This article was first publish for Artery on 28 July 2014
In the lead up to this month’s Commonwealth Games and as part of Scotland’s year long Culture 2014 program, Glasgow experimental art space Tramway presented HOT, a festival of Australian contemporary dance and performance.
‘Audiences were very impressed. And surprised,’ says Tim Nunn, Programming Director at Tramway. ‘We were getting people coming out of the first show, going straight round to the box office and buying a ticket for the second performance,’ he says. ‘It happened so often we almost got used to it.’
Over the four weeks from 12 June to 3 July, HOT introduced audiences to a diverse range of innovative Australian contemporary dance and performance works, previously not seen in Scotland. On the program were Lucy Guerin Inc’s Untrained and Conversation Piece, Stephanie Lake’s Dual and A Small Prometheus, Zoe Scoglio’s Shifting Ground, Tamara Saulwick’s Pin Drop, and Dalisa Pigram performing Gudirr Gudirr. As part of the festival Tramway also presented two showcases of Australian Screendance films and Robin Fox’s RGB Laser Show.
HOT was something of a coup for the venue and the artists involved. It was also a positive outcome for the Australia Council for the Arts, which has assisted the project and several of the artists involved to develop their international profile and markets.
‘We’ve noticed over the last two to three years… a growing interest in independent dance practice,’ says Carin Mistry, Director of Dance at the Australia Council. ‘However, it can be quite difficult for independent practitioners to capitalise on that interest and make international connections.’ Initiatives such as Managing and Producing Services (MAPS), Dance Massive and the IETM Collaboration Project however, seem to be helping them build bridges.
‘Getting Australian work seen and scheduled by European presenters and programmers is a real “drip, drip kind of process”. You have to take advantage of every opportunity,’ says Sophie Travers, former Project Director of the IETM Collaboration Project and now International Development Manager – Europe. ‘A lot of it is about relationships… anytime we had an opportunity for people to come and see Australian work we’d try and… make it into a forum or showcase.’
Small Island: Big Island at the Dublin Dance Festival last year was one such opportunity. Travers worked in close collaboration with Festival Director Julia Carruthers to have 15 European presenters and programmers, including Tramway’s Tim Nunn, attend the weekend showcase of Australian dance works and meet the artists.
Viewing works first hand was very important, says Nunn, citing Untrained as the sort of work that on paper sounds like a risky proposition for a programmer. Similarly seeing one of Stephanie Lake’s works in Dublin made him more confident in booking two for HOT. He was also able to meet representatives of Insite Arts, who produce Lake’s tours, and discuss other artists in their portfolio, such as Tamara Saulwick.
Dublin also kicked off the idea of pursuing collaborative programming and touring between the artists themselves, after Lucy Guerin Inc and Stephanie Lake shared dancer Alisdair Macindoe across their performances. The two companies worked together closely for HOT, sharing both dancers and production staff. ‘It was quite a colour-coded excel sheet experience putting together the production schedule and personnel list,’ jokes Annette Vieusseux, Executive Producer at Lucy Guerin Inc. The collaboration was key, however, to making the tour financially viable.
Being able to create scenarios where we can meet the demand for Australian work internationally is vital both for our profile and the ongoing integrity and life of the work, explains Vieusseux. ‘It’s always a shame to see a work that’s had years of development and resources poured into it only have one or maybe two seasons.’ But by extending internationally, Lucy Guerin has been able to continue touring Untrained since 2009 and it is likely to tour further venues in the UK in 2015.
‘We find touring begets touring,’ Vieusseux says. ‘The more we’re on the road the more interest we have, and from that interest we’re able to carve out viable tours.’
Lucy Guerin Inc. is building a busy international schedule, in part aided by their current Key Organisation International Status. In the lead up to Glasgow, Lucy Guerin Inc presented Conversation Piece at Tanec Praha in Prague, through a connection made at Dance Massive last March. In September they will take Untrained to the Aarhus Festival in Denmark, thanks to another connection made in Dublin, with Jens Folmer. Next year, Weather has been programmed at Paris’s Theatre de la Ville through an ongoing relationship with Claire Verlet, who saw the work when it toured North America thanks to Australia Council GoSee funding. The relationship has also lead to a residency at the Theatre de la Ville to develop a bespoke children’s contemporary dance work.
Tramway is now exploring not only bringing some of the artists back but presenting other Australian dance artists and companies they were unable to schedule into the HOT program. ‘We know that the audience interest has been sparked so we’d be foolish to ignore that really.’