Imagining I am 20, accepting I am 45+ and keep dancing

Lifelong Dance Practice: Project 45+. Notes and opinions on some repeating topics

Inta Balode

It was my pleasure to spend some days in June 2018 together with the group of people of a great dance project “Lifelong Dance Practice: Project 45+”. This time the group consisted of participants from UK, Norway, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia: Fiona Millward, Solveig Leinan-Hermo, Tiina Ollesk, Rene Nommik, Olga Žitluhina, Ramona Galkina, Agris Da?i??vi?s, Vilnis B?ri?š, Oleg Ostanin, Aira Naginaviciute – Adomaitiene, Goda Laurinaviciute and Sally Dean. They spent 4 days in Riga and one day in L?dezers, which a small village I come from and now it is also LAUKKU (www.laukku.lv) home. In Riga the group besides their own activities also saw the events of the international festival “Time to Dance”, in L?dezers they participated in the first event of an event cycle called “What dance fits countryside?”.

Involvement in so multilayered projects makes the reporting task extremely challenging. What would be the best way to tell about what happened? How to tell it in a way so it is meaningful, not formal, not only facts, not only my narrow look and opinion.

Already since Riga and Hammerfest meetings and conversations almost 2 years ago (https://www.dance.lv/eng/lifelong-dance-practice-project-45/, https://www.dance.lv/eng/far-north-makes-a-project-45-last-longer/), when the projects first cycle took place, I see, hear and feel that some topics get repeated over and over again. Some issues are more painful. Some questions are asked more often, and some judgements are made with more emotions than others. During the time in Riga in L?dezers instead of trying to record some “results” or process of doing things I was trying to listen and to hear sometimes also beyond the said. At times I also asked questions and that heated up some discussions. And I lost all sense of distance and fell in love with everybody when watching the group improvising in the apple garden in the back yard of my house or in the local culture house together with local audience.

All of that led me to a list of questions / themes I really wanted to ask. So I emailed those to people with remark: “please take those as easy and possible that should stimulate you doing some quick writing and forgetting about that (..) No need for long writing, it can be also just a key words. Can be dance as well or song, or poetry, just share it somehow…”. But, of course, the answers did not come fast. It is impossible to put the whole life in some sentences even if asked in as easy and non-pressure manner as I could.

Now before upcoming next encounter of the group that will take place in Pärnu (August 23-26, 2018), let me share the questions and themes and a wrapped up and generalized outcomes with some quotes from dancers describing their thoughts and experiences. Each of those issues could easily become a subject of much broader discussion, conferences and publications. For now just a slight touch.

What if you were 20 years old in this project?

I put a label “20 years old” because that for most is the age of the beginning of professional carrier. I asked this not because the age group lies in the basis of the project frame but because I keep hearing talks about it. So let’s see if we get to some specifics of those differences.

Everybody pointed out some differences they can imagine in case they were 20 in a project like this. Interesting enough that there was quite clear distinction among what men and women said.

Men think they would be more inpatient, would rush, expect more technique, more physicality, and feel a need to show out, to prove themselves. Women wrote about relationship and group dynamics, mentioning different kind of insecurities they would have – not understanding group dynamics so well, not being confident in improvisation, being emotionally weaker.

Both men and women said that at the age of 20 they would have very different intentions – they would be more interested in a result, in polishing technique, testing physical strength, more “in the question of “how” as opposed to the question “why”” as Tiina says. “In this age I’m more ready to understand connection between movement, soul, energy and idea….” Oleg.

Are there any relations between culture politics and artistic creation in your everyday practice (has it increased or decreased during last 5 years)?

In this question quite a large variety of answers come up. Starting from hating all kind of politicians to growing involvement in the culture policymaking.

Somebody sees their artistic creations as the way to influence culture politics. Somebody else tries to not to be influenced by culture politics too much, not to allow it shape the content of creative decisions. For somebody involvement in culture politics has decreased. Somebody else criticizes and points out that there is no decent culture politics at all in their countries. Quiet strong disappointment is heard in the voices of the group but this is not only about blaming some external factors but also sounds painful in recognizing that dance is a niche arts, interesting for small group of people only (this can be both said by funding institutions, stated by themselves and as a result leads to certain desperate conditions). And this most likely would not be like that at the age of 20.

So “Project 45+” is seen as some kind of help in this desperate state. Aira writes: “I had the motivation to participate in such kind of group to become a VOICE. I was thinking that we have power to make some king of “revolution”, to create something special or rebellious to ruin the established norms”.

Process vs product and showing vs seeing in your practice

 Regarding those 2 pairs of terms I proposed as oppositions there are slightly different takes. The most visible difference comes from the fact if the person sees it is as their own decision or as a pressure from somewhere.

Those who value process and product quite equally as the reasons for aiming towards the artistic product mention a need for the energy exchange between performer and audience and a hope to create a good quality product.

Ramona, when talking about the dominance of the process, expresses a hope to finally get to the product as well. I see it as a wish get focused, concentrate energy instead of being in constant flow of the process, which is often also defined by lack of time and resources to create and share work with audience.

As opposed to this Tiina writes about culture politics pushing to have “well selling product”, so a professional is forced to think about product even if she is more interested in the process. So is Fiona: “I am not interested in product at all unless the process to create it is thorough, rigorous, over a period of time, possibly collaborative, and nourishes me in some way.”

My short proposal of seeing vs showing gets interpreted in two ways: some people talk about seeing other work, trying to follow latest processes in different art forms. Others talk about the same need or push to show their own work. It seems that for everybody the interest in the work of artists has increased and the decrease in wish to show their own work connects to the questioning of the self and value of the things to share “the older I get, the less I feel I know so who I am to show anything,” I hear from Fiona.

Do you consider yourself less or more tolerant and open than 5 years ago? 

“Nothing has really changed, as I’ve been open always. I’m taking challenges that arise, I like to try different things like suddenly filming in the movie or writing a poem”, Agris writes.

“Much more tolerant!” and “O, yes!!!” this is how Aira’s and Ramona’s responses sound. “In my age 5 years is not that long period of time so I think I have the same tolerance as 5 years ago,” this is Oleg’s take of the question.

Vilnis says that during the process he is definitely much more tolerant. Although during the path towards the outcome of the process, there is a red line for him – it is the need of the quality. Lack of that he would not tolerate. This largely resonates with the opinions of Tiina and Fiona. Both of them talk about getting more tolerant if something really interests them and they see it is done with love and motivation. However, they would not waste their energy and time on something that is outside their field of interest and / or value system.

To what extent it is important to share your expertise?

Sharing of knowledge and experience happens no matter whether somebody wants to do or not. Unless there are some complete isolation circumstances which is not the case here. Most are teaching so they are sharing the expertise. Is this a wish, source of income or something else? What I heard is that experienced teachers, choreographers and policy makers hope that their mistakes will not be repeated, their huge efforts would make the path easier for younger generations, their work would leave traces and would be appreciated. Unfortunately quiet often this is not the case, and then complaining starts: “the young ones did not ask me / us!”

When answering the question one person said that the sharing of expertise is not important at all. Everybody else admitted their desire to share their experience with young, emerging artists in certain contexts. Especially when asked for advice. Vilnis talks about the pleasure of seeing see how the ones learning tools from him get them and starts exploring possibilities with a lot of passion and energy. Aira describes the process of performance making when the creation of the performance get to the stage where you let it go, can’t control it, “giving it in the hands to the creative team and the dancers, actors, audience, seeing everything from outside, it’s like  it’s like cutting baby’s umbilical cord.

Role of physical limitations in your professional life and thoughts about age and aging

“Physical limitations for dance arts are in our heads,” is Tiina’s answer. And that very well relates to Fiona’s point that physical limitations are frustrating but they also give great material and research possibilities to work from.

However, words like “painful, depressive, resisting, discomfort, caution” are heard in all answers. Agris mentions “age laziness” he tries to resist. He finds his way out of it through moving.

When answering more directly about age not in general about physical limitations, several answers logically enough quite simple conclusions about feeling the aging on physical level and trying to take care of that also on physical level. The theme of sadness about not having the same possibilities as 10 or more years ago repeats in some voices. Some people see aging in their relatives and that becomes a scary example to them. Thinking about physical aging has also another side, “I am free from pushing my body to overwork as usually it was before” Aira says.

Fiona gives a wonderful list of contradictory adjectives describing some aspects of aging:  “I feel at different times: Embarrassed. Frustrated. Nourished. Strengthened. Hopeful. Confused.” Vilnis feels the growing need to be among young people.

An issue of adequate feeling, being and behavior according to age also pops up. Perhaps not so much as somebody from outside would notice and say something but an inner tension caused by contraction of youthfulness of spirit and aging of the body.

“The felling of absolute creative freedom and release, together with the wisdom formed by experience and / or age makes our age unique!” this is Aira speaking here! And I have no idea whether it is specific Lithuanian take on age but this is what Goda says about aging: “It’s awesome, but sad that not appreciated in society!”

Self-respect regarding working/watching conditions (not on this floor, not so late…etc.)

This one is probably more a question coming from Latvian poor infrastructure situation, seeing that slam dances will always be attractive for the young ones or little older ones when specific project but not having a regular access to decent space seems to be an issue.

Female artists say that they are more considerate about the conditions than before. Also the impact of bad conditions is more felt in the body.

At the same time everybody from Eastern Europe say that they have dances in variety of different conditions and are ready to accept those. Maybe change something if it lies within their possibilities if not go for it.

The range is vast here. From “I am quite extreme” by Vilnis to Fiona saying” I just cannot tolerate poor conditions anymore. Life and body is too precious!”

Tiina: “Conditions are affecting on our movement language – if the floor is hard you are not using jumps, if the floor is dirty you will not have so much floor technique, if the room is cold you will have not so much static motion…”

IIf I catch Tiinas thought – the conditions can easily become a choreographer and here comes the self-respect – am I as an artist fine if something else (not even human) makes artistic choices instead of me?

Valuable and strong sides of a dance artist (at age of 20 and now)

Participants of the project sees their own history as a value, they give good and bad sides of then and now and explain difference. For some being 20 meant just repeating, rushing and copying. Most even don’ t mention what was at the age of 20, they only about the good features and advantages of a mature artist. At the same time there is a recognition struggle that is never-ending and seems not to depend on age at all. Insecurity once again is more voiced by the artists: “Unsafe. Balancing. Searching. It can’t be otherwise.”

The ones who name strong sides of mature artists talk about – thoughtfulness, clarity of movement, simplicity, courage, emotionality, knowing themselves, having more inner peace, relying on this moment, feeling more comfortable in and about one’s own body, kind of confidence, ability to transform, more feeling, tasting the dance (performing) time.

Feeling excluded / discriminated (if ever?)

I did not have any plan to separate answers based on gender, however, in this question, which involves power aspect once again I see that gender matters. Men do not feel it so much (neither from outside nor from inside). Interesting enough that a man answers this though talking about securing his positions, about managing that most of the time and feeling powerless only against extreme impertinence.

So here it is ladies – fight for your positions! This seems to be a strategy to avoid discrimination in the men’s world!

Another interesting twist in relation to this question is the statement about not feeling in anyway discriminated as artist, it is just a question if there is anybody who wants to finance one’s ideas. And partly this is relates to another statement where discrimination as an artist is not an issue, but “I feel discriminated as human being in the earth against superpower of banks, corporations, politics where power = destruction of resources”

-Exactly opposite look at this is feeling discriminated every time when you are not chosen for something and statement that “it is usually me who excludes myself rather than others excluding me.”