I didn’t quite know what to expect from this week that we were going to spend in Bassano and was even a little nervous of being amongst other dance makers from other countries. Even though I have been making work for the past few years I have always regarded myself as a performer rather than a choreographer. In other words not all that too confident in defending my choreographic work, especially verbally.
So lo and behold our very first day with Peggy Olislaegers dramaturg and artistic and general director of Dutch Dance Festival, we are asked to give a small presentation no more than 2 min, in front of the whole group (around 20 people) which was: “What kind of responsibility do you want to embrace in terms of your work/art?”. We had 5 min to write or think about the question and another 10 min to go into couples and exchange, with the task that the listener would try and sharpen the speaker’s thoughts with questions in order to focus the presentation and make it clearer.
The question rattled me at first and forced me to really search the reason I want to create as well as perform. I came to realise through this question how important it is for me to communicate an idea to my audience and the creativity involved in trying to achieve that. For instance I find that it is my responsibility in this new piece that I’m creating that my audience feels involved and has a participatory role in what unfolds before them.
It was just as valuable to hear what all the other fellow creators had to say they felt was their responsibility. It helped to get to know the other people in the room without having to know what their educational background was.
We had some very interesting and free from discussions about what exactly a dramaturg is and ended the first day with the presentation of a sketch by one of the participants.
Everyone else would write what they literally saw in front of them without any interpretation or emotion behind that description. There were four parts to this exercise:
1) The person/Performer.
2) The movement
This proved to be a challenge but gave us an insight into how a dramaturg could be of value to a choreographer. Being able to give objective descriptions of the piece presented many options and directions that could be taken that the choreographer may never have seen or thought of before. This is just one of the tools that a dramaturg can use.
On our second day with Peggy she asked us to give ourselves a question to hold on to for this week that we would be in Bassano. Either in terms of our personal work or the performances we were going to see or even the various people we were going to meet. This question was again something that we shared in the round.
I gave, myself the question: “When and why do I connect more or less to a piece as an audience member?”
I felt that if I could understand what I’m attracted to and why and vice versa then in would help me figure out how to approach and build on my own work.
Another participant showed a sketch in which Peggy practically showed us one of the ways that she works. After the sketch was shown in its original form Peggy entered the performing space and started manipulating the location, form and rhythm of the piece by giving instructions. It was a little hard to understand the difference of what she was doing, as a dramaturg, with how choreographers work on their material these days. We wrote the different images and interpretations that came to us in relation to these changes she made.
Our third day was with Meerel Heering a dramaturg and close collaborator of Peggy’s. The group was greatly reduced to around 9 people as only the choreographic research participants were present – the other people from the first two days were part of the group for the Dancing Museums project.
It felt a lot more intimate now.
We had gone to see a piece the previous day in Cittadella (20 min by train from Bassano) in which Meerel was the dramaturg and so we had the chance to ask her what her involvement and input was.
This gave us a visual and even practical understanding of how Meerel approaches her role as a dramaturg.
One of the first things someone asked her was whether she liked all the pieces that she works on. The answer was no! I appreciated her for her honesty and at the same time her professionalism.
She asked us what, if any, were our experiences with a dramaturg, is there a tradition of dramaturgy in our current working context and how would we describe our current state of affairs in our working context?
I think this was a good platform for her to understand what our possible needs and questions would be in the coming days.
She gave us some pointers of how to approach someone for a dramaturgical collaboration:
Talk about expectations from the beginning.
Framing how you are going to work or give feedback.
Time your feedback, when, how, tone of voice.
Find language to open up an idea and communicate it.
Good to mention straight up about money available for the dramaturg.
Each choreographer has different needs and therefore each collaboration between dramaturg and choreographer is taylor made. The dramaturg adapts accordingly.
On our fourth day we had Meerel Heering again as well as Kristin de Groot, Artistic Director of dansateliers, presenting a project that Kristin and other Dance House partners initiated and in which Meerel participated.
It was a project that wanted to bring dance makers and writers together in order to find and form language to communicate dance to various target groups such as funding bodies, collaborators and audiences.
They gave us insights as to how they worked to achieve their goal. This was through marketing, networking, storytelling and practical exercises. Kristin then gave us a task as a group to write on a shared, large piece of paper words describing the qualities we thought a leader should have.
Another exercise from this programme which was very insightful was to go into groups of three and share one experience that you felt you achieved your goal.
One listener would note down the facts and qualities of what you are saying and the other would note down the emotions and qualities.
From the exercise you get very concrete words as to your role and emotion towards what you have achieved and can distance yourself and perhaps understand the value of your achievement from another angle.
It is important to train our listening skills and to ask for different ways of listening.
Asks the right questions in relation to what is shown to them.
To give feedback on what is shown to them.
Reflect and give back associations.
On our fifth day we spoke about the pieces that we had seen the previous days and Merel shared with us how she sees her role as a dramaturg.
She finds it very relevant to have an emotion behind what she shares with the choreographer and when using positive validation to make it very constructive.
It is important to protect the source/idea/meaning in order not to seperate from the relevance of what you are doing. A dramaturg is there to clarify and read a situation/work presented.
Meerel gave us a series of questions so that we could give constructive feedback on a piece we saw of Alessandro Sciarroni/Joseph_kids.
How did you prepare yourself for the show?
What did you see?
Which strategies were used to draw the spectator in?
How did you interpret it?
How did you validate it?
Formulate a question for the choreographer.
This was a neat platform and exercise to practice on as Meerel would always be there making sure we didn’t veer off from the question and to stay as on point and precise as possible in our descriptions and answers.
On the sixth and final day Meerel gave us some more advice as to how we can build on our work and get the kind of feedback that we want.
Let people in to your process that are not involved in your work to come and see. Give a clear framework and parametres as to what feedback you want. Make it clear that you do not want validation.
Part of a dramaturg’s job is to bring the choreographer to their core. To remind them to be, rather than try to be something else.
Be honest and trust.
Our last exercise was to share our idea/concept in smaller groups and to practice our feedback skills.
All in all, the week proved to be an incredible opportunity and clarification of not only how I could work and approach my own work but also the way many other people in the field work. There is no one way of working, there in no right or wrong way of working. As long as you keep true to your core idea, stay open to the possibilities that that idea could develop into and ask yourself and others the questions that you need to ask, then you will be able to support anything that you create and produce.
I left feeling confident in myself and my concept and stimulated by being around such inspiring and thought provoking people.
The town of Bassano was an ideal backdrop to all of this information that we were receiving. I would take the opportunity on our breaks to take a short walk from Piazzetta Guadagnin up via Matteoti and make my way to a point looking down at the covered bridge called Ponte Vecchio. I would take in the beauty and allow the information I just receive to do its job and go wherever it was supposed to go into my hard drive. Trying not to force the information but rather trust that it would happen and being inspired by the surrounding natural as well as architectural beauty.
I would have liked to have had the chance to move my body a little as it was many hours of sitting on the floor or chairs. Just an hour in a studio by ourselves. That would have been nice.
I feel preveliged to have been able to participate in such a workshop and festival. I am truly grateful.
Thank you Dance House Lemesos.
Thank you BMOTION Festival.
Thank you Operaestate.
Thank you Bassano.
So after a long journey including airplanes, buses and trains, walking, sitting, standing and sleeping we arrived at Bassano Del Grappa. A beautiful town surrounded by mountains and a river connection.
It has been such a valuable experience to be part of this gathering that included workshops, discourse, performances, questions and for some occurring international friendships and potential collaborations.
Peggy Olislaegers. A bomb of information and generosity. Outspoken, she took us on a 2 day fast pace conversational excursion, passing from all sorts of subjects, dance, choreography, dramaturgy, values, principles, the market, methods, management, policies, leadership, art and responsibility, collaboration, together with an open table for questions circled by interesting artists from all over the world. And here I would like to share what echoed from her to me which were also her first words in her workshop opening. ‘’ Art needs to have an impact. It needs to come from an autonomous heart. Art is the echo of the (that) heart’’
In the meanwhile, meals, reflections, conversations, the river and a remarkable dinner night challenge to talk about everything else except art. Thank you wine. Thank you Arriana, Julia, Ivan, Matthew, Alba and.Ana.
In the meanwhile Ivan, with whom we hanged around almost all the time. Performer, choreographer and a drag queen from Croatia based in Zurich. What a person. We immediately connected in all sort of levels. We even opened the prospect for professional collaboration.
Merel Heering. Young, direct, open, friendly, good listener, dramaturg. She was lovely. ‘’The choreographer is responsible to define the qualities of the relationship with his/her dramaturge’’.
Really, if I could go expressively to each moment that remained in my memory this text would be long.
International exchanges for artists such as this choreographic research week are fruitful encounters (and leavings) of an immense human need to connect beyond nationality, even beyond art itself.
This journey rewarded me with a lot of epiphanies, realizations, reflections, observations and even answers.
What I would like to share, from my independent heart, is that art is a way of living, being and responding to this great strange and curious world. Art is and will always be an excuse to connect with something, whether that is a person, the air, a page, a glance towards the sky, where there is always an encounter and always a leaving. And then, whatever we artists think, feel and do, by the end we are always devotedly alone.
What an opportunity
There is probably not many words that can describe the experience we were given during these days in Bassano. Four different happenings were taking place at the same time in the small and beautiful town in the North of Italy – The B.Motion festival featuring over 20 works of contemporary well known and upcoming international artists; the EDN meeting that had guests from almost every European country; the Dancing Museums project, a European project that includes 5 artists from 5 countries collaborating on developing a project over 2 years; the Dance for Health project that introduced a new approach to patients with Parkinsons desease for artists interested in the pedagogic approach in the field of dance and finally the choreographic research week which we were able to be part of. The town of Bassano was full of artists, life and dance which fit beautifully in the context of the old town by the river inbedded in the gorgeous landscape of the Italian mountain view.
Being one of 7 participants in our group was a very intense and giving experience that gave me many insights, opened many questions and triggered more specific reflections about performance, art, myself as an artist and also as a person.
The week started with morning classes by alternating teachers who are part of the Parkinson Dance for health team. We were around 50 people of all age groups and various backgrounds taking part in a combined movement class where we mingled and moved with each other in a very safe and respectful environment. It gave us a very peaceful start in the day with alert and awake bodies and minds.
The first workshop that we were attending with the Dancing Museums – group was given by Peggy Oelslagers, a Dutch well-known dramaturge, dance artist and programmer/curator. It was a one-of-a-kind experience. Peggy’s presence and knowledge, her quick responses, her analytical mind, her generous sharing of her knowledge and her experience was breathtaking and intimidating at the same time. The workshop challenged me on all levels and gave me so much food for more thoughts. I felt like my decision and my path as a dance artist made so much sense and it never ceases to be interesting and opening up fields of interest and questions that keep my mind and spirit busy. We had an insight of the way of working of colleagues, discussions that lead to further discussions and that were beautifully professionally monitored and guided by Peggy.
The other main workshop we had was a workshop by another (female Dutch) dance dramaturge; Merel Heering. Merel is a fairly young and very poular dramaturge that impressed all of us not only with her knowledge and her very open and generous approach, but also with her empathic way of guiding this workshop and giving space to every participant to elaborate and present on his/her work and raise questions to her and to open discussion. She was extremely inspiring with her very direct and praxis oriented approach in her field. We had guests like dance house leaders and choreographers in the workshop that enriched the experience digging and analysing possible artistic and scientific approaches of working.
Our little group was a very safe and beautiful place to express, discuss and share even outside of the workshop context.
Being able to watch almost 20 performances of a very high standard was completely positively exhausting and so nourishing at the same time. So many impressions, questions and reflections about my own work arouse and inspired me to work more intesly, more honestly and more focused.
In general that was an impression I had: a big group of people that are dedicated to what they are doing that take themselves and their work serious and that are open for new impressions to enter their being.
I profoundly enjoyed this week on a personal and on a professional level so much, I am very grateful for having had this opportunity and I am sure each of us will bring our experiences into the Cypriot Dance scene and into our work.