The Carina Ari Medal 2013

Carina Ari Medal
The 2013 Carina Ari Medal for the promotion of the art of dance in Sweden is awarded to JOHAN INGER – the internationally renowned choreographer, for his worldwide promotion of Swedish dance.

Johan Inger, Foto: Urban Jörén
Johan Inger, Foto: Urban Jörén (Download in high resolution)

Johan Inger was a leading dancer at the Royal Swedish Ballet before joining the Nederlands Dans Theater. He has created numerous works for the Dutch ensemble – where he is now the resident choreographer – and for the Cullberg Ballet, of which he was the artistic director in 2003-2008. He is a contemplative and humorous poet of the moving body, in warm yet dark portrayals of every phase of life. A guest performance of "Falter" appeared in Gothenburg, and in spring 2013, he staged "I New Then" at the Royal Swedish Ballet. Johan Inger has a unique ability to reach out to audiences and engage them in a dialogue.

For the Carina Ari Medal Foundation:
Gunilla Jensen
Ana Laguna
Ellen Rasch

A conversation with this year's Carina Ari Award winner

Johan Inger is in Dresden when I reach him by phone to congratulate him on winning the 2013 Carina Ari Award.

Johan Inger has won many prizes for his choreographies. Naturally, he is proud. But he is especially proud, touched and happy about the Carina Ari Award. "Because it's a confirmation that I've actually achieved something," the internationally acclaimed choreographer says modestly. He is familiar with the prima ballerina and choreographer of the Ballets suédois, and her colourful history. As a young dancer, he was awarded the Carina Ari Scholarship. "It was a fantastic experience, to go to Paris at 16 and to live in her flat, going to classes, making connections, encountering a different culture – it meant an awful lot to my development, both as a dancer and a human being."

He feels great respect and gratitude to the Carina Ari Foundation for giving young dancers such an opportunity every year. "It certainly makes a difference."

I remind him that he has actually portrayed the legendary dancer and choreographer of the Ballets suédois, Jean Börlin. Not on stage, but in Anders Wahlgren's film, The Dying Dandy, produced for Swedish Television in 1989. Tora Dardel was still alive at the time, and she related memories and anecdotes that inspired the cast and crew. It was exciting to hear her stories about the lively art scene in Paris in the 1920s.

For the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, Johan is producing his award-winning piece "Walking Mad", opening in October. In his zeal he accidentally injured his knee and is annoyed. "I guess I'm getting old," he laughs. But although Johan Inger is far from being old, he has been around for quite some time. He appeared in "Swan Lake" at the Royal Ballet in Stockholm as an 11-year-old, and was hired in 1985. After five successful years as a dancer at the Stockholm Opera, he was recruited by the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) – headhunted by none other than Jiri Kylian. It was Kylian who urged Johan Inger to start choreographing. His breakthrough came in 1995, with 'Mellantid', and since then the prolific Johan Inger has created many, many new dance works. Five years as the artistic director of the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden gave him valuable experience – but he prefers creating movements in the rehearsal studio. The director's job took too much time from his creativity. Now, Johan Inger is back at the NDT as associate choreographer, creating one new work per year for the company, which he knows intimately by now. "It is a great privilege, and security, to have access to my own company. It provides continuity and I know the dancers."

Carina Ari moved to Argentina, far from Sweden. Johan Inger lives in Seville and is married to a Spanish dancer who used to be with the Cullberg Ballet. The couple have two kids, 10 and 4, and Johan is reluctant to be away from the family for too long at a time. But his job inevitably requires him to travel. "All a choreographer really needs is to be close to an airport," he says, jokingly.

In 2011, he came to the Gothenburg Opera Ballet to produce 'Falter'. He enjoyed working in Sweden again, and in February 2013, he was unexpectedly invited back to his first employer at Gustav Adolfs Torg in Stockholm. The director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, Johannes Öhman, was planning a double bill for the spring programme, called 'Time Themes'. Emanuel Gat was one of the choreographers. Marco Goecke was supposed to do the second piece, but he fell ill. Johannes Öhman asked Johan Inger to replace him, and the NDT agreed to relinquish the rights for Inger's acclaimed ballet with the playful title 'I New Then'. "Probably just as well that I came in as an afterthought," Johan says. "I didn't have time to think or worry too much, which was good."

Being back at the Stockholm Opera, where he knows every nook and cranny, was a veritable trip down memory lane. He enjoyed working with the ensemble and seeing his old colleagues again.

And 'I New Then' was a success, with its humour and Van Morrison's music. It is about being young – wanting to be cool but also lacking self-confidence. The work was created for the NDT's youth company and looks back with nostalgia at youthful energy and lust for life. In his inimitable style, Inger delivers a rather philosophical contemplation of the rules of double role play in youth. "See me – and take me as I am" – a wisdom to learn, and an attitude that requires courage and maturity.

Johan Inger has been working for a long period now with music by artists such as Talking Heads, Tom Waits and Van Morrison. He explains that he often works like that, piece by piece, exploring, immersing himself. Whether it concerns themes, stage design, spaces, music – he goes into a process that can last for years.

For the new work that opens in Basel in September, however, he has entirely different plans. It's time to change tracks. "I'm going in a new direction now, something more fragile, simple..."

Will he return to Sweden for new choreographic commissions? Johan Inger evades the question, mumbles about ongoing discussions. His position at the NDT has just been extended by another three years, for which he is very grateful. "It's important to have a regular base, otherwise it gets too frenzied. It is a relief to return once in a while to an ensemble I am in tune with, who know how I work and how I express myself."

Apart from that, his next major project is actually of an entirely different kind. A 'charity' project for unemployed Spanish dancers. "We get to borrow a theatre where we can do what we want. They get the opportunity to dance and I get the chance to try new ideas and choreographies on them – it's a mutual exchange, and even if nobody gets paid it's something tangible to do in Spain, where unemployment is soaring."

Before then, however, on 23 May, Johan Inger will be in the Gold Foyer at the Royal Opera in Stockholm to receive the Carina Ari Medal from Princess Christina. He is looking forward to it!