What Did a Robot Ever do to You?
We may not be under attack from intergalactic robots (yet) but that doesn’t keep Jens from trying to stop them. Hear what he really means in this episode.
What’s the first thing you do when traveling somewhere new? Very few of us blindly walk into the great unknown without opening a map app. Learning how to navigate is part of life. It’s different than just following the flow and hoping for the best… it’s about active participation in the process. In this episode, hear how Jens learned to navigate the deepest oceans and how robots are truly out to get us.
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TRENDHIM: Welcome to Trendhim’s Tell Your Story Podcast. Today, we're talking to Jens Brøndum, the Artistic Director of DeLeon company and a man on a mission to end all robots.
So Jens. What did a robot ever do to you?
JENS: Well, I don't think it's, it's more than what they did to me. I think it's more what they didn't do. In that sense, I just believe that we as humans still have something to say with our bodies. I believe that bodies can tell stories, through physicality, through movement. And I believe that we sometimes need to disconnect to reconnect.
TRENDHIM: So you're not talking about robots necessarily, like the one that vacuums your floor, like this thing never chased you around the house or anything.
JENS: Well also that, but that's a different story. I just believe that we, in the 21st century in 2020, we connect through social media, which is a great platform. I also use it. We connect through online chat sites, we connect through film, through things that are visually stimulating through a screen.
And I think for a dancer or contemporary dancer and choreographer, like I am, that we still have something to say with our buddies. We still have, availability to reach possibly somebody young or possibly somebody a bit older through movement, through being able to share our experiences through a dance piece.
TRENDHIM: Yeah. But what's that first step? I mean, if I'm going to tell you a story, then I'm going to tell you a story, right? If you read a story, you're going to open the book. Here's chapter one, here's chapter two, whatever. You're doing this through movement...
JENS: And that's always the big question for anybody. I believe it's where to start, how to do that first line on a blank piece of paper, or how to say, this is my story. I think it has a lot to do with being open. It has a lot to do with just being honest with yourself and presenting here I am. This is me. This is my body of work.
When we create pieces. It comes from one essential idea, kind of an emotional stimulus in a way. So for the last piece, we did called Out of Dust, which was inspired by a Danish poet. It was really that first initial moment when I was reading the sentence that she wrote and my physical reaction, the way that my body started to move in a sense, I started to shake a bit and feel very emotionally charged. And I think that is such a beautiful way to present work, to make people feel something.
TRENDHIM: So then the idea is to take the same feeling that you had and pass it on to someone else? I mean, I read a lot of stories to my son the moral tale or whatever is quite simple to figure out, but is the goal then to have someone hear the same story that you're hearing in your head. Is that the plan or can they get something else out of it?
JENS: The plan is, is actually to make them find something new. And that's such a great thing is that we as humans and we as people from different societies, we perceive things differently and I really want to celebrate that kind of difference. I want to celebrate that we can look at a painting and feel two different things.
We can look at a TV screen and feel two different things, or we can eat the same food and really have a different experience. And that's the same thing with contemporary dance pieces that we can really be moved differently. But there is a sense of that if you don't get moved, if you don't feel emotionally charged at any time. Then I start to have a problem with how I create , so I'm really trying to open the doors for the audience, young, old, educated in the arts or not to feel something, to have an experience to reconnect with something that they haven't reconnected within a while. It's really to give them a chance to be present in the moment physically. And sometimes spiritually or mentally without having a screen there.
TRENDHIM: That can always be successful in assuming, I mean I hope so. I don't wish any ill but surely that's a tough row to hoe.
JENS: It's, it's a lifelong journey. It's a way that keeps me energized for what I do continuously every single day. Because you won't be able to touch everybody. You won't be able to reach out because we're so different. We are all coming from different backgrounds. We all have something unique to share, but in my way of working, I just believe that there is a general consensus that we need to actually have space. We need to actually have time to listen to ourselves. I always say this to my dancers when we start to create, if I can touch this one person emotionally, then I've done my job.
TRENDHIM: And I guess that's the same because you teach a lot of workshops as well, right? How do you go about making sure that something is told, something is understood, you know, in such a short time?
JENS: It's a lot about clarity. And there's a lot about saying exactly what you mean to say. It's in that way of telling a story. You know that if you start with, and then maybe, and then you start to add words… it gets muddy and it gets unclear. If you start to, yeah, like I'm doing now, start to question how to speak even then, then I think that audiences won't understand.
It's to be very clear and to say, this is what I want you to understand and this is how I want you to feel, but still, leave it open. And that's the whole challenge with, with also teaching is that be very clear, but still be so open so it's really about opening up and it's really about. Presenting a huge, wide field of tools that they can use.
TRENDHIM: Clarity is important. That makes total sense. It's a great life lesson in general, but how do you learn clarity? It looks like it'd be a lot easier to just find someone who's nailed it and copy him… to become a mini-him in a way.
JENS: I think at the, in the very beginning, we all kind of have to replicate what we've learned. And I mean, as a child, we copy what our parents do, or at least that's what I did, is copy the way that I, my father would walk or the way that my mother would dance. It's something that you kind of look at and you've had to emulate, but once you get older, and once you get a bit more experienced, you realize that copying isn't just going to be the way. It's not the way that if you want to make your own work, you simply cannot. So for us or for me, it was really important to find my own voice, to really be able to find how did I experience this? How did I experience all this information? So it's been really about looking for my unique small perspective and how do I share what I've experienced through moving. And I think it's still ongoing. I think it's daily because we have so much influence from the outside. We have so much information, again, from a screen. And sometimes I wish it could be information through the stories that we tell each other.
TRENDHIM: So that works if you're a solo performer, right? If you're the only one standing up, this is my story. Listen to me… beating your chest. But if you're working in collaboration with others what's the line? Where is it? This is what I want to say versus this is what she wants to say, what he wants to say. How do you bridge that and bring that together? Or do you, do you have the final say? Is that the position? Is that the goal of the company?
JENS: I mean, the joke has always been that I do have like a Trump card that really kind of just overruled. But I've never used it. And I think in the last production we did have Out of Dust was really much more collaborative than it's ever been. I think as a choreographer, one of the big jobs that we have is to listen.
It's a lot about listening to your own ego and letting that kind of a powerful entity, quiet sometimes and listen to other people's stories. It's really a journey and it's, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work. So I've also had the experiences where collaborations have been very tense and it's been very difficult to navigate.
But then, in the end, you also have to realize that you can always say no, and you can always go a different route. You just have to kind of redefine this and then say this with words.
TRENDHIM: You know? And I think that's important. It's really, if I was to be in a room with you and had to move next to you. Yeah. We've worked together before… I mean, I would very easily just sort of give in and go with your opinion. Go with your direction.
You know, and I wonder how many times that happens? That somebody gets dominated or subdued, that what they want to say, their opinion gets pushed under because of admiration or respect or, or awe of someone better than them. You know? Instead of realizing that what you have inside you is valid, it's worth sharing. It's worth saying.
JENS: And that's the thing, you have to be able to, to bring that out of people. And I believe that, that it is really this thing about listening and bringing that out because, yeah, we, we do experience, I mean, we've all tried to go with the flow. I mean, as a teenager, I'm sure that it's this thing about everybody was wearing, you know, jeans and ripped t-shirts, and I also wanted to wear jeans and ripped t-shirts. And this thing about going with the stream, it's a great thing. But I always say navigate through the system. Learn how to go with it, but never lose yourself. And this is a daily practice.
This is not something that is easy for me to do or I believe for anybody to do, but it's, it's sticking sometimes to your guns, sharing your story with such compassion for yourself to make people realize that we are all unique and we're all really, really different. And that is something to be celebrated.
It's a very cliche thing to say, I'm sure in 2020, then we hear this so much from other great places, but yeah, I have to tell people this daily that you are so valid and you have something to say, and I want to hear that.
TRENDHIM: Let me tell you, there's a thing about cliches now. Here's some wisdom for you. There's a lot of truth behind all those cliches. You know it? And no matter what year it is, hearing that somebody is valid is really important.
But I do like the fact that there's a difference in your mind between going with the flow and navigating the flow, navigating requiring an active participation, whether you're turning on your GPS to figure it out yourself instead of just, you know, being a lemming and jumping off the cliff. I liked the way you said that.
JENS: Yeah. I mean, it's something that I've really tried to realize through my, yeah, my professional career, but also my personal evolution in all this. I remember it was. In school, in the Danish National School of Performing Arts. I had a teacher, and we didn't actually get along so well, so I won't mention her, but she knows that we didn't really connect, but she said something to me and she said it's just because we just navigate differently.
You do, you do you and I do me, and sometimes this doesn't connect, but that doesn't mean that we still can't ride the wave together. That doesn't mean that we won't be able to actually work in the same field. And that really hit me, this thing about we're all, we're all either riding the wave or navigating and sometimes this co-aligns and that's something. Then it becomes maybe a partnership or collaboration and sometimes it doesn't. And that's okay because in the end we're still all trying to just to figure out this crazy world. I mean it's a huge ocean for me.
TRENDHIM: Speaking of oceans and riding waves, has there ever been a time when you decided you wanted a different ocean? You wanted to go to a pond? A nice stream over there in the corner? You know? Has it ever been a time when you just thought this was too much? Man, navigating is tough.
JENS: Navigating is tough, and I think there's big moments and small moments. I just, the other day I was like, Oh, maybe it's just time for me to float. Like, just lie back and just not. No. I had, I had two good years when I was, yeah, between like 16 and 18. I had a couple of years there where… I just think I needed teenage, I needed to not have that kind of pressure to really be the best of myself every day. And that is, and of course, it's always different from each story. And I think my story is really this about the, yeah, I just wanted to reconnect with who I was outside of dance. And I think that once I had that kind of confirmation that I could also be a good person without dancing, and I could also make other people proud without having to perform every day, that it kind of made me more secure than when I go into dancing I'm also myself and I'm also a human that has values and friends and family that can support me through whatever I do in life.
So I'm always constantly in and out of big ponds and small lakes. And sometimes I'm like in these massive oceans where I have no idea where I'm going. And I think that's the beauty of being able to work as an artist these days.
TRENDHIM: You mentioned being proud of yourself and really realizing that. What's the moment of which you're most proud? Is there one that you can put a finger on?
JENS: Well, people want me to say that it's like creating a big work or, working with a big artist and I'm proud of what I've done professionally also. But I think for me, it's that moment and it's, it's a very emotional moment.
I have a student and he's been with me for almost 10 years, and it's just seeing his face after the first production and him just being, wow, this is… this is why I've been with you for so long as like as a student because I see you grow and you really touched me and he reminds me that I can still become a better teacher. I can still become a better choreographer. It's to be able to touch that one person and make them realize that they have a value and that they can choose an alternative route in their life that they don't have to follow and just let the stream carry them into what society wants him to believe he should be.
It's really about being able to navigate. And then when I do that, when I touch those individuals through my work and through the work of others that I'm a part of, I think that's why I do it.
TRENDHIM: Well. That's very beautiful. Is it true?
JENS: It's the truth. Yeah, I mean, people, people always question that. But it's for me, it's really about sharing your stories. It's really about touching other people's lives.
With what we can do as dancers physically. I think it's such a beautiful way of reconnecting again… with something we all do. It's physicality, and I think that's something that's been left a bit through this rise of the machine kind of way we're going. And I think it's really important to come back to that, that the body has something to stay still.
TRENDHIM: Exactly. There's something left to say and then there's something worth saying and then there's someone who needs to hear it. I think that's really the biggest sort of takeaway.
How do you teach someone to share? How can you go from zero to open in five minutes or less?
JENS: I think it's about not being scared of what you have to say through just calling up a friend and saying, Hey, I've had a bad day, or, Hey, I experienced this and I want to tell you this. Or, Hey, I'm going to take a picture. And this is going to explain how I felt the last year. I think it's this thing of bringing thought into action. Bringing some kind of emotional state into a physical state.
I think that if we can bridge that gap and make that gap not so scary, to become that emotionally yet in touch with ourselves. So, yeah, I think that the more focused to the everyday small artistic practices,
TRENDHIM: Yeah. And more focused on sort of those small moments every day too. Those are really the things that... taking advantage of every little moment. Every little thing that happens during the day, take note of it because it adds up to something. It makes up your life, obviously, but there, there has to be something bigger than it adds up
JENS: I mean, you always talk about this. You know when, when people get into a relationship and then they always talk about, oh, then, and he did this small little thing, and that was what made me fall in love with him or her. And this, that's really true. It's, it's these small little moments that we all do to each other with each other every single day.
I mean, it's, it's just that moment when… I was sitting with now my partner in crime Stina Strange, she’s the creative producer and dancer of DeLeon company. And I just remember we were back in 2000, I think it was like 17 or something, 16 probably. Cause I still remember it very vividly now, she just looked at me and said, so we're going to do this together. And that's changed everything. And now we are inseparable, almost like working nonstop and these small moments, these are really valuable.
You know, looking at somebody and kind of realizing, Oh, we've experienced the same or oh, you have something that I can learn from these moments. They make everything so much bigger.
TRENDHIM: Exactly. Especially when you look at them like that. And speaking of moments, I need to thank you for this one, Jens. It's been a pleasure. I always enjoy hearing from you and seeing your work. And we'll just look forward to seeing you on the stage in 2021.
And thank you for listening. Here at Trendhim, we believe that every man has a story worth telling. What's yours?
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