Feature: Starting Out

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Frauke Requardt The Place, April 15 & 16: Associate Artist Triple Bill - with Jean Abreu, Hofesh Shechter This Spring at the Place brings the chance to see the work of eight choreographers in the early stages of their careers. By any standards they are already successful, but getting your work to a wider public can be a long haul.

Katie Phillips talks to some of them about the challenges they’ve encountererd and the inspirations that keep them going.

Dancers are a resilient bunch. There I was expecting a tirade of fang gnashing against the injustices of the funding system, the emerging trend of vicious competition, the lack of variable training institutions and how much better everything is over the blue in mainland Europe… But instead, I find a group of extremely dedicated, persevering artists, striving to better their careers in order to further the art of dance. As a group of contemporary choreographers emerging on the scene, they discuss the obstacles they face as on the whole, artistic rather than political; visceral rather than financial. They all understand that contemporary dance is a not for profit art form. Their aim is artistic fulfilment rather than fame and fortune, and despite a few blips most are more or less content with the level of support they can receive, if they spend enough time in ‘the loop’.

Jean Abreu The Place, April 15 & 16: Associate Artist Triple Bill - with Hofesh Shechter & Frauke Requardt Photo: Jorge Mondero Every opportunity invariably has its obstacles and problems, but Jerwood Award winner Jean Abreu’s biggest worry is that “Dance is still a very undervalued art form – dancers have to face worries about the credibility in what they do. There isn’t enough belief in it.” He goes on to say: “It’s hard to be able to prove that you will make a good dance piece with the resources available. And that you deserve the support. Development is so tied up with experimentation. Young choreographers have to make it right most of the time to establish themselves. You are constantly picking up pieces and rebuilding but you have to move forward as well.”

The hardest thing for new choreographer, graduate of London Contemporary Dance School and recipient of the Robin Howard commission from The Place, Rashpal Singh Bansal, is uncertainty. The short term funding of ACE prevents young choreographers from knowing what they will be doing from project to project. He finds it tough keeping focused on plans and aspirations as, “With the funding system the way it is you can never be certain it’ll work out the way you want it to. Not having any guarantee is the biggest obstacle for me.”

Vanessa Haska The Place April 6: Flight of the Bumblebee/Dedicated to Same/Somewhere in My Stomach Vanessa Haska, choreographer in Residence at Moving East, agrees: “At a time when very few venues are able to offer commissions and central funding bodies are making life increasingly difficult, to get to the position where you are obtaining regular funds seems pretty distant and chances somewhat remote.” As a currently unfunded company, she also believes that a lack of major core audience is a problem and sees that indirectly, both of these issues have a major influence on artistic output. There is no simple solution. Haska admits that “It’s too easy to say, ‘well the government should provide more potential for funding for dance artists’ – that’s a very slippery slope.”

Rashpal Singh Bansal The Place April 13: Parallels/Dissonant/Fine Line The key to the labyrinth of Arts Council England (ACE) funding applications seems simple – get a manager. However, it’s a catch 22 situation as most new artists are unable to afford one – no money no manager, no manager no application for money. Mostly, artists have to take it upon themselves to administrate (write funding applications, press releases and contracts; find rehearsal space, book tours…) as well as actually make the work at the beginning of their career. Bansal is one such artist as he doesn’t yet have a manager. He comments: “Someone with a weaker character would have given in by now.” So what is it that keeps him buoyant? “Deep down I believe that I have something to offer. What that is I don’t know yet, but I believe that in time it will come to me. I don’t know where it is I’m going right now – but that wouldn’t be any fun would it?”

Fleur Darkin, who started off in the same position now has a manager, but she manages to make even the “donkey work” seem positive: “You have to get real. I think it brings something to the work when you are engaged in real life. Yes we have to work hard, but hey, guess what? So does everyone.” For her, the biggest obstacle is rejection, although she remains undefeated: “You might get a bad review or no one comes to see the show, but so what? I was compelled to keep making work. Now I’ve got funding and a big tour and that makes me feel very secure.”

Whilst the dance world tends to be seen as madly London-centric, there is life outside of the M25 and regional opportunities are on the increase. With more and more regional theatres opening their doors to contemporary dance (Birmingham Hippodrome, The Lowry in Salford, The Lighthouse in Poole or the Barbican in Plymouth for example), contemporary dance is set to reach new audiences far and wide. Also, UK wide National Dance Agencies Dance City, Dance East, Dance 4, Dance Northwest, DanceXchange, The Place, South East Dance, Swindon Dance and Yorkshire Dance provide information and support services and funding can be easier to come by. However, whilst there may be more resources to create and spend outside of London, letting people know about your work is more difficult and all roads lead back to the capital.
Back in the big smoke, there seems to be a definite pecking order in the proceedings. You start off as a graduate in one of the main UK contemporary dance schools – London Contemporary Dance School, Laban or Northern School of Contemporary Dance – where you are provided with an inspirational and cutting edge environment with exposure to new dance artists and the ability to create and tour with a graduate company – EDge, Verve or Transitions. After graduation you strive to make small scale works on little or no budget – perhaps for the Resolution! platform, or choreographing for undergraduate students. Work can then be presented at small scale venues (Jackson’s Lane, The Drill Hall, Lilian Baylis Theatre for example) where it might then be picked up for middle scale venues such as The Place or the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It seems that you’ve only hit the big time when you’ve had a gig at Sadler’s Wells, or as Sud Basu, manager of choreographer Vanessa Haske puts it, “Anywhere Richard [Alston] or Rambert have been.”
Hofesh Shechter The Place, April 15 & 16: Associate Artist Triple Bill - with Jean Abreu & Frauke Requardt

Despite the fact that all roads lead back, inevitably, to ACE and funding, not one of the choreographers I spoke to mention money as one of the top three things they couldn’t live without. Instead, they quoted their dancers, sleep, love, health and sprung floors. And even when they do speak about funding, they are adamant that they are not complaining. They try their darndest to not sweat the small stuff. For Associate Artist of The Place, Frauke Requardt, it’s simple: “Either you are a choreographer 100 % or not at all.”

Choreographer and runner up in The Place Prize 2005, Hofesh Shechter seems to share this philosophy: “The first things I deal with are artistic obstacles… For me to understand what I want to do, where I create from, what I enjoy, then to make it happen are two separate things. I need to make sure that the technical doesn’t become more important than the artistic.”

Whilst all of these young choreographers inevitably talk of money, they are compelled to create work no matter the obstacles. They are all fighting a hard battle but they wouldn’t have it any other way. The key to success is perseverance as much as the drive to create and communicate through dance. They are all incredibly hardy, wonderfully inspired and optimistic about the future. And whilst many of them insist they are new and relatively unknown little fish in a big dance sea, they are sure to be caught in the tide soon enough, and programmers, critics and audiences alike should most definitely watch this space.

Performances at The Place: *April 4: Fleur Darkin – Hotel *
*_April 6: Vanessa Haska – _Flight of the Bumblebee/Dedicated to/Same/Somewhere in My Stomach* *April 11: h2dance – Silent Movie *
*_April 13: Rashpal Singh Bansal – _Parallels/Dissonant/Fine Line*
April 15 & 16: Associate Artist Triple Bill – Jean Abreu, Hofesh Shechter, Frauke Requardt

Useful websites:
www.theplace.org.uk
www.anda.org.uk – for info about National Dance Agencies
www.worldwidedanceuk.com – for info about touring venues
www.artscouncil.org.uk – for information about the UK funding system

March 2005

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