International Perspectives on Dance

In the first in a series of pieces introducing staff and their roles here at South East Dance, here our Artistic Director Cath James reports back on the artists and companies she’s discovered during a recent international research trip. 

Over the past 12 months I’ve been thinking a lot about how when we open The Dance Space in 2021 I want the first year’s programme to celebrate women and non-binary choreographers and to be truly diverse in scale, genre, age and cultural perspective.

Geographically speaking, The Dance Space will sit right at the edge of the UK, looking out across the channel to Europe and beyond. We will not just be the leaping off point for UK artists, but also the first port of welcome to international artists and the global communication and exchange they will offer.

I want us to do all we can to keeping our borders porous - regardless of the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU - welcoming great work from beyond geo-political boundaries and providing as much support as possible for UK artists to go global.

An international view, through Western and non-Western eyes, connects us with the world. International artists bring new ideas to the South East and allow us to embrace new and different perspectives from across the globe. I believe this can help us to reflect on who and where we are and how our thoughts and ideas are shaped.

With this in mind, I feel it’s important to get out and about and see work and discover new artists. We are committed to being a sustainable organisation and I am very mindful of my travels to see work. As much as possible I watch videos beforehand to carefully shortlist where I go, because to really understand a live performance work you need to see it live. There’s nothing better than being in the same space as the artists, and having a shared experience with them and the audiences.

I met some cracking first nation Australian artists in Melbourne, who have never presented their own work in the UK before. Some have performed as part of other companies such as Bangarra but not their choreography nor their perspectives. So, I am really excited to invite them to be a part of our opening programme. The work really speaks of self, place and time and I’ll be keen to see how their work resonates with UK audiences.

I saw some fantastic Italian work at New Italian Dance Platform in Reggio-Emilia – some emerging artists and some who have been around for a while. One artist in particular really caught my attention with her comedic ability to send herself up – this piece is just asking to be seen in Brighton. There were two other pieces I saw that I think would sit well within our first year, so fingers crossed we can make this happen.

South East Dance is passionate about supporting more high-quality dance for under 5s so I was pleased to attend the International Performing Arts Youth Festival and conference in Philadelphia earlier this year. I took part in a round table conversation to talk about the challenges of commissioning and presenting Early Years dance performance in the UK. To be fair, there was not very much dance at the festival – for any age, let alone Early Years. Hopefully this time next year, our Little Big Dance programme will have gone some way to providing more opportunities for dance for very young children.

Our programming team continue to see work across the UK, and have discovered some fantastic women and non-binary artists working across disciplines, working at the messy edge of dance and its intersection with other disciplines. Of course, we continue to support those artists we already know and respect, including our ALIGN artists Janine Harrington and Flexer & Sandiland. I can’t wait to celebrate and support all these artists once we get into and open The Dance Space.

© Emily Edgar
International Perspectives on Dance