The multi-disciplinary nature of it, the many artistic views I bring to creation and the risks I take. I really love to challenge myself and to do things I have not done before. I think it must be a journey for the audience, it must bring them somewhere to a new point of view. Physically my dance language is extreme. I love that because I want power coming out of the body, a lot of energy, a high pitch under the skin, and emotional intensity. I want an experience that lives after the applause, that stays with the audience, that resonates with them.


ICONS: What would you, the Nanine of today, advise the young Nanine just starting out?

NL: Love your icons, but remember who you are yourself. There was a point in my career when I had William Forsythe sitting on one shoulder and Pina Bausch on the other. I would be in the studio with these two ‘talking’ in my ear. This gave me great courage and strength, but I had to sometimes tell them, ‘Leave the studio right now! I need to be my own artist, I have to do it my way.’ It’s great to have icons and you learn so much by observing everything they do. At the same time, you can only follow your inner voice if you want to be authentic. You cannot live someone’s career, someone’s life. Another thing I learnt quite early is that to be an interesting artist you have to create an interesting life for yourself. You really need to live life to the fullest to give something of value to an audience. 

ICONS: Where do you think you will be heading in the next decade?

NL: I have some new territories I want to discover. I am very excited to be working with ballet companies, orchestras and different visual artists. At the same time, I will be working in the field of opera and in the museum, going multi-disciplinary and across disciplines. I am surrounded by phenomenal artists from outside of the dance world, from whom I learn a lot, and they feed me to see my life, my work and myself completely differently.

ICONS: You have been showered with awards. How would you like to be acknowledged?

NL: I’m grateful if people feel the work is relevant to their lives. I want to inspire and share my passion. Sometimes you feel it in the applause or a nice personal letter; sometimes it comes in the form of severe criticism or an award. I just want to touch people’s lives. That is the most important thing and I don’t need anything in return.

Video Sample of Nanine's Work:



More about Nanine Linning:


After graduating from Rotterdam Academy of Dance, CODARTS, Dutch choreographer Nanine Linning founded her own company, NANINELINNING.NL. From 2001 – 2006 she was appointed resident choreographer for Scapino Ballet. In 2009 she was appointed an artistic director and chief choreographer at Theater Osnabrück. Then, in 2012, she headed the newly established dance company in Heidelberg where her work, as before, attracted large audiences. In Heidelberg, she became a founding member of both Festival Tanzbiennale and the Choreographic Centre. Her multiple awards include nominations for the ‘Dutch NPS Culture’ (2000) and the German ‘Faust’ Award (2012 and 2013) for Voice Over and Zero respectively. Her Requiem (2015) for Konzert Theater Bern won her the Swiss Dance Award. Linning’s work continues to draw enthusiastic acclaim in European cultural journals. 
In 2019 Stuttgart Ballet and National Theater Weimar will co-produce AUFBRUCH to celebrate the centenary of the Weimar Constitution and the Bauhaus movement. As part of the triple bill, Linning has been commissioned to create Revolt, which opens on March 28 in Schauspielhaus, Stuttgart. March also sees the revival of HIERONYMUS B., initially premiered in 2015 at Theatre Heidelberg for the 500th anniversary of the death of Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch. The new premiere, staged by Opera House Halle/Saale, opens on March 16. Since 2016/17 Linning has been the artistic director/curator of the International Competition for Choreographers in Hanover. In 2018 and 2019 she will curate the dance program of Festspiele Ludwigshafen. 


As an independent choreographer, she currently tours with her own independent troupe, Dance Company Nanine Linning, starting with a tour of Germany and the Netherlands presenting Bacon, the production which won her ‘The Swan’, the annual ‘Oscar’ of the Dutch dance world.


Images and art photography in order of appearance from top to bottom: 

Nanine Linning, Photograph by Annemoone Take
Requiem, Photography by Philipp Zinniker, produced by Theater Osnabrück and Nanine Linning Foundation, performed by Konzert Theater Bern
Endless, Photography by Kalle Kuikkaniemi, produced by Theater und Orchester Heidelberg
The Black Painting, Photography by Regina Brocke, commissioned by Gautier Dance
Zero, Photography by Kalle Kuikkaniemi, produced by Theater und Orchester Heidelberg
Dusk, Photography by Kalle Kuikkaniemi, produced by Theater und Orchester Heidelberg
Zero, Photography by Phillipp Zinniker, produced by Theater und Orchester Heidelberg, performed by Konzert Theater Bern
Dusk, Photography by Kalle Kuikkaniemi, produced by Theater und Orchester Heidelberg


Interviewer: Maggie Foyer

Content Editor-in-Chief: Camilla Acquista
Dance ICONS, Inc., March 2019 © All rights reserved.