Interview: The captivating aura of dancer Selene Muñoz
‘Dance is a universal language; when you communicate in this language, and music and dance become your words, it creates a magical and powerful atmosphere...’ It’s difficult to write a better opening line, to present the world-famous dancer Selene Muñoz. Her Scandinavian and Spanish background, similar to my own upbringing, definitely ignites the cold northern air with a burst of energy. Since I was very captivated and mesmerized by her communicative and magical performance at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I caught up with the brilliant dancer for a few insider notes from her own state of mind. Apart from creating spectacles, she also manages to focus on animal rights and poverty in Africa, with a project coming up in 2018, where she will teach and inspire youth in Africa, using her skills to voice actions through dance. She also smartly understands the need of an audience to unwind for a moment...‘We live in a time where we are constantly stimulated by smartphones, commercials, and computers, which take our focus away.’ Selene definitely understood how to capture our attention, with a performance that we never wanted to leave.
Tell me about your background and your relationship to the art of dancing?
I was born in Mallorca - my father was Spanish, and my mother Danish. My parents brought me everywhere they would go, and I was the happiest girl being part of everything and stimulated by art, music, love, and nature. It was a perfect way of growing up. When my mother found out she was pregnant, she told my father that I would be a girl and become a dancer. She was right about both things. I was never forced into anything, and I was free to decide whatever I wanted to do. I chose to dance. Actually, I danced before I could walk, and it was the most natural thing to me. At four, I started taking lessons in classical ballet at Anette Schaufuss in Denmark. When I was six years old, my father passed away, so my mother and I had to struggle and work hard to survive, but my mother is one of the most amazing women you can find, and she pulled everything she had together and more. Soon after, I started dancing flamenco, which changed everything. I had my first performance at nine years old, and at 11, I had my first production with live musicians where I helped compose the music and create the concept. I always knew that I wanted to dance. It makes me feel complete, and it gives my life meaning. It is my everything, and I love telling stories through dance and music. Dance is a universal language; when you communicate in this language, and music and dance become your words, it creates a magical and powerful atmosphere.
How does your relation in regards to the Nordic countries and the warm south reflect each other in your movements and choice of style?
I am very proud to have my mother’s Danish blood and my father’s Spanish blood. I think mixed blood is a strength and gives you insight into different cultures. I believe I have inherited the Scandinavian discipline at the same time as the warm and passionate Spanish temper. Hence my style is a mix of warm and cold; explosion, implosion and retaining force. I love the contrasts. Nordic cultures and warm southern cultures are very different, and both can learn from each other. In Spain, we can learn a lot from the Scandinavian discipline and musical sound; while in Scandinavia, we can learn to enjoy life a little more, stick less to rules and not be afraid of showing passion and feelings. It is a balance of course, and it is always interesting to find that balance.
You combine flamenco with a modern approach but with references to several styles - recently at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, there seemed to be a reference to the twenties and Josephine Baker, but just slight references - what inspired you and where do you seek inspiration?
I find inspiration in everything from colors, people, conversations, fabrics, textures, food and most of all music. I love using my senses and I try to be an open channel to receive inspiration. I love old fashion and elegance. The most important thing for me is elegance in whatever I do. It is a way of life, and I love nursing that side and to give it a twist of craziness, wildness, and darkness. I find fashion, dance, and music from earlier days much more elegant, and I think it is important to keep that warmth and dedication and work with details is very important. We live in a time where we are constantly stimulated by smartphones, commercials, and computers, which take our focus away. I deal with it as well, and it makes me sad, but I always try to see the positive side and convert negativity into positivity. So I like to work with topics that I find important, such as animal welfare, nature, respect, and communication. To me, this is where we find balance. We do not find balance in the amount of Instagram pictures, ‘likes’ on Facebook or by mirroring each other in the fake perfect world we create online. On the contrary, I think it takes us away from nature and ourselves.
Many people have a strict program of work every day that includes a certain schedule. You live a creative life, but also one that I'm sure requires a lot of self-discipline. Can you explain what a normal day of work in your life would entail?
It depends on what I am working on. If I am in a production phase, it is a very tough period with rehearsals, organizing, designing, almost no resting, and it is literally 24/7! When I have a premiere, I try to take everything out of my calendar and focus on the premiere and get well prepared for it with rehearsals, focus, and sleep. I have days where I go to the gym to strengthen my condition and muscles, other days where I go to the studio to create and practice different techniques. Sometimes I work by myself, sometimes with musicians, and sometimes, I try out things with other dancers.
You performed in front of the Spanish Royal family - can you tell me about this and the experience of connecting with an audience?
Yes. A few years ago, I performed at the Microcredit World event in Spain where the Spanish Queen attended. I had the opportunity to talk to her very briefly after the show. It was an exciting experience, and I am very honored to have had this opportunity. Also, I have performed before the Royal Danish Family on several occasions, which has been an honor every time. It is a world full of competition, and I must say that I never liked competing. I am thankful that my personal artistic style has given me the chance to perform for the Royal Families. Every audience is important to me, every each and one of them. Without them, I would not be able to fill up theatres and share my story with them to give my contribution. It means everything to me to perform and connect with music, movement, and energy.
The music involved in your performance seems to plays a big part of your almost experimental act - can you tell me about the musicians you performed together with at Louisiana, and your creative development together?
Yes, music, the chemistry, and understanding between my musicians and I are some of the most important things. I am good at putting the right people together, so we can create a magical atmosphere. And we have a lot of fun, while it is hard work at the same time. With the latest premiere at Lousiana Museum of Modern Art, I had a vision of putting together two generations of drummers. The experienced Jonas Johansen and the young talent Niclas Bardeleben. I wanted to create a fusion of their jazz and world music styles, and my musicality and flamenco. We decided to bring in the Cuban double-bass player Yasser Pino, and this quartet worked very well because we all pushed each other a little and got out of our comfort zones. I wanted to give the audience a surprise and a different look and sound. I always use a lot of time thinking about the details, costumes, stage presence, and how we can tell our story in the best and most clean way. It is very satisfying, and it makes me very happy when people tell me afterward that a show was unpredictable and surprising; that it inspired and touched them in ways they never experienced before. It is amazing to hear that you can inspire others like that.
Where are your favorite places to experience flamenco, both classical and modern, in Spain?
You have Festival de Jerez, La Bienal de Sevilla, and Suma Flamenca in Madrid, which are nice festivals to experience flamenco. They are the biggest flamenco festivals in Spain, and you have a wide variety of younger and older artists; contemporary and more traditional flamenco.
Can you tell me more about the background of your costumes how they are developed?
My mother and I design the costumes, and she makes them. She is educated in set design. Her handcraft and vision are incredible, and she has a unique way of telling stories through shapes, colors, and textures. She creates landscapes and sculptures, and it is incredible how much the costumes help me on stage. They become my skin, my armor, and make me stronger, but at the same time more sensible, so I can connect with the right energy of movement and music. She is one of the best, and I do not know what I would do without her. It takes many weeks to create the dresses. Everything is handmade, and she is a perfectionist, so sometimes she will stay up until 3 to 4 in the morning, working on costume details. She also loves elegance; she finds inspiration in everything from cuts and combinations from the 16th century to the 1960s. She loves how the Japanese combine colors, and it is very inspiring to work with her. Sometimes I mention an idea for a new choreography or a vision, and she creates a costume that fits that story. At other times, she mentions a costume under development, and I create a choreography around that. So it is a very good teamwork.
What are your dreams and aspirations in regards to your chosen art form, and how do you wish to develop them?
My dream is to dance for as long as possible. To make a difference in my voice and actions. I really hope that dance can be a strong and respected art form and language in every country. We need it now more than ever. I always wanted to inspire and make a difference, inside I have a dream of a better world, where we are not controlled or dictated by money and where we treat animals and nature as we should. At the moment, I am working on different projects where I can put an even stronger focus on animals rights and poverty in Africa. In 2018, I will be going to Africa to teach and inspire young people. Progress is through education, so we will work with each individual and their free will to study. Hopefully, they will sometime be able to travel and learn more from other countries and people. I am working on expanding my business to other countries and creating a solid base in Denmark where I can keep on creating productions, give workshops and perform internationally. I would love to continue meeting new and inspiring people to work with, focus on animal welfare and nature, and be able to have Danzart growing in that direction. I have several productions and gigs in different countries, so there is a lot of preparation for that as well.