I was in Tilburg last week to attend a conference on Ethics in Aesthetics organised by Danshuis Station Zuid. The conference was supported by Modul Dance, the EU project through which I was able to bring Tabernacle around Europe. Modul Dance selects artists from across Europe to receive different kinds of research and production support from the dancehouse network involved. Economic and political changes in Europe have affected the dancehouses with some losing their funding, thereby changing the network and having an impact on how dance artists operate with in. Danshuis Station Zuid, unfortunately is one of the casualties of cutbacks in support for the arts in Holland. The conference was one of its last public events and its complex of well-equipped and welcoming studios will close at the end of the year.
The conference gave an opportunity for the Modul Dance dancehouses to gather and to invite the Modul Dance artists to join them. This was a particularly important development for me since I had observed at a previous encounter with the dancehouses that while the programme was a huge resource to me in developing and disseminating Tabernacle, the long-term legacy of Modul Dance was to strengthen the network of dancehouses. The focus on dancehouses alone risked treating artists as an interchangeable product that passed through the network. I wondered at that time whether it would be possible to strengthen the artists as well as the dancehouses for the wider benefit of dance. The gathering of the artists proved a positive response to that question.
I hadn’t met my fellow Modul Dance artists since the first gathering in Lyon in 2010 where we had to present ourselves to the dancehouses with a view to securing their support. I was already excited then by the diversity and quality of the other artists but the anxiety of securing confirmed dancehouse support, as well as the shyness of a first meeting, meant that we weren’t able to establish strong bonds. This second encounter in Tilburg, joined by the next cohort of artists from 2011, gave us an important opportunity to share our experiences of the programme and to build the friendships or at least friendly peer relationships that I hope will be the basis for future work together.
I find it difficult not to pay attention to the meta-choreography in these situations. I feel strongly the presence of the determining structures that we’d like to think are ‘outside’ but which in reality are with us shaping what’s happening. For example, in Tilburg the artists had an opportunity to talk about their experiences of Modul Dance with the dancehouses. The artists were honest and consequently vulnerable in sharing their positive but also some negative experiences with organisations that have power in how an artist’s career develops. It felt troubling to me that the artists would share their feedback and that there was little response from the dancehouse partners. However, I gradually realised that the network operates by consensus which means that the partners cannot respond in the moment without consultation on a joint position. This negotiation is not shared with the artists. As a result, the structure in our Tilburg feedback sessions inadvertently created an impression that the artists were having to open themselves and be vulnerable while the dancehouse partners could watch silently – and (according to my own anxieties) judge.
Once I recognised the reason for this peep-show arrangement, it lost its threatening potency. I could see the power-dynamic as a function of the structure and not the intention of any individual. I just wish that we could operate our choreographic sensibilities in the planning of these encounters to mitigate against unwittingly unhelpful power relationships.