Tipperary Dance Platform asks: How do we keep it real?


Inta Balode

As you may have noticed already Tipperary Dance Platform is smart but not arrogant. That’s why on the day 2 of the platform there was even a community dance class in sean-nos style Irish dance taught by Roy Galvin.

 I took a class with lots of pleasure and went back home to Latvia with Roy’s wish: „Go home and be unique!” Here is an example of how sean-nos dance looks like.

Besides some sean-nos steps I also learnt from Roy (he used to be a dancer for the national ballet company in Ireland) that in 1988 the Arts Council took all the money away from ballet and gave it to contemporary dance. It is real because I later checked the information with Paul Johnson from the Dance Ireland. And real also is the fact that in 2013 both ballet and contemporary dance are alive in Ireland. Ballet mostly lives from ticket sales and contemporary dance mostly does what it is supposed to do – experiment, search, question, explore, is annoying, disturbing, healing, provocative, inspiring, it manages to have half empty halls and it also time to time does something that changes the art field forever. If the Arts Council would make a different decision in 1988 I believe the outcome would still be similar. I do still hope that money is not the thing that decides. So do the artists who met in Tipperary. Though it is also clear that the political decisions and curatorial ideas created through games with funds and bookings, and lobbying decides a lot. And not everything what happens seems to has rights to be real. So what is real and how do we keep it real?

And how the program of the second day of the Tipperary Dance Platform asked and answered those questions? Most of the talking went on during the Forum which directly talked about the contradictions between artistic motivations and aspirations and the practical side of the professional dance practice. For me being only an-artist-deep-in-heart it was a great honor to be among them (if you don’t know some of the names yet, believe me it is worth to get to know more): Susanne Bentley (Belgium – New Zealand), Helene Cathala (France), Dylan Quinn (UK), Liz Roche (Ireland), Alexandre Iseli (Switzerland/Ireland)). Besides the Forum the second day of the platform had also a class by Susanne Bentley on embodying text (and believe me some of the text spontaneously created during the improvisations in the class was very much political. Screaming and talking no matter if somebody listens or cares about me is also a political act). In the afternoon three dance videos were shown and in the evening everybody could come and see two dance performances, two solo works: “Body rhymes” created and performed by Susanne Bentley and “La jeune fille que la riviere n’a pas gardee” by Helene Cathala performed by Jazmin Chiodi. Yes, Jazmin besides all the many things she did to organize the event also managed to rehearse and perform the work in the quality as Helene said: “I expected it to be good but not so good!”

Real artist

Even if the question was not posed straight forward we did talk and think about the question – who is a real artist? “Be yourself everyone else is taken”, said Susanne Bentley in her talk and this can be referred both to real artist and also real person. Also Susanne’s class in embodying movement was dealing with dealing with authentic movements and sounds each of us pronounces and how the relate and get influenced by the others, the space, the sounds, the things we see. In this context I am thinking about the concept of being special and unique – does the uniqueness lies in difference from others or in deep introspection or in sensitive communication with both inside and outside? And does thinking and working on those issues make us artists? Or self-definition makes us artists? Or degree in arts makes us artists? Or getting paid for being artists makes us artists? Or producing visible, creatively solved outcome out of reflection about life makes us real artist? So the ones just performing something what is already created are not real artists? They are just artists or regular artists? Those are just some of the questions arriving to me.

Some interesting contradictions also came up when talking about the driving force. It was strongly felt that there is always some tension between individual and collective efforts in making things happen in the art world. Me and Susanne we were more talking about just doing and going on as individuals with strong enough vision. Helene discussed the importance of the collective to be able to change things, to be able to resist and not go with the offered conditions. Very strong example of going with the offered was Helen’s story about so called “computer and suitcase artists”. She told about how strong is the opinion that today’s dance artist doesn’t need anything except computer and suitcase and this is the way the art form functions. Helene said she believes we need to resist that. Otherwise it is more and more common to think that “artist is not a person with a life”. I completely agree that this view is common. I have even experienced judging dance and theater critics through that prism: “Oh, she is busy with her kids and family so she doesn’t have enough time so she doesn’t go so deep into the subject so we better ask you to write this text because you don’t have kids”. Does it mean that we can be good at something only if we sacrifice normal human life? Where does this idea come from? Dylan was also talking about being artist “with ability to pay bills” which is so important to do for a choreographer who has four kids. Does this make him worse as an artist?

I think Liz touched the source of “artists being very weird people” idea. She was talking about the time she herself has wasted to try to split her “normal” life from artists life. Now she finds it completely counterproductive. Liz said: “Artists is not a reign supreme! Let’s not be the sanitized artist!” So actually turning artists into people without a life comes both from outside and inside. Outside means the politicians trying to find any chance to reduce the funding. Outside means people seeing artists as people who don’t do real job. Inside means artists themselves rising over “the dull crowd”. Inside means artists looking for the themes in “the realm of artistic themes” not in a life.

Real audience

It is always possible to make choice to dance for the squirrels in the forest but in most cases artists care about having audience. In order to imagine why it is so hard for contemporary dance to reach its audience I tried to think of myself as other art form « consumer ». I realized that what often happens is – I kind of know that the ideas are born « up there », i.e., in small festivals, fringe events, haut couture fashion shows but when I am on my consumistic mood I want « the light things ». After a very smart dance piece I go home, fall in the sofa and watch the dullest Hollywood movie. And as dance has so many entertaining faces then probably in order to reach the right audience contemporary dance should position itself as « haute couture ». No matter how much we try to diminish the elitism myth around dance (how can it be elitist if it deals with the body, deals with the thing, the instrument all of us have?) in order to attract audience maybe we should start being truly and really arrogant, state that we make something very high up, something available to the smart people only. And then audience would stop waiting entertainment from dance and would put it on the high shelves. Arrogance as the PR tool?

Helene Cathala was defining the relationship between arts and consuming in precise way – she said the aim is not to adapt to the market but still engage with what currently is market. Dylan Quinn pointed out that it is important to be aware of the audience you have already, audience that usually comes, but it is not right to start creating according to what you think audience might like and need.

Real control

We all do want to hope that artist and the audience member are the ones to enter in the dialogue and to decide about the value of the arts. At the same time we know that the existing sophisticated net of curators, media, critics, councils has huge impact on what is considered to be good and bad, what is considered to be worth supporting and what not. The tastes are controlled, the fees and collaboration models are controlled and influenced, and unfortunately also the contents are still largely controlled through different means.

One of the more and more common tools of control is “the pressure to define work” as Liz clearly put it. She said that the artists should resist that pressure. And not because dance artists are too lazy to try to talk about their work, much more because it takes dance off the path of being specific art form with specific language of expression which is not the language. Even if we don’t live in totalitarian regimes there are so many symptoms of wish to control, to predict, to influence. I was recently listening on the news how Latvian parliamentarians say they will give money (as a special case without usual grant competition) to some national-patriotic film in case the director will keep that story line, include this, go into that direction etc. And the artists (real artists?) were listening to that with peaceful face only because they want that f…money so much!

During the forum we were also discussing the role of the critics and reviewers. Why the dance critics are so mild and quite if to compare with other arts critics? If it is because of supporting and protecting the fragile art form is it productive? Would a strong negative opinion advertise the performance or would it scare away the remaining ones who are ready to try to watch and get the contemporary dance?

It was also interesting to hear Jazmin’s story about the fact that some newspaper refused to write about the Platform this year because they had done it a year ago. If you are not the brand new festival or if you don’t have over 10 000 spectators then you don’t have chance to be regularly included in the publications.

Liz was reading a great quote (forgive me, I don’t remember whose it was) the idea was that it is possible to resist the capitalism (i.e. the contemporary methods of control) only though stopping to strategize. This is what we do all the time – no matter what we do we thing strategically, i.e. we follow to constructed control structures. Once we stop doing that we might be free.

Real arts

If the real artist creates art work without real control and if the real audience comes to watch it then it must be real art work. And what really matters is that this kind of work continues to be created. Dylan was sharing his ideas on how is trying to get important social and political issues into his work. Also in his case when trying to pay bills at the same time it is always so complicated to find a balance between professional and community work, between working on new work and teaching 50 zumba classes.

What is also interesting is that it seems that lately it is much easier to get funds for everything around arts but not the arts directly. So, returning to the control, the ones having power don’t need undefined, unpredictable acts resulting in art works. But what they need very mush is arts as a wonderful tool to promote some particular ideas; to involve some particular groups of society (may be again the ones behaving in to anarchic way). Everybody just does arts together and everybody are happy (may be except real artists). There is only participation, no appreciation and reflection on experiences.

When saying most of the above written I am over-thinking and perhaps over-interpreting in many aspects because this is my job to do that. Still what is real art? Liz Roche said that a real art comes from what you are affected by. I think it is like that both for artists where the things affecting artists initiate artwork and also for the audience where the things happening on and around stage affects me and offers space and time to thing about where is the difference between real and unreal.

I think the art is real if it does disturb me from what I did think before, from what I was convinced about before, from what I knew before I came to see the real arts event.