interview of the month
February 2020

»LIB« – Interview with choreographer Alexander Ekman

On December 8, Alexander Ekman's first creation for the Staatsballett Berlin, »LIB«, celebrated its premiere at Staatsoper Unter den Linden. In February, you can see his piece as part of a triple bill, »The Second Detail | LIB | Half Life«, also featuring choreographies by William Forsythe and Sharon Eyal, and in March, as part of the double bill »Ekman | Eyal«, at the Komische Oper Berlin. The ballet's co-director and long-time friend, Johannes Öhman, talked to the Swedish choreographer about taking his first steps in the dance world and his latest creation for the Staatsballett Berlin.

Johannes Öhman: You're only 35 years old, and you have been creating at opera venues many choreographers never get to work in, such as the Paris Opera. Where did it all begin?

Alexander Ekman: In Sweden. As a little boy, I was already dancing around all the time. It was pretty clear that I enjoyed it. My parents were very culturally interested. My father wanted me to go to a music school, and my mother wanted me to go to a ballet school. So, it was a bit of a fight. But I wanted to dance, so I started training. When I was 20, I tried choreographing at a workshop, and I was immediately hooked.

JÖ: Could you point out some highlights in your career?

AE: There have been so many. The first time I made a piece for a bigger theatre, I think it was the Lucien Dance Theatre, for about 1,000 people. I got a great response from the audience, an answer to the ideas that we presented. It was just a great feeling to see that people understood or felt the same I did. Then, with NDT 2, I contacted the director and said I really wanted to make a piece there. I remember that premiere. I was so happy. I was dancing home from the theatre with flowers in my arms.
I think all those moments when you find something truly unique; when all the dancers get together and have so much fun; when just the joy of dancing and music and rhythm come together. All those moments when I had an idea and wrote it down in my book, and then the first time you see it for real, that's the best actually – when it works.

JÖ: In your creation for us, hair was one of your featured ideas.

AE: I'm working with Charlie Le Mindu. He's a hair artist – a hair sculptor actually. I found his work on Instagram and just thought it was amazing. He's a very free creator. He can make anything. I just contacted him and he thought it would be exciting. So, we started working, and he created these wonderful hair costumes for us.

JÖ: What is your piece for the Staatsballett about?

AE: The piece is called LIB which is short for »liberation«. It's you, who came up with the title actually [laughs]. The piece starts out very strict and then slowly the four principal dancers [Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, Yolanda Correa, Ksenia Ovsyanick and Polina Semionova] let go because of this one character [Johnny McMillan] who's more free, and he sort of inspires them to do it. It's them letting go of something rigorous and becoming freer.