Moving Beyond Inclusion is a Creative Europe funded collaboration between six of Europe’s leading inclusive dance companies. Project Producer, Joanne Lyons of UK partner Candoco Dance Company explains the motives, aims and challenges of this ambitious initiative.
Moving Beyond Inclusion (MBI) brings together six inclusive dance companies and presenters from across Europe: Candoco Dance Company (UK), Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance / HIPP(Croatia), Oriente Occidente (Italy), Producentbyrån / Danskompaniet Spinn(Sweden), tanzfähig (Germany) and BewegGrund (Switzerland).
At the heart of Moving Beyond Inclusion (MBI) is the fundamental belief that working inclusively produces more exciting, more excellent artistic work for audiences to enjoy. The project seeks to address the issue that the mainstream arts sector is far from truly representing the diversity in society at large; and that opportunities for disabled artists to develop and present their work, and for diverse artists to work together, remain limited.
Moving Beyond Inclusion has three areas of focus:
1) Raise the level of training and ambition for i) disabled dancers and those working inclusively; ii) for choreographers wishing to expand and develop their own practice; iii) for the partners’ internal teams in terms of selling and showcasing the work
2) Increase the quality of artistic output, through exclusive choreographic research periods with a range of choreographers and subsequent productions
3) Grow networks and performance opportunities, showcasing the best of inclusive practice to ever-growing audiences, thereby shifting perceptions of what inclusive dance practice can be.
The project thereby aims to provide a ground-breaking continuum from professional training to performance to audiences.
What does it mean to go ‘beyond inclusion’?
My recent blog talks a bit more about the reasons behind the project and its name. In short, we believe that, over the years, the MBI partner organisations and other artists working inclusively across Europe have firmly and repeatedly made the creative case for diversity by showcasing the artistic value of inclusive practice. We have consistently shown that top quality dance can be generated and evolve through a diversity of people on stage, and that the art is stronger for it. However, the mainstream arts are still a long way off from truly reflecting the diversity of society at large and from fully benefiting from all the opportunities that professional inclusive practice has to offer.
MBI hopes to help advance the sector as a whole towards the day when ‘inclusion’ has moved on from being perceived as a necessary tick-box exercise, has moved beyond being an aim in itself, and has become a standard context for the creative cycle.
Why focus on artistic ‘quality’?
Besides the indisputable social argument for inclusive practice (i.e. for a fair society, all should have equal opportunity to access all areas of life, dance included), there is also a strong artistic argument, sometimes referred to as the ‘creative case for diversity’, which suggests that, not only does working with diversity produce more interesting, ground-breaking work, but it is also necessary for the progression and evolution of the artform itself.
In order to confront certain prejudices and broaden understanding of inclusive practice and the opportunities it offers for the evolution of mainstream dance, for example, it is vital that the end product becomes its own advocate. The quality of the work should speak for itself in terms of showcasing the dancers’ skills, the integrity of the choreography and the final production values (e.g. excellent sound, lighting, costumes and set).
The challenges and opportunities of cross-cultural working
The most obvious challenges for cross-cultural working are the logistical ones, e.g. reporting on a budget in Euro when five different currencies are represented between us, or coordinating the rather complex diaries of six busy organisations.
Less obvious are the challenges around understanding and appreciating the more nuanced cultural differences. For example, some partners enjoy the relative security of public arts funding while others do not; or, in some countries, the political funding climate supports inclusive dance practice through social/community-focused funding, rather than through arts-based funding. It is an interesting journey to discover how much we take for granted within our own cultural circumstances.
But the opportunities that come from such a cross-cultural project are numerous. Being inspired to think outside the box of one’s own cultural context; increasing the reach of the work exponentially by being able to tap into each other’s existing networks; encouraging others and being encouraged to improve and aim higher with the work. These are just a few examples.
And, of course, there’s always the opportunity to share and exchange our countries’ own culinary delights whenever we meet together – Swiss chocolate and mulled wine, Swedish cinnamon buns, British fish ‘n’ chips and mince pies, etc…!
How are the partners effectively exchanging skills and experience?
Through Choreographic Labs the partner organisations’ artists can come together and learn with and from each other, while working with different choreographers whose approach to dance-making may be quite unfamiliar to them.
Through Skills and Capacity Building Exchanges, the partners’ administrative teams come together to share and transfer knowledge and experience on topics such as relationship-building with potential presenters, increasing networks and audience engagement, communications and marketing skills, building accessible websites and facilitating effective post-show talks.
Through Creative Exchanges the partners’ Artistic Teams are able to discuss their organisations’ artistic vision, reflect together on creative strategies and offer constructive feedback on each other’s developing work.
Furthermore, each partner is opening up their ‘Choreographic Research’ to the other partners through filming the activities or streaming them live, so that the partners’ artists can engage with each other’s creative processes, and learn from the various choreographers’ different approaches.
Outcomes so far
Already the project partners are reporting some fantastic outcomes of the project to date:
- We have been able to draw on each other’s networks in order to signpost our artists to cross-cultural employment opportunities.
- Our networks of disabled artists and artists working inclusively are growing, especially in Italy where an increasing profile is attracting interest from political policymakers and unlocking new funding opportunities.
- Some great conversations around dance and disability have been taking place in and around our symposia.
- The partners’ dancers are reporting increased confidence and improved skills through working with different choreographers in choreographic labs and research weeks.
- The internal teams are reporting increased confidence and new strategic ideas following our Capacity Building Exchanges.
On 23/24 August 2017, Moving Beyond Inclusion’s German partner tanzfähig will host a conference in Berlin, together with Dachverband Tanz Deutschland and in cooperation with the Inter-University Center for Dance Berlin. The conference ‘Stretching the Physicality of Dance’ aims to stimulate debate and broaden perceptions on contemporary dance and disability in Germany and beyond. The programme promises to offer two days of inspiring talks and discussions from a host of international speakers. It is open to the public and tickets are limited, so do book soon!
In September 2017, the Moving Beyond Inclusion partners will reunite at Oriente Occidente Festival, Rovereto, where the partners’ artists will enjoy a week-long Choreographic Lab working with Michael Turinsky (AT), Chiara Bersani (IT) and Anouk Llaurens (NL). This will be another exclusive opportunity for the dancers to train with and learn from each other and the three choreographers’ different approaches. It is also a chance for the choreographers to work with a diverse group of dancers and allow the experience to inform the development of their own practice. Alongside the Rovereto Choreographic Lab, the partners’ administrative teams and Artistic Directors will also be meeting for further planning and skills exchanges.
Long and short term objectives
The overall aim is for Moving Beyond Inclusion to help bring about a sustainable change within the mainstream dance sector.
Short-term outcomes include increased employment opportunities for a growing pool of disabled artists across Europe and therefore increased visibility of disabled role models on mainstream stages and festivals; increased quality of artistic output thanks to bespoke training opportunities; increased ambition and capacity within the partner organisations to deliver the work to the highest standard.
The long-term outcomes include a fair representation of disabled artists within the mainstream sector and greater prominence of professional inclusive practice across Europe.
The MBI partners look forward to a time when inclusive practice has become a standard context for the generation, presentation and appreciation of top quality dance.