In 1984, when Tom Waits moved from California to New York City, he had an inkling that the new environs would influence his music. Then already a major talent, Waits took to the streets, training his eye on the people, places and happenings that most locals tried to filter out.
The city was a mishmash of polar opposites; rich and poor, upstanding and criminal, falling-apart and newly built, and Waits turned his humor toward these absurdities to create an album in 1985 – Rain Dogs – that still tells the story of the city nearly four decades later.
Sometime in high school, in Stockholm, choreographer Johan Inger was exposed to Rain Dogs.
“When I was 16, I had a friend that was really into Tom Waits. It was through him that I discovered Tom Waits. I’ve had the album with me since my youth. It’s fantastic music. It’s not just his voice, it’s the colors and instruments he uses, the stories and texts. He creates such a specific world that I find very inspiring,” says Inger over a Zoom call.
Inger is in Germany, preparing for the premiere next month of his creation Rain Dogs by Kamea Dance Company in Beersheba alongside Thin Skin by Marco Goecke, set to music by Patti Smith. The evening is called “Legends.” Rain Dogs is Inger’s interpretation of Waits’s seminal album and brings Inger’s signature theatricality, humor and movement language to the stage. The work was taught to the Beersheba company by Inger’s brother, Carl.
Like Waits, Inger’s passions have propelled him around the globe. He was born and raised in Sweden and began dancing at the age of 11.
“My brother and I both started dancing; he was 10 and I was 11. We were put in ballet school by our parents, who probably wanted to get rid of us and have more time alone at home. Both of us grew up as dancers. Our careers have been in different companies in different places,” he explains.
For both Inger and his brother, dancing went from hobby to passion to career. After several years as a member of the Royal Swedish Ballet, Inger felt compelled to join Nederlands Dans Theater, where Jiri Kylian was the artistic director.
“We did some of his works in the Royal Swedish. I knew I was never going to become a prince or a principal dancer in the Royal Swedish Ballet. I felt I was home and felt it was what I wanted to do. I had to try three times. He was so tough on me. Just by sheer luck I managed to get in but then we really discovered each other and then we really had a fruitful relationship. It became a success story,” he says.
From the Netherlands, Inger returned to Sweden, where he took up the reins of internationally renowned Cullberg Ballet. For the past 14 years, Inger has been on an independent path, creating works for companies around the world. Today he resides in Seville, Spain.
Rain Dogs was created for Ballet Theater Basel in 2011. In transferring the work to a new group of dancers, Inger and his brother focus not only on the steps but the feeling.
“Of course, you have to get the language quality. It is not only to get the steps but to get the essence or quality that I look for in my language and then it’s finding the characters, the honesty within these characters because it can easily become superficial,” he says. “I want their experience to be sort of physically profound and to find that place of becoming that vulnerable person, that vulnerable fragile person that can be just as beautiful and at the same time as ugly.”
Inger hopes that the audience will be able to enjoy the multiple layers at play in the work, from Tom Waits’s music to his movements.
“It’s a simple piece, very straightforward. I always try to communicate with an audience and try to move and be moved myself.”
Kamea Dance Company will perform “Legends” on March 3 at the Beersheba Performing Arts Center and at the Suzanne Dellal Center on March 10 and 11. For more information, visit www.kameadance.com.