Johan Inger. Photo © Michael Slobodian

Ballet BC will perform the North American premiere of B.R.I.S.A., by Johan Inger, in Program 1, an evening shared with the world premiere of Eight Years of Silence by Cayetano Soto. I interviewed Johan by phone a couple of weeks ahead of the performance.

Performances run Nov.2-4, 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver. Tickets & info at

October 10, 2017

What was the inspiration for B.R.I.S.A.?

The word ‘brisa’ in Spanish means wind. The inspiration for it was change and awakenings. We wanted to create a group of people who were more or less stuck in their own world, in their own habits, and then create a small revolution that would slowly spread through their community.

Why were these themes meaningful at the time you created B.R.I.S.A.?

These themes have always been meaningful to me. I think I’ve worked with them in different ways in different ballets. It’s something that I keep coming back to now and then.

Did you change any of your own habits after creating this piece?

No, I can’t say it’s therapeutic in that way. I see habits in myself, but I didn’t put myself into the piece. I find it interesting when I see habits in other people and that gets me a bit curious. It doesn’t have to be negative or dramatic; it also can be very, you know, hysterical. In my profession I meet a lot of people and I find that inspiring.

What makes B.R.I.S.A. unique from your other works?

Firstly, it was made on younger dancers – Nederlands Dans Theater 2. I had always worked on traditional big stages with the orchestra pit and the dancers at a certain distance from the audience, and this was actually made on a much smaller stage, a black box theatre, where the audience and dancers are sharing the same space. So the format was different from what I had worked on before. Of course every piece is new, and every time I make a piece I do feel like a beginner. Meeting Nina Simone’s music was challenging and inspiring, working with the composer Amos Ben Tal was also a new experience, the set design – working on the carpet – was something I had never done before. There were a lot of new elements. Also, the journey that we decided for the piece was risky, because the truth is, B.R.I.S.A. is a very fragile piece. It’s very, very much up to how the dancers fill the ideas, the characters and the personalities, so it’s very crucial that they get it right.

How do you draw out these characters from the dancers?

I try to be as observant as I possibly can to see who the dancers are – meaning, in casting, I don’t only look at how they are doing the steps, but I look at what they are doing in the back and how they are interacting with other people. I try to get information about them and I try to get as close as I can. Of course, I’ve had to work on it. I’m not theatrically trained, so I don’t have a lot of tools apart from my experience on how to draw it out. So, with imagery or ideas, I try to verbalize my intentions. And, working with directions, or a feeling or an image, I try to explain as well as I can. But you need dancers who are willing to jump the fence, who are really willing to take that leap in order to find something different. Most of the time I feel like it gets there or close to it. Very few times, I have made a mistake in my decision and I’ve had to make a change, but that happens rarely.

Ballet BC is the second company to perform B.R.I.S.A. Does your work ever lose the specificity that you intended when you set it on dancers other than the original cast? What challenges do the dancers face?

I sometimes end up adapting things so a piece will suit the dancers better. Sometimes, I work with more classical-schooled dancers, sometimes I work companies like Ballet BC who are highly skilled modern dancers, so I’m not concerned about their technical capability. I think the challenge for them would be to find and discover the personalities of the piece. I have to adapt, and I have to be prepared that if I go to another company that there may be a slight compromise from when I did the piece with the original people it was created on. The truth is I’ve been lucky because every time I’ve come to a company, the dancers are open and excited, and from that, there’s a lot of great energy that contributes to the work – if they’re lacking in one aspect, they will fill it up with something else – so I’ve had very few experiences where I’ve left a company feeling disappointed.

I’ve read that Mats Ek was a great inspiration to you.

Yes, Mats Ek has been a big influence on me. I started as a classical dancer at a classical ballet school, and then I saw a piece from Mats, Gamla Barn (Old Children), that just shook my world. I was laughing, I was crying – I was so moved. It had a big impact on me.

What part of the body fascinates you and why?

The centre is important. Choreographically, in movement, I’m fascinated by the centre and its weight. I like movements that are grounded and come from within the gut. Imagine that all of the movements start from the stomach, and like waves, are thrown out to the body, so the body and the limbs react later – if you know what I mean – the movement is more interior than exterior. It’s the beginning of the movement that I find fascinating. When I see people who can really do that, I love that quality.