This session was called by Susie Crow.
Convened by Susie Crow
The idea for this session grew from a question as to whether male and female choreographers see things and make work differently because of the perspective their gender gives them. My concern being that if this is the case, with little work by female choreographers programmed, audiences become more used to looking at work made from a male perspective, so that they are unaccustomed to the approach and subject matter of female choreographers, and may not develop the eyes to see and appreciate it. This potentially disadvantages work which may be of equal compositional and choreographic merit, and is a reason for encouraging greater gender diversity in programming. The following are fragments from a rich discussion with a large and fluctuating group.
Discussion opened with observations as to the different working manners of men and women choreographers:
• It was suggested that women should not apologise for having a different manner of working, such as allowing more time to explore and develop ideas.
• Issues around being perceived aggressive if assertive; need to find support to allow you not to be aggressive.
• How do you talk about your work? Being honest, having a sense of self worth, what we think we are worth.
Characteristics of female work:
• Sally Marie perceived that women can perhaps be overly subjective and small in subject matter, not as clear and definite as men. How do we approach the subject matter we choose and link a tiny vision to make it relate to everyone?
• Hard to watch work as a choreographer and not be critical. But how do we talk about men’s and women’s work? Are women particularly critical? It was felt that women tend to worry more about being honest in describing their work.
Issues around programming:
• Concerns voiced about there being currently a lot of conceptualism, a lot of shows with little dancing; related perhaps to a perception of distinction between “theatres” and “dance houses” and fewer of the latter, venue programmers more comfortable with dramatic and narrative work, physical theatre, than pure dance.
• Observation about conservative audiences, and programmers therefore unwilling to take risks. Programmers were seen to have a huge responsibility, “shaping the landscape for the future”, responsible for building a culture in the long term, modelling for the future. Their role as gatekeepers to the work raised questions about democracy. Audiences were seen to be pushed and inspired less and less.
• It was felt that programmers had a major responsibility to get bums on seats even if this meant giving free tickets, so that more people got to see shows.
• How can pressure be put on programmers? It was felt that this could be risky for individuals who might put their own careers in jeopardy.
• Independent and regional work was perceived to be vital R&D for the arts, equivalent to the R&D which would be supported in successful commercial and industrial enterprises. ACE funding thus had a dual purpose; to subsidise tickets to make them more affordable, but also to support non-commercial work as vital development.
This led to discussion about non-commercial work:
• Can a female choreographer be commercially successful? Can a female choreographer’s work sell?
• Scepticism about events such as British Dance Edition, highlighting its recent poor representation of female choreographers’ work and unclear selection policies. Praise for European producers who were seen to be more passionate and knowledgeable about the work they saw than their UK counterparts.
• Suggestion – why not programme the unprogrammable? Julia Gleich gave the example of BAM’s (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Next Wave, including work that people may not come to. In UK Anthony Roberts of Colchester Arts Centre was praised for his Wednesday evening experimental programmes on a pay what you can/wish basis, such lucky dip events creating a good vibe and educating audiences. Similarly Donald Hutera’s GOlive and in principle Resolution! at the Place.
• Encouraging more adventurous programming of less “popular” work on a regular (eg monthly) basis. Should be part of a venue/institution’s remit if they are in receipt of ACE funding.
• Ways to encourage learning to talk about dance to enable better quality of feedback and discussion about works and their choreographic merit.
• Audience development, for example programming Scratch Nights to get audience feedback. From experience I have some reservations about too many of these crowding out programming of more finished work in tight schedules, and offering no guarantee that audiences will return to see the finished work and pay a full ticket price.