Interview with Stuart Sweeney, lecturer in the Conference
AdS. After a career in consultancy and banking, for the past decade you have pursued your love of dance and dance writing. What was the reason for your decision and how long have you been writing about dance?
SS. For most of my life, I was a film buff, but when I moved back to London 25 years ago, I started to see dance from time to time. Then I saw the American company, Momix, and that fired my imagination and I started to attend dance shows regularly. At first, it was primarily contemporary dance, with some flamenco and other ethnic dance forms, but eventually I began to appreciate ballet and then dance in all its forms became an obsession. When I left the bank, ten years ago, I discovered dance writing on the Internet and started to try my hand.
AdS. You are a Founding Director of the international dance website, CriticalDance.com, which hosts a feedback forum for the Bytom Conference. What could people see there about the conference and how long will the information be there?
SS. I set up CriticalDance with some friends in San Francisco and we cover all forms of dance from wherever our writers are active: West Coast America, St Petersburg and the UK are probably our strongest areas. This is the third year we have been running a feedback forum for the Bytom festival and there you will find the articles from the Festival newspaper in both Polish and English and, next week when I have more time, I may try to include some other articles. This year's coverage and the two previous years will remain on the site for as long as it exists – a long-term reminder of the fortnight.
AdS. You have seen some Polish performances. What would you say about the situation for dance in Poland, from your point of view?
SS. Contemporary dance in Europe can be crudely classified as “dancey” or “conceptual”. The most extreme example of the latter I have seen is Jerome Bel's “Shirtology”, where a guy comes on stage and at 20 second intervals takes off a dozen different t-shirts. Whereas dance from places such as Estonia and Berlin are often variants of this “conceptual” style, the Polish dance I have seen here and in Lublin comes firmly in the “dancey” category. This is also the main style seen in the UK, but whereas we tend to favour abstract forms, in Poland I see more dance theatre involving some form of narrative.
AdS. This is your 3rd Conference. Did you notice some changes or tendencies in the program of the Dance Festival?
SS. As in every year, there is an astonishing array of companies and artists on show. Last year, the standard was higher than in my first year here; primarily this was due to the Belgian mini-festival with some of their top companies. I sometimes wonder whether there need to be quite so many performances in the conference, as indigestion can set in and I only see the evening shows, due to my Conference responsibilities. There's no doubt that the students have the chance to see a wide range of styles, including some excellent performances and some poor.
AdS. What do you think about the Silesian Dance Theatre initiatives: conference, community outreach, the new School of Contemporary Dance?
SS. We have a few more students this year in the dance seminars. However, if we want people to return, maybe we have to vary the sessions more than at present.
The outreach projects with disadvantaged groups are excellent; it's a strong area in the UK and I am closely involved with a group called Chickenshed which makes high quality work for an integrated group of performers.
It is exciting that Bytom will provide the first dance MA in Poland and it really is a feather in the cap of Jacek Łumiński and his team.
AdS. We have seen a few performances. What do you think of them so far and what expectations do you have about those to come next week?
SS. I enjoyed OAPAI's Sudanese dance theatre piece the first evening – cultures where the performers are both dancers and musicians are fascinating. I was pleased to see the Andre Gingras Company, as I really enjoyed his new piece for Rambert Dance Company. He has great dancers, but I found the violent atmosphere unrelenting and it didn't involve me emotionally. Korina Kordova's "Karoline" held my attention, with a small repertoire of steps the excellent performance quality impressed me.
Next week there are two US companies that I have read about, but never seen: David Dorfman Dance and Alonzo King's Lines Ballet. Also, Diversions from Wales who rarely come to my home city of London and "Processus" by Aira Nagineviciute is a distinctive and visually strong work I saw in Vilnius. Overall, the second week holds much promise.