Such an odd sensation, coming together online for a large gathering like this. We have grown accustomed to working on platforms like Zoom for the last few months, yet there still is a sense of unease. We start smiling yet hesitant, waiting for someone to show themselves to be the leader of the day. The rules are read out, but a question arises befitting this Atelier: how do we behave effectively in this digital environment?

These two full days were curated by Suzy Blok, EDN board member and director of Dansmakers Amsterdam. Each day three key note speakers presented about their practice, answered questions from the makers, and hosted three separate breakout sessions in order to have deeper conversations about the themes. Both days also had a three hour segment of a masterclass on the making of dance films (full programme & list of speakers here).

This intensive program was built around developing the communication of and about our works online, meaning that the Atelier focuses on two sides of the online presence of artists: the digital artwork itself and the description and presentation of said work. How do we archive efficiently for future reference? How does an archive communicate to an audience? Does art come across successfully on a screen and through an internet connection?

Building sustainable artistic practices with experts and makers

Checking in

Guido Jansen and Marcus Cohen of DEN (Digitaal Erfgoed Nederland - Dutch national knowledge institute for culture & digitalisation), an organisation that provides support and knowledge in building and connecting digital heritage collections and teaches digital sustainability, discuss the archive, the portfolio and the signature. How does the artist share their identity online? How does one show one's signature in the selection of the work that is the portfolio? As archive and portfolio are closely related, they can intertwine. The point of stress in their presentation is this: ask yourself how you can employ the platform for your artistic work, and not how your work can be rearranged for the platform. Try and think of your archive as a way of communicating instead of a historic collection.

How does one show one's signature in the selection of the work that is the portfolio?

Another common misconception, that the arts are not a good place to look for money, is quickly debunked by promoter and producer Sofie Marin. There are multiple ways, too many to mention, of going about earning a living online. The most important and sustainable way of going about this is creating a community around your work and working on a subscription model. There is a great solidity in finding a large group to pay a small amount, as opposed to having a few big funders. Just make sure that the tools you use are easy to work with. Start with a button on your website.

To underline both points about online entrepreneurship, Rogier van der Zwaag speaks of his work on the border between archive and portfolio, creating visibility and organising his works simultaneously. His social media are at the same time testing grounds and galleries, functioning as a means to break down the long and invisible journey that normally takes place before a grand presentation of the finished product. Not all of his presented works are finished, and they are not meant to be until they are. We see the layers of the painting before we see the actual work itself, raising the question if the constituent parts are artistic works in themselves as well.

How do you use the medium as an extension of the practice?

A lot to take in. One of the first things I notice in myself is the unexpected strain of partaking in a digital symposium. Of listening and waiting for digital noise to dissolve, of being unable to have coffee breaks together. Many questions arise and keep returning. The most prevalent question is the age-old query that all artists have to answer time and again: the great, big Why. Why do you present this theme? Why do you choose to work in this discipline or format? Secondly, a fear for the online, seemingly stemming from a felt lack of knowledge, is expressed by some makers. How to communicate the work in such a different space? How do you use the medium as an extension of the practice? Perhaps the only thing to do is to simply start and learn on the job.

A whole new discipline

Two seemingly fearless young makers speak of their recent work to bring these theories into practice. Directing student Zephyr Brüggen was unfortunately forced to cancel her production due to the health crisis of this year. The adaptation of Georg Büchner's Woyzeck was meant to take place on stage, but was reworked into a Zoom-performance (link in Dutch), which resulted in a live performance where the actors and the audience were all at home, all on display and part of the same ecosystem for a short while. A panopticon where the viewer can be viewed themselves.

Then, the presentation most practically linked to dance is given by film director Daphne Lucker, who shares her experience working on the dance film Sisters, an intimate and instinctual film about support in an abusive home environment. The project started not from a choreography, but from a story dictating movement. Perhaps the most meaningful statement that Daphne poses is that the editor is the second choreographer. Where the first choreographer works dynamics and story into the actual movement, the editor works it into the film through montage.

Internet as a panopticon - power play and possibilities

Dramaturg Nienke Rooijakkers and film maker Camiel Zwart, both working for Cinedans, a Dutch organisation that produces dance film festivals and guides young makers working in dance film, offer two inspiring classes on filming and editing dance pieces, and the makers are asked to create their own dance shorts. We work on what dance film can be, on how to film and how to edit, as well as on how to prepare for filming, the different work flow of film as opposed to dance on stage, and sound design – to name a few of the many facets they throw at us. We are advised to be mindful of the authenticity of the dance film, it is not merely a registration of a live performance, it is an artwork in itself.

Is the Zoom performance the youngest discipline in the performing arts, a discipline working with the senses and with presence differently than the arts displaying the body on stage?

These fascinating talks bring about immense associative journeys in my mind. I find I am thinking of the internet as a panopticon – a Foucauldian plain of power play, yet of possibility too. A thought pops up: is the Zoom performance the youngest discipline in the performing arts, a discipline working with the senses and with presence differently than the arts displaying the body on stage? The question that should guide us, perhaps, in this new artistic plain is: which potentials and advantages do we see, and what tools can we use in order to grow?

Togetherness found in social distance should not be forgotten

Moving Forward

Roberto Casarotto, EDN board member and director of Centro per la Scena Contemporanea (Bassano del Grappa), rounds up the Atelier by speaking of the intense impact the virus Covid-19 has on the dance field and on his own area, North-East Italy.

We all experience physical constrictions, despite our roles in society. As dance people, we are used to being creative, responding to contingencies. Maybe now we realise how unprepared we were for the digital space. To what extent is our field built around the event, the event that was cancelled suddenly? Does the digital space offer new possibilities in this regard?

The togetherness we found in the social distance is valuable and precious, and the hope is we won’t forget that when the system tries to go back to how things were. Perhaps now is the time to reinvent, as that is what we are good at. Perhaps now is the time to refresh our activism to develop a more ethical artistic field.

‘Look at plants,’ Roberto said. ‘Plants are rooted, and they do not run a way. They stay connected, adapt to the circumstances, and they grow.’ A perfect summary for an inspiring Atelier that, while discussing the digital and sharing tools, touches on universal themes.

About the author

A report written by Freek Duinhof for EDN (2020).

Freek Duinhof is an independent Dutch dramaturg working with makers who are active in dance, physical and interdisciplinary theatre, as well as opera. He guides young makers in their artistic growth and the development of their plans for the future, and he writes essays and articles on spectatorship and identity.


Check also the aftermovie of the event realised by Dansmakers Amsterdam, edited by Tessel Schmidt!

Picture: Still from Sisters (2018), Daphne Lucker