Meet the student: Maja Kalafatić

Maja Kalafatić is a dancer, choreographer, pedagogue, and yoga teacher who lives and works between Ljubljana, Slovenia and Belgrade, Serbia and now also Helsinki. We asked Kalafatić about her studies and Theatre Academy Dance Collective TADaC.

Diana Malaj

Who are you and how did you end up studying at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy? 

I am Maja Kalafatić and I come from Slovenia/Serbia. I am currently a master’s student in the Dance performance programme led by professor Eeva Muilu at the Theatre Academy. 

Dance has been a part of my life since I was three and I am most thankful to my family that has been supporting me in so many ways and also made it possible for me to dance throughout difficult political situations underpinning my everyday life. I started dancing at Dance Forum Celje in 1988 with Gordana Stefanović Erjavec and got to discover contemporary dance thanks to her.  

I graduated from Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in 2006, and in 2015, I received my master’s degree from Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln in the field of dance dissemination under mentorship of professor Nina Patricia Hänel. Right after finishing my master’s education, I started my PhD education in transdisciplinary studies in contemporary art and media at the Faculty of Media and Communications in Belgrade (Serbia) under mentorship of doctor and professor Dragana Stojanović. These studies are still in progress.  

For the last fifteen years I have been working as a freelance artist in the field of contemporary performing practices and dance pedagogy. My work closely relates to the visual arts, theory and practice of contemporary dance and artivism.  I am currently enjoying my studies at the Theatre Academy and am looking forward to future dance projects coming my way.  

Many people ask me how I ended up in Helsinki, and the answer is that when two years ago I received an email about the Theatre Academy I intuitively knew that I had to come here. It was just one of those moments when you know you have to do the thing that is calling you. Besides that, I thought the program was very good. There was also a sense of fascination over an unknown distant country like Finland that drew me at that moment.  

What makes the Theatre Academy a unique environment for learning, studying and creating art?

There are many things. The Theatre Academy has truly remarkable facilities, which offer a great learning environment. But the building itself is not much without people – the whole structure and every teacher, facilitator and technician and other employees in the house are what make the Theatre Academy what it is. I also sense a high level of professionalism here, and the way that art making is thought of and explored here is very satisfying.

Describe your artist identity in five words.  

Witty, versatile, flexible, sarcastic, dynamic.

What motivated and inspired you to participate in this production?

Well, I love to work with people and have an interaction and exchange with other artists, so in this sense, working in a collective seemed more interesting than working alone. I didn’t have a particular wish to work with a choreographer, since I have quite a lot of experience in that kind of work, therefore TADaC seemed like the best option. There was also a strong desire to work with my co-peers. 

How did you start off your planning process for designing the lighting for the piece?  

I have to give a bit of context to be able to answer. We started as five students from the Master’s Program in Dance Performance and one student from the Master’s Program in Lighting Design but in the end, we divided into three groups. Speaking from the start, we have spent a lot of time together in a studio, either discussing or trying out certain ideas or tasks. It is hard to pinpoint the beginning of planning and thinking about lighting, since for me, all of that is happening simultaneously while working on a certain bodily idea or dance. Lauri brought some lights to the studio so this was kind of the first interaction with light fixtures. We started using them for one of our proposals. Otherwise, as I have mentioned, I do not think of lighting as a separate part but rather it’s already an integral part of my doing, dancing. I know or I imagine what kind of color or mood I need. I think also of details like how or if I want to direct the audience’s gaze or not and so on, so light and dance work together in my mind and are either compatible or completely separate or anything in between. Of course, when you try out things you might realize you want or need something else.  

What do you want to say with this production? / What about this production do you find essential and topical? 

What I find essential is the format of the production which allows dancers/performers who are at the beginning of their artistic path to learn about collaboration in a non-hierarchical group. I truly believe that one of the most important things in general is how well we are able to work with others or be with others. Another thing is that I think that we are way past the choreographer’s/dancer’s narrative, so this format gives agency to dancers and the dance. It gives opportunity to work beyond established dramaturgical or choreographical ways of reading and creating a dance piece. I think it is of great value to see what dance students are particularly busy with. It is very rewarding to observe where the problems are and what this generation of dance students is reflecting on. 

What do you think is the role of art, artists and art professionals in society now and in the future?  

This is a big question. I think many fields in life have pretty similar roles and visions so I wouldn’t say art is an isolated or supreme form in its responsibilities or duties. Of course, it is a field from which I draw out ideas that I find relevant. As I see it or like to envision, art should be something our community can benefit from. It could be there to either complicate and trouble certain concepts or the other way around, to ease and simplify. Of course, it should educate in the sense of opening and broadening our usual ways of thinking or sensing. It can serve as an act of rebellion or even revolution. It could give comfort and empower people to connect, share and solve. It could also be a thrill or a scare or an experiment. It can recontextualize or rethink or simulate or remake. The most beautiful thing about art is that it can take on so many possible roles. 

I wish art could penetrate diverse fields of society. I feel there is still so much space for art to fill and resonate in thanks to its creativity and specific way of resolving things. Certain fields could really benefit a lot if art was more integrated into society. 

What is your biggest dream as an artist?  

I don’t know about the biggest dream, but one of them is certainly to share my passion. I get inspired by my community, we share most of the problems, cultural context etc. and it feels like I want to give something back to it. It can either be a workshop, a class, an installation in a public space or a performance in a local gallery or dance/theatre space. I would be happy to contribute to making some kind of difference, even a small one, for a short time but to make a micro step towards a change. A change as a feeling or reflection or just sparkling joy or empathy. I dream about being busy with interesting projects and working with people I like while also making enough finances to feel free of concerns and constrains. I would like to bring more dance into communities and introduce dance into the formal education system.  I dream about a system where I don’t have to write a project proposal one year or two or three years in advance and do hours and hours of unpaid work in order to gain a possibility to work in the future. I dream to be a part of a system where I could keep learning and sharing my knowledge, develop methods and write about them. I dream of having a big open, bright studio where people and dogs can move, dance, sing and enjoy. I dream of a collective that can work through a friendship and shared artistic visions and dreams, where artists can challenge and inspire each other. 

What kinds of visions do you have for the future?  

It is quite difficult to have good visions for the future at the moment. I prefer thinking in a small scale and about more day-to-day situations as much as I can. Sometimes more successfully and sometimes less.   

Recommend an art experience of your choosing!  

Of course, TADAC!