Thais di Marco

DAS Choreography Alumni Interview Project

The interview was originally held by Nathalie van Regenmortel, and was updated in April 2024.

Thais di Marco graduated in 2018 from DAS Choreography

Can you tell about yourself and your professional background in the performing arts?

I started working with performing arts since I was teenager in social projects for art and democracy and independent spaces run by artists. I was born one year before the first democratic election in Brazil and the artists at the time were really engaged in social movements of various sorts like land reform and public education. There were a lot of public and free programs of art education connected to social movements and this was how I started. I was born in the context of Candomblé (afro-indigenous-diasporic collective houses and lands) communities that have strong anti-colonial agendas and I was also educated in the workers party of Lula doing work of connecting traditional leaderships and organizing art and politics events. I saw many amazing artists that had life-long journeys into liberation movements and that were real educators.

I always had difficulties with elitistic art environments and strong feelings of unfitting and not being politically, cosmologically and spiritually aligned with those environments, and where I was, artists were fighting against rich people doing art, white supremacy and institutional privilege. Later I ran and coordinated projects of performing arts at Casa de Cultura da Brasilândia, the only cultural center in a neighborhood with the highest rates of state genocide in Latin America. There, I learned a lot because I collaborated with institutions of social work and assistance like hospitals, prisons and schools and it was amazing to see how performing arts was integrated in these collaborations. I saw or facilitated around 200 youngsters and I’m really happy about how they developed and what they became nowadays and how they fight against state genocide and for themselves. I think it was there where I started also understanding myself as choreographer and director and I still use the same techniques of direction we created at that time.

I started traveling within the context of social movements and I came to understand I was part of decolonial movements in the arts once I had access to international networks and started meeting others like me from other countries. I've been based in The Netherlands since 2016, when I moved to do DAS Choreography, and I’ve been working with artistic research and as director since then.

What drew you to DAS Choreography specifically?

I met Sara Anjo at Ponderosa in Germany in 2013 and, when things started to be harder in Brazil because of the rise of far-right movements, Sara recommended me to DAS Choreography. By chance, Robert Steijn which is an elder of SNDO and Amsterdam dance scene, was in São Paulo at a residency program called “exercícios compartilhados” run by the choreographer Adriana Grecci who studied at SNDO in the late 1980’s I guess… and he accepted to write a recommendation for my application letter to DAS.

What was your experience with the programme itself?

Well, my experience with the program is not detached from my experience of immigration. I was going through an intense cultural shock when I arrived in Amsterdam. At the same time, DAS Choreography gave me immediately the opportunity of having access to hyper mobility projects and I found Romuald Hazoume from Cotonou in Benin who invited me there. It was a life changing experience on many levels and I spent a couple of months working with him and others. I also went to Mexico to study Lucha Libre and I was really overwhelmed by all the institutional apparatus that Europe has to invest in art and really impressed by the life of artists in Europe. I received a scholarship and housing from the school which were essential to my process. I come from a place where we had little institutional support to do anything. But I also encountered all the problems of liberal and neoliberal institutions and had a lot of conflicts and struggles trying to be integrated in it.

I decided to turn to the ground movements to find support, and it was when I met the decolonial movement present in The Netherlands that was essential to my understanding of European whiteness and structural power. Knowledge that was absolutely necessary for my survival and well being in the following years. The Surinamese and Caribbean community are very welcoming and embracing of those in need and have been for centuries dealing with Dutch systems, so they can and are willing to explain to newcomers.

The program was really supportive in expanding my notion of art making through artistic research, and because I was very autonomous already, I could enjoy the structural aspects of it. But as many immigrants report, we know that all the educational programs here struggle with the institutional neoliberal politics and can’t completely, and even if educators try really hard, protect us from structural racism, xenophobia, picking up culture, etc. as it is absolutely systemic, is legacy of centuries of economies and cosmologies and they don’t always have support from organizations and population that they would need to change things in a structural level. Those trying also face retaliation, burn outs, etc.

So my experience was artistically and personally amazing, but politically hard.

Can you tell me about the creative process of your DAS Choreography master presentation?

My master presentations were connected to the artistic research process that were long processes of study, experience and discussions. The first presentation I did in 2017 was called Blood Shower, and became a piece I developed and presented later through a fellowship called LIVE WORKS in Centrale Fies, Italy in 2020. I presented last year again (2023) at a festival called Feminist Futures. The process was to study techniques of painting and sculptures done in protests and that are considered to be vandalism not high arts. At the end I did some form of live painting dance piece. The second one was pretty connected to my final text that is called Classism and Studio Dance (2018) in which I tried to play with elements that are related to social class and ethnical-racial background and tastes for art styles re-baptizing contemporary dance not based on the historical time, but based on geography. Where is it actually done and why is it perceived as an exclusionary form of art, protected by exclusionary institutions and sometimes connected to undignified forms of sponsorship. I invited a dancer from Brazil and we worked in a contemporary dance aesthetic with symbols that “rich art” doesn’t accept. We had of course exactly this type of reaction from people saying that the piece was not “dance” or that it was not “art”. Which I found surprising because it came from people used to watching things that are very radical and progressive, and it was when I understood: the market accepts radicality, but it depends from whom. You can’t be considered “inferior” and propose enlargement of boundaries at the same time. I still get strong reactions from that text as it was published in a very nice book of essays in Brazil.

Do you feel like the guidance lingers throughout your professional career? The things you learnt at DAS, how have they benefited you?

Hum. yes, absolutely stayed with me and helped me professionally, but that also depends on what someone understands as professionalization in arts. I think the program was not equipped enough to host immigration processes and to deal with certain vulnerabilities but it also didn’t propose itself as such, and made very clear to me from the beginning that immigration was not the focus or the ability of the program. But the “non residential” system can work only for certain nationalities and social conditions, so I was happy to accept the challenge and just deal with it on my own. I had worked for many years already with funds and I was already a self-producing artist so I didn’t find it particularly difficult to start producing my things after the program, and I felt stronger to stand for my practice as it is and learn to platform myself as I need. The program was not oriented to integrating people in the art market, though. But I wouldn't want the program to be, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to grow so much into artistic research but I understand that this can also become a political question: I don’t see how we can improve diversity and anti-racism in the field without being in a position to confront the deep hypocrisy of the art market, neoliberal and liberal organizations and colonial states.

I felt the program also tried to keep a certain healthy distance from the “hype” which I appreciated, by doing fair selection processes that are not based on name and fame. So yes, in my case, it did contribute a lot to me professionally and it radically embraced my whole life as my artistic practice and this was before and after. I find artistic research a very crazy thing, as you start to see all the sources of your artistic ideas, from where all of it comes from, and loose boundaries, and it was an intense realization for me. I also noticed how much it contributed to me last year when I was teaching in the Masters of Dance program at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp and felt very equipped to facilitate students in it.

What works have you created since DAS Choreography?

I graduated in 2018, now it is 2024 so I have done a lot of things since then and had the pandemics in between. Immediately after graduating I did a project in Iran that became a group performance at the TropenMuseum in Amsterdam just months after. In 2019 I did a collaboration in a piece called Omni Toxica and 2020 it was the pandemics and in 2021,22 and 23 I worked with Mia Habib in Norway who was my mentor during the first year of DAS Choreography. I noticed that immediately when I finished the program I started working as director into multidisciplinary performances. I can talk about The Goldfish Bleeding in a Sea of Sharks that was an art project from 2021 until now that had many artistic actions such as panel talks, a performance that is every time different, a research trip for a collaboration with the anarcho-feminist movement Mujeres Creando in Bolívia and also became a queer party called BIXARIA. Around 40 artists passed already through The Goldfish Bleeding team and I really like that it is something bigger than myself alone and that I can’t control everything that happens in it. Now I’m doing a solo piece on auto-ethnography about my Roma ethnic ancestry, working at Waag in Amsterdam on a research on military intelligence departments and art works as part of a program called 3PackageDeal, writing a movie script and preparing to make another group piece next year.

What is your message to aspiring DAS participants and people working in the field?

I would say that DAS Choreography is a moment for yourself to dive into your own individual process and to embrace everything you do and all your life experience as part of your art practice. To have time to think and time to feel. That’s not always a comfortable experience. I think the group experience will be important in the process, to have support of peers can be great, but it will be a matter of luck if you will have people around you that are in a position to support you so you can’t rely on your peers 100% or having the expectation of a group experience. I wouldn't recommend investing much time in the institutionality around the program, as there is a lot of suffering in it and we can get a detour, or be distracted, unless structural power is specially part of your research. Use the time to travel in between seminars. If you are a non-european artist or immigrant you will need support from Amsterdammers to settle in, and they are there for you, you just need to find where. Don’t underestimate the cultural shock of moving to another continent, and the power of the art market, nothing in it

happens by chance or is made to welcome you even if it’s said so. The international bubbles are places to pass through but I don’t believe anyone can live only of it, and we are in right-wing colonial countries. Use the program and the opportunity to become closer to yourself and the resources to invest in places, people (s) and practices you love.

The second Interview with Thais Di Marco was held by Vasiliki Liakopoulou, intern at DAS Choreography in 2023

Vassiliki Liakopoulou (VL): Would you like to tell a bit more about your artistic practice in general, but also your current artistic project, which, if I'm not mistaken, I think that there are two big projects, right? And is there anything else that you plan to do, something in mind that you would like to create after the presentations that run through July?

Thais Di Marco (TDM):  I’m working for a two-year long, or will be three years long at least, project that's called The Goldfish Bleeding in a Sea of Sharks. Because I've always been connected to public culture politics and how to think about the funding systems and their relationship with governments, I find it very important to relate our artistic practice with a geopolitical context. I always thought it was important to make this travel from the theatre, studio, and communities to our global understanding of where we are and how the global forces interact with our works. And I find that this movement helps me understand what art’s role is for the people and the planet. Fair basic crash (laughing). In order to understand what's the role of art in the moment in the places I live and the contributions I want to make to the universe, let's say, I find it important to understand the geopolitical struggle. And I find that nowadays, the art we make in cities like Amsterdam or countries such as the Netherlands has a very important geopolitical place, which is the right-wing governments and the extreme right movement that is ruling the global regime of capitalism at this moment. And they force the art institutions and the cultural policy of first-world countries to make false propaganda about human rights. So then, [it is important] for me to understand how the art market is operating within these policies. Because we have on one side the far-right politicians and projects and regimes, and then we have a mass of liberals -there are people with good intentions, but [they] don't know or don't want to really change the status of school (?) and power economies- and then we have the artists. And we have a very important decision to make at this point. Why do we always see the art market making false propaganda for human rights? Why are we actually watching military expansion and the loss of human rights in the rest of the globe? I find it very interesting at the moment how neoliberal cultural policies, led by European Union and by governments that behave as corporations, are using and how they are pushing the art system through the art market and putting other political forms of pressure. So one project that I'm in is this project∙ The Goldfish Bleeding in a Sea of Sharks∙ through different experiments of new cultural policies and a queer decolonial perspective.

We have four different shows that are very different and we also have a series of panels∙ that is The Goldfish Bleeding in a Sea of Sharks paneling club and we have already worked with this panel at Framer Framed and also at The Black Archives. We have also a conversation with the Amsterdam Museum about releasing a booklet for youngsters about institutional struggle, how to confront and face art institutions from a decolonial career perspective, and where we are as a social movement(?). And we will continue with giving talks about what's the geopolitical role of art, and how this affects and actually how this is really connected to the practices and the choices of the artists themselves. And we also have a research trip. We worked on this project together with some anarcho-feminist movements in Bolivia, that’s called (?) That we just went there to do this work, to do this exchange, that was super nice. And we have more actions. We also have a queer party that's called Bixaria (?).

And the other project I am working on at the moment is called How to A. Score. It's directed by the choreographer Mia Habib, who was also my mentor at DAS Choreography. She invited 5 directors from different countries across the globe to work with a score, a community score. So [it was] like choreographic actions to be worked in our communities. I worked with my traditional canon black community(?) in São Paulo, Thami worked in Soweto, South Africa, Filiz worked in Eskisehir, Turkey, Julie Nioche worked in Nantes, France and Tommy Noonan worked in Saxaphaw, North Carolina. And then Mia worked in Oslo. We went back after having the works with this score in our communities and we met in Norway a couple of times already to make solos. [They are] Danse pieces. And we are now touring basically these solos and we are going to try to come back to all five countries. So that's what I'm working on at the moment.

VL: And I think the presentations last until July, right? I mean, you have some presentations of some of your previous projects as well, if I'm not mistaken, and they last until July in total.

TDM: No. Both will keep going towards next year. They don’t have an ending date yet. I think they will just die at some point.

VL: OK. Well.My next question is regarding your experience with the program itself, I would like to ask you how you see the pedagogy of collective inventing and exploring artistic research as practiced in a peer exchange approach. And then, how do you conceive the peer exchange as a practice of immanent criticality? This is a notion mentioned in the study guide, and I found it very central to the curriculum. The first one is the collective practice of exploring and inventing artistic research. And the second one is immanent criticality, which is related to peer exchange.

TDM: Can you expand a little bit on that, on immanent criticality?

VL: It is a kind of criticality or a critical attitude, let’s say, that you have not only in relation to your work but also in relation to the others’ work and it is about questioning and finding new ways to investigate, to explore. I'm not sure if I have understood it very well, but I think that this is more or less the general idea of this notion.

TDM: I think that they used to tell that they make very light moderation and they used to open the discussion sessions saying, ‘We are just going to go to a wild form of conversation.’ And then sometimes it went really well, in relation to the political commitment of the students, with really philosophically deconstructing and embracing their practice. And sometimes it went, let's say, really bad. If we had students, for example, that were more interested in getting the diploma or positioning themselves in the market and they were not open at all to question deeply their practice. And I think sometimes I felt revolted by the light moderation because I was like “Wow, we cannot do this if they are not really true and open and dedicated to beyond the market and the idea of career. So, I felt interferences because [I was] not always in this frame of talking and exchanging among peers, where you can confront certain questions enough for the discussion to become critical. So I felt the immanent criticality could be easily boycotted. You could also, if you didn't want to be immanently, inherently critical, find your way and step out or you could trick the proposal.

I was very lucky with the peers of my year because they were absolutely artists with vocation, let's say. They were really pro-art and very critical of capitalism and very brave in confronting different questions. All the researchers were very passionate.

But when I advise people that want to go to DAS Choreography, I always say ‘It’s a matter of luck.’ And indeed, it's a matter of luck because you would really need to have people that are engaged with this proposal. So, it really depends on the responsibilities of these students to also carry a discrete aspect which I find the most interesting [part of it] because that's why I went to a university, not to the market, not to production.

And this was sometimes confused also by the pressure of the European dance networks. There are very wild into business models and neoliberalism. I found that I was very lucky with my peers. That's why I come to this again. I did feel and did learn a lot about how to embrace everything we do as part of our practice. I think my practice as an artist grew a lot because I could integrate all the aspects of my community life, of my cosmology which was really appreciated by my peers and by everyone. I had never before talked about the fact that I am a Roma descendant and about my maroon(?) traditional community and I had never really opened up about my past.

Now in the long term -because I graduated in 2018, so it's been already five years-, I realize and I notice that I was actually afraid that this would take me out or create more distance from the art world, where I want to work, what I actually want to do. That’s what I chose myself, so it doesn't matter my background, my ethnicity, or my cosmology. Where I chose to work is in the art field, and I’ve always been afraid to bring up those other questions because I felt that also then people would read me as an activist or read me as something else that doesn't belong to the art world.

But, in the long term, I understand that the fact that I could integrate all the aspects of my life, as a whole, as artistic research placed me more inside of the art world.
So yeah, nowadays it became clear that I am an artist and I'm also dedicated to cultural politics, and I don't do activism. I work in the cultural sector, and this is the place I want to do politics.

VL: Yeah, I remember you stressed -in the interview you gave to Framer Framed or in performingborders, I'm not sure- that you're not an activist and there is a difference between activism and what you are doing.

TDM: Exactly. I am not an activist.

VL: And to the extent that I managed to engage with your work and the interviews that you provided me with, I realized that your artistic practice is characterized by transdisciplinarity because you are related to choreography, you have studied lucha libre, If I pronounce it well, you have already collaborated with the visual artist Ehsan Fardjadniya, with the poet Sidney Lowell and with Nadia Bekkers, with whom you created a music video. So, I was wondering how you perceive the disciplinary orientation of the program of DAS Choreography and how you relate the notions of expanded choreography and transdisciplinary practice to the program and the exchange of students.

TDM: Well, I think that was very encouraged during my time in DAS Choreography. I have been always a dance artist, I have a master’s degree, with 20 years of dance practice. But I still hear, from the first solo piece I've done 20 years ago, that what I do is not dance. So I think I have to do it, and it doesn't matter if I have diplomas and portfolio (?) interviews.

I think there is a question that is interesting to me in terms of my practice that I confront, which was also about my graduation piece at DAS Choreography. It was about classism in dance in terms of aesthetics. What do we perceive, in terms of aesthetics, as contemporary dance and what not, and why? What does your piece need to have to not be perceived as contemporary dance?

And I've done different research with postcolonial artists that have been struggling with this practice. This is racialized. For example, if you are a white rich artist, whatever you do is perceived as contemporary art, but if you are a person of color, doesn't matter what you do, it's perceived as activism, for example. So in my graduation piece, I tried to confront the notion of social class. What is something that is a thing for the rich or what rich people see as high art, and why popular shows, for example, are not part of contemporary aesthetics? And this again has to do with industries, with capitalism, with algorithms. So then I worked with popular shows because I think they're less elitist and also break down the idea of somatics. Why? What's the body of somatics? How is someone that looks like is feeling their body? What does it mean in different cosmologies to perceive your own body, to get in touch with it?

I felt that I was really encouraged to make those questions and [there was] courage by the peers and by DAS Choreography to take that route and make this very intense question on what looks like something and what receives the name, because corresponds to certain values of a certain race, of a certain class for certain cosmology.

And I became more radical in this sense or more interdisciplinary afterwards. And nowadays, for example, I get in trouble even with funds for research because they say like, ‘No, you cannot research a talent show, because the talent show doesn't belong here, doesn't belong to high arts.’  I think I became more radical and I received more reactions even from the markets and from more conservative takes on what is experimental art. I felt I was encouraged to do it and I saw it also with my peers from DAS Choreography; that they were not trying to make people stay in a certain territory of it. They were encouraging people to go wilder in other directions, if those directions were true to their artistic needs. And this is not really good if you want to be a successful artist. So, I also heard a lot of complaints with people saying things like, ‘Yeah, but then I'm going to be outside of where I can sell because you cannot sell complicated things.’ But I think all the four of us, at least, really went more radical into expanding the boundaries, the borders.

VL: I would like to ask you how you perceive the current research-based focus of education that requires each student to design their own research trajectory in order to develop their personal artistic research skills.

TDM: How do I perceive this inside of the program, you mean, right? Well, in larger parts of the globe that I've been working in I don't think it's a good moment for research. It is not a good moment for political critical thinking. It's not a great historical moment for this type of practice. I think everybody's being pushed against it. And you have also the Labor precarious station, increasing neoliberal politics, and an epidemic of corporate language. Everybody's talking as coaches right now, but at the same time, you do have a military expansion, loss of human rights, the genocide, a housing crisis, new global rounds of impoverishment, cuts on science. So I don't think it's a great moment for research globally in art. And what I feel is being generated super strongly, for example in the case of Amsterdam, are artists who are desperate to enter the market but with not enough political education to understand the system.

And then you have some new liberal lies, illusions such as career, such as talent. You have a huge set of illusions and lies being imposed and what you see is that the artists start to defend this thinking or get very lost or start reproducing. And you have a huge range of lack of solidarity, lack of group. You cannot make more theatre groups, it's only solos. And you have more competition among those being triggered and among the artists, you have exclusionary, non-transparent selection processes being done by curators and art institutions. So we don't have open budgets. We don't know how people are being selected. We know because we understand the market but there is no commitment from the art institutions to make very basic policies, for example, presenting their curatorial project for the year that can be discussed, voted, criticized. So what I feel is that it's getting harder and harder to do artistic research and that's the distance between production and research. It's getting bigger and all the work of the people who create it. And this lineage was the opposite, was to unite, to try, to bring closer science and art. Politics was to try to make more, something more holistic, something that could expand the discussions.

I'm not super positive about it, also because I work with artists who are older than me. They're like 15 years older than me and work with experimental political radical projects and artistic research, and they are also suffering isolation and exclusion. I just hope that this type of practice won't get too isolated from the life of the artist because I feel the artist really needs to go through educational processes that help them to understand what's the social role of art or what's the role of art for themselves and the planet. I don't know if I answered it.

VL: Yeah, but do you think that this model -I mean you go into DAS Choreography and you are supposed to design your own research trajectory- is something that helps you to develop your personal artistic research skills?

TDM: Ah, right. Yes, I think it really helped me to follow my interests, to connect with my desire, to connect with my curiosity. And I was really encouraged to stay connected. So I think that’s the word I can say, that connection even if your desire is not what's being sold, or your desire is not what's in fashion. And I find this connection very nice.

VL: I would like to ask you how you perceive the place of praxis or practice in the approach of the program in relation to the practice-based research focus of the program and in relation to the development of your own research. How do you perceive the place of praxis or practice in the approach of the program in relation to the practice-based focus of the program and in relation to your own research?

TDM: I think again, from the beginning, they really encouraged us to think about our practice in an expanded way and to integrate and recognize. I think Sher was really sharp on that, on recognizing practices that you do on a daily basis but are almost invisible to yourself as an artist. So, for example, to recognize -and Mia who was my mentor is also a super pro at this- that sometimes sleep is what you need, and sleep is what will be the most necessary. Yeah, [it is a] practice for your development.

I am an artist oriented to shows, to popular encounters. I do shows, and I like the stage. My practice is oriented toward being on stage, doing productions, making pieces. This is what I like, and this is how I choose to express myself.
But I saw that, even if it's not what I do the most after the program, even if I prefer to have a more traditional approach in the scene -because I am oriented to presentations and I am oriented to encounter audiences, parties, and gatherings- it was important to go through the acknowledgement of my body needs. And yeah, sometimes what I need is to do, for example, pool dance classes or twerking classes or hip-hop classes or learn a language or all of these activities that the body calls for, and they are all dance practice too.

And I think this was very valuable for me to understand ‘OK, I can't do all of that. All of this is my practice. But how I want to make this emerge. In the world, it is through a more regular type of making a show, making a performance, that has a beginning and an end, that has pop music, that has pop dances, that looks like a show.’ And then I felt that we could go anywhere we wanted, and the focus was on acknowledging the invisible practices that we don't name but that are super important.

VL: And how do you see the international orientation of this program in relation to the international field of performing arts and then how do you see the connection of DAS Choreography with the local context of Amsterdam and the Netherlands?

TDM: I think this is a good question for DAS Choreography to rethink. Because at the moment I see that the program is halfway. As I moved to the Netherlands because of the program, that was my immigration. And nowadays among my friends, I am the only one who is not a native speaker and I work all the time in close relationships with decolonial people who are mainly Surinamese and from the Caribbean… and they are amazing. And I learned so much. And this history is so big. But they have never heard of DAS Choreography, like there's absolutely no connection with the decolonial movement of the Netherlands and the Netherlands has half of the third of the population, so half of Amsterdam, which is black. There's also the Moroccan community. So, once I left DAS Choreography, I encountered the Netherlands. And I was like, ‘Wow, actually there is a whole world where I feel I fit.’ And I actually meet a lot of people who might learn a lot, and I collaborate with them. But they have no representation at all at DAS Graduate School as a whole.

At the same time, if DAS Choreography has no connection with decolonial people because they want to be in touch with the European dance networks, then European dance networks are absolutely not interested in research. I think that a DAS Choreography student will never sell something or be chosen unless it's someone who really understands the politics of it, so the corruption of it, the lobbying of it, the industry of it, the industry of representation, cultural appropriation, and unless it's someone that really wants to play a very dirty game of European dance networks and make cultural appropriation or be integrated with very specific ways that the market has.

I think that at the moment it’s halfway, it does not really connect with people who do underground(?) work and also offers no structural contribution to reform the European dance networks for something that we can actually believe in, trust, and collaborate with.


For more information about Thais di Marco’s work