An Interview with Per Ananiassen, Theatre Boss of Avant Garden

Photo: Arne Hauge

Boss-man Wil Lee-Wright caught up with Avant Garden’s Per Ananiassen to talk about the venue’s planned change and the performing arts they showcase.

Avant Garden is planning to move to Rosendal Theatre. Why and when did you decide to change location?

The current location used to be a print shop for the city’s second newspaper, Arbeideravisa, the workers’ paper which went bankrupt in 1990. Within 5 years of being in this venue, we realised that it was too small and so we started to look for a bigger venue in 1998.

 So Avant garden has been looking for a new location for the better part of twenty years?! You are now able to move because you have managed to double the theatre’s budget in the last three years, the majority of which comes from subsidies from the ministry for culture and by the region (Sør Trøndelag Fylkeskommune and Trondheim Kommune). Is was the increased funding specifically for the new location or because of your increasing importance to the culture scene in Trondheim?

It was both reasons. I think the Department of Culture in Oslo has started to acknowledge the need of the programming theatres to consolidate and to become stronger. To have stronger artistic proposals and departments, and also that we need infrastructure. After all, we represent the national infrastructure for independent performing arts in Norway. Self financing only makes up about 17% of our budget. Funding makes it easier for us to plan and also to build the organisation.

Tell us more about the history of Rosendal – you must be very excited to have not only found a venue which suits Avant Garden’s practical needs, but one which has a history and name behind it.

It was a cinema built in 1921 by an American company. At that time, Trondheim was very small. Rosendal would have been well outside of town. There were cinemas in Trondheim but they were owned by the municipalities and it was illegal to have private cinemas.

They called it Rosendal Teatro, not kino, because it was regarded to be a little bit more upmarket. I am actually proposing that we change our name when we move there. ‘Avant Garden’ can be seen a little bit pretentious because it is relating to the historical avant garde in the arts. I sympathise with the avant garde movement because it was about making art accessible everywhere, and we are working with artists which have this kind of approach. Avant garde kind of means that you have been to some kind of promised land and you come back and tell. It is kind of old elite thinking in the arts. This was not necessarily intended by all artists in the historical avant garde movement, this is the way people regard it today: elitist.

We don’t want to be that. Avant Garden does not want to be part of the pop culture necessarily, but we use a lot of pop culture methods and media strategies. If you go to Rosendal, everyone knows what it is, where it is. It feels more accessible. We will still be what we are but we will be more than what we are.

The audience size will grow from 66 today to over 200 (and 100 in the smaller space). How important is it to fill the space and how will you accommodate the more marginal artists who do not require larger audiences?

There is some narrow art out there, people who are really taking big chances, experimenting with the new, something we have never seen before. Even I have problems understanding what they are doing, and I have been working in this business for a long time! I know that people have to have possibilities to show their art before they can develop. This is something we have to communicate to the audience too.

Avant Garden has a reputation for being quite cutting edge and for pushing the boundaries. So what will we be seeing at this year’s Bastard festival?

Anne Liv young; the way she is connected with the audience, which can be really hardcore and it’s really hard to be there. And Heine Avdal and Yukiko Sinozaki who are in our programme almost every year, who are super nice and super inviting. They are treating the audience with kindness and respect. In our time, that is also cutting edge! The bullies are ruining the world so some kind of inviting attitude and kindness and respect, can also be cutting edge. It is very much context which decides what is cutting edge.

In all the Bastard Festival programmes I have been responsible for over the years, I have never looked for the politically explicit expressions or projects. There is a lot of discourse going on, but what I am interested in the is the political potentiality in performing arts. Performing art per se is a political expression, because it always points at the nature of itself, namely the coming together of experiencing something together. Creating some kind of common platform and point of references so we can talk about something together. Today that is as important as ever before. Since this media revolution we have been though, we may have a lot to talk about but we talk about the headlines, but we do not talk about the depth of things. It is difficult to get out of the echo chamber.

We are building walls and we don’t allow any cracks to exist in the wall, and we are trying to cover up any cracks which do exist. I want this art festival to be one of the cracks in the wall. To paraphrase the film maker Morten Torvik, every wall has a crack and this is where spirit can come in.

Are other performances therefore more intense for the newcomer to the scene?

No not necessarily. Another highlight is we are opening the festival with Mia Habib’s A Song To…, a Norwegian choreographer from Haugusand. In this production she is choreographing 40 people; 16 professional dancers and 24 more (regular people). All of them are going to be naked on stage. If you want to be part of that you can, if you are willing to take your clothes off in front of the audience!

Are you asking me?! Well… can people still get involved?

You will have to check the status of how many people are signed up.

Also, on Saturday there is an Australian performer called Nicola Gunn with Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster. She has made a production which is beautiful, fantastically well performed production. She tells a story while she is doing very intricate movements, very choreographed dance moves, and that the same time she is telling a story which raises some ethical questions. What is interesting is thane one hand it is very experimental piece but on the other hand it is a very relatable story. The complexity comes from the movement she is doing combined with the story.

For me, this is what Bastard festival is about. It is a chance too create a another way of reflecting. What you see is not always what you get in theatre. It is a visual art but it is only a tool for conveying something what is happening under the surface.

 

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