Feature: DanceEUnion

Monday 14 March 2011

Nicky Napier. Photo: Susie Mackie *Nicky Napier [nee Molloy] is the curator for danceEUnion – three days of dance from 20 European countries at Southbank Centre next week(15 – 17 March). Until recently Head of Dance & Performance at the venue, Nicky was also Artistic Director and Executive of Dance4 and nottdance, where European dance artists new to the UK were often part of an adventurous programme. *

Nicky tells us more about dancEUnion, including some of the performances she won’t be missing!

How did danceEUnion come about? **The idea was set in motion when Julia Carruthers [Director of Dance & Performance] was still at the Southbank in 2008. As Julia was leaving she asked me to take on the artistic and logistical running of the event on a freelance basis. I totally embraced it as an idea, a great opportunity for a really diverse range of choreographers from across Europe to come together to present work. Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, Southbank Centre was delighted with the outcome and was very keen that it be repeated again in the not too distant future – and so came about dancEUnion 2011, which I pursued as an idea with the wonderful support of the EU Commission here in the UK.

Is it about artists sharing work as much as about bringing a wide range of new work to a London audience? **Definitely. In 2008, as well as the choreographers being able to view each other’s work, I organised a series of informal discussions facilitated by Donald Hutera and Eckhard Thiemann. The main issues were: “how does the place where I create influence the work I do?”; “how do I collaborate with other artists – locally, regionally, globally?”; “does Europe matter?” etc. In 2011, we have taken this one step further and I have organised a four-day workshop for the choreographers involved in dancEUnion, led by Jonathan Burrows. During this time the choreographers will be encouraged to reflect on their own practice and share ideas with each other.

This year’s event will include work from 20 countries over three days. For someone who is unfamiliar with the names of the artists/performers on offer, how do you advise choosing what to see? **Each evening provides an opportunity to see work from five or six countries in the Purcell Room, as well as the free work in the public spaces. All of the works being shown are extracts from longer pieces making it possible to present more artists in one evening. Therefore, I personally would pick any night that suits you from a diary point of view as on any night you will see a diverse range of work. I have tried to curate a mix of styles and types of work on each evening – hopefully enough of a range to interest different tastes!

dancEUnion Adam Zambrzycki, Hungary. When we talk about dance in Europe it still feels as if the UK isn’t quite a part of it. Do you think that’s true? Why is that? **I agree – at times, we don’t feel quite part of the European scene. Although in reality there are always UK artists, at all levels, being presented in Europe and who are therefore linked into the European scene. In general, choreographers in other European countries seem to be more nomadic in terms of making and presenting work. For whatever reason, it feels as though they are happy, and able, to move from one country to another, embracing opportunities along the way. UK artists are perhaps more reluctant to embrace this notion or to find appropriate opportunities for themselves or, for whatever reason, they prefer to focus on making and presenting work in the UK predominantly. There is also the question of aesthetics and the varying tastes of international promoters. Does UK work have its own unique identity that is not to the tastes of overseas promoters? One thought is that if UK choreographers are not being exposed to the wider European scene then their work remains firmly routed in the evolving aesthetic of UK dance. Is that aesthetic strong, interesting and ‘current’ enough, to spark the interests of international promoters? I think there is a great diversity of work in the UK and I would like to see more and more UK based artists promoted overseas.

Is there such a thing as ‘European dance’ or do some countries have their own identifiable dance styles? **It has been very interesting searching for work from 20 countries and I did think that it would throw up more unique markers. To be honest, in the main, I have found that in most instances, I really couldn’t identify a work as specific to one country or another although, although I can usually tell if a work is European or British. Also I think it is safe to acknowledge that work from countries that have a younger tradition of making contemporary work tend to present dance that is perhaps more derivative of other traditions or schools. I would also say that there is a distinct but very subtle difference between countries such as France, Belgium and Spain.

Is there work in this programme which wouldn’t/couldn’t have been made in the UK? And why? **There are a number of works that I cannot imagine being made in the UK. However, not because our artists couldn’t make them, or wouldn’t want to make them, more because we either don’t have the spaces or funders that want to commission them or promoters who are interested in presenting them. The issue of getting an audience to see work is really important but we also need to continue to be courageous about the type of work that we introduce to audiences. I wonder if this is linked to making less time for artists in the UK, than many other European countries, together with the lack of real commitment to research and development – an absolutely key element for an artist, in terms of their ongoing practice.

Which European country would you say has the most vibrant dance ecology? **Countries such as Belgium and France have really strong dance ecologies, as do countries such as Austria and Germany for different reasons. However, there are also countries such as Romania, Latvia and Slovenia, for example, which are hungry for development and have some really interesting artists emerging.

As to why, that is complex. Each country has its own positives and negatives in terms of why the ecology is vibrant and these are not static. For example, in France you have a number of excellent festivals and choreographer-led centres. In places such as Belgium, you have some great venues and festivals and interesting structures to support artists. As an outsider it feels that many of these countries have got it right in terms of decisions being made by people other than funders, with reference to what work gets made, produced and presented.

dancEUnion Doris Uhlich, Austria. Give us a snapshot/flavour of a few of the works you’re most looking forward to seeing in danceEUnion this year? **I am interested in seeing all of the work live for many different reasons. However, if you forced me to pick a few that I would very personally like to see (Nicky the audience member as distinct from Nicky the curator), I would say that these would be: Doris Uhlich from Austria, Maud le Pladec from France and Maria Kefirova from Bulgaria. Each one is totally different from the other in terms of the work they make and the way in which they frame their work but they are all artists that I am intrigued to keep an eye on going forward.

More: ***dancEUnion, 15 – 17 March 2011, Southbank Centre includes artists and companies from:* Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom **”more details/booking“:http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/festivals-series/danceunion

Production images from top: Lia Haraki (Cyprus); Adam Zambrzycki (Hungary): Doris Uhlich (Austria).

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