EMILY AND ANGELA CONQUET
Angela is the Artistic Director of Dancehouse. She moved from Paris in July 2011 and is now based in Melbourne, Victoria.
1. You’ve been in Melbourne for over a year now; how have your thoughts on the local arts community shifted from your initial impression?
I’m still discovering its vibrancy and I think this will keep me busy for a long while. When I moved to Melbourne, I was told by the artists themselves that the local arts community was relatively small and it is indeed, compared to some European ones. However, it is very active and more collegial than I would have expected. This year has been very much of a learning curve for me as I realised how many similarities there were in the artists’ needs and wishes when compared to their European peers; and how many differences there are in the way they train or produce work. I still can’t get used to seeing artists who put a tremendous amount of effort and commitment into, very often, self-producing a new work and how easily they move on to the next one. In dance, I believe that the more a work is performed in time, the better it gets – it’s a question of inhabiting the body in the chosen space/time paradigm and it’s like a sedimentation of layers and layers of nuances enriching the work with each exposure. I see many works here which have a huge potential to tour, including internationally and they just go off the radar once the first season is over. It is a shame. One can wonder how the existing production/touring system in Australia impacts on the mentality of the artists and the way they produce and distribute work.
2. What is missing in the discussion about Australian contemporary dance?
The first thing that springs to my mind is critical writing and discourse on dance. There are not so many dance reviewers and they are often limited to 250 words. Reviews are often descriptive and not analytical and I strongly believe interest can be stirred by discussing ideas explored rather than their narration. It is such a shame to see blogs like Alison Croggon’s disappear. Any art form needs platforms for discussion and debate – it is the only way to cultivate audience’s interest and advance the practice. I also think there should be some sort of travel grant or fellowship for the reviewers to travel the world to see work made elsewhere. It will enable articulation of performances made here to broader contexts and trends and this can only be enriching.
One other thing that I think should be more addressed is how to manage to make a living as an artist. I see a lot of financial strain on the artists’ shoulders and generous money spent on one-off initiatives of all sorts but I wonder how we can contribute to building more sustainable career paths for the artists, particularly those who have a physical practice – it is tough to go into a studio when one has worked two shifts as a barista…
3. Tell us about an image from a work that haunts you, that you’d love to see again for the first time.
There are many, hard to pick only one. I would give anything to see Pina’s Café Muller or at least Dominique Mercy in Bandoneon. This image, when he is crossing the stage wearing a ballerina’s tutu and every now and then stopping to do some pliés, there is something so powerful there and yet so heartbreaking… I would love to see again Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas. I will never forget how speechless I was after I saw for the first time Cindy Van Acker’s work (recently presented at Dancehouse) – one of those moments when you really feel it will deeply affect you but you don’t know yet how. On a more conventional note, Maia Plisetskaya in Bejart’s Bolero, which, I am pretty sure, was the first dance show I saw – I was perhaps 4 or 5 only. I like first times but I also like to see the same work over and over again – my personal record is Raimund Hoghe’s Swan Lac, I must have seen it 5 or 6 times.
4. How do you say ‘no’ to an artist you can’t program?
Very simply and honestly. It’ probably what made my reputation in Europe and I had to say no quite a lot – most often because there wasn’t the budget to present all the artists I was interested in. Artists are sometimes not aware that presenters are not as free as they would like to be. If I am not interested in the work, I always try to offer constructive feedback and encourage them to see other presenters.
5. What do you think of the National Cultural Policy, as we currently understand it?
I think it is a very timely initiative. It is essential for every country to have a National Cultural Policy – it sets a framework and with the framework comes the value recognised in the role of arts and culture. It can bring arts and culture even more into people’s lives and at a level that arts operators will never manage by themselves. I have the impression the sector was widely consulted before and during the process. It is essential politicians, economists and the arts industry people work hand in hand in conceiving it. In Europe, there are some quite successful National Policies examples, some relatively dated now, but which at that time, set trends and prompted political choices which are still bearing their fruits today. I hope it will be the case with this one.