by Neil Nisbet
Charlotte Mors, Administrator for Danseværket in Denmark estimates that dance in her country is some 25 years behind the UK in terms of developing and supporting the art form. we ask just what she plans do about it. They have the skills and they have the talent but what else do they need?
Can you tell us a little about Danseværket and how it started?
Dansvaerket is an organisation started in 1986. A few very good dancers [who were] not yet professionals got together because they needed somewhere to work and they needed an organisation to arrange training for them. After a while they got a little money from the community of Åurhus to work with. After a period of time some of the members of that initial group became professionals, Pelle Granhoj was one of them and he is now the artistic director of Grohøj Dance.
And we had Marie Brolin-Tani who is now the director of Skånes Dans Teater in Sweden and a dancer called Susanne Holm who is now in charge of the largest private dance school here in Åurhus.
So then they left Danseværket because they didn’t [really] need it anymore. In the early 90’s Danseværket became a part of the cultural economy of the city. We received a small, core budget to work with and a decision was made to hire an administrator to make everything work. So in 1998 I began working part-time, well actually you work full-time but you are only paid for part-time.
So I worked in that way for two years then the wages were raised a little but still not enough for full-time work. But in 2000 we decided that we needed an administrator full time and [it was time] to start raising funds for our activities. Up until then we had funded everything from our core budget. So we split it, which meant funds for the organisation and we [began] raising funding for the project work that we do.
What is your personal background, how did you end up working in dance?
[laughs] It’s not in dance actually! I come from a theatre background, so to speak, I’m a dramaturge, I studied dramaturgy at the university of Åurhus. My [personal] taste is for performance theatre and dancers are used in that particular art form a lot so it wasn’t really a very big jump. New dance is especially close to theatre.
The thing is, in Denmark, dance is connected very closely to theatre but always as the small experimental thing that’s always the little brother [so to speak]. So at the moment we have a lot going on [artistically] and dance is fighting very hard to be recognised as an art form in its own right. Which means organisations like Danseværket have to push dance to the front and press the need for dance in the community. Early on we did actually focus our attention on both things [dance and theatre] but to make our position very clear we had to focus on the dance side of our work.
What obstacles do you face in your struggle to get dance noticed?
Of course there is always the lack of money but if you look at the dance community in Denmark they are still fighting to have recognition as their own art form. Small things are happening at the moment which means that we have to keep on working very hard right now because the Minister of Cultural Affairs is looking at dance as a special art form and he has made some special funding available for the dance community.
So he has turned out to be fond of dance and that was funny because in the beginning I don’t think he had set out to be a minister that we would be a great help to the dance community. We have spoken to him a lot so now he knows more about the dance community than a lot of other people.
Of course here in Åurhus we have the problem of being little brother to Copenhagen [in dance terms]. So in terms of having a dance community with professional dancers Åurhus is a bit behind. The dance community in Denmark is primarily based in Copenhagen and dancers coming back [to Denmark] have gone there because that’s where things happen.
We have one school of modern dance and people tend to stay where they have been educated. So it’s all about Copenhagen at the moment. In Åurhus I think we are semi-professional and we are trying to devise ways of bringing in professional dancers and to make those that we have professional.
So how do you plan to overcome these hurdles?
At the moment we are actually writing a fund raising project to get funding for longer residencies not only from companies based overseas but also from Copenhagen. We want to show the Copenhagen dance community that facilities [for dance] in Åurhus are excellent. What they need is the funding to be able to come here because to begin with they will have to bring dancers with them from Copenhagen to work here. Danseværket have to help them move here for a 3-month period or whatever.
While the companies are here we should also be able to provide them with different jobs [working with youth groups and so on] that will help their finances and this also helps us to develop our dance community and the audience for dance. We thought that residencies of 3 months would be enough but since the visit by TDI we have learned that maybe we should go for something more permanent.
Is it your ambition to develop a full time company?
Yes that would help a lot because then I think that many professional dance companies would look at Åurhus as a possibility. At the moment visiting professionals will have to train and [do class] with the semi-professional dancers [in Åurhus] and that is not ideal.
What do you think Åurhus has to offer professional companies?
As I mentioned before we do have good facilities and we do have a production office with personnel ready to assist companies with any tasks they may need help with. Danseværket has rehearsal studios available and we have a venue that can show [professional] work. There is one resident, professional choreographer there [at the venue] who gathers dancers together whenever he does a performance. Also, Danseværket is here and is determined to embrace dancers and to discover what is needed to get them a bigger audience. What we haven’t done yet is focus on a company that will visit here and provide workshops to develop an audience for that particular visit.
Do you think that what you do here could help change the face of dance across Denmark?
Yes! I think at the moment a lot of things are happening. The biggest change would be that dance is something that goes on and happens in different parts of the country and not just in Copenhagen. Dance is almost like an underground art form that is based in Copenhagen. What we do is try to bring dance out to different regions [of the country] and through that access to dance we hope to develop new talents and get a broader spectrum of young talent to recruit from.
Because they would come from different parts of Denmark and not just the capital I guess they would be more open to the idea of returning to those regions to work. So in that sense I think the work that we are doing, in the long term, has an impact on spreading the dance community across Denmark.
Where would you like Danseværket to be in 5 years?
We would like to have a certain place, a house for dance, where we would have studios available. We would also like to have a close connection to a venue. Additionally, being able to offer small production spaces within that building for young artists to produce from so they would have direct access to the knowledge that we have gained over the years. Danseværket would like these studios to be the facilities where you have training going on and informal meetings going on between artists who are working in the same field.
It would also be a centre where people could meet and develop their own art but also Dansvaerket would like to provide inspiration through workshops we provide from overseas companies and so on. But when we don’t have those workshops [the artists] should still get together, everyday and just train, discuss and show each other what they are working on.