Dance East and the Women

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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The Rural Retreats programme created by Dance East, one of the UK's National Dance Agencies (NDA), back in 2003 has been been looked upon with a certain amount of confusion by those in the contemporary dance world struggling to figure just what exactly they are supposed to achieve.

During the week we, here in TheLab™, received a brochure from Dance East listing their up and coming programmes one of which stemmed from the Rural Retreats project. The grandiosely titled "International Placements for Artistic Leaders of the Future" places seven dance makers with dance companies/organisations around the world so they can learn about running an organisation.

Of those seven placements just one, Tamara Rojo, is a woman, the rest, predictably, are all men. When asked why there was such a disparity in the numbers considering women outnumber men in dance by a considerable percentage (80% estimated by DanceUK) Assis Carreiro, Dance East's Artistic Director/CEO told us;

"Because only two women applied for the placements, so we took one of those two women. We couldn't take both because we had to go on the strength of the applications and we had concerns too but we can't, for the retreats we had seventy five people apply and very few were women from around the globe to attend the retreat and for the placements only two of the twenty seven who took part in the retreat applied so we took one of them."

According to Dance East's own report of the 2008 retreat, which took place in January this year, just 8 of the participants were women compared to 19 men. Applications to the retreats are not open, you have to be invited to apply by the NDA.

When asked why Dance East could not open the leadership programme to more people Ms Carreiro responded;

"... that was the criteria for which we put it out and we had the funding for it. We can't just open it up to everyone and these are the people we thought would be appropriate because they attended the retreat and there was quite a rigorous selection process to attend the retreat so it wouldn't be appropriate to open it up around the world. The people who attended the retreat and we thought had the potential to go on so from them we selected the ones going on [to the leadership programme]."

When Article19 stated that the retreats were heavily focused on Ballet (nearly all ballet companies are run by male directors), Ms Carreiro responded bluntly;

"No they are not!"

Again, using Dance East's own documentation, the most recent retreat included 27 participants, 19 of which were from the ballet world and 8 of whom were from contemporary or other forms of dance, in terms of their background. The first three retreats (from 2003 to 2006) played host to 63 classical companies and 0 (zero) contemporary companies* In the same time period just 10 women attended over three retreats compared to 53 men.

Of the seven placements four are with ballet companies, only one is with a contemporary dance company (Scottish Dance Theatre).

Article19 asked Ms Carreiro about the aparent lack of interest from women attending the Retreats, she told us;

"Because that seems to be the case around the world. I'm a woman, I think it's a big issue but [in] most companies around the world, women, at that age are getting married, having babies, when it's time to think about being a leader and so men take those posts.

Most companies around the world were founded by women but they usually hand over the reigns to men later on. Don't ask me, I'd love to know, I think it's a big issue but that's just a fact. We did ask a lot of women to apply but there aren't that many who want to take on that job and I think that because it is such a male dominated world. Women are insecure about doing it because we [women] have always been led by men. So there you go!"

Ms Carreiro also claimed, regarding one out of seven participants in the programme being a woman that; "one out of seven isn't bad, it's a start." She continued;

"It's the first time it's ever happened. if we only had two women apply from the group, one of [the women on the retreat] gave birth to a baby right after the retreat, she couldn't apply. There are lots of other logistical reasons. It's the first time we've done it, if it's a success we'll do it again. Maybe we will do one just for women who want to be leaders who knows? But that's just the way it is, there is nothing I can do about it."

When Article19 brought up, as an example, Jasmin Vardimon Company (Ms Vardimon has a young daughter) and the company appears to be doing just fine, Ms Carreiro replied;

"But she's running a small company of six people, she's got her own company she didn't apply for the retreat. Different personalities and different people have different priorities and we just need to make female dancers and dance people feel more empowered so perhaps they feel that they can do that job but some of them would rather focus on choreography rather than running a big company or a small company so it's personal choice."

Ms Vardimon's company has eight dancers and twelve personnel in total when on tour according to the British Council's website. Ms Carreiro provided no definitive yardstick for when a dance company becomes sufficiently large enough that a female dance maker can no longer cope because of her children!

During our conversation with her, Ms Carreiro said "that's just the way it is" several times. Indeed!

*we have presented the figures as a cumulative total for the three Retreats. The same companies and individuals attended more than once on some occasions.

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