I recently created the Summing Up Session for the Kedja Encounter in Mariehamn, Finland. Kedja is a Dance Network of the countries of the Nordic-Baltic Region: Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The theme for the Encounter was Building Bridges and Sustainability and this resonated on many levels. The event hosted 250 artists, teachers, students, presenters, programmers, venues, managers, agents, producers, funders, policy makers, journalists, academics, and service organizations. There had been Think Tanks, Residencies, Mentorship schemes across countries, Writing Projects, and more as part of the 3 year project.
I was lucky enough to sit in on many talks and round tables and got to read the notes from several others.
Here are some of my thoughts as delivered through a participatory event that wrapped up the 5 days.
I began by asking all the artists present to stand in a clump, then for the managers, agents and service organizations to stand in a circle around them. Next, the presenters, programmers, venues, then the funders and policy makers, then the journalists. I’m not sure this is exactly the right progression, but it’s a start. I asked everyone to close their eyes and for any artist to start singing a note. When you hear this note, you sing it too. The artists are invited to nudge the notes this way and that, to evolve the sound, to harmonize, to play. The outer rings are invited to repeat what they hear. The ripple effect takes place and the sounds move from the core outwards, with beautiful delays in certain notes as it takes time to reach the outer circles. Then I whispered to the artists to become silent. It is eerie to stand in the centre of the circle and be in the silence but to hear the echo of your notes move away from you until eventually we are all silent.
“As artists we create conflict.”
This is a bit of a new idea for me. I like the part about artists being the research & development department for society. But I don’t like to think about the conflict part. And yet I have conflict in my life. I have had lots of conflict in my life. I like to think that we offer positive solutions, put good energy into the universe and generally inspire others.
“We stir shit up.
We ask people to step out of their comfort zones.
We ask society to look at itself.
We reflect and question what we see, sometimes seemingly creating more problems.
But, we also propose different perspectives, new paradigms and possible solutions.
We are attempting to re-somaticize* society.
We propose empathy, but sometimes we lack it in ourselves and for others.
Sustainability must come from within, we must create it in our most intimate spaces – our bodies and our spirits – and then expand it out to the choices we make in our lives and to those we interact with and then create it within our local communities and that will start to ripple out and create broader sustainability.”
Not always working together but in sharing practices, not always expanding, sometimes maintaining, sometimes contracting. But in creating sustainable practices within our dance communities, we create non-hostile environments where there is room to explore and grow, in whichever way serves and strengthens us.
Ok, this is a complicated point. It’s not always true. And it bumps up against the first one, we create conflict. But let’s try to be clear here, where is the conflict I propose? I propose it in a broad sense, as the questioners who are here to take up room, whom society cannot ignore. I do not propose it in interpersonal relationships based on disrespect. When I talk about sustainability in our communities, I am talking about respect. About not eating our own. About figuring out how competition can be healthy and not always paired with jealousy and mean-spiritedness. This would be a good place to put a link to a rant about training and how from a young age, girls in ballet are (often) pitted against each other and what that does to the psyche and how that plays out over dance careers and the gender roles that play out in the contemporary dance world. But, I don’t have that rant online (yet). It also ties in with attitudes and realities of scarcity and abundance.
“We need to be comfortable and we need to take risks.
So we are going to play a game. It is about friendly competition, about being on a team, about everyone winning and losing and winning again in the same beat and it not meaning anything because the point is that we continue. You belong no matter what the outcome of each play is. There is actually no getting out, you just keep changing sides. Does that work as a metaphor?”
Then we played a game, Wizards, Trolls and Elves. It went extremely well except that I chose gestures that an Icelander took exception to, because a troll would never… I have to do some more research on Troll behaviour, and Elf for that matter too.
“Like Occupy we are going to do a low-fi, manual mic check. So when you hear me say something, you repeat it until everyone can hear it.
We are gong to send our words out and they will get picked up and repeated and spread through all of us. When you hear a word, repeat it until it gets picked up.”
“We are here to change the world. This is a big task. We cannot do this until we feel supported.
Grab hands, we’ll make a circle. Lean in, and lean out. We are going to do a giant counter-balance through the whole group.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Even though you can’t see each other, you know you are all connected.”
There were about 100 of us participating on the lawn beside the arts centre. It was 5 pm on a Saturday so there were passers by. Once we’d finished – we mic checked with singing to close – we were milling about and sitting on the steps of the mini amphitheatre chatting, and 5 people who had taken a seat to see what we were up to got up and went out to the grass and tried to counterbalance in a circle. 100 to 5. Not great percentages, but still, changing the world, 100 to 5 at a time. That’s what we’re here for!
* Re-somaticize society; a term coined by Tomas Myers of Anatomy Trains