Kiani del Valle, the Puerto Rican born Berlin-based multidisciplinary artist and dancer explores her own experiences with with migration and having many homes or none at all as a major influence on her work. Her style combines an assortment of disciplines but ultimately aims to disrupt classical notions and explore authentic movement as a means of expression. As a whole her art pulls from various mediums such as film, music, and fashion to create a truly avant garde experience.
She is known as a choreographer and dancer (and has has her own dance crew ensemble known as KDV), however, her reflections and ideas go way beyond that, and her impressive body of work – from performing at famous venues such as Funkhaus Berlin, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles or working on Peggy Gou and Vogue Germany's Unlimited Beauty campaign – is proof of what wonderful machinations she might have in store for us in the future.
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How would you describe your work and approach to dance?
My work exists because I exist, and movement, performance and choreography just happen to be the channel in which I can express myself better. I am just not very good at other things or finding a grounding energy in those… Dance has been the constant labour of discovery and challenge in which I have found a home. I often connect my creative process to the cathartic confection of a painting, juxtaposed with the precise process of building a sculpture. However, in my universe this sculpture never finds a final form.
The path with my body is intuitive, honest, brave, incredibly fun and frequently hard and with a huge amount of visceral love in it. It is precisely because of that instinctive flow that in the progression of making my work I get to know myself and others better. My work almost consists of a clairvoyant conversation, going off of clues and pleasure. My work often reveals things I didn't know when entering a new creative process. It reveals things about myself, yes, but often it reveals specific things about the situations in my life, such as my concerns on society and the constraints or liberties of the environment that surround me. It is equally physical, compulsive, instinctive and somatic all at the same time.
How much of your performances are improvised? Or do you prefer to have them meticulously planned out?
Improvisation is a very important tool I use for creation. I use it to generate material or to dig deeper in conceptual worlds.
What has been the most defining moment in your life or career thus far?
When I think about it there are to this day three pivotal moments that define the existence of my work and even the existence of who I continue to become as an individual.
My very first big stage performance was when I was 10 years old, and I played a flower from The Little Prince theatre adaptation at Centro de Bellas Artes de Puerto Rico, directed by Nana Hudo. The choreography of that scene was done by my aunt Maritza Martínez, who used to be a lead actress and dancer in the island. It was my aunt and nana Hudo who saw something in me and introduced me to theatre and dance. Before that I was painting, rollerblading, bodysurfing, climbing trees, obsessing about dinosaurs and recording myself with my dad’s camera performing songs from The Cranberries, Mecano and Guns N'Roses.
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And what are your other two career defining moments?
One is an untitled solo I danced at a performance night at this tiny venue called the Divan Orange in Montreal, during the years I was studying contemporary choreography there. I remember rolling all over the stage, I broke my pants and took drinks from the audience members. I was at the edge of crying and sort of used my pain as satire; it was quite punk. I was dancing to Superstar by Sonic Youth (a cover from The Carpenters). I remember having a ‘eureka’ moment as a performer and realising I have no limits once am in the zone. I was equally amazed and scared of myself. Months after that performance I joined a BMX bike gang formed with my friends in Montreal called Cabeza de Perro. I think this period was the birth of badass Kiani.
The third one was the premiere of Las Casas Invisibles, with my very own KDV Dance Ensemble at Funkhaus Berlin a year and a half ago. Ten of my most favourite dancers in Berlin danced alongside live music by Floating Points, Lotic and Raven, who I respect and admire so much. There were two sold out shows in one night, 3000 people came to see us. My parents flew from Puerto Rico as well as my aunt.
Being a choreographer and dancer you move around a lot, physically and in the way that you have to travel for performances. The idea of not belonging to one specific place and having a multitude of homes seems to be a theme that inspires most of your work. How does this translate into your choreography and what influences you besides the idea of migration?
The concept of migration has influenced my work in ways I will probably continue to process for the rest of my life. My creative process, as well as my migratory journey, have been equally intuitive and spontaneous. No move was actually really planned for too long. Dance took me there and that’s what mattered because dance was the only ‘place’ I felt safe anyways. However, not all of my work talks about migration as a direct subject.
There are often subjects want to study in specificity or with a microscopic lens – like the self, the transcendental spiritual evolutions of one being, as well as the ways anthropology and archeology relate to that self. Then the research of that self could often be abstract or more specific which often takes me to the development of characters… I am a sucker for becoming different people and living in another skin that’s not my own. By becoming different people I often question my relationship to space, location, architecture.
Also, I have been navigating and studying the historical punishment of the dancing body in (post)colonial contexts. Other concepts include defining love and sexuality in a contemporary human being in this ever changing apocalyptic world that is crumbling in front of our eyes. In the end, my research always starts with intuiting what is moving my vessel, but those are some subjects that have been bugging my brain in past and current works.
As someone who performs solo and also builds an ensemble, in a variety of venues such as live performances at the David Lynch Arts Festival, National Sawdust and Funkhaus Berlin, as well as works on camera for a music video and film, in which types of environment do you feel you’re thriving the most?
I thrive the most when I am being true to my heart, when there’s a real commitment to the craft. We will always struggle, we will always have good and bad days but you have to be clear of what your real intentions are and not get lost in trends and clouds.
If the dance work translates to stage, video, film or installation that does not matter to me, as long as I am being honest. When I am not being honest or when the environment does not allow me to follow my true intentions I feel like drowning, literally.
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You previously mentioned that when it comes to collaborations with musicians you eventually decided that the music should work around the dance instead of the other way around. Does this idea transfer to other aspects of the performance as well, such as the settings or stylistic choices?
Yes, the older I get the more those boundaries become quite clear. When I was starting my career I wanted to do everything. For a transmedial movement artist like me, I am very hungry to work with all kinds of people from all fields. As time goes by and I grow deeper in my skin, brain and heart, my relationship to my dance, body and craft keeps evolving… At this point, I like to protect my dances, as they are the voice, the essays of extensive research. That said, if I am working on my independent work I will do everything in my capacity to have all departments adapt to the dance, that includes: music, costume, spacial design, lighting design and even camera work.
When it comes to working as a hired choreographer or movement director in someone else’s production that's a completely different universe. I will fight to make this happen, the same way I want to achieve it in my independent work. I have to admit it is often hard.
Recently you were the creative mind and choreographer behind the Peggy Gou On the Meaning of Beauty video for Vogue Germany, as well as being the choreographer for campaigns like Selfridges London, and even works for independent music artist like Bendik Giske, Objekt and Floating Points. Do you feel that at this point in your career you have complete artistic freedom when you are commissioned for something?
For commercial work if I encounter a director and/or producer that is lacking they will see me as a difficult person, when in reality I am just aiming for quality and for the greater benefit of the work. At this point of my life and career I only encounter those situations when I am commissioned for commercial work. When it comes to making work in the music industry in most cases I am brought on board to be completely myself and bring my choreographic language to the table.
The KDV dance ensemble started in 2016, and you received an overwhelming number of applicants at the time. Previously you have emphasised your aversion to elitism within the dance world. What is the most important aspect of a dancer that you look for?
People that are brave, that are not afraid to show all the complex layers of themselves, that respect the creative process and that don’t disrespect other collaborators and come to the space ready to leave their ego at the door. All my dancers are extremely emotionally, psychologically and physically intelligent. They are also all hilarious which makes the process so fun. Entering the space with openness allows the conversation to stay playful and to exceed each others expectations creatively.
You were the first dance resident of the respected Funkhaus in Berlin. In what other ways do you aim to bend the norm or break barriers with your contemporary dance?
It actually goes way further than being an immigrant with Indigenous blood. I come from a country that’s been and continues to be colonised and oppressed, and I'm presenting my work in these big historical places and venues. Claiming those spaces or taking over those institutions with my voice is important for me, yes, but the real barriers are broken when we put our seed every day to break the pre-conceived institutionalised ideas of the dance world. I've realised that in the dance world we've been taught to work from the eye of a white person, and I've been ‘staring’ at those the stigmas and taboos of what is the right formula to be a successful dancer and choreographer. As someone that started with ballet and modern dance and landed in a long journey all the way in the contemporary and performance world, it's not about rejecting and denying the classics (at least for me) but about transforming that history into our own voices and my dancers’ own voice too.
What about bringing to the surface other classical legends and stories? We need to listen to each other. It is impossible to break any barriers if we stay in the surface of the vision of one sector. Society is diverse, our world is diverse and we need to be radical in the way we talk about sharing and union in art making. And so, while jumping the fence of those institutions, while breaking the barriers and stigmas of race, gender and the ‘idealistic’ futures for one’s career. we will hopefully arrive to a broader audience that is not elitist and does not put us in a box the minute we walk in the space.
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Full look OTTOLINGER, jewellery SASKIA DIEZ.
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