Moved By The Stars

Kiani del Valle on her work as a conceptual dancer

Words By Erika Clugston
Photos By Stephanie Ballantine

In the same way that a sailor uses the stars to navigate dark oceans, conceptual dancer Kiani del Valle uses star constellations to chart the movements of her body. As a dancer, choreographer, and director, Kiani employs unconventional artistry and experimentation in her passionate exploration of movement. From planetary science to historical biographies, all disciplines are relevant to her work.

From Puerto Rico to Montreal, New York, and LA, Kiani del Valle has found her home in Berlin. Kiani trained in painting and visual arts from a young age, then stumbled into dance. In a whirlwind of dance gigs and parties, she eventually found herself embroiled in the world of dance film and reconnected with her passion for visual storytelling. Her movements are bold and bare as she twists, turns, and contorts in her experimental dance films. She paints a picture, she tells a story, she submerges us in the primordial language of movement. Here we sit down with Kiani in her home and studio to talk about her work and the ways in which she speaks through dance.

How would you describe your work as an artist to someone who knows nothing about dance? Describing my work is a little bit difficult. I’m actually more intrigued for other people to describe it. One thing I could say is that it is a very cathartic process and it’s there’s a lot of transparency and honesty when it comes to my work. I am just being completely honest with the things I like and that’s reflecting in the work I do. I love dance film and music. I love film noir, I love silent films, and I love installation, painting, and sculpture. There’s a little bit of all that in my work. It’s contemporary dance but it has a lot of references from visual art.

I still think I'm painting with my body, I still see it as visual art.

Can you tell us about your current projects and dance films? These past years I have been really focused on collaborations with film. I’ve done so much video work that I’ve ended up becoming quite picky and specific with the videos I do. When I got here it was like an avalanche – in the first two years I did something like 35 music videos, which was great but then it made me miss the stage and miss being a dancer for the theatre. The whole video thing happened in a really organic way and snowballed, so my first two or three years in Berlin were really overwhelming.

I definitely don’t regret it. I was always a dance film nerd; I was always really interested in the non-spoken language and how the body can translate more than words. That was always a big part of me, even as a student or a person trying to find my artistry, and so in some funny way it makes sense that I ended up being involved in all these sets. It took me to select my favourite camera crew, lighting designer, and directors and I try now to make my own work with that team of my favourite people. So it’s definitely been worth it to be part of that process.

I think what I’m more interested in now is creating pieces for the theatre, and each piece will have a dance film version. I would like to keep working on my solo work, which has already started to happen. I’ve presented my solo work at the Barbican and the Serpentine Gallery in London, and the Getty Museum in LA. Having a painting background makes me really excited to – in some weird way – come back to my origin which was like a gallery or museum, but with my body instead of with a painting. I still think I’m painting with my body, I still see it as visual art.

What are some sources of inspiration for your choreography? Planetary science, maps, atlases, anthropology, history – I work a lot with history.

How do those translate into your movement? Planetary science and maps translate into my movement in terms of codification of space. Or how I relate the body in the space where I am. How I change my environment constantly; it could be in nature, it could be in a museum, it could be in the street, it could be in a film set. The relationship between subject and space and how that’s connecting all the dots around me. I feed off of planetary science – I’m like a crazy fan of Jupiter, the universe, and the Milky Way – I just love that stuff. And maps relate the same way. That’s more as a macro in terms of space. But in terms of direct resources, I’m a fan of biographies. I read a lot of biographies, mainly about women, but lately I’ve also been super into the biography of Tesla. Literature, planetary science, anthropology, and archeology too. I’m really into archeology. I wish I could have been an archeologist, actually! I try to somehow make all those things that I’m interested in a part of my work, because it’s fun for me to do that type of research.

Has your movement been influenced by Berlin in any way? Coming here has enabled a creative voice in me that I always knew I had, but it’s definitely been opened and taken to the surface. I don’t know how much the city influences my work but I know that the energy of the city allows me to unlock these channels that were blocked before. And for that I feel really grateful. Because I’m thinking constantly: what will be my next work, what do I have to do. I’m in this creative flow. Last year I lived in LA for a year and I loved it, I was making really relevant connections with really important people that I’m super grateful for and I think it was good to develop those relationships. But in terms of creative flow as an independent artist, I missed Berlin. I definitely want my home to trigger that in me, so I was excited to come back again. Berlin feels like home, I will forever be grateful.

On your website you describe yourself as a concept artist, can you talk a little bit about the concepts you are working with in your movement? When I say I’m a concept artist who’s doing work in film, stage, and museum settings, it’s because there are a lot of people that study dance and dance in a company, and they’re satisfied with that. That’s fair enough. I’m the number one fan of many dancers that are incredible and it’s their happiness just to dance for a company. I respect that. Or there are some people that only choreograph and they’re happy with it. But I just know that I feel a little bit differently about dancing because I’m basically doing with dance whatever I want. I feel like a concept artist because I am a big creative part of every project I’m involved in. I’m not fixed to any setting, I’m constantly exploring environments. I’m constantly conceptualising for many different environments, settings, situations, but they all involve the body and dance.

I am just being completely honest with the things I like and that’s reflecting in the work I do.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up? I’m currently working on premiering my dance company, which is taking longer than I thought. I’m putting a lot of energy into it, it’s almost like making an album, you know. It’s taking a long time finding the right people and finding the money. So that’s like my baby.

I’m also working on this series of dance films which I’m super excited about. They’re about a lot of women in history that were forgotten. I’m acting, directing, choreographing in each film. So that’s really a challenge.

Additionally, I’m a dancer in this tour with Clark and working with other choreographers. I’m really excited about it and it’s been a great, great experience that has fed a lot of my work as a choreographer. It’s also good to be a dancer because then when you work with your dancers you appreciate their work so much because you know how much it takes. We will be touring that show for the rest of the year. In between I will come back to Berlin to shoot my films and plan the premiere of my company which will probably be for 2018, so it’s an intense year!

Visit Kiani’s website to watch more of her dance films and learn more about her current projects. See more of Stephanie’s photography here.