My name is Lina Johansson, I’m Joint Artistic Director of Mimbre – a female led company using movement, high physicality and strong visual imagery to illuminate human connections and promote a positive image of women.
I also work as choreographer and movement director with Royal Shakespeare Company, English National Opera, The Roundhouse, Royal Opera House and National Centre for Circus Arts among others.
I am originally from Sweden but moved to London 22 years ago and love this city for its vibrant mix of people from all across the world, and even though it’s not always easy, I am pleased to be able to raise my two children here.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Ha, yes and no. As a teenager I was totally set on becoming a journalist. Going to circus school was only something amusing to do for a gap year, but I got hooked and my career took a totally different direction from what I had planned. Saying that, once I set myself onto circus, and especially as I started our company Mimbre with Silvia Fratelli and Emma Norin, we did make plans and put in a lot of commitment to make our way to where we are now.
Every time we apply for funding we have to provide a five year business plan. The first time we did that it felt absurd, but as long as you keep the planning creative and be open for things to change, then looking ahead is a helpful tool to keep inspired and to dream bigger than when you are just firefighting everyday needs!
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Many. Setting up a performance company, the first challenge was above all economical. How to make enough money to live at the same time as building the company and our skills. Commitment is another challenge, we were three people who were lucky enough to get on and stay loyal to each other and to the idea of the company, but it meant turning down other exciting opportunities along the way. Coming back to work as an acrobat after having my first child was not the easiest of things, but I actually find that as well as providing challenges, having children can also help you to focus in on what’s important and to be more efficient with your work, giving you perspective on which areas to focus your energy on.
As a physical performer, injuries are probably by far the biggest challenge. Pushing through when your body is in serious pain and you’re not sure if it’s healthy or not to continue. But then at points I used my injuries and restrictions as an impetus to change my style and creativity and it was also long-term injuries that made me switch from performing to fully commit to directing and choreographing, which I now love. I think sometimes you have to look at your challenges and really assess when it is best to tackle them straight on or if you can use them to find new and different ways to go around.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
To be judged and believed in, with the same support and belief a self-assured man would get.
In my career I’ve had so much support along the way, and some of it because we were three women wanting to do something different. But as I started to aim higher and further in my ambitions I certainly felt like I hit that glass ceiling. People telling me to not take water over my head… Was I sure I wasn’t growing in scale too fast? People not giving the responsibility or trust that should be associated with the role I was appointed. I felt that people really wanted to keep me and our company in a box appropriately sized to the fact that we were female led.
A friend told me an interesting quote: “Women get appointed on experience, men get appointed on potential”. If I could change one thing it is for women to get appointed on their potential instead. No-one knows what they are doing the first time they try. But we are all more than capable to learn and exceed expectations.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I am really proud of Mimbre’s latest production The Exploded Circus, which was an idea born between me, designer Loren Elstein, composer Quinta and a bunch of amazingly creative women who we work with. It took years to get people to believe enough in the idea to secure funding support, bookings and a brilliant team of creative and production collaborators. Now it’s on the road and has been seen by thousands of people already. Proof of not giving up on your dreams and crazy ideas!
But I also find that building a career is lots of small achievements slowly adding up. You think there is going to be that one breakthrough show or project where you will get all the recognition, and fame and fortune will magically arrive haha, but that has definitely not been my story. I think success is so much about patience and persistence, lots of small stepping stones, the shift in people’s perceptions of you is a long road. Hard work, keep going, don’t give up.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Right now lots of exciting challenges in one go: I’m working on a commission from New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon to create a performance celebrating the female characters from Shakespeare’s plays this December, Fierce Sisters; The Exploded Circus keeps touring in November and we’re working on confirming further dates for next year; Mimbre’s Youth Programme is starting a new term – our connection with future generations and our local community here in Hackney. And we have just started creative planning and auditioning for a new outdoor acrobatic show for 2019. Oh, and I have a daughter who has just turned a teenager, potentially the biggest challenge of them all.
For the future. I would like to keep growing and getting better at what I do and what we can express through our performances. In the times we live in, I feel there is a need for my work to become more political. To make people stop and think and look at the world around them with slightly different eyes. Make work that celebrates, as well as creates new questions. And I really hope to play some part in supporting and inspiring more women to do and succeed in the things they believe in.
The Exploded Circus is touring in November to Warwick Arts Centre, Lancaster Arts and The Brewhouse, Burton – images, video and full tour details www.theexplodedcircus.co.uk
Fierce Sisters – celebrating female characters from Shakespeare’s plays, is being performed 11-15 December at New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon www.shakespeare.org.uk/fiercesisters
Mimbre runs acrobatics, circus and street-dance classes for young people in Hackney, full details on www.mimbre.co.uk/learning
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