THE PARADOX AND THE IMPOSSIBLE CHALLENGE WE ARE ALL SO GOOD AT OF BEING A FREELANCE CHOREOGRAPHER IN BERLIN / KEYNOTE BY LEE MEIR AND RONI KATZ
Art is vulnerable and making art makes us vulnerable beings. By sharing and presenting our creative expressions, our world views and our heart wishes we constantly spread ourselves open, allow ourselves to be seen and expose ourselves to others. We do this because we want to create movements in the landscape we are part of and as a side effect we put ourselves on the line to be criticised, dismissed or appreciated.
By saying WE in this statement I sometimes mean Lee and myself and sometimes I mean the general WE of the emerging choreographers community in Berlin. Vulnerability is a space of unknowingness.
Vulnerability is a space of unsureness and uncertainty. Vulnerability has a lot to do with fear.
The way the system, the market, the professional field we are part of works today, we always need to know. We need to be assertive and charismatic, we need to be fierce and fearless. We need to be able to articulate ourselves clearly even if we are not sure what we are saying and how to say it, or whether at all we have something to say. We need to look like we do, when we meet a curator, write an application or just talk to a colleague. The way the system works today we need to move away from vulnerability and from unknowingness, we need to deliver answers before asking the questions, declare our achievements before setting the intentions, announce what the piece will look like before making it.
One of the main problems choreographers working in the freescene are confronted with on a daily basis is the demand to be in an ongoing state of flexibility: The way the system works is asking us to be able to continuously plan long term projects - always know and as soon as possible what we will be working on for a future project, that might take place a year or even more after submitting the application, say yes to another project which will take place in 2022 and on the other hand asks us to be always ready to go, perform on the spot, accept the invitation, tour spontaneously, change plans. And the decision needs to be made right now.
Artistic work, in its nature, is based on intuition and desire to explore, play around, research and pursue a certain interest. Sometimes there is no specific goal except for the exploration itself, which then might lead to a marketable object but not always. Sometimes right when the application is due we are in the middle of such process, and are not yet ready to articulate and try to sell it. Often the time gap between writing “about” and the production of a piece separates us from this more fluid, alert and creative state of mind, and instead asks us to work in a much more calculated and measured mindset and to look again for how this process of artistic exploration will lead to a result. This puts a lot of pressure on us, especially those of us who are emerging artists in the beginning of our career, these early yet crucial stages of the life mission which is to develop our personal artistic voice. By being continuously busy with how our work will be received and looked upon, the focus shifts from the artistic exploration and practice to the product. it is a bit like a child who has not yet learned how to use language, but already needs to speak clearly and convey meaning, take decisions and give answers.
Art is a long term relationship and unfolding one’s own artistic voice is an everlasting process. A big part of it is trying out and not always succeeding; Failing is an inherent part of the practice of artmaking. An artist is not born a good or bad artist. Again like an infant, we are learning to walk, falling and hurting our knees many times before we walk steadily, till the next time we trap. What if we could also have the chance to make mistakes as artists, to produce an “unsuccessful” piece and learn from these failures? What if this learning could be incorporated into our next creation process instead of ruling us out of getting the next grant?
Since for us dance is not sports but art, the only clear indication as to what failure and success are is in relation to the market - selling out tickets, good reviews, booking international tours. But failure and success are much more complex terms in artmaking, and in order to develop our own artistic voice we need to try and define for ourselves what success & failure are in relation to our intentions and not just in relation to the dance market. When being constantly busy with being successful or seen as successful we can easily disconnect from the core of our work, lose interest and desire to work and forget the the drive that makes us the artists we are. While studying we are making art in a safe space to make mistakes. Once we are out of school we are being viewed with the same gaze that is viewing
established and experienced choreographers. What if emerging artists had a longer period in which we were allowed and even invited to fail while still being given the resources to make and present work?
Dance in its ephemeral nature is an artform that is only happening by doing and expanded by practicing. Dance demands a continuous relation to practice in the studio, and only through the practice, can we realize and choose what our project may become. having an ongoing, steady paced practice in the studio is practically impossible for most emerging choreographers in the city - we only get studio time when we get a grant for a project. We need regular access to studios in order to deepen our practice and our physical movement research. We need regular access to studios in order to expand the embodied qualities of our work and consequently the way we carry our bodies through the world.
Let’s say we have access to a studio. We also need time to spend there. As we’ve been told and unwillingly internalized, time is money. Assuming I am an artist coming from a working class background, and I am, one funded project a year takes up huge amount of my time and energy but is not giving me any financial security. I need to find side jobs that won’t take up all my time and energy, but will still help me sustain myself. How do I find a job that can be regular but still allow me to have enough time to visit the studio and enough time for the visioning and preparation of my next project? The way the system works, we are always in more than one place at once - the project of now and the project of later - how does that limit the level of attention and care we give each of them?
(all in one)
For receiving grants from the Berlin funding bodies (Senat, HKF, etc) an artist needs to be able to present a theoretical concept, concrete and realistic rehearsal plan, financial plan, confirmation from theatres. We need to be all in one: wise philosophers, skilled technicians and accountants, high leveled writers and virtuosic dancers. Most of us speak German, but it is a challenge to go through the application process without being a native speaker. what if we could each write an application in her own mother tongue? What if we wouldn’t have to pay a translator from our private money? Most of us studied dance and movement, but not all of us have background in theory or the science of spoken language. Some of us express ourselves better through our bodies. It is a challenge to present embodied and physical practices, concepts, ideas and visions in words on paper. Which projects are not included into and accommodated by the system because there’s not yet written language around them? Which projects are we missing out on, project which hold alternative unspoken yes clever and sophisticated bodily methodologies?
Going through the application process requires experience and production skills. We don’t learn these skills at school or university. Let’s say we got the grant, whether it’s because we have a super duper urgent political concept about migration and displacement, writing skills in a phd level, bewitching networking abilities or all of it together. Is there any way for it to cover all the labour that we put in before and after the 6 weeks of rehearsals we got funded - the load of hours we spent writing, translating, e-mailing, editing, photoshopping, meeting collaborators and curators, taking care of documentation, coordinating rehearsals space and premiere dates? Let’s say we got the grant, is there a way for the theatre that is hosting us to support us with tech and PR rather then this being paid through the grant and this way we could pay our collaborators better and have a longer rehearsal process?
To sustain ourselves some of us work as dancers or teachers and get jobs all over the world. We need these jobs to pay our rent. At the same time, in order to receive support, we need to be here. We need to be visible in the city, on stage, at the foyer, at the roundtable. And we need to look fantastic, even when we are exhausted.