Disability Arts International – Vesna and Silvia on Magnolia



PDF: Vesna and Silvia on Magnolia – Disability Arts International

Tell us about your first connection with Zagreb Dance Centre and HIPP?

Vesna: I was visiting shows at ZDC for many years being really interested in performative arts and secretly longing to be able to be part of it.

Silvia: My first connection was the performance I gave for their opening celebration, in November 2009, as one of the invited artists. Afterwards I worked there as a resident artist with my company Kik Melone and also as a teacher for a while.

How did you find out about the work IMRC is doing there? What made you want to get involved?

Silvia: We have a very small and intertwined scene in Zagreb, so I had known Iva Nerina for a long time, we had our first collaborations through Trafik company. She told me about IMRC and the enthusiasm and talent of the people involved and I was instantly interested to join, initially by taking part in a workshop held on weekends. I spent most of the time working in a pair with Vesna and that was the start of the process for Magnolia.

Vesna: One day I saw announcement about IMRC’s open production and went to see what is done there. I was overwhelmed with what Iva Nerina Sibila showed in two short choreographies of disabled dancers. I shared with her an idea I had had for a while about a dance show that would require disabled dancers. She introduced me to a whole new look on performative bodies and what is actually dance and a dancing body. She put a spark in my mind by showing me Kazuo Ohno’s latest performances. Suddenly my secret wish which I guess I hid even from myself became clear and possible. So, I started going to IMRC workshops and intensely explored my now dancing body and practicing on myself ideas I previously thought should be choreographed on somebody else’s body.

How would you describe the situation for disabled artists in Croatia?

Vesna: Zagreb and Rijeka have good workshops for developing disabled dancers. As for actors some workshops are not inclusive because they require bodies which can’t necessarily jump, go to the floor etc. But I think the main issue causing lack of disabled performative artists in Croatia isn’t actually lack of inclusive workshops or academic programs but the lack of a critical number of interested disabled artists. As it was for me before I discovered IMRC, we ourselves, or society, has reinforced a mindset that a performative body is strictly one type of non-disabled body and no other.

Silvia: Unfortunately, Croatia is one of the European countries still lacking basic support for disabled people in their everyday life and society does not seem to take responsibility for creating conditions for everyone to have an equal chance at life and at progress, no matter what start we are born into. Being able to afford health care, encountering impossible physical access to many public places, getting a job, etc. Most of the effort for improvement is made by non-government organisations and associations, so conditions are hopefully changing for better slowly.

In this context, artistic work is really flourishing beyond expectations! But, we are still far behind in professionalism and conditions in which we work.

Why do you think greater visibility for work by disabled artists is important?

Silvia: Because the way the system functions means you’ve got to have visibility to get supported in any way. And there is also the importance of a change in mindset of the majority when it comes to disabled artists as artists first, who happen to have a disability. Gay artists are artists no matter their sexual orientation. I’m a mother artist – no one would ever dare to discriminate me in any way because of this. So, why would we bother about somebody’s physical or precise mental abilities at all? Art is art, period.

Vesna: Prejudices in both the audience and the disabled population are still too strong. The best way to overcome them is by encouraging and promoting disabled artists’ work. There are not many of us, but visibility is important and could be a lot better.

How would you describe the scene for contemporary dance, and dance theatre?

Vesna: Generally, not just the disabled artists’ scene, but contemporary dance has a really small audience in Croatia. It is considered too abstract and audiences are reluctant to choose a night out of contemporary dance before classical theatre or a movie.

Silvia: Yes, the Croatian contemporary dance scene is quite small and intertwined in many ways. It has existed for many decades and always been part of the European contemporary dance scene, but always on the margins of society. So it grew self-conscious, very aware of its own political and social position. It is very tough and defiant – otherwise it wouldn’t survive. It is not by accident that IMRC is a movement research company. Meanwhile we have many smaller dance companies in Zagreb, a lot of them working in a non-hierarchic structure, always searching for new models for collaborations, questioning the old and proven ones. Two years ago (so it took half of the century!) we finally got a Dance department at the Theatre Academy in Zagreb, for now on BA level.

I’m proud to be a member of this scene, not for patriotic reasons, but because of all the fights that we have to fight together here. And because I’m inspired on daily basis by my collegues working as dancers, choreographers, writing about dance, archiving dance and supporting dance development, no matter how meaningless it may seem in times of deep economic and social crisis that we live in.

What is your own creative practice, and how this has developed?

Silvia: My practice is mostly based on collaborating with other artists, exploring theatre and dance as a vast medium of communication, working as an author or taking part as a performer in someone’s concept, always aware of my own performing authorship and responsibility. I also teach young dance students and take part in initiatives that progress our dance community further.

Vesna: After making my first dance steps in IMRC workshops I participated in many different dance, body, voice and physical theatre workshops and classes in Zagreb. I also learned a lot from directors and authors of the performances that followedMagnolia (in defiance).

The piece that you created, Magnolia (in Defiance), premiered at Zagreb Dance Week in 2014 and now at the Onassis Cultural Centre, in Greece. How did the idea for this piece come about?

Silvia: Magnolia began with Vesna’s poetry and sketches and her wish to create a performance out of them performed by disabled artists. She met Iva Nerina and IMRC and she was persuaded to perform herself, in a duet with me. Seeing us work together in one of IMRC’s workshops, Iva Nerina felt we have a lot in common in our energies, our presence and movement. We began to rehearse, over a year. Slowly we built a composition of materials, solos and a duet, playing with memories of the sight of the other, me on Vesna and vice-versa and both of us on the work of Kazuo Ohno, that we took as an inspiration. It was a journey, a process of slow growing, of rinsing and filtering, and we are very grateful for this common experience while we perform. It is about sharing and being together, even when we are physically alone on the stage, always in connection to one another.

Can you describe how you worked together?

Vesna: We started from pieces of poetry that I brought to our first few creative sessions. Then we turned it into improvisational duos and solos keeping this poetry inside us. At the same time we held part of the focus on Kazuo Ohno’s minimalistic late-in-life performances which I personally had strong connection with because they reminded me of this realisation of what dance movement and dance bodies can be, that size or strength of the movement isn’t necessarily related to a definition of a dancing body. We found that Kazuo Ohno’s identity shifts to dancer La Argentina is something that almost forces itself into our work. Connecting all these elements, minimalist movement, fluctuating identity and two bodies on the stage resulted in Magnolia (in defiance).

How do you feel about performing in a different country?

Vesna: This will be my first dance/theatre performance outside Croatia. But since the theme of the show isn’t local but universal I feel acceptance should be good. What attracts and excites me is gaining experience of performing in a larger space because Magnolia (in defiance) is sensual intimate show for smaller auditoriums. So, we’ll see how that goes.

How have audiences reacted to Magnolia?

Silvia: We performed it in Zagreb and in Rijeka and we had a beautiful audience response, people really do get moved. It is also about being together with the audience, in a very subtle, unobtrusive way. I’m very glad we have the opportunity to share it at the festival in Athens. It is a dance theatre piece about being a fragile, sensitive and yet defiant human being, so it can be accepted by audience everywhere, I suppose.

Vesna: Audiences in Croatia have had a range of reactions. Generally, people have connected intensely on an emotional level never having experienced a disabled body expressing itself artistically through dance and movement. From a dance-going and dance-sector audience reactions were positive and that has given me personally a huge boost in my efforts to continue creating dance pieces.

What has been the main learning for you through this experience?

Vesna: For me, the most joy in creating Magnolia (in defiance) has come from the opportunity to work for sustained periods Iva Nerina and Silvia. They are both wonderful dancers and authors with a range and experience of projects that I actually regarded for a long time as points of creativity to aspire to. Nerina’s choreographic methods and Silvia’s improvisational sessions left me with knowledge and techniques that are now engraved in my dancing mind and body and actually visible in my own projects. What I learned in creating Magnolia (in defiance) with them has become the basis of my performative development since.

What other projects have you got in progress or coming up?

Silvia: Working on Magnolia has been a very intensive artistic experience for me, it made me consider core-issues of living in the human body and, specifically, the limitations and the fragility that we all have. But also the strength that we find in creation, in simply being and breathing together. And the beauty of that simplicity. We are alive, everybody in each separate magnificent body and we can connect – that is a beautiful fact.

Vesna: In February we premiered ‘Intensities’ – a multimedia contemporary dance project which I co-authored with director and dramaturge Vedran Hleb. It’s my first solo which through seven intensities of movement, voice, music, video and light explores how to extend my dancing body into space in spite of its limitations. I am starting work on my second duet, this time with Croatian dancer and choreographer Maja Drobac. It’s called ‘Smoke and mirrors’ and will premiere in Zagreb at beginning of May.


Vesna Mačković explores performative arts: contemporary dance, physical theatre and acting. She also writes prose and poetry and has taken part in singing projects. Her first show, and debut as a contemporary dancer, was ‘Magnolia (in defiance)’ produced by IMRC/HIPP/ZPC* and coauthored with Iva Nerina Sibila and Silvia Marchig. She is currently working on ‘Intensities’ a coauthored project with director Vedran Hleb and a team of musicians, a video designer and a lighting designer, which will be her first contemporary dance solo performance.

Silvia Marchig is dancer, choreographer and dance educator and lives and works in Zagreb, Croatia. Silvia trained at Ballet school of The National Theatre in Rijeka, Croatia, Palucca Shule in Dresden and Akademie des Tanzes in Mannheim, Germany. She is artistic leader of Kik Melone, a company active in performing and visual art, and she is currently engaged in various collaborations on the independent dance scene, working with Trafik , IMRC and Fourhanded. Silvia also works as ballet teacher in Franjo Lucic Art School in Velika Gorica, Croatia.

*Zagreb Dance Centre is a unique cultural facility in Croatia developed exclusively for dance. It is operated by the Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance (HIPP) a partner in Unlimited Access. IMRC is an inclusive dance collective in residence at Zagreb Dance Centre.