Interview with Ivana Jozic, part 1: Opening the channels of expressiveness…

August 16, 2010

Back in May this year, performer Ivana Jozic led a workshop titled Imagination / Transformation at the Tala Dance Centre in Zagreb. Ivana graciously found some time to give me an interview about her career and artwork. This talk was also possible thanks to choreographer and one of the founders of  Tala Dance Centre – Tamara Curic.

Ivana Jozic in the Angel of Death, photo by Jorge Molder (c)

Ivana Jozic is a stunning and uncompromising performer who works with the theatre company Troubleyn/Jan led by Jan Fabre. The media and critics usually call her ‘the muse of Jan Fabre’. Because I like to have on Body Pixel people hungry for exploring new art territories, it was quite natural to invite Ivana for a talk. This interview is not a follow up of Jan Fabre’s interview I did two years ago with him, but a deeper scan into expressiveness of  Ivana Jozic and her reasons to work with this Renaissance man.

I’m interested in your switch from classical to modern ballet… When and how this happened? You were educated in contemporary dance in London…

IJ: I’ve danced classical ballet for 9 nine years, since I was 8 years onwards. During the last two, three years it was quite clear that I will move to modern ballet. This world of classical ballet is phenomenal for growing up. You know, I grew up in a fairy tale. I have spent my whole childhood dancing in the National Theatre House in children roles, but this world became to me way too hermetical.

Then I started watching contemporary dance performances and this world really attracted me a lot. At first, the movements of contemporary dance begun to attract me in a sense of expressiveness, even more then the classical ballet.

This transition from classical to modern ballet happened like this: I went for some time, secretly, to modern dance classes, because at that time we weren’t allowed to visit modern ballet classes. Back then, but today it’s allowed to study both. We weren’t allowed to have a modern technique because it could ruin our classical technique, that was the opinion at that time. Secretly, I’ve visited classes led by Croatian choreographer Mare Sesardic.

After this, I passed the audition in London, because there were no academies for dance in Zagreb. Everything happened spontaneously, and this is when I ‘swam’ into the world of contemporary dance.

After my graduation, I got a job in one dance company and I began to ‘clarify’ what I really want to do, how I would like to express myself within the media; actually a search has began.

What was like to study contemporary dance in London?

IJ: I have to admit it was really intensive. Dance schools in England are very good, they are at some point very, very analytically oriented. Honestly, there were moments when school simply ‘killed’ my desire for dance. People in England are very analytical in pretty much everything, same goes for dance. Sometimes, this analytical approach can simply destroy this instinctive desire for movement in dance. At these moments I didn’t realize that this is going to be very useful to me a few years later.

That was really an intensive period of my life, school started at 8am, then lots of classes and afterwards some part time job (waitress or something like that) in order to survive.

Ivana Jozic, photo taken from (c)

When this period of obtuseness from these analysis ended (laughs) … then I really realized how much of knowledge and experience they actually have given me…

Today; I base some of my knowledge on the foundations they gave me. My process was really long, this process of education. Afterwards it just happened that I forgot everything, and then it all came back in some other form. And now, everything I’ve learned during staying in London and my professional experience, I’m using it altogether.

Yeah, it’s a mash up of experiences and creative forces… What techniques did you practice in England?

IJ: This ballet I’ve studied was more focused towards contemporary dancers, not ballet as aesthetics, but as training. Then we had all scale of contemporary dance techniques, such as: Graham, Limon, Release and all possible techniques. We had also theory and history of dance, anatomy, nutrition, Feldenkrais, Alexander, some yoga, choreography, choreology.

Since the school is divided into two departments; choreographers and dancers. It was quite natural that choreographers used dancers from the same school in their productions. Well, I think that the most important thing is that this school has its own theatre, a public theatre and that’s The Place. That gave the opportunity to students to showcase their choreographies in completely professional surrounding.


Photo: Ivana Jozic, taken from

They had to ‘fight’ with everything – costumes, light, the space… They had to prepare for what comes after – the real life and its battles. I might have learned the most from those mutual collaborations between dancers and choreographers while I was studying in London, because we were together looking for new ideas. And, of course, the school was multicultural, and you could sense different experience in such cases. People from different sides of the world had completely different point of view over our bodies, and that was so interesting to me.

Yeah, different perception… Can you sense this with your audience? Now, when you are fully plugged in as a performer and dancer…

IJ: Absolutely! Especially as a performer, not only as a dancer. Now, I feel the audience even more, because I’m addressing them more then I used to when I was a dancer exclusively. It’s not so common to address directly the audience; it’s more bodily and abstract. I’ve sensed this particularly in the performance The Angel of Death, where the audience is sitting close to me from all sides. I can sense them in the moment as I open my eyes.

I feel them and I know exactly how they breathe. I know from the beginning of the performance whether it’s going to be hard ‘to have them’ or ‘I have them’ from the beginning. Those differences are very, very interesting. It’s interesting to see how the same things in the same performance may seem completely different in different countries. To some it’s insulting, others find it fantastic, some stay cold and others enter deeply in it. I’m talking general now, of course. But there are huge differences between the audiences, absolutely.


Photo: JP Stoop (c)

Did you have a breakthrough as a performer before you began working with Jan Fabre?

IJ: A BREAK happened to me! (laughs). But a real break, you know, because I broke a knee. I broke a ligament during skiing (laughs bashfully)…

Oh, it’s a nightmare of every dancer….

IJ: Well, yes… but strangely, it’s good that it happened in that moment. At that time, I haven’t danced for two years, and after this injury I said to myself: OK, now I have to find somebody I can really trust as author or I will simply stop dancing. I haven’t danced between ages of 26 to 28, but I trained hard, about 5 hours per day. Just to stay in good form, but I couldn’t dance. But this break gave me a lot of space for decision-making. Sometimes when you work constantly you tend to forget what you really want. Work, work, work!

Sure… but then the audition for Jan Fabre’s performance happened, right?

IJ: Yeah. It was right about the time when I wanted to leave my company. So, I came to the audition and passed, I entered the project. I remember Jan asking me: ‘How healthy are you?’ I said: YES, YES, I’m healthy! (laughs) But truly, I couldn’t kneel, I was doing everything at the audition practically only on one leg! (laughs). That was my breakthrough! I’m not a type of person who knows from the beginning what to want. I came to most of the things within the elimination processes. It was my destiny to try all these techniques and styles in my life. I think I would be completely different performer without it, following only one straight line.


Angel of Death, Ivana Jozic, photo: Theatre Troubleyn (c)

What do you think, what or who was the most crucial while you were forming as a performer?

IJ: That’s a hard question. I can’t say that something had been more important. Everything was important to me. After a classical ballet school, doesn’t matter how much it was Russian oriented and hard for a small child, this school gave me unbelievable discipline. After this, my discipline has never been an issue to me. Afterwards, in contemporary dance school my colleagues would look at me strangely, because they had an issue with discipline and for me it was like something innate.

I also got musicality in ballet school, a sense for music and tempo. I had to play a piano and so. I got a strong background in rhythm and musicality, and not many contemporary dancers have it. This is something you can develop; you need some time for it. I think that it’s very important to have your own rhythm in your own body, even if you aren’t a dancer or a performer.


Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day, photo: Theatre Troubleyn (c)

You can dance in silence too, and that’s something very important in such cases. This inner rhythm is extremely important, because otherwise, as audience, you can sense that there is something missing in this performance. Timing, the suspension of speed, then going slowly and moving in different dynamics.

What I got in London during the education period I was definitely exposed to the Western approach to body, something more organic. Classical ballet can looks rather imposed to our bodies, especially if you don’t have enough opened body.

What also happened to be crucial was definitely the audience experience during my staying in London. Because I started to create a sort of view on what I saw. Not only about contemporary dance, but about theatre in general.

With whom did you start to use words on the stage?

IJ: I had my first experience with words on the stage with the company Déjà Donné. It was really hard to start to talk on the stage (laughs) against my will. But then I have discovered WORDS and the performance itself, not only dance. Of course, it was only a small segment compared to things I’m doing now. But what was really important, is that I have discovered that this is the direction I want go to. I decided that being an abstract dancer exclusively is not what I want.

After that, I was a freelance artist long enough, and I have learned to work with myself only, which I find very important for a dancer. Meaning to use all this knowledge in certain practical situations, such as warming up, taking care about your own body, making decision with whom you want to work, and making some selections.


Angel of Death, Ivana Jozic, photo: Theatre Troubleyn (c)

Then you started to work with Jan…

IJ: Yes! With Jan was like he drilled a balloon through which all things came out (laughs)… Therefore, I ‘gave a birth’ by working with him (laughs), as I like to say. All this experience I previously had was finally ready to step up.  But naturally, I was ready for this and I allowed him to do this. It was a mutual trust.

Did you have such experiences with choreographers with whom you worked before?

IJ: No, I didn’t believe much in others in the artistic sense. I think that’s very important. It happens normally in every performance that you have to do some things on the stage that you don’t like, it happened also to me while working with Jan. But I believe in his general image and I know what he wants to say. After a while this situation becomes natural to you as a performer, and it becomes less important, because the message is now in the first place.


Photo: Troubleyn (c)

I followed Jan’s ideas because I really believed his vision and what he wanted to express. As a performer I became less important to myself, in a sense how I’m going to do this or that. I lost babbittry while working with him. I find crucial for a performer to lose ego. You can be a good performer in the moment when you lose your ego. You are a plasticine, not in a negative sense… you should be a plasticine of the director, his meat. It’s upon you to make this plasticine alive. Director can put you in some particular form, and you have to give it the breath.

It’s important that you don’t have a problem being modelled by somebody else, because he’s doing it with good intentions. This is exactly what happened with us. I think this trust is a reason why I never had a problem to open to him, both as a human being and artist. I believe he was the strongest artist till then in my life, which made it considerably easier to me to open to him.

Read here the second part of the interview with Ivana Jozic

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