Kath Papas is an independent producer based in Melbourne, taking a special focus on contemporary dance and intercultural works, particularly involving Asia. In mid 2013 she travelled to Europe for research and made some intriguing discoveries about the context there for contemporary, diverse Australian work.
In this piece for Artery, Kath talks about her time in Europe and how it’s effected her practice.
I travelled to Europe and the UK for three weeks in May-June 2013 to undertake a professional development research trip as an IETM-Australia Council Collaboration Project. The purpose of the trip was groundwork for entry into European markets including building market knowledge and enhancing my ability to articulate a portfolio of diverse works in a European context.
My itinerary included Brussels, Utrecht, Den Haag, Amsterdam London, Paris and Dusseldorf, and included meetings with festival directors, producers and presenters, seeing loads of work at Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels), SPRING Performing Arts Festival (Utrecht), Tong Tong Festival (Den Haag), Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis (Paris) and attending Tanz Kongress (Dusseldorf), one of Europe’s largest dance gatherings.
The tour was conceived in collaboration with IETM-Australia Council Project Director, Sophie Travers, and Sophie gave me extensive assistance with contacts and brokered key meetings.
The countries I visited have an extraordinary volume and variety of dance work being produced domestically, at every scale, and supported by many different structures. Add to that a large quantum of intra-Europe touring, and a layered engagement with former colonies, mainly in Africa. Engagement with Asia seems, for the most part, and with the exception of the Netherlands – to be limited to Japan. Given that my engagement is mostly with South East Asia and Korea I wondered if I would need to spend a lot of time explaining our region. Would this work seem strange or exotic?
After three weeks I came away having made important steps in understanding the Belgian, Dutch, French and UK markets, identified a number of key festivals and venues that may be a fit for my portfolio, and having begun relationships with programmers and independent producers.
I also gained a stronger understanding of the current state of contemporary dance and intercultural practice in the countries I visited. This allows me to articulate and position my works in a more sophisticated and effective manner, and also understand what kinds of language and tools we may need to develop for European markets. For example, it struck me that in Europe there is a strong focus on articulating the social and political context for individual dance works.
Given the diverse portfolio I am working with, over the course of my meetings I tested different ways of talking about the works I was introducing, variously amplifying form, content, practice and cultural elements, to see how people responded. Overall, I found a great openness and curiosity. Presenters were interested in how the work makes meaning, and in the ‘handwriting’ of a particular artist/company. I have developed my understanding of the context for choreographic investigation that pushes form, and of intercultural work. I think being from a different region of the world will not be a barrier and may indeed be a useful point of difference, as long as we are pitching work that is dramaturgically cohesive. Contrary to what I wondered in advance, ‘novelty’ and ‘exoticism’ barely entered the conversation.
I am looking forward to disseminating some of these findings to my colleagues in Australia and continuing my learning and building new European relationships as I continue to work with the IETM-Australia Council Collaboration Project.