Adrej Kalinka. Image from the Honey and Dust website
Milan Kozánek. Image: Václav Štěpán
A Conversation with Honey and Dust
On my last full day at Nitra Divadelná I met with eu.genus director and libretto writer Andrej Kalinka and dramaturg and assistant director Milan Kozánek, who is also a choreographer. They are members of the multi-disciplinary artistic collective Honey and Dust, which Kalinka founded with Juraj Poliak, Ivan Martinka, and Michal Mikuláš. Honey and Dust produces “complementary art,” which brings together artists across a range of disciplines and practices to work on a specific theme or topic. However Kalinka challenges his ensemble to flex different, or long dormant artistic muscles, believing that singers have the ability to be dancers, and dancers have the ability to be sculptors. We spoke about their unique and open creative process, which is perhaps most iconoclastic for their bravery to admit when they don’t know or need to change their minds, the inspiration for eu.genus, and the state of Slovak theatre today.
What is “complementary art?”
A: The last three years there is a question for me, what is art? I was a composer, then I started writing librettos, directing and so on. But for me, it was not so usual, what is art, because I was not from theatre, I started at fifteen, interested in art generally, then music, then theatre and so on. I love galleries, but I’m not a fine artist! I love dance, but I’m not a dancer. I have no borders between all the kinds of theatre. I have no borders between puppet theatre and drama theatre, I have no borders between the text and physicality. Someone said to me maybe one week ago, “You don’t have the boxes in your head. I study the theatre and I have the box, and I see that you don’t have this in your head.” No, I don’t have it, I don’t know why. So after these questions the process started. OK, what is it? It’s not how to mix it together. Complementary art is not about how you take something from this one: no. It’s creation. And in creation, what kind of collaborators are there? Because some of the people are dancing, someone is from music and art. When someone from this dancing area is in this piece he’s not only in it as a dancer. Because he can use all of the skills, all the tools from dancing with music and fine art but in a natural way of course. Because we are in a common area and we are creating something. What is important are the topics. And this, step by step, is also our collaboration. All of the performers in this process go to their childhood and think, what was my study? Why am I doing it this way? The same question (I had) in the beginning. Why, what do I want to do, what do I want to see? OK, I am a dancer, but the music is feeling very natural because all dancers work with music. So they can try to sing. And they start to work in that way physically. It’s like the living in this world. You don’t have the cuts when you’re reading or you’re watching or you’re thinking or you’re moving. Everything is together. And for me the art is the same. Back to the roots of the art of the human.
M: We met more than three years ago and then we started to collaborate. I’ve been a dancer all my life and then I started to collaborate with the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw and I met this direction of physical theatre. So before I met Andrej I had a lot of experience with the theatre world, where these actors can take an instrument, sing, do physical work, and use the text. But with Andrej, there are no roles. And you don’t know in this moment who is singing or in the next moment who is dancing. So this was much deeper for me, what Andrej says we can dialogue in different approaches. Complementary art is not you compose from different media, it’s inside of us. And this is interesting for me.
A: You have to discover in yourself what is natural for you. It’s not about the craft. It’s about observing and discovering what is natural for you and how you can work with all these things. All of our pieces have these two lines. The first line is about the topic. The topics in this world, in contemporary art, in this country. The other side in our work is that second line, the form. What is the form? Because there are no borders. So you have to develop, you have to discover a new form, a new way of talking about art. And how these two things work together.
How do you work on a piece? Is the process always the same?
A: We are still changing the process. In dramatic theatre, they start with the reading and managing the things on the stage. You can have different topics, you can have different aesthetics, but when you have the same process the result will be the same. So for us it’s very important to change it in all our pieces. Of course some things are similar – my own preparation about the topics. You’re writing the libretto or preparing the music. Sometimes it’s reading books, sometimes it’s going to galleries. So it’s not one approach. Of course you need to sometimes learn the music and discover the physicality. Milan is a choreographer but he’s never working like a choreographer in our pieces, he’s watching and he’s starting to understand what the physicality of these people is and how to give good input.
M: Andrej can be giving a physical idea and I can give a directing idea. So it’s open. What is interesting to me is that Andrej needs a long time for this research, for the preparation of what we call a libretto, and he’s going to extreme details. But when we start the creative process Andrej is very relaxed with what he prepared. He can write two hundred pages of text and then maybe use only some but there are always fragments somewhere else. So he’s always open, depending on the topic, depending on the people who are in the process.
A: The research is maybe one year in preparation. But when we start the rehearsals I can put the research to the basket. It’s not that you cancel it, one year of the work. You literally replace the basket and find yes, it’s there. But what’s more important are the specific people there. We have to understand who these people are, what they want to do, and what are their personal connections to the piece. And then we can start the process, find the connection with the libretto, and after the process I can again read the libretto because there are so many details in it that the piece doesn’t need.
For me it’s really important to have a deep trust from our side to the performers and for the performers to trust us. So it is really important that these people are interested in this topic. And that these people are interested in different ways of doing everything. It’s not about you are the dancer and you have to also be the musician. It’s OK, if you feel really good in your position as a dancer because you love the physicality. But try to be a child again, don’t be afraid of anything. Just try to sing, try to work with the clay, what can happen? Of course for some, it’s nice, but it’s not for me, and some say yes, “Why haven’t I worked with this in my life?”
So step by step, we connect to topic, connect to the librettos, and transform all the things together and find a way. Of course this way needs time. It’s not how to manage the things on the stage and when you are working with the existing language of drama. This is something else, it’s about the craft of course, but it’s very personal. It’s how to build trust with someone. Then the people can be open and can really find something absolutely special.
M: One element I really like ,and this is also my way of my life, that we have this luxury with Andrej of not knowing in the creative process. It’s very important to tell ourselves, “I don’t know.” Maybe tomorrow I will find answer but if not, OK.
A: This was really hard, I remember I learned how to say, “Yes, I don’t know.” Because it’s not easy. Many people are waiting for your direction, your opinion. How much research and study and now they are around and you have to say something when someone asks you, so it’s not easy to say “I don’t know.” It’s important to trust the people to say, “I don’t know change the sense, this moment.” Because it’s not, “I don’t know (do whatever you want).” For me, I don’t know is the best. I love art when I don’t understand it but I can see it’s not from nowhere. I don’t know and I don’t understand are for me so important because there are other uses for the work. How to go ahead.
What inspired eu.genus?
A: In the beginning it was about eugenics. I was interested in what it was about. Do we want to choose something or someone, these are good genes, and so on. I think it was sixteen years ago that we can read the human genome. So we really don’t know how it works. Step by step we know new things but I think we don’t have enough of the answers. So it’s for me it’s really hard. Today I can have an opinion about something but tomorrow it will be changed because of new information, new context, and it’s still in process. And for me it was so that I can understand how we are making these groups: this is my family and this is good, this is not good, and you are not good, you are bad.
M: Then it branched more to this deeper sense, about being human, who we are, why we are, and about ancestors. And out of this the genes inside of us. I want to be myself, how much can I be myself and it’s only good or bad in most directions.
A: Genetics is for me also about science, also about spirituality. If you want to choose specific genes what do you choose? We don’t understand how to choose it, how to work with it. And I want to understand who we are or who I am, what are the roots, what are my genes, what is the education, and step by step it brings a new topic. But no answers, this is good, this is bad, this is the history, what is the piece of art. For me the art does not give you the answers. It’s important for me that the viewer can choose and can change the context. We give the impulse that you can start and work with this material.
M: You as the audience, are choosing this dramaturgy. It’s not like one central point, it’s a lot of central points and you decided to sit here and go to this actor, then to the dancer, so you create your own dramaturgy.
A: This contrapoint, it’s very important for us, this is one of the essences of this work, the complement area. There are many voices and you can choose the main voice. It’s like when you are walking on the street with your friends and everyone understands in different way. For me it’s a miracle that we as a humans can co-exist together because everyone has a different understanding of what you can see.
Where do you see Honey and Dust in the context of Slovak theatre?
A: Our group is a Slovak group but our pieces are not so natural in this country. Because here art is not so open. When we compare our pieces in the international context it’s completely different. But in Slovakia we still have the question What is it, we don’t understand?
M: Is this theatre?
A: What is the reason of Slovak art, what is the context of Slovak art, what is the context of the middle Europe? We are strangers.
M: We have roots somewhere else. It’s cosmopolitan, different sources, different topics.
A: It’s very important to understand your identity, where you are from. It’s not about nationality it’s about your context. You have to understand or feel your identity and then you can bring something new. In Slovakia it’s different because the history of Slovakia is not easy. Only in the last thirty years it’s Slovakia. It was never Slovakia, it was always something else. When you are not clear in your history you don’t know what to offer today. For me, I feel the root, it’s clear, so I’m not afraid to bring something new. In Germany or France, you can understand your identity, your history, your roots and I can understand what is offered today. We need more time in Slovakia, more time to understand the roots and what we want to offer to ourselves and to other people.
Is that an exciting or a frustrating place to be as an artist?
A: It’s not exciting, it’s frustrating. In the beginning you don’t understand, you don’t have the big problem because you want to create something, but step by step you understand something is not working, there’s no continuity so that you can create. In Slovakia there is the state theatre and there is the independent theatre. The creators of independent theatres cannot do these pieces in the state theatres because the state theatres are not progressive. It’s not about the money, it’s really connected to the history of Slovakia. We are afraid, we don’t trust each other. This fear is from the last thousand years and also communism, when everyone was an enemy. “What is the question? And now you can give me the question but first I start with who you are, what you want, and maybe it could be a problem, maybe you are an agent.” Only the family is a safe area. But maybe. The communism is inside our head. In our minds we are slaves. You have to find a way to accept it. And when you accept it you can start new but when you don’t accept it there are no conditions to create something new.
M: On a positive note in Europe there are no borders.
A: There are so many talented people. Many people from Slovakia live abroad and they are brilliant creators. The problem is at this moment we don’t have the system, the clear vision, something you can trust that is new in which we understand our history and what we want to offer. At this moment it’s the car without the driver, no plan, no schedule because we don’t know what the direction is. But thirty years is a short time to change our minds, so I hope, maybe step by step after two hundred years, there’s a vision. Maybe two hundred years, a vision is better than no vision.