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«Looking Back, I See Forward» by Daniel Mariblanca

Daniel Mariblanca. Photo: Mar C Lloop.
I am an early bird, especially in autumn and winter. Much of this text was written with the clarity that I have in my body and mind in the morning – when the sun is still sound asleep.

I had a really nice childhood

I played soccer in the street every day until 9 pm, arriving at home dirty with bloody knees after throwing myself on the ground. I was very sporty and energetic. I was always a chosen player for the games in the street in my neighborhood, even though I was not a cisgender boy.

Before I knew anything about gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, some of the kids I was around in my childhood tried to insult me by using words describing my gender expression. Since I was very young – maybe from the age of 7 – I have been called marimacho (butch) by many people. Even though I did not know the meaning of the word, I understood that it was bad and used to insult someone who does not conform to binary gender roles.

Even though I did not know the meaning of the word, I understood that it was bad and used to insult someone who does not conform to binary gender roles.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend when I was a teenager. I was asking him how he knew about my sexuality. “Because of the way you walk,” he answered. At that moment I did not really understand. Reflecting on it, it all makes sense now that I have the words to express it. His logic came from the indoctrination of gender conforming roles that we were exposed to from the beginning of our lives through societal modelling, school content and the influence from television and popular culture.

For many years, my strongest and most visible identity was my gender expression and my sexual preferences. This allowed me to discover a world that was far away from heteronormative lifestyle and enter places where people were freer. There I could express and exist without people questioning my clothes, my way of walking or my body language – the things that, in the heteronormative world, were reasons to insult me. There these traits were seen as desirable and attractive qualities.

Today I wonder how many times I as a child and as a young adult had to hide my true self for the sake of fitting in. How many times did I repress and shift and correct my body language or my appearance to accommodate the expectations of others? There were so many occasions I thought something was wrong with me for feeling things that nobody spoke of. The few times it was addressed, it was characterized as something awful, disgusting or even inhuman.

The few times it was addressed, it was characterized as something awful, disgusting or even inhuman.

On one occasion, I was lying on the bed with clothes on, chit-chatting with my former partner. Her father – a very ornery man – entered the room and saw our intimate moment. Screaming, he told me to leave the house. It was a very violent moment. Days later, my partner told me that her father threatened her, saying that if we continued to see each other, he would stop paying for her dance education. I remember her being in tears as she told me she wanted us to be together, no matter what. Then we hugged.

I did my first dance class when I was 17 years old

Many teachers did not believe in my abilities because of my age. At that time, the only one who believed in me unconditionally was my mom. Family support is everything.

After a couple of years doing classes, I made the decision to quit my studies and focus fully on dance. During the first 10 years, I was really occupied with learning how to dance. It was a sweet obsession – and it still is. Today, my relationship with dance is a bit different. Now dance has become my best tool to express important things and connect with beautiful people. My interest in dance and my identity came together and formed a very intimate and strong relationship. One gives meaning to the other.

Now dance has become my best tool to express important things and connect with beautiful people. My interest in dance and my identity came together and formed a very intimate and strong relationship. One gives meaning to the other.

Dance was and is a lifesaver for me. When I decided to start dancing, I did not know anything about the dance world, I only had my instinct and passion. These qualities together with love and discipline have led me to the place I am today.

I came out as a transgender person in 2016

I now feel better and more complete than ever before. It felt natural to allow this personal moment to develop and evolve through and with my artistic expression.

71BODIES 1DANCE (2018). By 71BODIES/Daniel Mariblanca. Photo: Ursula Kaufmann.

I premiered my first work, 71BODIES 1DANCE, in 2018

Wow… This was such a beautiful and intense moment!

71BODIES 1DANCE was a multidisciplinary project inspired by 71 transgender people across Europe. The work was a collaboration with filmmaker Ursula Kaufmann and late photography artist Mar C Llop. The project consisted of a video installation, a large-scale photography exhibition with 71 portraits with texts in the first person by the people portrayed and a solo performance by me. I felt such urgency to dive into this artistic work, but I was also not in a rush. I wanted the process to be meaningful and detailed with quality in every movement. With this pace and detailed intention, it took almost two years to realize the work. This production, along with the experiences I had during the process, inspired the name of the company: 71BODIES.

71BODIES 1DANCE is still touring. It feels really nice to be able to perform this solo after so many years. My body is ever-changing, and I have allowed the choreography to evolve and change with it. The project has turned into a living organism: it changes and ages together with me.

I remember showing the work-in-progress in several locations, prior to premiering. After one of the performance presentations in Bergen, a cisgender, straight, middle-aged man – who had been drinking – had the audacity to tell me that my torso is masculine, my tits are a dancer’s and my ass is feminine. He also felt compelled to give me some suggestions on how to continue the development of my project.

Just. Wow. What feedback?!

For some reason he felt he had the right to give me his opinion and suggestions despite not knowing anything about my gender, nor what it means to be a transgender person. That moment was a reality check for me. It grounded me in my expectations and made me realize the types of audiences I will encounter and, undoubtedly, must deal with – both in current and future performances.

Throughout the research process, Mar, Ursula and I travelled together, and we met close to 200 transgender people. We spent time in Spain, Sweden, Denmark and several cities in Norway, exchanging knowledge with those we met through public social networks, personal connections and face-to-face meetings. Almost every transgender person we met wanted to take part in the project in some way.

Almost every transgender person we met wanted to take part in the project in some way.

The research period for 71BODIES 1DANCE happened at the very beginning of my gender transition. It was absolutely vital for me to surround myself with people who carried similar gender experiences to mine. I will never forget the first coffee I had with the first person I contacted to do the first photoshoot. We met in Oslo. I was so excited to explain the project and the potential collaboration. After only a few minutes of sitting at the Opera House bar, they told me that they were thinking of ending their life. I was paralyzed. I was not prepared for this. From that very first encounter I realized the importance of the project. It was not just for me, but for many other people. I am happy that we met that day and that they felt motivated to participate in the project. We kept in contact and collaborated for several years. This was not just a project but a life changing experience.

I learned so much during this research period. Mainly I learned to listen. This became an integral part of my choreographic methods: listening with all the senses. Not only with my ears but through the skin and with the entire soul.

I received the 2019 Artist of the Year Award from the municipality of Bergen for this production.

Daniel Mariblanca og Jean-Babtiste Baele in NORMAL (2021). Photo: Ursula Kaufmann.


I started to value the importance of allyship when I understood that several other communities struggle with similar oppressions

Instead of measuring differences, I am keen on making the effort to create bridges and common grounds. From this process of connecting with allies, my knowledge and interests became richer and full of meaning. This clearly happened with the project NORMAL, a project inspired by the topics of disabilities, gender identity and sexuality. There are 9 people on stage, where each protagonist carries a very strong personal story that is expressed in a multidisciplinary way. The creation took almost two years. We needed time to build true connections and trust, and today we consider each other extended family. NORMAL is the third production by 71BODIES and marks our methodological development over time. The process opened a whole world for us to discover in terms of accessibility and the beauty of inclusion.

Daniel Mariblanca in NORMAL (2021). Photo: Ursula Kaufmann.

Art can be a powerful way to transform and connect. I see it in every rehearsal: How people process and progress within their own journey. How important it is to be surrounded by people that understand you without explanation. How important it is to feel loved and embraced by the tribe. Therefore, I think the works we produce reach the hearts of so many, because these are universal and primal human needs that everyone can relate to. The interesting thing is that we do it from a very specific perspective: from people that exist outside the center or the norm.

With the art making process, we not only heal our bodies and our stories. We also generate universal knowledge and beauty where everyone – with their different backgrounds and experiences – can experience and understand themselves.

Daniel Mariblanca in In First Person: The Dance (2020). Photo: Ursula Kaufmann.

In First Person, our second production, had three different parts: In First Person: The House, consisted of 10 video works that were live-streamed and that are now available online. In First Person: The Festival was a series of lectures where we invited 7 presenters to give a talk about relevant issues such as transgender rights, activism, film, binary computation and history. The third part was In First Person: The Dance.

After the premiere of In First Person: The Dance in Bergen, I remember an audience member saying to me: “I want to be trans!”

She felt safe with us. She felt so inspired that she wanted to be part of our tribe. For me, this is what I call success.

For In First Person: The Dance, we were awarded the Critic’s Award at Pernilleprisen, were nominated for Best Director at Heddaprisen and received the first ever award in the category Dance at Heddaprisen for Best Dance Performance 2020–2022.

Daniel Mariblanca in In First Person: The Dance (2020). Photo: Ursula Kaufmann.

I use the word “protagonists” about the performers

In 71BODIES, we are not just learning and doing a script, score or choreography. Reality is our starting point, and we work artistically with important chapters of our lives. What really inspires me is the empirical experiences and the embodiment of the topics we work on that is sourced from each protagonist. A multidisciplinary approach is what generates the fiction. It makes us overcome the difficulties in the process in a constructive and creative way. What comes out is an artistic materialization that is more tangible and concrete. When working with the protagonists individually or all together in the studio, I always focus on their own particular qualities, their own stories and unique journeys. I never work from the stereotypes or the speculations of what and who the majority is.

A True Story is indeed a true story

At this moment we are working on A True Story, which is the fourth production of 71BODIES. This project is about transgender kids, transgender youth, transgender parenthood and family relationships. There will be 16 people on stage, aged between 7 and 84. When we premiere in June at the 2023 Bergen International Festival, the age range will be 8 to 85! Each person and their story are full of beauty, care and struggle. If you asked me one word that describes the process, it is LOVE. There is so much love and care in the group/family. 

If you asked me one word that describes the process, it is LOVE. There is so much love and care in the group/family. 

Working with transgender kids is amazing. It makes the fact that being trans is such a beautiful thing very clear to me. The most terrible thing a transgender kid can experience is to not be respected and embraced by their parents. This work has many important messages. We want to tell the world that being a transgender person is something to be celebrated, emphasizing the crucial fact that the home is where a transgender kid needs their maximum support to face the potential hostilities the world may bring. We also want to emphasize that the allyships are crucial for us and our existence.

One of the parents that I am working with in A True Story told me that she went to talk with the teachers at her son’s school. Her 9-year-old son, who is in the project, came out at the age of 5. The mother explained that she in her talk with the teacher questioned how they were going to teach human anatomy, reproduction and biology in a way that included her child. The teacher did not know what to say – they unfortunately did not have the competence nor knowledge of any kind to support the gender diversity that existed in the class, or in the school for that matter. Ignorance is a very dangerous issue for transgender people. Lack of representation can lead to violence and discrimination: If you are not included or represented, the majority may think you do not exist. Yet, beyond all these challenges this mother loves her son unconditionally. She became a fighter for his rights and the rights of the transgender collective. She became a true ally. I am sure that this type of unconditional love will make him a very empowered, sensitive and intelligent person in the future.

I am sure that this type of unconditional love will make him a very empowered, sensitive and intelligent person in the future.

The lack of support in early stages of life can lead to very traumatic and detrimental situations for the kids: Isolation, depression, addictions, dropping out of studies, etc. These are all real realities for some. Therefore, it is a serious matter and a shared responsibility to include and embrace gender and sexual diversity from the beginning. It starts at home and continues throughout school. Kids need to learn that all genders, all sexual orientations are valuable and legitimate as well as naturalizing diverse ways of creating a family. This is important not only on a personal level, but as a society.

Many people tell me that I work hard. And for the most part it is true. However, I feel that everything I do comes naturally and in its own way. There is nothing more interesting I could do in my life. Like a friend of mine said, “This is not a job. This is a lifestyle.”

The world can be really hard for queer people. All of us go through unfair situations, discrimination, passive aggressive attitudes, violence, etc. both on micro and macro levels. Yet my experience along with many other transgender people that I’ve met are experiences full of beauty, empowerment, hope, community, resilience, pleasure, enjoyment, connection, knowledge of oneself, complexity, and so on. I like to produce art with meaning from all these perspectives. In the long run, largely due to all the tough experiences, we become stronger and more knowledgeable. I believe that this can inspire anyone.

I feel the future is full of potential

The work we do at 71BODIES are living and lifelong projects. I look forward to continuing to create meaningful works with beautiful people. We are filled with urgency and fire. FULL ON!

Daniel Mariblanca was born in Barcelona in 1981. He graduated from the l’Institut del Teatre in Contemporary Dance. He has been a professional dancer for over 15 years.

In 2016 he created his own company 71BODIES, a transgender inclusive dance performance company, based in Bergen, Norway.

71BODIES is a transgender inclusive dance and performance company based in Bergen, Norway.

The company was created by Daniel Mariblanca at the beginning of his gender transition out of an urgency to both understand and document the complexities that lie within the transgender identity. 

Read more about the company here.

Dansescenen – a portrait of Daniel Mariblanca on NRK. The portrait can be seen here.

Daniel Mariblanca. Foto: Mar C Lloop.