Ksenija Hribar Awards 2023

Members of the expert jury: Dragana Alfirević, Teja Reba, Nataša Živković

This year’s selection of the Ksenija Hribar Award recipients is both a tribute to colleagues who have been paving the way for contemporary dance for decades, as well as an encouragement to the youngest and boldest among us. It is also an invitation to notice each other in all our differences, without trying to neutralize and homogenize approaches, tendencies and ways of working. Our selection affirms dancers as authors, reflects on the ties between the amateur and the professional, is aware of the eternal pursuit of the balance of those working in our field, i.e. acting in different roles, and highlights the importance of (co)operation beyond national borders to avoid slipping into the confines of our own provincialization. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those who work and persevere in this field. We aim to affirm individuals, projects and phenomena that promote connections and development, and those that offer a constructive retrospection of dance and thus guarantee its existence in the future – in order not to dwell only in the constant present moment and its survival mode, but to create the conditions for our own persistence and continuity together.

We hope that our selection reveals a varied and invaluable range of approaches, methodologies and practices, and invites us all together to continue our journeys through the meanders of visible and less visible parts of our common, tenacious and inspiring art scene.

Lifetime achievement award
Iztok Kovač

Remembered in the history of dance as the falcon that flew in from the east and flapped its wings with incredible speed, Kovač never really stopped flying.

Dancer, choreographer, educator and artistic director Iztok Kovač is not only an outstanding artist whose oeuvre spans over several decades, but literally the driving force of Slovenian contemporary dance, whose persistence and vision managed to pave him the way to the European market and at the same time change the way of thinking about private institutions in the field of art. Iztok Kovač put a trademark on Slovenian contemporary dance and consolidated its presence on a global scale. His opus includes almost forty original projects and dance films, management of the international group and production institute En-Knap, as well as the founding and artistic management of the dance ensemble En‑Knap Group and the Španski borci Culture Centre, which, in addition to its own repertoire production, continuously presents the work of Slovenian and international contemporary dance productions to the public.

The first turning point in his work is certainly represented by his iconic solo performance How I Caught a Falcon (1991), which indicated the fundamental components of his later choreographic work, which – together with the influences of Belgian contemporary dance of the time, a brief collaboration with the Rosas dance company, meeting with Ksenija Hribar, and participation in Slovenian theatrical productions – paved the way for the recognizable aesthetics of the En-Knap Group, whose first piece Spread your Wings (You Clumsy Elephant) premiered in 1993 at (and in a production by) the Belgian festival Klapstuk. In the following 14 years, the projects of the internationally oriented En‑Knap Group, which was formalized as a production institute the following year, leave a lasting mark on the Slovenian art scene by establishing close collaborations with composers, scenographers and dramaturgs, while at the same time maintaining its commitment to transnationality and multiculturalism of the dance group beyond borders, in which performances are co-created by Slovenian and international dancers. Together with them, Kovač develops specific principles of artistic creation, which are reflected in the performances in the structural tension between closed parts and open ones, where chance enters the game, in the establishment of a choreographic order that is repeatedly challenged by improvisation, in the body of dancers, where these opposites are literally embodied on the border between discipline and freedom, between gravity and floating. The group’s dance films are additionally characterized by a specific atmosphere, which certainly helped to establish a recognizable En‑Knap aesthetic. It should also not go unnoticed that at the turn of the 21st century, the En-Knap group and institution helped to form and establish a generation of female choreographers – Maja Delak, Andreja Rauch and Mala Kline, to name just the most prominent – who performed their first original productions in this context and who later continued their independent artistic journeys.

The next turning point of Kovač’s work was in 2007 when he founded En‑Knap Group (EKG), the first permanent contemporary dance ensemble in Slovenia. The new format of the group was soon followed by a new content, and the new organization also influenced the poetics of the group, with production focusing on repertory work. Since its foundation, the EKG ensemble, which is also known for its international dance members, has collaborated with many Slovenian and international choreographers and theater directors and created a series of full-length performances, and they present their repertoire both on national stages and on regular international tours.

In 2009, when the En-Knap Institute took over the management of the Španski borci Culture Centre, the ensemble finally got its home venue, and at the same time Kovač began the next phase of his work: positioning the Španski borci centre as a new space dedicated to contemporary dance. Their programme includes co-productions, hosting international dance performances and the organization of dance festivals, competitions, improvisational events, professional meetings and educational and other (non-dance) programmes.

In addition to his last original production Homeland, which premiered in 2021, in the uncertain times of the new post-pandemic reality, we should also mention the project Stage360, which clearly reveals Kovač’s curiosity, drive and tireless reflection on the position and ways of presenting dance in new environments and circumstances, with new technologies and for new audiences. It is precisely with these qualities and personality traits that Iztok Kovač, at every turning point and in often impossible conditions, managed to inscribe contemporary dance in the minds of the Slovenian cultural public and at the same time contribute to its recognition on a global level.

Choreographic opus award
Magdalena Reiter

Magdalena Reiter’s work directs us again and again to that ever elusive identity of dance, to the way it eludes articulation, to its continuing emergence and change, but also to its transnationality – of dance beyond words, i.e. beyond language as the basis of a potential national identity. We cannot possess the dance, it happens to us – and this is exactly what Reiter does with her extraordinary choreographic precision: she focuses on and exposes those physical impulses on micro levels that awaken the emotional states of the dancer. By understanding the body as multidimensional, she searches for its transformative abilities. However, these transformations are never unidirectional, stable, binding, self-sufficient – on the contrary, they can break, cancel each other out, and it’s in the expansion of these cracks, in these interruptions, that the body begins to tell its story.

It seems that Reiter, through her many experiences as a choreographer for theatre directors, most prominently through her continuous collaboration with Mateja Koležnik – in recent years, the choreographies for the Berliner Ensemble in Berlin in Hexenjagd and in the opera Falstaff at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich – has managed to articulate even better what exactly interests her in her own original work: what is the perspective that she emphasizes as a fundamental difference between theatre and dance. Both the dance performance Preludes and Fugues (co-authored by Mateja Rebolj), which deals with the issues of transience and the inscribing of time in the body, and the intermedia performance Vibration of a Single String (co-authors Katarzyna Chmielewska and Jakub Truszkowski) show the author’s belief that physical contact cannot be replaced, and that it is precisely the search for and re-establishment of this contact that touches us so strongly in dance. A contact that traverses our intimate and collective memory.

Dance opus award
Matej Kejžar

For more than 25 years, Matej Kejžar has been continuously creating in the field of contemporary dance arts as a dancer, educator, choreographer and programme director. After studying at SNDO, P.A.R.T.S. and with Trisha Brown, he joined the Rosas dance company in Brussels in 2008 for four years.

Kejžar is an exceptional dancer and full-blooded creator who inspires and motivates others in the processes of participation in his original performances and educational processes in which he generously shares his knowledge. Even though his works are distinctly international – he creates all over the world –he has created three original performances that premiered in Ljubljana in the last two years: Movements 9, Multiplicity of Movements 9 and STD – Spending Time Dancing.

In his solo Movements 9, Kejžar impressed us as a dancer and choreographer of his own dance, inspired by the music by Floating Points. Here we witness his body as a flowing medium driven by the spirit of music; this body exists in motion and is living-moving. We see an experienced dancer who is completely in control of his movement and is present and organic in it – he perfectly balances the relationship between technical perfection and fluidity on the one hand and sensibility and playfulness on the other. Movements 9 is a peculiar journey and at the present moment functions as a kind of apotheosis of Kejžar’s dance work. His body and dance reflect the knowledge and experience he has gained during his long dancing career, and – above all – his inexhaustible drive and pleasure in dancing, which is why this award logically encompasses more than just the period of the last two years.

Award for promising male contemporary dance artist
Beno Novak

Ever since 2005, when he stepped on stage for the first time under the tutelage of Saša Lončar, with whom he began his dance career at KD Qulenium in Kranj, it was clear that Beno Novak would develop into an exceptional artist. After graduating from the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance (SEAD) in 2016, he danced into the world in full swing. He has collaborated with many well-known choreographers on international stages, such as Alix Eynaudi, Zsuzsa Rozsavolgyi, Jason Mababa, Ricardo Ambrozio, Gary Clarke Company and James Wilton Dance Company. In the meantime, he improved his dance skills at the New York Tisch School of the Arts and The Place in London.

However, despite the rapid rise of his international dance career, Novak kept returning to Slovenia, where he danced in the performances of Magdalena Reiter, Matej Kejžar, Vita Osojnik and others. In recent years, he participated in the Neforma improvisation events, in Jan Rozman’s research project, and in a dance concert by Žigan Kranjčan. He has created several original projects, by himself and in co-authorship with Ana Romih and Marina Abib – most notable of which is his project To Resurrect. In addition to strong technical knowledge, which in his dance is never an end in itself, his work is characterized by kinetic-aesthetic research, which enables him both to enter into collective processes and to develop his own, precise and inspiring choreographic language.

Due to his attention to various aspects of dance art and his interest in its general development, Beno Novak is one of the most prominent members of his generation. On this occasion, we wish him a long and productive artistic journey.

Award for promising female contemporary dance artist
Petja Golec Horvat

Petja Golec Horvat is a multi-talented young artist. In the last two years, she has already received numerous recognitions and awards for her original dance work (Soror: a duo with Varja Golec Horvat; dance miniature MANIFESTO – First It Was a Hand (Manus); dance solo PETJA / Work in progress, etc.) and collective work (Coven – Congress of Witches; The more we are, the sooner this play ends? etc.) at festivals such as OPUS and ZIZ festival in Maribor. He also collaborates with ŠtudenTeater, Prvi Oder and Platforma in Maribor, the Fronta Festival and the City of Women. In 2021, she impressed the audience in the LGL Ljubljana’s performance Everything is Alright.

What is remarkable about Golec Horvat is that despite her young age, she thinks in a distinctly conceptual and complex way, and her dance expressiveness carries a strong charge – both in terms of energy and meaning. Her dancing and performative presence is multifaceted and at times astonishing. She skilfully strikes the balance between fragility and strength, playing out the scenarios and causes of various emotional states, community issues, and social constellations and their stage emanations. Petja asks the right questions and is not afraid of radical answers. She is a tireless, courageous and extremely sensitive researcher who uses various expressive means to create art in the process of inventing herself and the world.

The award in this category goes to Petja Golec Horvat, a creator of a distinctly younger generation, in recognition of her successful work so far and as an affirmative encouragement for further creative development.

Award for overall visual identity for the performance Sad Sam Matthäus (set, costume and lighting design)
Mauricio Ferlin, Matija Ferlin, Saša Fistrić

Sad Sam Matthäus, directed, choreographed and performed by Matija Ferlin, is undoubtedly exceptional in terms of total work of art – Gesamtkunstwerk – and something rarely seen in contemporary dance. The performance functions superbly on almost in every way – on the levels of concept, dramaturgy and implementation, as well as aesthetically and visually. It should be noted here that the visual stage identity of the performance is not merely an aesthetic aspect that is an end in itself, but works in close synergy with the substance of the performance; it is the matter that makes spirit visible.

It was the synergy of the now long-standing cooperation between set designer, costume designer and lighting designer that produced an excellent result and convinced the jury to award a joint prize for this collective achievement. Mauricio Ferlin created a scenography that is only seemingly megalomaniac – it is basically a kind of museum or archive, in which Mauricio and Matija Ferlin use recycling materiality to bring into view both personal and performative memory, using parts of scenography from previous performances. Saša Fistrić managed to subtly shape the light, which oscillates between the more intimate and obscured atmosphere of the artist’s workshop in the first part, through the open and “working” light in the transition, to the skilful nuances and creation of atmospheres in the second part. This time, Matija Ferlin’s costume design in the performance is not expressive, colourful or rich as in some of his previous works. In Matthäus, the costume design itself is minimalistic, in dark, black tones, but the transformation that takes place between the two parts of the play is stunning. Before our eyes, using his performative, acting and physical abilities, Matija Ferlin completely and convincingly transforms into the character – which is also made possible by the correct and well-thought-out costume design that enables the transformation.

Award for production, curation and advocacy work
Nina Meško

Nina Meško has been passionately engaged in the dance art for thirty years. In 2006, just before she began working as an independent expert consultant for dance at the Public Fund for Cultural Activities of the Republic of Slovenia (JSKD), she would certainly have won an award for her choreographic body of work, if only such awards had existed at the time. Likewise, she would certainly have received an award for her educational work in 2010, which she regularly carried out in the framework of the Intakt studio, Ljubljana Music and Ballet Conservatory, High School Nova Gorica, the Faculty of Education in Ljubljana, and as part of professional training at The National Education Institute of The Republic of Slovenia. But there were no such awards at that time either.

It is therefore our great pleasure to award her for her production, curation and advocacy work in the field of contemporary dance: three recognition awards combined into one. The commitment to dance art, as Nina Meško understands it in the context of her work at JSKD for the past fifteen years, is based on all three areas. She provides various forms of professional help to everyone who dances or wants to dance or teach dance. She takes care of the flow and exchange of information in the Slovenian and international arena. She organizes various trainings in the field of contemporary dance as well as conferences on dance pedagogy and dance medicine, creates incentives for creation and conditions for presentation. She succeeded in creating festival and educational offer whose main goals are the development of dance creativity of children and young people and the professional competence of their mentors in all regions of Slovenia. We also know Nina as a curriculum reviewer, an external Matura examination evaluator, a member of many committees and juries, a selector, a writer of specialist articles, a lecturer at conferences and an editor of dance publications in Slovenia.

With her talent, generosity and expertise, Nina Meško continuously strengthens the position of contemporary dance in Slovenia and ensures its future.

Dance review award
Maša Radi Buh

Maša Radi Buh Ma is a self-employed critic and researcher of performative studies. She graduated from sociology of culture at the University of Ljubljana and holds a master’s degree in contemporary theatre, dance and dramaturgy at the University of Utrecht. She is the editor of and contributor for the online platform NEODVISNI, a member of the editorial board of the Kritika platform, and co-creator of the Teritorij teatra radio broadcast on Radio Študent. She is a member of the management board of The Contemporary Dance Association Slovenia and the executive board of the Slovenian Association of Theatre Critics and Theatrologists.

Maša Radi Buh engages in the reflection on works of art in different ways and in different roles, as publicist, editor, dramaturge. She also easily navigates between different performance genres that she critically analyses, and looks for potentialities and opportunities for development, thus influencing the ontological position of criticism itself. Maša enters into a dialogue with works of art, and uses her writing to expand the understanding of the subtle levels of the experienced and the importance of the experience itself, which is especially important when dealing with dance art.

She is also increasingly active in the international arena – for example, as part of the Critical Practice MADE IN YU programme, where she works in a collective of young writers, proving that today criticism and journalism are not a matter of a narrow language area, but can constitute a field for communication and interpretation beyond national borders.

Educational work award
Irena Tomažin

Irena Tomažin began her creative journey as a dancer and later as the author of performances that quickly began to extend beyond the established patterns of contemporary dance productions. She employed voice in the exploration of the physicality and expressiveness of the body, gave sound to the body and made the physicality audible. She constantly navigates between the intimate and the extimate space of the sonority of the body and the body in the sound. Her work ranges from original performances to experimental improvised music, exploring the connections between voice, gesture, body, space and sonority.

A very strong and equally important field of Irena Tomažin’s work is her educational work, which also constitutes a unique creative process. She conducts workshops focused on voice and movement entitled “moved by voice” or “workshop of voice” both in Slovenia and abroad (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Austria, Poland, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, America, Japan, Lebanon). Since 2014, she has been teaching in the framework of the educational program The World Is Sound together with his colleague Alessi Castellacci. She taught contemporary dance techniques and workshops at the Secondary Preschool Education and Gimnazija Ljubljana (SVŠGUGL), occasionally conducts movement and speech workshops at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT), and also conducted the “moved by voice” workshop at the ImpulsTanz festival in Vienna and at the Jerzy Grotowski Institute in Poland.

Irena Tomažin is an original artist and invaluable educator who connect different groups of people in authentic ways, expanding and pushing physical and genre boundaries, not only in the field of contemporary dance, but also through innovative and effective pedagogical approaches.

Award for original approach and practice in the field of contemporary dance
Gregor Kamnikar / Diskolektiv

In 2010, Gregor Kamnikar buried his artistic name with the project 39 (exercises to die for) and rose to many new stage names. These renamings, however, do not only indicate the denial of authorship, but are actually articulated as something elusive and unstable, which Gregor – a few years after the abolition of Gregor Kamnikar-as-artist – declares the abolition of the production of art. Since then, playing is the only thing that matters to him. In playing, life and art are not separated, but mutually enrich each other. His idea of art as a vital space in which life has the conditions to flourish through play can be read both in the spirit of the early surrealists and in Beuys’s idea that every person is an artist.

A researcher of physical intelligence, playfulness, relationships – due to his radical research mode, Gregor’s work is by no means easy to categorize. Gregor dances when he thinks dance, and he does so in a multitude of simultaneities: he questions collectivity, creates clown and queer characters, choreographs a ballet ensemble, develops long-term processes or momentary duets, as if he wanted to stay in contact with everything through constant accumulation or acceleration.

With his rejection of the concept of artist-as-an-enterprise, he provides space for the creation of real alternatives for creators of different generations, who, like him, are actively looking for them – in Ljubljana, in Zagreb, and all over Europe. Gregor also uses his dance choreography skills and interests as a guide in organizational and administrative tasks, thereby separating the production work from various types of automatisms that most of us take for granted. Through the principles of nomadism and dynamism, he does not deny his belonging to certain structures, but instead challenges them and expands their predetermined boundaries.

Award for outstanding contribution to performing arts
Bojan Jablanovec / Via Negativa

Bojan Jablanovec founded the association Via Negativa in 2002, after graduating in theatre direction from the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television AGRFT and following seven years of work in public theatres and three independent projects, which already indicated his future conceptual orientation. One of the key elements of Via Negativa is precisely this withdrawal from the institution, from the production model based on repertoire, and thereby also the denial of the hierarchically conditioned position of the director. The director, together with the actors, dancers and performers as co-authors, broke with the established practices in the theatre, and at the same time focused his ideas on the development of creative potentials and processes that marked the Slovenian and international performing arts scene.

In its practice, Via Negativa focused on uncovering the essence of performance art, which it articulated through the relationship between the performer and the viewer, i.e. as the difference between what we’re looking at and what we see. In doing so, it opened up space for marginal performance formats, for works of art that go beyond boundaries and challenge them. It can be said that the vision of Bojan Jablanovac and the practice of the Via Negativa platform were formative for the exploration of performativity and more radical bodily practices in both contemporary theatre and contemporary dance. At the same time, they ensured the autonomy of performance as a performative format beyond the gallery space and the context of visual arts. Based on experience, findings, creative principles and methods of self-performance gained during the ten years of the platform’s operation, Jablanovec also formalized the VN Lab (laboratory for performance art) as well as the international platform for education and research PARL (Performance Art Research Ljubljana) as its logical extension, which brings together a team of diverse mentors, researchers, theorists and production partners. He also founded the web portal Neodvisni – a territory of contemporary performing arts, which provides reflection on and articulation of independent theatre and dance production.

By developing such distinctly collective procedures and at the same time insisting on the individual responsibility of the authors, Via Negativa introduced a different approach to authorship in the Slovenian and international context, and at the same time encouraged us to pay closer attention to staging issues. It left a strong mark on many creators who emerged through the platform. Recently, choreographers, dancers and intermedia artists such as Anita Wach, Kristina Aleksova, Olja Grubić, Sara Horžen have been developing their original works within the platform. In addition to those who laid the groundwork (actors Gregor Zorc, Katarina Stegnar and Marko Mandić, producer Špela Trošt), they provide Via Negativa with further impetus.