Back in October I went to a debate at Rambert entitled ‘How do we level the playing field for female choreographers?’. The panel was full of some of the most exciting and influential names in dance and the arts, including: Mark Baldwin (Artistic Director at Rambert), Tamsin Fitzgerald (2Faced Dance Company), Didy Veldman (independent choreographer), Charlotte Vincent (Vincent Dance Theatre), Peggy Olislaegers (Rambert, Artistic Associate), Rupert Thomson (Senior Programmer for dance, South Bank Centre), Shobana Jeyasingh (Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company), Brendan Keaney (Dance East) and Patricia Okenwa (Rambert, New Movement Collective). Each member of the panel had the opportunity to talk briefly about where they stand on the ‘gender issue’ that faces the contemporary dance world today. Each had interesting and very relevant points to make. Topics covered included: opportunities for female choreographers, the female artistic voice, balancing a choreographic career with motherhood and the perception of women in the arts and wider society. As interesting as it was to hear such a broad range of topics and opinions, unfortunately it did not leave much time for opening up the floor for debate. I left feeling inspired yet frustrated. Although it is important and valuable to hear the opinion of others, talking over the issues doesn’t offer a platform for taking action.
Since attending this debate, I have been questioning where I stand on the issue of gender in contemporary dance and also in the wider context of the arts as a whole. I felt it was a discussion I wanted to be further involved with. Clearly other men and women in the dance sector felt the same because, when Chantal Guevara organised an Open Space event to further the discussion, an enthusiastic and impassioned group of people attended.
Open Space events start with no set agenda; participants arrive and propose ‘sessions’ for topics, ideas or debates that they wish to lead. Once they have determined their session they then choose a time and space in which to host it. The result is a number of small discussions happening at any given time. There is no pressure to lead a session, and I chose to remain free to move from one discussion to another. The leader of each session writes up notes to share with the entire group at the end. This was a new concept to me, but a highly successful one, particularly for a topic such as gender which has many different facets. Throughout the day some fantastic minds came together to discuss the current state of the industry and to think of ACTION points! This was refreshing: finally a debate with the objective of making change rather than endless talking!
Events such as these make me realise the wealth of experience in this industry and I feel I can learn a lot from the wonderful people who were present. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each other’s work and I believe this support is essential in moving forward and creating an industry that is dynamic and represents both men and women equally. I walked away feeling positive. I now feel part of a network of artists who are making positive changes to transform the industry. I hope that this community of artists continues to meet and support one another’s endeavours.
Interestingly, the following week, in a perfectly timed interview, Akram Khan claimed, “I don’t want to say we should have more female choreographers for the sake of having more female choreographers.” (Read the full article in The Stage.) His argument was that we shouldn’t prioritise work made by female artists simply in the name of gender equality. This would be a fair point, if we were planning on simply handing out commissions to female choreographers regardless of skill or merit. However, there are many women capable of making large scale work who are not being given the same platform as their male counterparts. I respect the choreographic work of Akram Khan and many other successful male choreographers and I think it is important that we engage in conversations rather than developing a culture of separation. By creating an even playing field, not only will women benefit, but the industry as a whole will evolve as a result of being exposed to new artistic voices. The fantastic thing about contemporary dance (and the arts in general) is its ability to reflect human experiences. For this reason, I think it is essential that we strive for a culture that reflects a diverse range of experiences across genders. Roll on 2016!
For further reading see the following:
– A brilliant article written in response to Akram Khan’s comments from loveDANCEmore.org.
– An essay written in 2014 by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’. It is a personal essay based on her TED Talk with the same title. This essay challenges how women and girls are perceived in society and offers a 21st Century definition of ‘Feminism’. Adichie draws from her experiences as a women living in the US as well as her native Nigeria. You can download a Kindle version on Amazon.
– I am about to start reading ‘I Call Myself A Feminist’, a collection of essays edited by Victoria Pepe, Rachel Holmes, Amy Annette. Alice Stride and Martha Mosse…let’s see what it has to offer.