This informative workshop organised by EDN in 2016 gathered around 40 professionals including EDN members, European Commission representatives, workers of the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and other dance and cultural players.
Hazel Hodgins, Programme Manager at Dance Ireland, provides a report of the event.
Outlining the context - the challenges of the dancehouses
Walter Heun, President of the European Dancehouse Network and Artistic Director of Tanzquartier Wien – Vienna (AT) introduced the topic of the workshop by highlighting the struggle of contemporary dance as an ephemeral art form, but also its unique ability to communicate and form connections across disciplines, borders and identities. The history and role of the dancehouse model within the sector was outlined to provide some context.
Speaking of the challenges faced by the individual dance artist, Walter outlined the extraordinary financial and logistical undertaking to make work, despite the help of dancehouses, who work to support and share the burden with as many artists as possible within their limited resources. He acknowledged the context that dance artists create work in today, which are not only financial but also the constant pressures to be “permanently inventive”.
Walter also highlighted the role of EDN as an international network of trust and collaboration between dancehouses and the many successful European projects which have been undertaken towards the development of the sector, and building relationships within and beyond Europe. This illustrates very clearly the level of expertise and knowledge held within the dancehouse model, and within EDN as a network and it is of great value.
The role of the dancehouses: example of The Place (UK)
Eddie Nixon, Director of the Theatre and Artist Development Department at The Place – London (UK), described The Place as an example of a dancehouse and how it works as a broker of engagement between both the artist and the general public. At The Place, like many other dancehouses, they focus on the audience as much as the artist. They prioritise authentic public engagement and the quality of the experience with dance and the dancehouse rather than just focusing on sales.
Eddie also stressed the importance of partnerships and offered examples of their existing partnerships on a local, national and international level. There is also evidence of the openness dance has to other disciplines at an organisational level as well as an individual level, as the partnerships take place with organisations both within and outside the dance sector.
He also highlighted the need for dance to be “de-mystified” for the general public and the methods and investment The Place have put into this. One of the examples is Planet Dance, a project of animation videos.
Working conditions of the artist - a presentation by Flanders Arts Institute
Delphine Hesters, Head of Performing Arts at Flanders Arts Institute – Brussels (BE), focused her presentation on the topic of working conditions for artists. While Delphine mostly focused on the political and social situation in Flanders with regards to working conditions, EDN agrees that her conclusions are relevant in the wider European context. Delphine echoed the move away from the company structure outlined by Walter and the rise of flex work and ‘boundaryless careers’, which puts pressure on the artists non-artistic skills and demands their diversification. While diversification of our artists is good for the sector and for the work being produced it is harder and more resource heavy to support. In response to this diversification, arts organisations have evolved, new ones have emerged and all have specialised. The effect of this is that multiple partnerships and collaborations between organisations are now required to meet the needs of one artist and one project. However, while partnership has its merits (as outlined by Eddie), this is not necessarily all positive, but rather points to a fragmentation of means, inflation of collaboration, and thinner engagement with the artist and the projects.
Delphine also emphasised the precarious nature of flex work, in the artistic sector in particular. She references a study which shows that while half of working hours spent for artists are on artistic work, and the majority of an artist’s income comes from work outside of their artistic endeavours. She ends with a question about career models for dance artists, and how we can define success in this field.
The Artist's perspective: the complex role of the choreographer
Patricia Apergi, choreographer and director of Aerites Dance Company – Athens (GR), then took the attendees through the artist’s perspective on the issues presented. Patricia spoke of the importance of European projects to connect and strengthen networks for dance artists across Europe. She described particular challenges within the Greek context for the arts and the role that EU funding for specific projects has played in filling that gap.
She provided first hand evidence to the group, based on her own experience, of how complex the role of ‘choreographer’ has become, supporting Walter’s earlier statements on the topic.
She echoed the need for dance artists for the key objectives of the EU –free movement of trade and people– by stressing how important it is for artists to have the freedom and option to work either in their home country or abroad, as well as access to proper working conditions. Patricia recognised in her presentation that while artists need to be independent, they also need to be both supported and protected in order to have the freedom to take artistic risks for development of the form and the sector.