The art world is on tenderhooks, as the next week will decide who is staying and who is going. Everyone and everywhere is facing cuts but no one knows how badly it will affect them. It certainly is a good time to be popular. Remember those times when you could have stayed longer at that event to schmooze? Regreting it now, huh?
For this article I have spoken to Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre and all round amazing choreographer and woman Janet Smith. I am interested to know what she thinks about popularity and if she feels she needs to all of a sudden be more strategic in her creativity. Or is artistic integrity enough to win the presence of plentyful posteriors.
Janet: It is an interesting time to talk about popularity and popularism as I think we are going to be under huge pressure to make our work commercial because that is the truth of the market place and we are experiencing it already. Contemporary Dance Theatre is a marginal art form. It is not ancient like Opera.
For me, that is a thing that I feel a huge pressure around me now in the funding situation with risk averse theatregoers and risk averse theatres. You can't follow it. I can't imagine what is popular and what the audience will like. I just have to follow my own integrity and focus on the artists I am working with and what will be developmental of the work for the artists on both sides.
S: It does seem like everyone is on the edge of their seats
J: It feels like a batten down the hatches time artistically and actually I feel the urge to absolutely shout out for arts. I am not so much an arts for arts sake person but when push comes to shove I guess I am.
I was excited to inherit this contemporary dance theatre thing because I suppose it is about now, contemporary and it is also about human beings that can express something through the medium of dance and theatre. So what I am trying to do with our repertoire is to support the development of the language and evolve it and to think about what it speaks about along with the development of our artists.
Being a rep company, you can bring different approaches, points of view and different ways of making into the studio. There it becomes a seedbed for creativity for the choreographers themselves and for our artists in the company. They get a chance to explore and get excited by different ways of working.
This is our biggest selling tool. When they are committed to the work and excited about it and when it is a very meaningful exchange between the choreographer- that has integrity and that is what will engage an audience. It is not necessarily a selling tool to put the bums on the seats because we are not necessarily bringing in big popular names nor could we probably afford them.
S: What about Hofesh?
J: How I came to work with him was hearing through wonderful friends and colleagues in the field about the work of this emerging artist who I had seen as a fantastic dancer in Jasmin Vardimon. The timing of going to commission him coincided with this big upsurge of his popularity. I booked him about a year before he came to create the work. Then during the year I started to hear that he was creating work for other companies and I thought 2 things: 1. That is great because his work is getting seen and he is building his reputation and 2. Will he have over stretched himself and have the time and energy to create work for us?
What happens on the international scene for me is that artists become commercial property. It seems you get best value for your money artistically. It also seems they don't have as much time to think and to put to different circumstances. So maybe I had the concern he will come burnt out or it won't be so relevant for him now to make work but I was delighted that he worked with great integrity and intelligence with us. It was one of those lucky marriages of time and moments because for us touring to London and other tuned in national and international dance centres he is known, but I have to say that some of the places that we toured to wouldn't know who he is.
We brought his name to places where, although he is a big currency in the contemporary dance world, he did not mean anything. This is because we are not in the movies or the international music scenes. We are always hoping to interest a broader audience than the very narrow contemporary dance sector.
S: have you ever thought of other ways you could create more of an audience?
J: I haven't found the right reason to do it and some companies do this very successfully but you could re-do, for example, Romeo and Juliet or a story that everyone knows. That could be a way to popularise the work and to hook an audience in.
One project that we are going to do which is going to be over two years in Dundee and it is very much community focussed. It will lead us to a site specific performance. We will go into the community, drawing out different stories about social dance in their lives. Dundee was a Mecca for dance halls and it has quite a social dance history. It has plenty of artistic reasons and also strategic reasons.
S: Is the contemporary dance following popular in Dundee because of the company?
An interesting thing for me about our own theatre in Dundee is we had booked a programme of Irish work, a duo and solo that we had to cancel because there wasn't audience interest. At the same time at very short notice the theatre booked in Spirit of the Dance with sell out performances all wee. That is specifically about where we are at in terms of the pressure we are under from theatres to put bums on seats and the risk averse audiences and wanting them to try something new. When you haven't got a lot of money and options what are you going to go for?
S: So when touring how do you ensure that this doesn't happen?
J: You can't. People like Hofesh when he came to us he was a name in some places but he wasn't in others. He was someone we were excited to work with because of the language and the world that he could create. Similarly Ben Duke and James Wilton are UK artists but you wouldn't get them in to put some bums on seats because you wont. They both are artists that have strong wishes and can create a world that we think we can learn from and what will be exciting, developmental and supportive for them would be very exciting for our audiences. It might not pull them in but we know if we got them there they would love it.
This season with Kate Weare, she hasn't shown her work over here but she is going back to present her work for the second time at the Joyce Theatre in New York. Rui Horta was international. I knew that his work was out there internationally and we try get out there too, but above all I knew he would be a great guy to work with and the dancers would find him inspirational and that they would bring an excitement to the stage in this work and again he had a voice. Coming up in the future Jo Strongren and Victor Quija- both choreographers that are international. Victors work has a great musicality in it so that will develop our language and support Victor with bringing his work to the UK.
And Jo Strongren is a fantastic Norweigen based dance theatre and filmmaker whose work I have admired at the Edinburgh Fringe. He is really out there internationally but I wouldn't say that he is such a name that will bring us bums on seats but rich in experience.
S: It seems quite clear that your main strategic tool, and maybe because of the current climate, is to flag up art and the development of artists?
J: It is so interesting that you go in to something like dance because it is like you are a non-Religious missionary. The going is getting really tough but the fight in me is really coming out.