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Kontekst, publikum og kunstnere

Belgiske Samme Raeymaekers tiltrer som ny kunstnerisk leder for Dansens Hus 1. august 2018.

Foto Tale Hendnes 8

I en hektisk overgangsperiode fullpakket med pakkenelliker, norskopplæring, budrunder, kunstnermøter og med beina planta i to ulike kunstinstitusjoner, sneik Danseinformasjonen seg til et intervju med ham.

What’s your background, and could you say something about your previous work place?
My parents were really culturally involved and as a little boy they took me to concerts, dance performances and theatre. This is probably one of the reasons for my interest in the performing arts. At the age of sixteen my parents gave me weekly spending money and I used it all on tickets to performances at the cultural center in Brugge. I spent so much time there that after a while the artistic- and general director contacted me and said: “What are you doing here, such a young guy, why don´t you go out in the weekends?”. After a while she asked me to join their “prospection team” (a kind of artistic advisory board). This was very interesting for me because at that time, at the age of eighteen, nineteen, I was starting a bachelor in arts history (later I took a master’s degree in theatre and dance studies) at the Ghent University in Belgium. As a member of the “prospection team” I got the opportunity to see a lot of performances in Belgium for free, including all the performances at the cultural center, and as a young student it was a good deal.

After studying for four years real life had to start, but I didn´t feel ready. I had the theoretical background, but I realized that I wanted to do something more practical, so I started studying cultural management at the University of Antwerp. It was really stimulating because a lot of the lecturers were from the art field themselves, like art directors from the opera, big institutions or independent companies. I did my practical part of the studies in the Arts Center in Vooruit (in Ghent) where I worked in the marketing department. After I graduated I worked in a bank for a while, but at one point the same artistic- and general director from the cultural centre in Brugge offered me a job as the programming assistant and it was of course a fantastic opportunity! One and a half years later I became the programming director for the evening program which consisted of dance- music- and theatre performances.

In 2006 I moved from the cultural center to the Concertgebouw Brugge which opened in 2002, when Brugge was the cultural capital of Europe. So, at that time a lot of things were happening there. At a certain point the new artistic director wanted to introduce contemporary dance to the program and they decided to appoint a person that could coordinate the dance program for the city of Brugge, and they asked me. My main goal as a dance coordinator was to introduce a new dance festival and to present a regular dance season. There wasn’t really a pure dance festival in Flanders at that time so in 2007 I introduced an annual festival (December Dance festival) which had a clear concept: every uneven year I would invite a choreographer (renowned international or national) to co-curate or curate the festival. I gave them a structure and artistic input, because I have experienced that a lot of artist mostly know people within their own field or hemisphere. My duty was to push and expand their vision. The first curating artist was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. At that time he was at the start of his career, so it was good for me and good for him! Curators so far have been Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Akram Khan, Wim Vandekeybus, Jan Fabre and Christian Rizzo. Every even year I focused on a certain region or country and in 2012 the festival had focus on the Nordic countries. Within the festival and the season program I try to present the diversity of dance and what dance can be, from the young emerging companies, mid carreers and the international/national big stars. It covers a wide pallet from conceptual dance to classical ballet (because we have The Royal Ballet of Flanders). I also organized a smaller festival called Bits of Dance where we present works of young emerging artists with either finished work or work-in-progress presentations that they can share with the audience. In addition to this we have had house artists like Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Rosas and ECCE 8 Claire Croizé and Etienne Guilloteau. In this way I covered the whole pallet of what the dance field needs.

For me it’s important to work in a triangle: you have the context (the venues, the city, the country), you have the audience and then you have the artists. These three aspects can’t live without each other.

Why did you want to be the artistic director of Dansens Hus, Oslo?
I have been working in Brugge for seventeen years now, and it was time for a change. Another reason is that dance was always the minority art form and a little bit marginalized in the two institutions that I’ve worked in. I really wanted to work in an organization that was mono-disciplinary, where the whole organization works for dance. In multi-disciplinary organizations I felt that my colleagues sometimes didn’t realize how the dance world works. It was always a little bit of a fight within the organization to put dance on the map.

And then why Oslo, why this dance house? It started with Ice Hot. I was in the section committee and because of this I was here several times when Ice Hot was organized in Oslo. I got to know the city, the house and Un-Magritt Nordseth (artistic director at Dansens Hus). We talked about how she works and her visions for how to run a dance house and it is very comparable to the way I think. I came back several times to see performances at Dansens Hus – so there was like a kind of connection. Also, I have always had an attraction towards the northern neighbours of Europe. And then suddenly this application for artistic director came up and I had long talks with Un-Magritt and she encouraged me to apply. And then I fell even more in love with the organization.

Foto Tale Hendnes 3

What is your knowledge and impression of the Norwegian dance scene?
Well, I know the scene a little bit and that’s also the reason for why I’m in Oslo now, before I start as the artistic director. Of the things that I’ve seen presented before I can mention zero visibility corp., Carte Blanche, Heine Avdal and Yukiko Shinozaki and Mette Edvardsen – these are people I invited to Brugge. But of course, I know many more Norwegian artists, like Alan Lucien Øyen and Mia Habib. I know that my knowledge is not the same as someone who’s worked here and grown up here. I’m here now to get to know people and to see a lot of work and I try to plan my stays in Oslo to when there are a lot of performances showing. I’ve also looked at different websites like Danseinformasjonen and Kulturrådet to see how things work. My plan is to indulge myself even more.

At the moment I still have two legs planted in two different organizations and I’m short of time at both places!

How do you plan on getting to know the Norwegian dance scene better?
Through a combination of meeting people one to one and seeing performances. From August, when I officially start as the artistic director it will be possible for artists to contact me and ask for meetings. I would really like to meet as many people from the field as possible.

I also need to put together an artistic advisory board and decide who will be on it. The board has to be a reflection of what Dansens Hus is: a local, a Nordic and an international house. My plan is to invite four people: an international representative, a Nordic representative and two Norwegian representatives. I´m still thinking about how I will structure this group. I also want to hold on to the open call to the dance field, because it’s a possibility to get information and to get to know the artists even better. With an advisory board there will be a shared responsibility that can reflect those people. When it comes to the international and Nordic representatives I already have someone in mind. Concerning the two Norwegian representatives I would really like to have a young and a mid-carrier person, or even a young and an older person so that I can see the diversity. And when it comes to diversity, maybe it would be good to have someone with another background, but still related to dance.

How can you contribute in promoting Norwegian dance artists abroad?
First of all, Dansens Hus is already officially a member of some networks, like EDN and Aerowaves. In addition, I have a big international network and sometimes international colleagues contact me and ask for advice. With the knowledge that I will have about the Norwegian dance scene I can guide them and be a representative for the Norwegian dance scene, and an ambassador. This work is mostly unofficial, in unofficial contexts and gatherings. But there will of course be some institutionalized and formal meetings as well. I was for example personally at the Belgium booth at the Tanzmesse to promote Belgium dance. That’s the kind of responsibility that I will engage in towards Dansens Hus and the Norwegian dance scene.

What do you look for artistically when you program dance performances?
Here I come back to the triangle: the context, the audience and the artist. During the last seventeen years I’ve come to realize that I don’t program with my own eyes or with my own hat on, I program with different hats on. With different gazes. If you want diversity you need to open your own eyes and sometimes you have to make personal compromises. Sometimes you have to say, ok, I’m not artistically 100% for this performance but I know that it has its urgency, or its importance in this context. I think that’s a very open way of programming and curating. I know that other colleagues don’t do that, and that they are very strict in their choices, but for me it’s interesting to include and to have an inclusive way of curating. When I broaden up the program I give keys, or first steps, to different kinds of audiences, and in that way I try to make them fall in love with dance, which is possible with diversity.

I also like boundaries, it gives you more structure. Sometimes, as a curator it’s easier to work this way. But this said, I mostly like to open up.

Are you thinking of having a dramaturgical line in your programming?
For the first season it will be hard for me to make a full dramaturgical line in the program, because you need time to do that. You can approach this from two different angles: you find a red thread (which is easier marketing wise), or you can program, and then find the red tread. Since we have a seasonal program it’s a story of “and and”. Part of the program can be under the umbrella of a theme or a dramaturgical line, and the rest is just a presentation of good dance. Sometimes I have a feeling, especially in Belgium, but also in Germany and France, that everything needs to be “festivalized” and “umbrellalized”. Sometimes people are afraid of just showing good work because they don’t have the “hooks” to sell it with.

Do you have any plans on programming a festival?
My dream is to have an event or a yearly festival, with the CODA-festival every second year. I want to bring Oslo to the world and the world to Oslo. It’s important to have an international program and to bring international artists and presenters here. It would also be interesting (within the CODA-festival, or the other festivals, and in a very compact manner) to present what Norwegian dance can be, either through a platform or curational. I still need to think about this. The first year will be a continuation of what Un-Magritt Nordseth has been doing the last three years, namely working on the contextualization, which is something that really interests me. It’s not only about presenting, it’s about education, participation and reflection. In this way you can give the professional field tools to reflect on themselves and their art form and give the audience/public tools to know more about the art form. This can be done through introductions and artist talks, which is something Dansens Hus is already doing.

There’s a momentum now with new directors of the CODA-festival, Black Box teater and Carte Blanche. These are very interesting times and we can rethink a few things and open up our gaze. My plan is to make bridges to other festivals, non-dance festivals, like Ultima festivalen, Oslo World Music Festival or the queer festival. These are places you can find new audiences, which is my second important goal.

Can you give an example of artists that inspire you?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. There are of course some important artists that for me personally made me fall more in love with dance. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is one of them. She opened up my mind, and still, after all these years she renews herself. I think she is the most contemporary choreographer in Flanders because she is constantly questioning and daring herself, by working with young people and choreographers that are working out of her comfort zone. Her approach to music is almost scientific and very mathematical, but her work is still very human. It’s like the brain and the stomach together! I often perceive work or artists in a very plastic way; some touch my brain, some my heart and some my stomach. Sometimes I perceive performances physically and for me that’s what dance is!

Foto Tale Hendnes 7

What is your artistic vision for Dansens Hus the next four years?
As I mentioned before, if possible I would like to start a new festival and collaborate with other festivals. I would also like to sustain the diversity that already is and see if we can expand it. I want to create space and visibility for the younger and emerging artists, in balance with the more well-known and international companies. Within the international program I would like to present more young artists, and not only the well-known super big performances or artists. I really like the idea of a house artist, like we have in Concertgebouw Brugge, where the house contributes a little bit more than just coproducing and presenting.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by diversity?
I think Dansens Hus already is on track when it comes to diversity, with Urban Moves and Measure Your Crew for example, where we have the link to the urban world. You also have diversity through the school and children’s productions, so Dansens Hus already covers a lot, but I think things can be even better. There are a lot of audiences that still don’t know Dansens Hus because they are not interested in dance, but I think there are some artists and productions that can attract them.

Diversity within the genres, from “dancy-dance-pieces” to intellectual, conceptual work, can also bring diversity to the professional community and the feeling that Dansens Hus is their house, where they can see work and discuss dance in general.

I think the structure and the team at Dansens Hus is still very white, and the audience is for sure white. There’s an awareness around this that needs to be addressed, at all levels: in the program, in the internal processes, and how you approach audiences. Like I said before, sometimes I need to put my personal hat aside to fulfil another hat. All these things are for me a part of this diversity.

Do you have any thoughts around how you will balance the programming of international and national dance?
I think if you do the calculation today there is 60% national and 40% international dance presented at Dansens Hus (but it feels like the Norwegian dance field has the perception that it’s the other way around). I would really like to levitate it to 50/50 and present even more international companies, maybe not the four biggest international hits, but younger international companies. That doesn’t mean that I am going to go down on the amount of Norwegian dance that is presented, it means that I want to increase the amount of productions shown at Dansens Hus. This fits with my idea about bringing the world to Norway/Oslo and Norway/Oslo to the world. I think the audience and the dance field needs to see international work as well.

Intervjuet er gjort av Danseinformasjonen i april 2018 og først publisert der. Gjengitt etter tillatelse.

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