Q&A with Rising NYC Choreographer, Mersiha Mesihovic

Mersiha Mesihovic and her family left their native Bosnia & Herzegovina for Sweden when war broke out in the Balkans in 1993.  Now 27 and living in New York, Mesihovic is the Founder and Artistic Director of CircuitDebris. The dance company, though only two years old, has already performed at such prestigious events as the 8th International Dance Festival Venice, Italy (to which Mesihovic was one of only ten choreographers invited), the New Works Festival, and the Bates Dance Festival. This fall, CircuitDebris will be performing a new piece, Dissonance, as part of NYC10, an initiative of NYC Dance Week. In addition to managing and choreographing for her company, Mesihovic performs as a dancer and composes music for her works. “Being multi-faceted and staying current are very important to me,” she explains, “though I’m also strongly influenced by the traditions in which I’ve been immersed—hardcore ballet training and Balkan culture.” In this Q&A, Mersiha discusses the challenges and rewards of running an emerging dance company in NYC and her goals and inspirations as an artist.

What are you working on currently?

Now I’m focusing on a new piece, Dissonance, that we will perform in October as part of the NYC10 initiative run by NYC Dance Week. With that piece, I’m trying to express the crazy juxtapositions of emotion and experience that we go through all the time as humans. We’re never feeling just one thing. Rather, we’re constantly juggling different roles and trying to balance the many contradictions in life. The idea is also influenced by my upbringing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There was war and brutality, but at the same time a flourishing artistic culture that expresses a lot of joy. I think life is like that for people—beautiful and ugly at once.

What is it like to run a dance company in NYC?

It’s amazing! It’s also really challenging. The biggest problem is money. There’s not much funding, and it’s tough to keep dancers on board long-term without being able to offer consistent payment. It’s also difficult to pay for spaces in which to present our work, especially as an emergent company that is not yet so well known. The opportunity to be a part of NYC Dance Week’s NYC10 initiative is huge! We’re really excited and grateful.

Money struggles or no, though, the New York City arts community is just incredible! I arrived last year and feel so lucky to be here. There’s a sense of possibility. People are resourceful with getting their work funded (crowd sourcing is a huge deal.) Even without funding, people find all these ways to create and present incredible art. We support each other and each other’s work. I’m fortunate to have so many people around me that help me on my projects—people willing to dance for free, or help with PR or collaborate on design concepts. I try to give back whenever I can. You never sleep, but it’s wonderful to be amidst so much creativity and idealism. There’s this constant exchange of ideas and assistance, and a sense that we’re all trying to work together to make the world more self-aware and a better place to live.

The idea of community-building seems important to you. How do you go about implementing the concept?

It’s something I’m constantly trying to redefine for myself. If you don’t have money to contribute, you try to give back with your art. I believe strongly that anybody can dance. To encourage this, my company offers free public classes. I think performing in public spaces and offering free and accessible workshops is also helpful. It brings people together in new ways.

How does this ethic impact your creative process?

In terms of my choreography and creative process, I’m very concept based and draw many ideas from people and society around me. Partially because of my childhood, I think a great deal about politics as well. I want anyone who sees my work to feel something emotionally, and then to think about what it is and why they feel it. We can be emotionally lethargic or lazy when it comes to questioning ourselves. I think putting people in a place where they confront various emotions is the first action in the process of changing the world.

How else has your past influenced your work?

My movement style is definitely influenced by my culture, sometimes without me even realizing it! A lot of gestures in my choreography are also found in Bosnian folk dances, for instance. I’m also very rhythm-based. Once I choreographed a whole piece around a rhythm I had in my head, and later I realized that rhythm comes from a folk dance, to which I hadn’t been conscious of referring. It just happened naturally. It’s a goal of mine now to become more educated about this major source of arts tradition and to be able to draw from it through more controlled choices.

That said, as much as I respect traditions (both from my cultural background and ballet training), being multi-faceted and staying current are especially important to me.  I love being exposed to different disciplines and the idea of cross-discipline collaboration. For the audience and the artists, I think it’s invigorating and opens up pathways to new ideas. I see a lot of film and painting. Other arts inspire me to think about choreography and arrangements in space in different ways, and also to think about different approaches to the creative process. People say, “Oh, everything’s been done,” but that’s definitely not true. Sometimes we get used to what we already know, but I think it’s important to surround oneself with new ideas and stay innovative. It helps establish a rather child-like state in which we feel more connected to what we feel and what is now.