This log consists of several sketches registering different situations from the life of a dance practitioner, a result of collaboration with dance artist Ana Kreitmeyer. Ana invited me to work on her artistic research In Other Bodies (U drugim tijelima) as a dramaturge, a still ongoing and unfinished project. The research begins by establishing the parameters of research, but the plan does not also imply a specific outcome. The starting point is the author’s intention to remove her body and practice from a known environment and expose it to new encounters which can reshape this practice. Meeting Ana this February in Berlin was only a motive for this log in which I keep a record of different secondary circumstances surrounding this encounter. I deliberately use the term life of a dancer, as it directs a reader towards the main hypotheses this text leans on:
text is a personal account.
this text art practice is inseparable from production
conditions, i.e. from life.
of a dancer is fragmentary and recorded only as scattered events in
Motivation for such a dance log stems from the need to explore the possibilities of writing about dance, using the methodology of our research, which would cross the usual theoretical dance vocabulary which borrows its articulation from other disciplines. The subject of dance and working conditions is frequently present in these theoretical discussions. As someone participating in this field as a dramaturge, whose practice relies on these certain theoretical aesthetics, I found it irrefutable that the issue of working conditions would not be solved by its constant theoretical rationalisation. The issue of production conditions seems to have become a sort of theoretical issue and this theoretical issue is outlined as an aesthetic, a contemporary dance vernacular veiling productions, magazines, panel discussions. Paradoxically, beneath this veil I often fail to recognise a tendency to really tackle this matter or even describe what these conditions actually assume in the economic, production and organisational sense. I am not implying that I – of all people – despite the efforts invested for years by the dance scene in better production conditions, know what “tackling” means. It is only my personal opinion, from the point of view of my own dramaturgical and theoretical practice, that this primarily implies expanding the public circle to which we are making these issues visible beyond the theoretical discourse and specialisation in our profession. Marginalisation of dance artists as an issue is not very different from the issues of cultural anthropologists or those of my mother, who was forced to move several time in her life with every new closed down factory in former Yugoslavia. Aware that this is not a platform necessarily enabling a discussion and connection within a broader public circle, I decided to create this log to at least try to avoid the automatized style of writing about dance scene issues.
This log begins with my encounter with Ana Kreitmeyer in Berlin. Ana arrived in Berlin to begin her artistic research, funded by the Kultura Nova Foundation in the amount of 20,000 kuna. In this case Berlin is only a random location for the first encounter. Meanwhile, Ana Kreitmeyer, a Zagreb-based dance artist, arrives in Berlin thanks to a series of chance circumstances beyond application logic. To her this is a residency in a relatively foreign city, to me this is since recently a local context. Around the same time, in Berlin a series of panel discussions under the title Dance Round Table begins. It is a participative process initiated by the Berlin city politicians to “ensure better working conditions on the local dance scene”, investing 100,000 euro in this process. Panel discussions are a first such attempt, gathering different players: city administration, cultural politicians and independent dance scene. Different cultural institutions opened their doors to these events and the entire process was documented and made available to the public via the internet.1 This experimental process is only beginning and its outcome is hard to predict, especially to someone who is still an outsider in the Berlin context. Still, starting this activity log it is impossible not to recall this situation, unimaginable from our point of view, in which local administration and politicians team up with the independent scene, programmers, curators and institution employees to openly discuss the common future of dance and better production conditions for dance artists. The issues mentioned are infrastructure, funding, international visibility and tours, mediation of art and audience. This fact leads to the question of care of the city policies and public, cultural institutions for its beneficiaries, as well as to the need for a discussion with the beneficiaries regarding the improvement of these conditions. Such a situation is somewhat unthinkable from our local perspective, since a dialogue with the institutions and financiers, if it ever happens, is always initiated by the beneficiaries.
Artistic research is a relatively new appearance in our context. It does not assume, as people usually think, a preliminary stage resulting in an artistic product, but a process whose aim is simply just research. This process can result in a concept which becomes the beginning of artistic production, but it can also open up a series of questions, problems, ideas that not necessarily lead to artistic production. In Croatia, “artistic research” is funded only by Kultura Nova Foundation and it is explained as:
“a process of analysis and examination of a new artistic idea, it is a way from an idea to a concept, preceding a detailed plan of implementation and the entire production and distribution. Developing a new artistic idea often implies experimentation in terms of processes and materials, research in libraries, archives, museums, documentation centres, different databases, it includes interviews and meetings with experts or other individuals relevant to the issue, acquisition of required literature, techniques and equipment, testing, travelling etc. Artistic research can be conducted only by artists.”2
In the past three years, this grant amounting to 20,000 kuna, which makes it possible for artists to examine their own work and its methodology in a relatively broad spectrum, has been awarded to around 30 organisations, only few of which pursue contemporary dance. Why is that so, especially given the fact that our practice tells us that the aforementioned “research” method on the independent dance scene is one of the inherent working methods? The answer to this question is definitely much more complex than simply assuming that dance artists are bad at writing applications than other artists and is inseparable from the production conditions.
In our local context dance art has been continually degraded, both financially and infrastructure-wise. For example, out of this year’s 42 grants allocated by the contemporary dance and movement committee of the Ministry of Culture to dance artists for the production of new dance works, 21 of them were granted in the insufficient amount of 20,000 kuna. This is the same amount Kultura Nova Foundation grants for artistic research, far less complex in the sense of production. Since these amounts are insufficient for production, artists resort to more democratic and playful formats of work, leading to more works in progress, low tech dance installations and performance lectures.
At the same time, dance is being stripped off the only contemporary dance venue – Zagreb Dance Centre has been placed under the management of the Zagreb Youth Theatre. This problem initially united the dance community in resistance, articulating their demands as a plenary Dance Centre body. With time, this problem continued to polarise the dance community, dividing it into those who refused to work at Zagreb Dance Centre and those who accepted the new situation. Ana Kreitmeyer, apart from being a participant in this research, is also the president of the Board of Directors of Croatian Dancers Association. The Board gathers seven members, male and female artists, colleagues who join efforts in acting collectively, collaboratively, in a non-market and activist manner. Through their volunteering on the independent scene they strive to continuously re-examine the models that would provide the dance community with stability and ongoing support given the insufficient infrastructure. This role implies being on the other side of political power mechanisms, to which they keep opposing. Therefore, our research is in irregular intervals interrupted by phone calls from Zagreb related to Ana’s other roles and the said issues, which thus become part of the research, generating conversation topics such as fear, solidarity, togetherness etc.
It is not my intention to deal in this text explicitly with these research subjects. It seems more interesting that its structure and recording method in a way should imitate the research methodology itself. My research meetings with Ana were and still are scattered in time, interrupted by other commitments and projects and taking place at different locations and via different channels. The research material was a semi-structured interview about the mentioned topics we used to discuss and sometimes open before other colleagues and friends. We recently agreed that time and space indeed are the two main resources and production conditions necessary for practicing art. The performative potential of these conversations, which are not exclusively casual, arises thanks to the fact that a sound recorder was always present and registering the conversations between Ana, myself and other associates. The recording of these private and semi-private conversations gives them a chance to become reproduced and public at a certain point.
For example, recently published problematic results of the open call for cultural programmes funded by the City of Zagreb4, to which Ana entered another project, create a standstill which generates fear in artistic productivity. The conversation that might begin as a usual precarious lament turns into a discussion about fear as a performative affect. Equally so, for instance, space, also as a circumstance of an encounter, defines the conversation material. That day Ana hired a babysitter, paid eight euro per hour. This means that we can dedicate two hours to our research that day. Again, in a city much larger than Zagreb this means that I have to come to Ana’s neighbourhood so that we may spend two focused hours. I go to Charlottenburg, in the western part of Berlin, a middle and upper class residential neighbourhood, which is as such completely unknown and unavailable to me. We find a café. I automatically lower my voice, I use less swear words (although no one understands me), the waitress interrupts our work by asking us where we are from, we record the conversation intermittently because none of us brought a cell phone charger… All these conditions formulate not necessarily the opinion on each issue, but definitely the conversation as such, which begins without premeditation, only the idea of meeting and opening this meeting to external disturbances.
Although our research is specific in that aspect, I would not, due to a lack of suitable contemporary dance venues in Zagreb, advocate for a liberalisation of its production, setting it into other places than a rehearsal room.
At this point it is interesting to stop and observe a few symptoms related to the recent change in the production model which occurred thanks to the appropriation of models from visual arts. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, in western cultural and artistic production hubs the figure of a curator appeared and soon took the leading role. A curator, borrowed from visual arts, performs several duties: producer, programmer, dramaturge and a person giving a context to an artist, organising the process, inscribing a discourse, arranging a format and taking care of finances. And while all over Europe production budgets are cut down, the inversely proportional curation model offers a plethora of innovative formats for the presentation of works, rehearsals, researches, processes. The production itself stems from the cheapest form of expression in a discourse formulated by a curator in line with the public funding dynamics, whose logic is inherently inexplicable. Paradoxically, at the same time the knowledge of contemporary dance, until recently conveyed only via non-institutional channels, is institutionalised. The first BA course in dance art at the Academy of Dramatic Art of the University of Zagreb is established, and everywhere in western Europe more MA and PhD courses in contemporary dance appear. Despite the need for further specialisation of all of us pursuing contemporary dance one way or the other, contemporary dance remains a discipline borrowing its vocabulary and terminology from other arts (philosophy, visual art, literary theory). As a dramaturge who opted for contemporary dance relatively late in her career and still thinks of herself as an outsider on the dance scene, rather than the issues of the artistic field I take part in I find interesting the following question: why do we, the non-aligned, who are often not quite certain what we produce and where we belong, feel the need to call the thing we produce contemporary dance?
My answer to this question does not stem from an aesthetic disposition of contemporary dance or its origin in theory and philosophy which only seemingly needs to hire a dramaturge for contemporary dance projects. One of the many definitions of dramaturgy describes this field as a grey area between theory and practice. As the position of a curator who shapes the working discourse gets stronger, the problems of a practical dramaturge becomes the fact that the role of a dramaturge turns into an articulated mediator between the author, the choreographer and the curator, and their fundamental task is to produce a discourse that gives the artistic work a sort of theoretical legitimacy, most evident and sometimes visible only in materials accompanying the performance. On the other hand, what makes the idea of a dramaturge practitioner exciting is the fact that this grey area of dramaturgy is per se undefined and depends on the context of work, the process a dramaturge delves into. Therefore the answer to the previous question in my case stems from the fact that contemporary dance still poses a challenge to a dramaturge; the dramaturge does not fully understand it, but embarks on it nevertheless – for the process’s sake. Contemporary dance processes which mostly take place on Zagreb’s independent scene are marginal in the sense of infrastructure, funding, audience and visibility. Despite professional associations, awards and progressive artistic trends of our artists on the international scene, contemporary dance still cannot, it seems, be considered a professional activity performed in professional conditions, without interruptions and standstills dictated by other external factors also because one cannot earn a living from pursuing contemporary dance. Without sinking into the melodramatic vernacular of the younger generation of contemporary dance artists, I find it important to ask how to make these circumstances visible in my work and who could find their visibility relevant on a broader social scale.
I see the relationship between theory and practice as two separate production methods, i.e. I see theory as a practice producing certain materials. Ana and I approached our research as an encounter making it possible for us to discuss different issues, ideas and topics intriguing us as practitioners, therefore we chose the interview as our method. One of these interviews arose only as a consequence of these circumstances. In a theatre lobby we started a conversation about the crisis generated by production conditions. That day it seemed relevant to discuss the fact that in our field we continuously operate in critical situations, trying to find ways to rise above the crisis in organisational, production and emotional sense. These crises in processes come to a temporary halt at a certain point in time which, despite inadequate means and conditions, we still feel the need to call a premiere. As soon as the next open call is announced, we give up the crisis and embark on a completely new production with similar conditions and issues. Several weeks after this conversation, another question appeared interesting. What would happen to our processes if instead of constant manoeuvring between different crises and attempts to avoid them we embraced this fact as a situation in which we make art, asking ourselves why is it that we make this situation – the impossibility of production – visible, i.e. public?
This question appeared intuitively during several months of our research and right now I cannot think of an answer, but it could assume openness of the working process to different disturbances, interventions, errors and other processes taking place independently of the artistic work and in a way modifying it. Perhaps we need to drop the idea of further specialisation and isolation of the already narrow field of dance and find models of work and collaboration with other, from our point of view less probable participants, in less than usual places. Such an exposure probably produces more confusion, but this element of confusion will help initially reorganise our dance environment, endangered as it is.
I will finish this stage of my log with a description of the last secondary situation related to my research with Ana. The final day of her Berlin residency we decided to open the studio doors to a small number of close associates and friends. Among the familiar faces there was one person no one knew. This would not be weird in itself, even in the context of contemporary dance performances we mostly put up for informed friends, fellow dancers and family, plus a new face every now and then. However, our mystery audience member seemed to have different expectations from the two-hour interview about the conditions of production and work, during which we never communicated about the presented choreographic material. Still, confusion with the situation, unease because of social conventions or perhaps, I optimistically assume, curiosity motivated our mystery guest to stay almost until the end of the interview, watching the discussion in silence and sitting away from our closed circle on the dance floor. All until the right moment came to leave the room. Instead of a goodbye, he just yelled: “Good luck!” The subject of this last interview was solidarity so, instead of a conclusion, I will open the next question. The mystery guest showed his support, but his response tells us that, since he is not part of our circle, he either understood nothing or, not to patronise, he could not identify with what he understood. I wonder: how to change this? How to expand the field of work and the field of battle, in such meagre and ignominious conditions, to those who are not part of our circle and do not share our theoretical and aesthetical conditions, but share the production conditions and express an interest?