“I would like to create pieces for my grandmother, yet also stay true to myself, to work with the problems that matter to me and my generation,” explains Nela H. Kornetová, artistic leader of the performance collective T.I.T.S. Born in Hukvaldy, Czech Republic (CZ) but based in Fredrikstad, Norway, Kornetová shared some of her thoughts about her work, her process, and her challenges as an artist while preparing for a performance this month at Cornerteateret, her debut in Bergen.
“The contemporary dance and theatre scene often feels too exclusive for audiences,” she goes on. “I want the performances by T.I.T.S. to be inclusive, without any need to be educated or have some kind of special knowledge.”
While relatively new to the professional field, Kornetovà has already established a compelling body of performance that has appealed to audiences in multiple countries throughout Europe. After completing her studies in physical theatre from the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno, CZ, Kornetovà enrolled at the Norwegian Theatre Academy to deepen her knowledge and practice of contemporary European performance. The classmates she encountered there eventually became her professional colleagues in T.I.T.S: Ann Sofie Godø (Norway), Juli Apponen (Sweden/Finland), and Björn Hansson (Sweden).
For their NTA graduation exam, this group created Trumpets in the Sky (2014). “We worked with the light and sound design, the architecture of the given space, and the physical and vocal presence of performers, in a way that made all of these components equally important,” Kornetovà recalls. The project ended up touring Norway, as well as performing in Denmark, Lithuania, Italy, and the Czech Republic, Kornetovà’s home. Using the acronym of their debut collaboration, this new fluctuating collective was formed.
Performances by T.I.T.S. are purposefully hybrid. Each member contributes in a variety of scenic, technical, and/or performative ways, oftentimes playing multiple roles within the same production. Kornetovà will not only direct a new project by T.I.T.S., but also serve as a co-choreographer, perform in the ensemble, and contribute towards the creation of the text. Video and sound designers may also dance onstage alongside her, as they did in My Own Private Picture (2015).
“I believe that good leaders do not direct from above, but rather steer from within,” she explains. While clearly the artistic leader, tasked with assembling the creative team for each project, Kornetovà aims to challenge traditional hierarchical models of theatre-creation. With T.I.T.S., the creative process is “flat”, non-hierarchical: responsibilities are given based on skills, and creative decisions are made more democratically. She continues:
The development of material starts out as concrete ideas, tasks, or research suggested by individuals of the group, which is then later developed and built upon all of us as a collective. Together we listen, experiment, and follow the direction of where the material grows. Decisions are made organically. Everybody can find their voice. Through this process, we can rarely trace the idea and its execution to a single “author” (director or writer), and thus “ownership” of the final result (the performance) becomes questionable and blurry. In T.I.T.S., ideas are regarded collective property.
So far, Kornetovà and her colleagues are not afraid to confront powerful subject matter through their work with T.I.T.S. My Own Private Picture is an atmospheric multimedia performance exploring media and human desire in connection with the representation of “sexuality” in porn. “Many teenagers learn about sex from pornographic material,” she says, “where the staged interaction does not always cohere with reality. It can have a strong influence and become normative.” With media images thus infiltrating and influencing this most intimate sphere of our lives, the performance blurred personal experience and fiction, combining elements of the documentary with that of the illicit. Instead of following a linear narrative with concrete characters, each scene within My Own Private Picture is like a new channel with the same theme.
Forced Beauty (2016) was inspired by the (re)presentation of violence in contemporary daily life—from virtual interaction on social media to personal interaction face to face. “These daily tirades, this malice that we see and hear and read everywhere, day by day,” sighs Kornetovà. “How does the accumulated witnessing of this violence, on a physical neurological level, affect our ability for empathy? This project wanted to explore that.”
Kornetovà and her colleagues are intrepid, possessing a rich balance of fine artistic skills and passionate drive. However, she is already wise beyond her years, like many artists of her generation. “Many independent artists work on the verge of burnout,” she says, dispelling the romantic myth that all theatremakers “have it easy” in Europe. She goes on:
There’s a lack of producers motivated enough to help artists, or the artist cannot afford to pay the producer before they get some kind of support. Or can’t afford to pay a producer at all. So then many artists do all of the organization, management, and production themselves. Which means they often end up working constantly. There’s never any free time, no time off. Plus, there are so many of us, so we are all competing for the support, audience and spaces. I think the inner motivation to make your art has to be very strong for you to survive in the field.
Despite these and other practical challenges, Kornetovà/T.I.T.S. continues to make new work. Mine, a “physical opera” about people’s instinctual drive to possess things and create territories, will debut at Oslo’s Black Box Teater in November 2017.
While tricky to define the performances she makes with T.I.T.S., Kornetovà describes them as gifts she offers to the public. Because with a gift, she explains, “you might not know you want it, before you get it.” As she describes these presents, one gains a greater idea of how she wants her audiences to experience her performances:
I want it to be special and personal. I want it to be kind of useful or really beautiful, not some crap you want to throw in the trash right away. I want the packaging to be already be part of the experience. I hope that the person or audience can appreciate it, since I would love this gift myself. On the other hand, I can’t please everybody. But the gift is given with the best intentions. And that should matter.