Bruno Isakovic is a talented Croatian choreographer whose stunning performance ‘Guernica 2014’ was recently performed at the at the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna, Italy, as part of the ‘PERFORMING GENDER SYMPOSIUM‘. Last year he infamously performed naked in front of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, and has continued to create waves ever since.  I spoke with him about his beginnings, the “Insitution of Gender” and the political significance of nudity.

When did you discover you wanted to be a dancer?
I never had much connection to physicality as a young child. I was a very girly gay boy I growing up in a very macho environment in Croatia. I hated football and sports in general, as a sort of resistance, and I was always inventing reasons to skip school activities that involved anything competitive, because I knew I would lose, or at least I believed so. I never danced in public at the time, only in the safety of my room.

It took one ecstasy pill at a trance party to unleash the dancer in me. I was almost 17 and I was attending electrical engineering high school. Drugs calmed down my fears, in a way. They connected me to the outside world and canceled the side effects of the experiences that burdened me growing up. And then dancing took over, the feeling of freedom became my drug. During one of those parties I met a girl who was amazed by my dancing and she convinced me to join her for contemporary dance lessons. That’s how it all started.

Did you have to face stereotypes and prejudices being a young Croatian boy who wanted to dance?
The prejudice about me being a boy who dances did exist, but as a gay boy I was already used to living outside the norms. With the occasional use of drugs, with dance and my newly experienced freedom I actually enjoyed being outcast, as a kind of privilege. It was a punkish triumph to enjoy myself and to feel good about it without the need for others’ approval. I became stronger because of that conflict, of not being fully accepted: succeeding in spite of all the difficulties was the thing that made me dance even more. The way I feel about dance is similar to what I experience with humour: it has the amazing power to release tensions, it is immensely enjoyable and it creates the space needed for manoeuvring through the hardships in life.

After a while I didn’t need that conflict, I moved away from Croatia and I finished dance academy in the Netherlands. I didn’t feel those stereotypes during Performing Gender project. As it is with music, dance is also a language that links differences and creates space for more susceptible connection and communication.

You often challenge your audience by interacting, smiling, gazing at somebody, reading. Is it seduction or confrontation?
The challenge of a direct and honest connection with somebody reveals the purpose of communication, and it is a big source of inspiration for me. That connection can be confrontation or seduction, but with the audience I experience it as a way of inducing a powerful transfer for meanings that can work on individual level. Why am I now here? Why am I naked? Why are you looking at me? How does that make you feel? Do we understand each other? It’s about being reactive towards the audience and triggering interest in me and in the people around me, while bringing to the surface thoughts and feelings that then charge the communication.

In ‘Guernica 2014’, your work presented last year for Performing Gender, you performed naked in front of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. What’s the political meaning of your naked body?

To create a work that questions gender within the walls of a strong institution such as Reina Sofia Museum was challenging. When I was proposing my ideas for performance, the museum did not approve my intentions and I was constantly occupied with rethinking it in response to their conditions. I was invited to create a work about gender responding to the museum’s artworks but I could not be naked, and if I wanted to be then it would have been possible only far away from the museum’s pieces of art, because of security issues and because of possible unwanted offensive meaning my nudity could impose on the artworks. As the creation progressed the conditions in which I could create my work started to define it, and in the end they became part of the creation process. All this resembled how the institution of gender in our society defines who we are – what we can do with our bodies and identities, and where we can do it, depending on the context and the environment we live in.

Paradoxically, the room where I performed my work is named ‘Sala de Protocolo’. In the space of protocols, in the secured zone, far from the original Guernica and art that ‘matters’ I could convey my message about gender. There I was, painting my naked body in black, transforming it beyond its common recognition with Picasso’s Guernica projected on the wall. I was gradually vanishing into blackness, with the constant reminder from the sound speakers that we were in the “space of protocols”. I wanted to question the questioning of gender itself,  this is the political aspect of the work. Questioning gender mostly means contrasting the dominant definitions and bringing to the fore our views and feelings of gender in the environment we live in. During my performance, the transformation of both the illustrious painting, as a symbol of institutions, and of my body, and gender with it, happens on the far margins of existing norms. Norms become a condition that defines the transformation, in the same way Reina Sofia museum strongly defined the creation of my performance.

In daily life nudity is often lived and perceived as a vulnerability, but on stage it is a strong assertion of self-confidence. Does a naked body on a stage send a message in itself?
Performing naked can be a strong affirmation of self-confidence, and indeed it is a powerful tool. But for me what’s more important is the vulnerability that it brings to surface – a strong channel for relating with the audience and the subject in question. We are overwhelmed with so much ‘plastic’ self-confidence in this world. So beside the powerful statement and the affirmation of self, getting out of your clothes, not being able to hide a single breath, a single movement, revealing your intentions, it brings about truthfulness, which speaks for itself. When I stand naked in front of people, gazing at them in the eyes and observing that same connection, it creates an open zone, just being there, without the need for camouflage, pretence, or supposed self confidence.

What are you currently working on?
I spent the last two years performing my solo work ‘Denuded’. I developed my physical method basing movement quality on the relationship between breath and physical tension and the ways they permeate the body in each moment. In ‘Denuded’ tensions are accumulated to their extremes, halted in suspension of various breath dynamics and repeatedly transformed into states of relaxation. An important trait of the work is performers’ relationship with the audience through a constant gaze, feeding the communication during the whole performance. I had the amazing opportunity to perform it all over the world, and it was performed by different performing artists, as a solo and as a duet. That opened many exciting possibilities for the work and contributed greatly to a precise definition of the physicality I used for it. The next stage is to create a group piece with the dance company in Zagreb I’m a part of, Studio for Contemporary Dance. Last January I conducted a research period with 11 performers, where we challenged and expanded the method further. The creation period starts in May, with the premiere at the end of June. I’m super excited about this, getting to work with amazing people, all with very different backgrounds, breathing and being nude together. My dream is coming true, the world is saved!

You can find out more about Bruno and the ‘Performing Gender’ project HERE.