James Finnemore is a professional dancer and choreographer currently working with Hofesh Shechter.
list of all entries by this author
It's Resolution! season and my Facebook feed, like many others inside London's dance bubble, is full of people telling me to come to their show. I am currently in France so I will miss England's biggest 'dance lottery' this year, let's hope for some gems.
Resolution! isn't perfect and it doesn't always end up being a good deal financially for those who take part, but it is a reminder that those who want to make work have ample opportunity to show it.
Other platforms have emerged, making the same noises and offering the same opportunities: a technical rehearsal, a video, perhaps a review and of course, a show.
Great, but I don't see 'fee' on that list.
Don't misunderstand me, these platforms are a good thing for those wanting to create their first work, to experiment with an idea or just have a go, but their scope is limited. What happens next? Theoretically, you can spend as much of your own money as you want making and performing pieces, but realistically it isn't sustainable - unless it's a self-made solo or the choreographer has already secured funding.
If a choreographer is struggling to get enough support and funding then these platforms are incredibly useful, because in theory they are free. However, in practice, the dancers and the choreographer aren't properly paid, and said choreographer is paying for things out of their own pocket. A fee - actually paying artists for the art they create, regardless of individual fame - might change that.
The next step is an extremely big step. Theatres generally aren't willing to take a risk and programme a full work by new, emerging choreographers, as they are less likely to fill seats. Choreographers need an existing profile, support and funding to be programmed and subsequently get a tour together.
Some theatres and dance organisations do have the resources to bridge this gap, and it would be great to see them create projects or opportunities for emerging choreographers who have performed in these platforms but aren't quite ready for full touring. Initiatives of this sort do already exist, I myself am lucky enough to be working with The Place as part of their new Hot House project, which has provided those involved with a commission, free studio space and mentoring as well as the opportunity to work with a creative producer. Support that is vital for emerging choreographers. Hot House is not the only example, Yorkshire Dance's Sketch programme also springs to mind, but if more organisations invest in these kinds of projects, more interesting work will be able to keep its head above the water.
Despite not posting on here for a few months I've had one topic swimming about in my head for a long time, however my thoughts on the matter have always been clunky and without clear direction. In all honesty I'm scared. Now I think I will bite the bullet, clunkiness and all.
In May of this year I stopped performing with Hofesh Shechter Company as I felt three years of one thing, (even though a fantastic thing,) was more than enough. Bluntly put, HSC are a mainstream, large-scale company and I naïvely believed that after working with such a company, finding work as a freelancer wouldn't trouble me at all.
I was quite wrong, and thus ensued months of fruitless auditions and bitty projects that didn't pay off enough to even pay the rent. It was a useful experience and things have since improved, but it was in those auditions that I remembered what I both love and hate about the dance profession, as I know it.
It is my belief that arrogance should not exist in contemporary dance. Years sweating in front of the mirror at dance school, wearing only a unitard, usually puts that idea to bed straight away, and with the obstacles we all generally face in order to get work or recognition, humbleness and openness are usually the byproducts of that. It is however, not a perfect world.
There was one audition in particular that caused me both great joy, and great pain. At one point during the day we were put into small groups and asked to create a small piece of 'choreography'. Amongst my group there was someone who was incredibly generous, open to everyone's ideas and who singlehandedly made that thirty minutes of my day a very manageable thirty minutes. We are now the best of Facebook friends. There was also a character who listened to no-one, immediately assumed that their ideas were stronger, only focused on themselves, and succeeded in offending more than one person within our party in the process.
There have of course been contrary moments, but for me dance has generally been nothing but a humbling experience. I will not presume that I will ever be in a position where I can offer others job or creative opportunities, but your peers might one day be known teachers, choreographers and artistic directors. They might be able to offer you those opportunities. Be nice.
This blog entry comes from Paris, the Saint-Germain des Prés district to be exact.
I'm up to my eyeballs in quaint cafes and boutiques and with Notre Dame just around the corner it is all a fantastically satisfying cliché. I have been staying here for the past month whilst my partner has been working in an Opera, and for a refreshing four weeks I have barely danced at all. A great holiday, but not great for a dance blog.
Because of this I would perhaps prefer to tell you to go to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop opposite Notre Dame,with its wall to wall books, special editions and friendly atmosphere.
Or that you must go to the palace at Versailles, built by Louis XIV it is probably the most dramatic display of wealth I have ever seen; incredible architecture, huge fountains and acres of beautiful gardens. King Louis XIV may have ignored the poverty of his own people but his interest in dance did help create the company that we know today as the Paris Opera Ballet.
Voila. Amateur travel writing over, I promise.
Instead, I wish to bring up an issue that is not new in the slightest and with that in mind this entry may, I fear, provide little insight or discuss things of little relevance to anyone but myself, so please dear reader, humour me.
Not funded? If you are a choreographer working with no funding try, and try harder not to post audition notices. An unpaid opportunity, as is the normal lingo on these things, is not an opportunity. It's unpaid. It can force fresh graduates, for example, to apply for unpaid positions because as we are all aware jobs are hard to come by. I mean no disrespect to these graduates, but these are young dancing bodies that more often that not are merely just that.
In my opinion these young dancers could conceivably do something more productive, like apply for a place in a platform or scratch night. This gives a performance opportunity with a professional atmosphere and more notably allows them to perform under their own name.
Work with your friends. Your peers are more valuable to you as you will know their abilities and they will know yours, it might create an easier working atmosphere.
It's more likely they will bend over backwards to help you ( eg. work for free ) and support you when you might want to self-destruct, offering guidance when a stranger might not feel comfortable to do so. And after all, your friends might be some of the best dancers you know.
I myself feel I am perhaps taking a risk publicising this point of view, and I will re-iterate that this is my personal opinion, and mine alone. Agree, or disagree as you will, but if you have some free time this summer then there is probably the most beautiful city in Europe just across the pond waiting for you.
Whilst I write this I am spending a lazy Sunday sitting by the window, and for perhaps the first time this year I am definitely basking in the warmth of the sun. Spring has arrived! Well it has in Switzerland at least.
I have been dividing my time between London and Geneva recently, most of it in the latter and for those of you who are perhaps tempted to jump ship and try new things within mainland Europe, Switzerland might not be the most obvious of choices but things are happening here if you look for it.
Now I have always found it difficult to take part in discussions, debates and general after show chit-chat when it concerns dance, it's hard and frankly nine times out of ten it also feels unnecessary and irrelevant to me. It's a completely internal, personal experience. I don't want to talk about such-and-such's work, I definitely don't want to talk about my own work, why can't it just speak for itself?
However, sadly for me this is not the world we live in. Dance is spoken about, and by writing this blog I am giving myself a gentle nudge towards joining that discussion, and maybe in the future discussing an idea, concept, workshop or show will become easier. No cold sweats about what nondescript nonsense I might say next would be much appreciated.
Here in Geneva however there are companies worth a mention. So, lets start with Alias Compagnie. Based in Geneva and led by Guilherme Botelho Alias make what I can only describe as unpretentious, earthy contemporary dance. Their recent Sadlers Wells performances of Botelho's 'Sideways Rain' were generally well received by London show-goers. (You can check out the Guardian's view here.)
Compagnie 7273, also based in Geneva boast their own fantastically named technique 'fuitt fuitt,' a gloriously gooey movement style.
However if big, expensively elaborate productions are your thing then you can always turn to Grande Theatre de Geneve for all your ballet and neo-classical needs.
This is all well and good but there is one thing that has particularly caught my eye and hope to see: Speedbattles. Whilst difficult for me to describe, Speedbattles are essentially dance-offs for the contemporary crowd of Switzerland. A Geneva team fight it out against international guests for what, money? pride? This I don't know but it sounds interesting to me nevertheless. If you can make sense of it, this is what the Speedbattles website has to say about it all:
'Speedbattles propose a rewrite of battle now associated with the hip-hop poets jousting, fights and duel, any competition staged a fight. Combining forms: dance, music, set design, motion-graphics and design, embracing codes of sport to offer an alternative to the classic format of the show.
It adds a dose of the random clocking everything: Speed and Mode for each battle. The opposing teams are different each time, set and design and motion-design are recreated in situ. Ballet, Hip-hop, contemporary or traditional, but also instruments, vocals and turntables each chooses his weapon for battle.'
I am going to go sit out in the sun.