Dance artist Roseanna Anderson went to IETM Valencia in 2016, with support from Theatre Bristol as a TB Agent. As we look forward to the next IETM in Brussels next month, Roseanna reflects on her experiences at the conference last year and how she has taken these thoughts forward.
Patterns of Coalition
The IETM in Valencia felt like a whirlwind. The fizz of frenzied conversations, sharing of new ideas, the consideration of the future, and at the heart –connection! People, from all over, seeking to understand, connect and make a better world. A collective intention to defy individualistic politics and divisive austerity agendas and break down structures which block creation.
I was staying in the El Cabanyal area of Valencia, the “working-class jewel of artnouveaustyle” with its’ beautiful tiled exterior walls. The tiles of Valencia strike a careful chord between beauty and functionality. The questioning of this balance kept coming up for me at IETM – where does the usefulness of your work come into play and how can everyone be enabled to develop their artistic intentions through support, friendship, wine, and with a direct consideration of the people who will see, engage, hear, play with their work. Brian Eno said in an interview, “think about how your art is useful to people”.
In one of the sessions, I formed a group with about eight people, and I think just as many different nationalities. Our task was to dream up the ideal cultural venue for Valencia. Stepping into dreamland, the venue was, obviously, to have everything, a café, a bar, a meeting space, a community space, a theatre, a dance studio and it was to feel welcoming to EVERYBODY. And I mean everybody, the discussion included how do you plan a timetable in which all age categories are covered over the arc of a day, ie. a professional dance class in the morning, tea and cake for older people mid-morning, lunchtime baby & parent sessions, afternoon kids classes, evening adult classes, live performance programme, post show discussions etc. We then got onto to talking about how the venue would be user-led in the sense that there would be a constant feedback process for users of the building on how it should continue to be run and what changes were needed to best serve their needs.
I read this back, and think YES, that’s absolutely brilliant, and remember the excited smiles flashing around the group on the day.
But I also remember, five minutes after it had finished, feeling like we didn’t actually talk about anything. We gathered the energy of optimism and with it conjured up our wishes in the space between all of us, but they were simply wishes, not steps.
Not trodden pathways which can show, oh so carefully, ways to start ever important connections to other people. It was almost like the fear of really talking about HOW you would start setting up a venue, in a specific, small and considered way, was too great and it leapt into grand ambitions which could not be realized today, next month or even next year. I kept thinking we should be learning about the people who already have done this inintimate and specific ways.
I kept thinking about the beautiful tiles of Valencia and their patterns.
Patterns are structures. They are often infinitely simple.
And as patterns are practiced and repeated they gather strength.
Patterns are plans and thoughts.
Trusting inner patterns of thinking and composition builds the foundation to create more complex structures and find new, responsive patterns.
But it’s got to be tile by tile…
I visited a friend in California in March. We set off for a’15-min walk’ into a canyon, and an hour later after half-jogging the whole time to keep up (my friend is mad and incredibly fit!) we reached the waterfall hidden in the inner most part of the canyon. By now, night was falling and we had criss-crossed a handsome river via stones and precariously perched tree trunks at least a dozen times to get to this point. As we came to the first crossing on the way back, I realized looking down at my, thankfully white, Reebok shoe, I could only see the first stone to cross the river. I couldn’t see the whole path across. I simply had to take that first step, let my eyes adjust and see the next one poking out of the water. It was the only way to reach the other side of where I wanted to be, and I think this is so true with making ‘art’ happen. I get lost in the everything and forget to do something, today and now.
I met a number of people who were taking some of those steps, two young, female playwrights from Birmingham testing their work with audiences, a Lithuanian LGBT activist, who was a tiny and powerful woman and described how she danced intimately with another woman down the main street of her town amidst calls of derision and anger and I met a woman from Holland who has worked with teenagers for 15 years devising ways for THEM to inhabit, evolve and maintain their artistic practice as young people and the next generation.
And after hearing this blue-sky dreaming of the ultimate performance venue… I went exploring to see the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern and on the way there, I came across an outdoor theatre. Very simple, it was the forgotten foundations of an ever built building. They had a small shack to one side with a big paella being cooked up, and cans of beer. Natural stone seats at one end, a garden at the other, and small raised stage in the middle. A crowd of 50 or so had gathered, people of all ages, and what ensued was a beautiful pocket-sized show with a clown, an actor and a live band. Spirits were high, a child was laughing away next to me in the lap of her grandparents, and everyone cheerfully put a few coins in to the hat collection at the end. So simple, no frills, crafted entertainment and food and a place for people to come together. The simplicity of curation felt beyond any multi-million pound building I’ve entered into, and it encouraged me to really think about what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for and why.
Returning to Bristol, I tried to break down this, ‘brick-wall’ between thinking about doing something and actually doing it, emboldened to transform it into a thin spider web of resistance that can be brushed aside by will. I had the opportunity to run a cabaret luncheon for over 60s at the Dance Centre, a couple of weeks after the conference. It was last minute.com in terms of organization (as ever with me!) but I kept just thinking it was possible and it would come together. Sending out the first emails a week before the event, and contacting charities for older people, I filled the 30 places for the luncheon, and had all of the acts lined up! It is possible! On the day, it was pouring with rain, and everyone who came expressed the joy of being somewhere warm and fun together. I don’t know what the secret is, in fact I’m sure there’s not a secret, just a calm and focused series of steps that can lead you across the river, to whichever side you want to be. It’s maybe more about finding seeds of confidence that you can hold onto as your own and loving them as seedlings, as insignificant as they might seem, figuring out what is useful to you and nurturing this seed to propagate your ideas to others.
On another thought about making performance work, and specifically movement-focused work – I attended a session on the Friday entitled, ‘Other Abilities, Evolving Aesthetics’, a talk… “about disability-led work beyond notions of access: let’s talk about opportunities and new aesthetics presented by difference”. One of the speakers, Michael Turinsky, an independent, disabled choreographer from Austria, encouraged artists (disabled and non-disabled) to value “…one’s own specific embodied sense of being in the world” in organizing creative material “around a complex, condensed set of ideas drawn from a variety of he most advance political and aesthetic discourses”, and challenging the idea of “aboutness” of a work…
What does a work tell us? Stating, “There is no need for choreographic performative work to be “about” disability”, he then gave a compelling argument for the need for people who are disabled by hostile environments, whether it be through homophobia, racial hatred, gender in-equality to form ‘politico-aesthetic coalitions’. He said “...If the performing arts “mirror” society or more precisely: if artistic “form” is always a certain sedimentation of the social “real” – then let’s build coalitions! …. Instead of merely sticking to an identitarian affirmation of our particular identity, let’s start from there and then open up an aesthetic space in which our own “urgencies” can resonate with other progressive (queer, anit-capitalist…) social forces and their means of expression!”
If art is essential in defining the future, what are we going to do?
And the closest I’ve got to answering this is –
stay within yourself,
do the next best thing,
open up to the potential of new coalitions.
I’d love to get to some new people and maybe form a coalition or two…
I’m a dancer living in Bristol and my email is – [email protected]
The image at the top is a collage of the tiles I was fascinated by and photographed in the El Cabanyal area of Valencia. Thanks for reading.
To find out more about how our TB Agents scheme, and how you can apply for a bursary to attend a professional event or conference, please visit our TB Agents page. Our next deadlines are 20th November 2017 and 19th February 2018.