Good dancing, bad dancing and how not to be an influencer.

Alan Lucien Øyen in conversation with Kate Pendry.

Foto Tale Hendnes 2 123

I’ve known Alan for ten years, first as a colleague then as a member of the winter guests ‘family’. We’re friends now and it’s weird to be interviewing him. We know too much about each other and interviews that bleed into overshare can have lasting consequences (the things that artist- friends say to one another behind closed doors that should never be made public). We’ve agreed for this interview to an ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’ principal, which makes us giggle. It’s very grown up. One of Alan’s many charming qualities is his suspicion that one day he’ll be ‘found out’ - artistically. So he’s hyper-aware when he’s doing ‘grown up’ things. I’ve opted for a simple conversation with him, because you can start anywhere in a conversation with Alan - the weather, or the solitude of long-distance running, and a lively and often witty conversation will always follow. The only thing I know I’ll steer clear of, is ‘politics’. It gives him the heebie-jeebies - talking about politics-in-art - and there are enough other artists who can fill that gap. We meet on a rainy Thursday in the beautiful cavernous foyer of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. Alan and his current ensemble are rehearsing Story, story, die., in Studio D on the fourth floor, overlooking the Oslo fjord with the new Munch museum looming into view.

He stretches his arms out, gives me a gentle hug and then says, appalled:
Look at me Kate! I’ve soiled myself!

I laugh out loud, Alan’s ability to turn a Victorian phrase is always a joy to behold. He has spilled some soup down his sweatshirt - this is what he’s referring to - but bum-and-poo humour has often gotten winter guests thru many a sling and arrow in the making of art; I find it to be a particularly English trait - although Alan is the most international of gentlemen.

He buys us lattés (a favourite of his, always with sugar), and he swipes us backstage and up in the lifts to an empty office on the third floor.

Alan did eleven productions in 2018, and I ask him how 2019 is going. He chooses his words carefully . . .

This year is my . . .‘not do too much year’. . .- so this year it’s two - only fuckin’ two productions: one winter guests production and one opera, and that’s it. Ah, and a. . .‘testing’ project for. . .what might become a winter guests production next year. . .so, we´re investing in the company and the performing arts!

Do you get nervous if you’re not doing eleven productions in a year?
Well to be honest this year I’m doing two but I’m starting a lot more so,. . .ok, I don’t have a gun to my back write-a-script-write-a-script-write-a-script-make-a-movement-make-a-movement - I mean last year I was choreographing a musical. We opened just a couple of weeks after Christmas and then I went straight to. . .to Paris, to do an old dance piece and then after that straight to Wuppertal - it was like push push push. . .yes - of course I try to take two weeks off, vacation. . .but I then I just get anxious . . .and I just do Sudoku like there’s no tomorrow!

Why Sudoku?
I do like Sudoku, because it’s mindless, it’s just mindless!

And the physical? I recall I once asked you what your ‘training routine’ was and you simply said that you run. . .
Running I do try to make time for it - in Vancouver I was four times out running.

You often run 10k in one run - no breaks
Nah, I stop when I get tired, stretch a little, but just a couple of minutes maybe. . .so. . . but the thought of running a marathon absolutely horrifies me, because of all the people behind you and in front of you - and they’ll probably strike up some kind of competitive instinct in me that I didn’t know I have, or don’t want to have and I just -. . .I just don’t want to do that.

He smiles wryly.

But it was great running on the beach there [in Vancouver] and I was so jet-lagged, up at the wrong hours, no? So, I went out - and I said to myself: “Really? You’re gonna do this now??” But as soon as I went out, I was like yes! Yes yes!

Are you listening to music when you’re running?
Yes! I found a new one - and I thought of you!

Tell me! What is it? Cos it’s all about the music isn’t it?
Ok - (he reaches for his phone) - well this is slightly incessant, but I came across this a couple of weeks ago and it’s - I just have it on a constant loop now, I put it on in the studio, and the poor dancers, they wanna kill me. . .uhm. . .it’s Canto Ostinato.‘Ostinato’ means stubborn.

The Stubborn Song? The Stubborn Voice? I like that! - Obstinato?
Ostinato! This is track one. And the whole thing goes for two hours and forty-five minutes.

He plays the track - an exquisite and hypnotic piano piece by Simeon Ten Holt.


Are the tracks seamless?
Yes, you could run a whole marathon on this!

D’you listen to your music on a streaming service when you run?

- and what device do you listen on?
I have this Bluetooth - but my ears are too big! So they kind of clip on the top of my ears, then they go in, because the ones that just go in, they tend to fall out of me - and I got an Apple watch this year just to be able to run without my phone. And it’s good - but the battery isn’t great, and it’s really like - as a watch? I don’t want time on my hands; I mean who wants that?

Indeed, who wants time on their hands?
Exactly! But now they come with a built-in sim card - so basically that little thing is a phone; so I could leave the house with just that little thing - which I rarely do, but that was my idea that maybe then I wouldn’t be on the phone all the time? I only really use it for running - and I don’t check my pulse or anything like that. I have an app - Strava;

I’ve been trying to figure out that Strava app, and it just seems like a lot of. . .effort; and the point of the running, is to not have to do other shit?
Yeah, I know.

Apropos! What’s your relationship to the whole technology and interweb thing? Are you addicted like everyone else. . .or?

He thinks for a moment.

I. . .I don’t think I am actually - no wait! For sure, come on, I’m super addicted - I mean it would be a joke to think otherwise - but I don’t have the Facebook . . .gene. I open it, I see two things - and I ‘like’ everything! I like things! People post shit, sure, but if people post about their cat or their holiday, or. . .they’re upset about something, I. . .I’m for all of it. . .I support people, I like - (he laughs, slightly embarrassed)- you know - whatever makes them tick. But I don’t scroll through, I don’t have that thing. I go there if I’m gonna post something, and I do try to post for the company. Instagram. But we don’t have a lot of followers at all! We have like 800 now, but I think when I started, we had 500. . .I mean it’s a very small circuit, no? (He laughs again).

Do you feel that you. . .should. . .try to get more followers on Instagram? That there’s an obligation to be ‘out there`. . .to be a cultural ‘influencer’?
No. . .oh, no. . .

Seeing as it’s so ‘easy’ - apparently, and if we artists don’t do it, we’re just being lazy?
No, I don’t, I don’t think that we should try to be ‘influencers’ - but I do feel. . .an obligation. . .as the one most responsible for the company - to generate as much attention for our works as possible; because. . .I want our works to be seen. That’s the only thing because - oh - I know it’s the most important channel today, but I’m not. . .I’m not very successful. (He laughs again, at himself).

. . .not at all. (He thinks for a moment), but I don’t mind it. I don’t mind ‘sharing’ - I’m also quite happy when I’ve managed to film a little thing of what we do, something I’m inspired by in rehearsal, and I think ‘it’s nice!’ - and I’m able to share it and be able to see that people actually appreciate it . . . that makes me happy. So, in that sense it’s a good thing. But it’s so easy with dance, isn’t it? You can just snatch it out of context, - and it looks beautiful. . .but I do wonder - an added challenge! I do wonder how can we - when we ‘kerfuffle’ around in our sets - (he is speaking of winter guests more theatrical, text-based productions) - how could we share that? Because there is a beauty in all that work that we do, and I think it could be fun to. . .to share that.


Hm. Who’s your audience? There’s so much talk from funding bodies about target audiences - are you aware of that when you’re making a new work? Do you think about your intended audience, and who they might be?

There’s a pause and then, slightly embarrassed, Alan says;

I don’t actually. And that’s . . .a little bit revealing, because I always say that I’m somebody that cares very much about the audience - and I do care about the audience, but I don’t care who they are. . .

He shrugs a bit, resigned to the understanding that this isn’t perhaps in line with standard arts-dogma.

Really, That’s it. When we´re working in rehersal, I might just go, oop! I don’t like it! I dunno why. . .or ‘this is too much’, or ‘it‘s in - bad taste’ or it’s too . . .severe or too long, or it’s too funny - you know? I just follow my own instincts when I work. I have no formal education [as a choreographer or director]. So I just go by my own - which is kind of Asbergery isn’t it? To think . . .that other people think the same as you? Ha! Although I don’t know if that’s only limited to people with Aspergers. . .

Are you on the spectrum?
Me? No. . .

Not even self-diagnosed?
Oh no, I would not wanna say that! I just watched a trailer - Portlandia - where this girls says ‘Oh I’m such a nerd, you know, I just have to game all the time!” - and then this guy turns around and he says ”Hullo, my name’s Brian, and I’m an actualnerd; I wear these glasses cos I need to see, and when I take them off I don’t look like a sexy model, I don’t have a perfect skinny body, this is just me, I am a nerd. . .“

His re-enactment of the scene from Portlandia is pitch-perfect, a reminder that Alan is a gifted actor as well as director. He continues:

I mean, if you are - you know Robert Wilson is famously self-proclaimed ‘on the spectrum’, no?

And I think that’s . . .that’s a “vanity” project.

“I’m slightly on the spectrum and therefore - “

“That excuses my shitty behaviour - “
“And I can be - “

- eccentric. I think anyone can be eccentric.

That common thing these days where people say, “Oh I’m so OCD!”
Yeah, because actually having OCD is not fun, is it?


Again, apropos. . .there’s so much talk of identity-politics in art - that one’s sexual or gender orientation should be a part of what you create on stage. Do you have any thoughts about that?
I don’t! I really don’t have any thoughts at all about it. . .

A breath of fresh air in the shithouse!
Hah! But I will say. . .I was offended when I heard a person had said; “Oh winter guests? That’s the guy with the ‘gay theatre’, I was shocked. I had never ever, ever thought of what we did as gay theatre. What, because we had a couple of gay characters? That’s all it takes? I don’t know. . .no characters in any of our shows are there for any reason other than that they are interesting characters. We like interesting characters. I mean some things are funny whether you’re gay or straight, surely! And if for someone a gay character in a piece makes ‘gay theatre’. . . well, then I think they’re missing the point. It was never an agenda. I’ve never had an agenda with anything.

What is the point?
The point?

If he’s missing the point. . .what is the point?
Ah, right. Well I’m interested in. . .sincerity. That’s my project. And humility. . .and very, very human. . . interactions. I was gonna say feelings, but that sounds touch-feely and sappy - it’s not about feelings, it’s about what makes us human. Which is what I’m interested in. . .and how people interact, that’s why I try to. . .strip away, try to . . .I mean that was the key into the whole ‘meta’ [theatre] thing really, because I just want us to be ‘ourselves’ [on stage] - and then you can talk about big stuff - and pretend - so long as it comes from a place of sincerity, yeah?

What is the difference - with that principle - between theatre and dance?

Alan grins again, embarrassed - almost as if he’s sharing a secret;

There isn’t one! There is no difference for me.

There is no difference?
No. There is bad acting, and there is bad dancing and there is good acting and good dancing!

Ah! So, could you give me a description of what. . .bad acting is?
Oh god!

I think it’s quite healthy to define what’s shit - because if you know what’s shit, the rest is probably pretty ok, no?
Yes, yes. . .

Of course, you don’t have to name names. . .
No, no, let’s not name names. No. . .but I just remember a conversation I had with some of the dancers here who had text [in The Hamlet Complexin 2018] - and I said, “Well it’s just like doing dancing, isn’t it?” Because they were facing the fear of not having any [vocal/text] technique - and I get that, and that is a problem if we can’t hear - sure, there’s a technique there’s a craft there, but we’ve all seen the people at the barre who have all the technique, and are the most beautiful technicians. . .but they can’t fucking dance. They can’t dance! And there is no. . .je ne sais quoi - I don’t know what it is -

The ‘x’ factor?
Yeah, and it’s with acting too - they can be so loud, and so willing and they’ve done all the improvisation games blah blah but they just - can’t - act. I just don’t believe them! Because when you do it good, you feel fake. A good actor - actor? Actress? Do you prefer to be called actor or actress?

Oh, don’t pull at that thread, dear. . .
Ok! Ok! (he laughs) Listen just slap my hands if I say the wrong thing, cos I offend people all the time with things like this!

Do you?
Anyway! That feeling, of when you are. . .convincing - when you do it, no? When you just do it. And. . .you transform and then. . .it feels completely real, but before - it was pretended - and then you feel fake somehow . . .it’s weird, because you have to be completely fake to be completely real somehow. . .it’s interesting because there’s a discourse now with [the dancers in Story, story, die.] - who are also doing a little bit of text - not much, I am trying to limit it, but who knows - there’s still three weeks left, maybe the thing will be all script and no dance in the end! - but no, there is some text and it’s about stripping away and - getting to that point where - yeah, you can say: faster, slower, higher, but at the end of the day I just want to say: More realness. More realness. I don’t care how you say it, say it as if you’re upset, or as if you’re happy - it doesn’t really matter so long as you choose.

And THEN - when we’ve got to that point, then maybe we can actually gauge what it actually should be. Because before that I’m just saying ‘more lipstick, less lipstick’ - like Judi Dench says in the musical version of the beautiful Fellini film - 9 ½ isn’t it? Less lipstick, more lipstick, that’s directing.

Just don’t bump into the furniture?
Haha! Yes, don’t bump into the furniture!

Someone once asked - John Gielgud - what is your objective when you go on stage? He answered: “My objective? It is to go on stage, say the words, and get off the stage.” And that’s quite nice isn’t it? Less is more?


Alright! Well. . .I’m not going to. . .ask you more about the current project - because personally I don’t like to read interviews about a project I’m actually going to go and see -
Great! I mean, every venue asks you to say something about the project - of course they have to - but it was so refreshing last year with Pina Bausch, the fact that her administration were just so relentless in communicating: “no, we don’t know anything about the new work, that’s why it’s called New Piece and it opens in a couple of weeks.” I didn’t have to deliver any images, any text, or anything about it. It’s a creation. That’s what Pina did. . .

With Tanztheater Wuppertal - I always think David Bowie didn’t need to tell you what his next album was gonna be - about. We’re buying the next album - whatever it is David, the body of work of the artist says all we need to know. . . But I guess we’re living in that strange consumerist age where everything has to be advertised?
Yeah, already I feel. . .too much is said. But then again nothing’s really said at all? Hm. . .

So, the premiere of Story, story, die. is in three weeks?
Three weeks!

And how long are you in Oslo after the premiere?
A couple of days.

And then?
Bergen, then Wuppertal to re-stage Bon Voyage, Bob. . .and they’re going to Paris with that. And this piece, Story, story. . .is invited to Amsterdam and Berlin. . .so, yes. . .

Well I guess my last question is: where is ‘home’ for you?

There’s a slight pause. Then Alan says quietly -

That’s one of the lines in this piece . . . where is home . . .

Ah. That ‘longing’ - which seems to be so present, in so much of your work?
Hm. Yes. It’s definitely something . . . that I’m looking for.

Story, story, die., 25. - 28. mai 2019