In conversation with Croatian contemporary dancer Matija Ferlin

Matija Ferlin is a performer who graduated from the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam. Upon completing his studies, he moved to Berlin where he worked and lived for several years. After the city stint, Matija moved back to Pula, Croatia, where he is originally from, to focus on researching and rearticulating different concepts of stage performance and other media such as short movies, videos and exhibitions.

Matija works and performs internationally. He just got back from Montreal where he was performing his latest duet ‘Out of season,’ a project he co-created with a Canadian choreographer Ame Henderson, and in the next few weeks, Munich is his base. Matija will work at Residenz Theatre as a body movement coach/choreographer.

We sat down with the dancer to talk about the movement and a connection between religion and dance.


Matija, what type of a dancer are you?

I like to think of myself not as a dancer or let say, as a silent one, if one. From the very beginning, I had a hard time relating to that term and what it covers/means.

Why so?

I am disturbed by the discipline and formative decoration I sense in this word.

Ok, that I understand, but we still have to pin you down.

Let say then I believe I am a dancer that enjoys erasing the dancy in the dance. I am the dancer that refuses to count while dancing on music but rather dances in silence. I like to hide the physical dressage. I seek for virtuosity that doesn’t emerge from form or technique. I find myself working with my body on things not many people would address as ‘dance.’ Nevertheless, I am an artist working primarily with the body, so even when in silence and stillness of motion, the body resonates it dances.

Do you dance every day?

I used to. But because of moving between cities, at one point, it became very hard to keep up with a daily training routine. I replaced classes with swimming in the ocean, forest walks and some other low key physical engagements that keep my body in shape. I took good care of my body through my dancing career, but as every dancer would probably agree, it was a slightly destructive relationship. During my twenties, my body was silent with pain symptoms. In my thirties, it slowly started showing me that maybe I should show a bit of kindness to it and I decided to listen.

I feel more in sync with my body at the moment than I ever did. It is also easier to listen in silence. These days, apart from work, I catch myself dancing mostly in the morning while making coffee, getting the body ready for the day, you know. I dance to whatever I hear on the radio. I love radio, and I hope it never dies.

Do you think you’re still getting better as it goes, or your peak is now in the past?

I perceive the improvement. I am not sure if I am getting better, but honestly, I don’t see myself aiming for the better.

Tell me more about your work process and all involvements you hold when it comes to putting a show together?

My working processes, of course, differs, depending on the project. Partly because of the peculiarity of the production conditions determining the field, partly because of research interests of its actors, namely the need to open up the field towards unexplored directions. What is common ground to all of the works, is the certain type of dedication to the research and exploration. I believe each new process has to establish a new vocabulary of some kind.

Somehow too many things are taken for granted in specific traditions of making theater and dance, and shaking them up is something that I feel I have been doing with my collaborators throughout all the processes. Obviously, this method requires a lot of translating to be done, not only between body language and mind language, but also between old ways of saying and seeing things, and new ways of doing so.

Dance is part of many systems of belief about the universe that deal with the nature and mystery of human existence and involve feelings, thoughts, and actions. Dance is present in mythology and religion, and you do hold strong religion beliefs. When it comes to those two connections (religion and dance) what in your case came first and how does one affect the other?

Simone Weil wrote, “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God. There is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign. Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible. For this reason, all art of the first order is, by its nature, religious.” I like to think of those two (religion and dance) not being the opposites. I like to think they serve each other. Art remains some kind of bridge to religious experience and faith, in that sense, it does not take anything away from my art, on the contrary, it magnifies it. It also helps me to contemplate, as Benedict XVI would say, “Contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful.”

Seeing you dance, the viewer can straight up get the feeling of kinesthetic activity or empathy, the sensations of contact with other bodies involved in the dance and your involvement in the environment present at the time. That said, what is more important to you – the connection you establish with people/things involved in the show or the show’s choreography and set up itself?

Well, I must admit that ‘choreographing’ the spirit on stage is the most exciting part. Sometimes, when the movement is so familiar, well known to your body, you are seeking new methods on how to revive it by not changing it. It is so exciting for me to dive into the present moment of the performance, and try to choreograph those microseconds of time, where the past pours into the present and future overruns them all by letting the spirit/state/presence inhabit the well known choreographic space/dance.

Text: Katja Horvat

Photo: Sanja Bistričić

Clothes: Petja Zorec