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It has to do with honesty!

Voyage to the interior of DANCE - Dance Apprentice aCross Europe

by Tiago Bartolomeu Costa

January 2006 -- Portugal

Avatâra Ayuso is 24 years old, and comes from Majorca, Spain. Madeleine Lindh is 20 years old, comes from Sweden but used to live in Amsterdam. Christophe Degelin, is 21 years old and Belgian. Eric Emerstedt is 19 years old and also comes from Sweden. Paulo Guerreiro is Portuguese and is 23 years old. They are part of a group of 24 people divided in two sections (North, based in Brussels, and South, based in Marseille), selected from an initial group of 900, that showed up for auditions and intense workshops which took place in 14 European cities, to participate in The DANCE project - Dance Apprentice Network aCross Europe - an intensive training course in dance, with a duration of two years that started on the 19th of September and is a collaboration between Choreographic Centre Charleroi/Danses, Ballet Preljocaj, British Random Dance Company and The Forsythe Company.  The few selected come from different countries, such as France, Switzerland, Turkey, Slovenia, Germany and Italy, with an age range from 18 to 26 years old.

The project includes 26 institutions (theatres, dance companies, schools, cultural foundations) from 17 countries. According to Jason Beechey, general coordinator, the project offers a wide range training program that proposes to help the development of a new generation of “artistic collaborators”, a term used to underscore the expectations of the mentors of the project, the choreographers William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor, Frédéric Flamand and Angelin Preljocaj.

Beechey, a former dancer and currently Training Director of Charleroi/Danses, talks about DANCE as a project that is “the closest possible to a utopia” and an opportunity to contemplate the role each of the participants plays in contemporary dance.

For these five “future collaborators”, a key reason for participating in this adventure is the concept of amalgamating the training that is lacking in other schools. They mention the filling of gaps and the acquisition of a massive amount of knowledge. With a learning history based on classical models, the vast majority of the participants studied in state-run academies, worked in contemporary companies and even performed some individual work.

Paulo Guerreiro, who auditioned in Belgium, left the Escola Superior de Dança in Lisbon one year before his graduation because he could not find a source for clear and objective answers regarding the creation/object conflict in school debates and performance languages

Guerreiro’s case seems a perfect fit for what the organisers of this course were looking for: “people who have something to say, something to do, spontaneous, and also people who could benefit the most from this exchange”, states Beechey.

The interdisciplinary aspect that DANCE introduces has to do with two aspects: “the first one is the fact that none of the creators involved wanted at any time to create their own self-serving school.” It frees the project from an institutional burden, and allows the creation of other dynamics in the relation to the students. The profession founded the school and not the contrary.  The second aspect is related to the creation of tools so these same students can “think for themselves”, states Beechey. Therefore the students shall have access to a training universe that includes, naturally, dance, presented in its different forms, but also its relationship to architecture, theatre, and cinema, and the learning  and development of prevention and warm-up techniques, complementary aesthetics, sound, multimedia, and even religion, language classes, artistic direction and production notions. According to the general coordinator of the project, “choreography is a research process”.

This same process is what attracted Avatâra Ayuro, from Spain, who auditioned in London. Avatâra is interested in “absorbing, absorbing, absorbing”. She says: “I did classical and contemporary ballet, but I found that I am most of all a technician. I want to find another vocabulary for my body”. For Avatâra that is what dance is: “Technique. Dance is movement. Dance-theatre is a more difficult thesis”. Therefore, when these two years of training are over, she wants to begin a career that will lead to teaching, her main objective. In reality, Avatâra has a very ambitious goal: “In Spain dance is not taken seriously, it has no category. I want to help to change that".


Discovering an organisation

The “North Group” based in Brussels, and the “South Group” based in the Marseille National Dance School, both contain twelve students each and follow the same program supervised by Emilio Calcagno, Pedagogical Director of Ballet Preljocaj. Their day begins exactly the same way:  First ballet class, then, in the afternoon, the workshops or theoretical classes.

In ballet class, Beechey asks them to think about what they are doing. He insists on coordination, repeats the movements, smiles at the mirror, where all are forced to confront their inaccurate movements while still trapped in the usual morning laziness. “I need to see what they are working on”, he says, before starting another series of movements. “The selected students need to know, and be conscious, that among nine hundred candidates, there is a reason why they where the ones chosen. They where chosen because they are the right ones. It was a rigorous and thoughtful process. Some of the people that applied had no job, some no talent, others did not need the course at all”, emphasizes Jason.  The expression used to define the group of participants says everything about what this project is trying to foment: “this is a creative outlet!”

Eric and Madeleine, the two Swedish participants, attended the Royal Swedish Ballet School, but share different goals. Madeleine, who auditioned in Amsterdam, speaks clearly as someone who is spellbound by contemporary dance. She creates choreographic sequences with the aid of poems and wants a rigour and precision that makes her quit when something is not meeting her own standards. She wants to understand how the techniques are developed, how she can associate the body with the words and create “a unique bodily language”. She describes the four choreographers that are involved in this project has “geniuses”, and she knows that the only thing she wants is to “learn as much as possible”, perhaps to create, but most of all to acquire “knowledge”.

On the other hand, Eric's only certainty is that this is “a unique opportunity”. The young Swede, who started out in dance competitions, and found out about DANCE in Stockholm, wants to invest in many fronts: creation and also work with a company. He considers that the school can provide him much more, and consequently, he hopes that financial difficulties (to which all are subject) will not prevent him from staying in the course. So far, both Eric and Madeleine are waiting for the Swedish institutions feedback.

During the first year of DANCE the students have the support of the European Union Leonardo da Vinci program, which provides a scholarship of roughly three thousand euros. The course does not provide any other funding beyond the learning program. “It is an investment they are making. We provide the knowledge, they provide the will to learn”, says Jason, “The students are responsible for themselves.”

The contribution provided by each one of the countries or institutions, explains Beechey, is not the same. Some provide human and logistic resources through swaps and partnerships, namely the University of Architecture IUAV in Venice, which made a deal with the Ballet National de Marseille, enabling future architects to study notions of movement and choreography, and the DANCE students to study the relation between dance and architecture. Others provide space, teachers, or even their reputation, the latter including The Forsythe Company, which states in the project dossier that their contribution to “a dynamic and diverse project can only help the interpreters to develop an artistic expression”.

Christophe, the young Belgian who also auditioned in London, believes that the choreographers involved “understand what is necessary in order for a dancer to find a job”. Therefore he wants “to understand how they work”, in order to create his own language. He states without reservations that he is a dancer, but he assures us that he wants to see many things before he decides whether he wants to work as a choreographer or join a company. Jason Beechey insists:  “It is difficult. It has to do with honesty”.

A path

For this group the journey that is about to begin is one of discovery, learning, and construction with respect to how to confront dance. Be they interpreters, creators or collaborators, in the end they will, inevitably, force themselves to reflect upon the role that schools have in the training of a new generation of cultural agents. A more or less alternative responsibility shared not only by the ensemble of schools, but also by the dance community, is the obligation to regularly reflect upon the place of the body, the interpreter, the speech and affirmation model.

If the names such as William Forsythe or Angelin Preljocaj fill an entire project dossier with commendation and the guarantee of a reliably high artistic level, this does not mean one should not predict the future place of these young students in the dance world. Jason Beechey says that it is still too early to make such a prediction, “maybe in ten years time”, but the truth is that dance is forced more and more to take shortcuts when it comes to tendencies, vogues, and manifestos. Therefore, it is fundamental to understand the basis which is being created. That same basis will force a questioning of the language of the involved choreographers, since they are the indicated ones to reject the creation of a future generation that limits itself to copying their techniques.

The reason for the existence of a project with such characteristics resides in a common point of view. All of the twenty four participants have ambitions, some more vast than others, but certainly none of them believe that their place is already secured just because they are part of a project with such characteristics. At the most they are also sending messages to the institutions in their home countries about teaching methods, funding strategies, artistic collaborations, and perpetuation of formulas that are unsuitable to market demands. And one thing is certain for all of them: there is no turning back.

This article was written with support from the Instituto Camões and translated by José Luis Neves

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