5 Questions to choreographer Ieva Kuniskis about her latest work, future plans and Brexit…

Ieva Kuniskis.<br />© Judita Kuniskyte. (Click image for larger version)
Ieva Kuniskis.
© Judita Kuniskyte. (Click image for larger version)

Ieva Kuniskis’ They Live Next Door is on tour through to March 2019 and is about to land at London’s Rich Mix – on 27 October 2018. Full Details

Ieva Kuniskis is a freelance choreographer and movement director from Lithuania, now based in London, working in dance and theatre. Her latest project, They Live Next Door (an earlier work was entitled He Lived Next Door) is currently touring until March 2019. Graham Watts posed some questions to Ieva (pronounced Yeah-va) about her work, Brexit and those people living next door.

How and where did you train and what were the major influences that brought you to choreography?

IK: My route into dance wasn’t conventional: I attempted ballroom when I was 8 but got kicked out for chatting; danced Lithuanian folk dance for a few months, but clogs were not my thing. I was much more into drama and theatre when I was young and only got my first taste of contemporary dance at 16 when a friend took me to a class – I fell in love instantly!

After moving to the UK, I only dabbled, taking an occasional adult class. Then one evening, after class, it dawned on me that I should take dance seriously. For the next three years I went to every class available, took my first ballet lesson at 23, dancing alongside eight-year-olds (they were very supportive), and I was accepted onto a Dance Studies degree at Middlesex University. Everything was new to me; I had no real contextual knowledge, but I gravitated towards choreography straightaway – enjoying the process in the studio much more than being on stage.

Mark Boldin and Nicholas Minns in Ieva Kuniskis' They Live Next Door.© Judita Kuniskyte. (Click image for larger version)
Mark Boldin and Nicholas Minns in Ieva Kuniskis’ They Live Next Door.
© Judita Kuniskyte. (Click image for larger version)

Contemporary dance, visual arts and physical theatre are incredibly strong in Lithuania. Why do you think that there is such a rich tradition in the contemporary arts?

IK: Contemporary dance only really emerged in Lithuania after its independence from the Soviet Union, in 1990. Contemporary arts were viewed as too subversive, not conforming to the strict Soviet propaganda agenda. I can’t describe to you (or fully comprehend myself, as I was still a child) what it is like to have your artistic freedom censored, stifled – you either conformed or you didn’t have the platform; in worst examples, artists faced exile. There were some contemporary dance companies (although I can only name one, Aura!), but the Soviet era dance scene was all ballet. Lithuanian theatre, on the other hand, was burgeoning and had a very strong identity.

Following Lithuanian independence, contemporary dance began to emerge: Aura began producing an annual festival in Kaunas, and later the New Baltic Dance Festival was born in Vilnius: opportunities to travel, collaborate and to freely explore and consume art, gave ground to a new generation of artists. Contemporary arts became part of the new European identity of Lithuania, and the cultural scene is now thriving.

Will Brexit affect you in any way – and, if so, how?

IK: Oh, Brexit… who really knows! I honestly don’t think about it much – there is so little real information that my brain overheats trying to untangle sound bites from facts. I do worry about how it will affect the independent dance scene here. I think collaboration and cultural exchange is key to retaining a vibrant art form and I am concerned about how a closed-door policy will affect this.

The UK has been my home for over 15 years, and my identity as a choreographer was in large part shaped here, but I am also Lithuanian and refuse to give up either identity. I think having both gives me a unique perspective that filters into my work.

They Live Next Door. Choreographer ieva Kuniskis. Trailer 2 NQ from Ieva Kuniskis on Vimeo.

Retaining strong ties with Europe is really important, there has to be openness, collaboration, exchange of ideas and resources to make sure that the UK dance scene evolves and doesn’t stagnate. And I certainly am determined to retain a creative relationship – in this bridge between my two homes – after Brexit.

The performance of They Live Next Door at Rich Mix, London (27 October) is part of a cross-arts festival of Lithuanian work called Vilnius Takes Over and that is one of the ways to keep a strong relationship going! It’s so worth it!

They Live Next Door is about the association of two men – the clue seems to be in the title but can you explain the narrative arc.

IK: It’s a show that draws you in close-up as a relationship between these two men unravels. There is tenderness and manipulation, love and fully-blown conflict between them as they attempt to communicate; the relationship seems so dysfunctional at times, but they have so much shared history, so they keep going.

Intentionally, I haven’t revealed what that relationship is – are they friends, neighbours, lovers, brothers…? I want to leave room for the audience to fill in those gaps and imagine their own narrative. It is a story that I hope will be familiar – the emotional turmoil they go through, many of us have experienced or witnessed it. Hence “They Live Next Door” – this could be happening right next door to you, how much do we really know about people in our lives, how much do we engage with our surroundings?

Mark Boldin and Nicholas Minns in Ieva Kuniskis' They Live Next Door.© Judita Kuniskyte. (Click image for larger version)
Mark Boldin and Nicholas Minns in Ieva Kuniskis’ They Live Next Door.
© Judita Kuniskyte. (Click image for larger version)

I don’t want to give away too much more, as I hate to prescribe what audiences should see – with all my work I like to leave that space, so you can fill in the gaps with your own history, your own experience, so that, if asked, each audience member would share a different perspective on a similar story.

What can you tell us about future plans for this work and other projects?

IK: They Live Next Door has its final date of 2018 on 27 October at Rich Mix, and then we come back in spring 2019 with three more UK dates. In the meantime, I am starting work on a new project with the working title of Breakfast, which follows a family journey. I won’t give away too much, but there will be a large family table, dough and more beautiful music. It will be my most ambitious work to date and I can’t wait to dive into the process.

I always look forward to breakfast! Thank you and the best of luck for all that you aim to do.

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