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Boyzie Cekwana

DanceWeb remains potentially one of the most important experiences in any one dancer’s career curve. It is a privilege that exclusively ensconces the participants in a cocoon of unparalleled access to some of the most current, forward thinking, artists/teachers, as well as an exclusive, open invitation to performances of some of the most edgy dance makers in the world today.

At the very outset, I would like to say that the mentoring part of this project is best served when shared by at least two people. In this respect, it is hard to imagine how I could have managed the process without the very capable accompaniment of my friend and colleague, Isabelle Schad. This journey needs two, at the very least, to stand shoulder to shoulder to share the intellectual, emotional and at times, the physical load of the responsibility. To share this with Isabelle, who is also an ex-Webber, made the crucial difference in what could have been a totally consuming and overwhelming experience.

Rationale

I would like to base part of my report on the spirit behind our approach as mentors to the project, not in academic, but in human terms. I suppose that, each DanceWeb mentor comes with a degree of insight, experience, inspiration, apprehensions and wish list for the project. One of the first and most pertinent questions for Isabelle and I was figuring out what to do to enhance the Webbers’ experience of DanceWeb. Meaning: what is the role of the mentor in this experience. In retrospect, it seems self-evident what this role is and what it aspires to achieve. However, it is possible that, even as we were going through the process of mentoring the project, we were discovering it for ourselves. This discovery was one fraught with a series of small joys, exciting surprises, crushing missteps, even more questions, doubts and ultimately, relief that we got through it with love and respect for each other. 

Ultimately, the ride was as much of a rollercoaster for us as it probably was for the Webbers themselves. Foremost was the acknowledgement that the experience is an intense and demanding one. Secondly, we had to take into consideration the intake of this year’s project and the challenge at hand. While we clearly couldn’t project into the weeks ahead what their real experience would be, we could at least envision and factor in, once the euphoria wore off, a scenario of fatigue, disillusionment, potential injuries etc.

With that in mind, we set ourselves a frame in which we could create or fashion an environment in which the Webbers could feel comfortable and supported. We wanted to create a space to remain as available as necessary and as reasonably as was possible. Having both been Webbers in the past, it was clear to us that one of the more crucial elements of the Webbers ability to remain focused and functional, was the availability of possibilities to unplug from the system from time to time. As well, the possibility to access the mentors in various moments of pertinent need, even though there are certainly areas that even the most accomplished and capable mentors could not be of much assistance, unless if they are professional psychotherapists or analysts.

The very beginning of the process was at the point of choosing the potential Webbers. This was the point to shape the simple idea of who the Webbers would be for 2011, and why. There was a fairly clear idea to focus on artists who would come with a degree of maturity and experience. Artists who were somehow, already engaged in the practice of either making, or being engaged in the crafting or thinking of dance. I had an intention to concentrate as well on artists who were not necessarily pure dancers, or dance makers. This, to open up a space for other streams of thought and practice so all the participants could engage and hopefully be influenced or informed by differences, if any. At the very least, the hope was that it could also create opportunities for each to consider and reconsider information already possessed or acquired.

I was also rather keen on focusing more on those artists who went not necessarily already Western European. I believed, rightly or wrongly, that Western European artists were more often than not, exposed to most of the teachers and coaches in the ImpulsTanz faculty and could possibly encounter them at one or other of the various projects on offer at various intervals in that part of the world. The guiding philosophy of my choices was that:

·      The artists had to be, largely, already engaged in either having made, or are familiar with the processes of creating their own work.

·      Geographically and/or culturally, the constitution should be of more artists outside the centrality of the Western European hub.

·      The artists should have enough experience and questions of their own trajectory not to need baby-sitting.

The notion was a fairly simple one, in fact. As an ex-Webber myself who had come from outside the Western European zone, it seemed clear to me that, while the circulation of “relevant”, current information on contemporary practice is of such great benefit to those within close proximity to educational institutions, official and otherwise, as well as access to some of the more pioneering minds in the field, this access would be of even greater benefit to those who are generally outside this zone. Therefore, it would make much more sense for me to utilize my moment as DanceWeb coach to open the door a bit wider. Equally, it seemed important to consider the potential of making more space for the more mature artist. The kind of artist who, under certain considerations, would be considered not young enough to benefit from a project of this nature.

My position, however, has always been that: it is precisely these artists who are at this stage of the game who need more of these kinds of opportunities. The thought is that, at a time when resources are getting scarcer and competition for these resources tighter, it is these individuals who need the most support as they are in various career processes, most of which are in varying stages of either development, flourish or fracture. Such processes could include the questioning and reconsideration of established notions, as well as re-articulating and interrogating their own positions, thoughts, or practices.

Also, artists in this range would mostly have had some experience making work and may have already come up against the monsters of the game; insecurity, doubt, success, burnout, etc. Such an opportunity could give them another chance to re-think, to breathe, not to have to make all the most important decisions in their careers. A chance perhaps, to even have some fun within a community of similar–minded, or similar placed spirits.

The emphasis on a compliment of an extraterritorial European compliment seems necessary and important to mention as I felt (and feel) quite strongly that the centripetal forces of contemporary dance practice and educational opportunities necessarily revolve in this pivot (read Western European) of the “market” and tend to wield far greater power than the weaker, or mostly, absent markets elsewhere. This power has its roots in a mostly, colonial lag. A kink in history and historic perspective that determines which trends, ideas and means of expression are of what value or relevance.  Without a necessity for copying, or replication, the interest was to inject or infuse the mix with a disparate group of individuals who could “hopefully” challenge and enrich each other’s perspectives from the points of view of each individual’s conditional reality.

 

DanceWeb


At the outset, Isabelle and I had decided to reintroduce a proposal, “carte de visite”, which had previously been used (and, apparently, discontinued) as a tool to get the participants to meet each other through individual, personal statements. Even though our idea seemed simple enough to begin with, this, I believe had some systematic failures, some of which had to do with the participants themselves and some to do with our approach as mentors. We had, perhaps, taken too much for granted in this regard that a simple proposition as a starting point would melt the ice and allow all to meet on a somewhat equal platform. However, in retrospect, it may have been too simplistic for the rather advanced minds in the group. However, even with its shortcomings, I still felt it was worth the attempt to propose it. As it were, as the very basis of our first encounter with the Webbers, which lasted three days, it served to reveal some of the personalities in the group. Which could be a crucial element in helping the mentors in particular, imagine how to deal with, or approach each individual’s needs or questions based on this little window. This does in no way suggest that it is enough as a tool to achieve this, if it is, indeed a desired end. During this time, Isabelle spent a great deal of time proposing common exercises based on somatic, body-mind centering to harmonize the group experience, which was very well received all round.

As the ImpulsTanz Workshop project is loaded with an immense amount of material to choose from, the Webbers also wanted to take as much as was possible in the amount of time they had. Perhaps this is one of the key points when the mentors, as well as the Frog are of great value. The dangers of overloading become clearly imminent and guidance is essential if the Webbers are to fully benefit from their choices. At times, the notion of taking as much as one can, especially in the context of loading too much in one day, could cancel out any real benefit to them. Similarly, the same could be said of the weekend intensives, as crucial as they can be. It could be taken into account that the participants could be encouraged to space out their choices as much as is possible without feeling like they are losing out. Indeed, part of the problem of (too much) choice has to do with the sense of loss and remorse for that which is not chosen. This dilemma was clearly evident and at times, led to participants switching back and forth on more occasions than was sometimes useful or beneficial. However, it remains good practice to keep the door open for them to change their minds about choices that don’t serve their highest need at the time. It would be tragic to close this option in order to force them to respect their first choices.

As much as possible, as mentors, we tried to cover as much of the chosen projects that the Webbers were in, without imposing ourselves too much on the coaches and teachers leading those projects. While it was not possible to see everyone in all their projects, it proved useful to us and even somewhat comforting for some of the Webbers to have us pass through to share a bit of their days in the environment that feeds them the most. It was equally important for us, the mentors, to remove ourselves from the center of the Webbers’ DanceWeb experience and work around what seemed and felt necessary and useful.

Salons

Over the course of the whole project, three salons were offered to the Webbers. These salons were, for me perhaps, the most challenging element of the whole project. The constitution of the salon content was, to a certain extent, guided primarily by our desire to mix the Webbers’ own curiosities, questions and our wish to give them space to breathe, to contemplate the process as it unfolds and share in the context of the group. As well to propose and open possibilities for discussions and tasks around issues affecting not only the act of artistic practice but addressing questions to the wider world that they (and we) are in.

I had personal interest in advocating discussion around the unfolding nature of new realities in the world to challenge the warm reassurance that dance practice can give dance makers to avoid difficult questions by avoiding engagement altogether. Principally was I curious to hear thoughts on the so-called “Arab Spring”, the Culture funding saga in the Netherlands, the economic meltdown in Western Europe (Greece, Spain and Ireland at the time), Western military interventions in Libya and elsewhere. I was curious to have a sense of what young Western Artists, especially, had to say of the things that were directly impacting on the future of their ability to continue to practice their craft. Sadly, I felt there really wasn’t that much space in the consciousness of most of the Webbers for this kind of question as they were more concerned with the more immediate questions of their practice and their own need for emergence.

Perhaps I could have been more insistent or even imposing in this regard, but that would have been directly and inimically oppositional to the spirit we wanted to forge in the process. However, I still felt a loss of opportunity to engage the world from a slightly more open and reconsidered perspective than the, at times, dangerously myopic and self-absorbed one of entitled, perpetual privilege. Indeed, one of my greater frustrations with the current intellectualized discourse in contemporary dance creation and practice has to do with this incredible myopia in treating the world as a purely Western phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that, in itself and, yet again, resides and conforms squarely to the very colonial attitude it sometimes pretends to reject.

With regard to the salons themselves, much emphasis was placed on the idea that the Webbers could or should decide or be part of the decisions on what each salon should contain.  One of our key failings, I suspect, was not seeing through the entirety of our initial vision for the project, which was to listen as much as possible to the needs of the group as they evolved in the process. Such needs need not necessarily be verbally expressed, but could also be guided by our own vigilance of the nature of the ebb and flow of their energy as the process evolved.

While there seemed a clear and useful need for the first salon to be truly about issues pertaining to the practice and its ancillary events, I remain unsure of the necessity of the second salon, in particular and, in the format that we had chosen. Upon reflection, both Isabelle and I felt that the second salon would be of much greater value if it were planned to give the Webbers a much-needed day off. We felt that a day off in the middle of the project would help the participants to re-energize and unplug from the system. As well, it could be really imagined that some of the salons, if necessary, could be done at a more friendly time of day, when they Webbers could possibly derive some true benefit. At night, after long days of workshops, it seems rather demanding on their resources to be attentive to more and new tasks or requirements to deal with when their brains and bodies are keyed to slow or shut down.

Opportunities

I think it could be possible to reimagine the scope of the DanceWeb project as both a pit stop for maturing as well as mature artists to consider and reconsider their trajectories and assess the currents prevailing in the sector without the necessity to endanger themselves by taking potentially career threatening decisions. It could also be possible to further imagine that the project could be lighter, certainly with regard to the participants’ down time, such as the scheduled salons, etc. At times, I felt that the weight of having to be clever all the time robs some of them of the simple joy and beauty of the choice they’ve already made to dance. There is already a lot that they are absorbing in the work they undertake within the various coaching and other projects for the duration of the project. From the point of view of the mentors, it seems important not to ignore the present condition(s) prevailing for the Webbers and respond appropriately.

Challenges

A greater challenge from my perspective has to do with something that has less to do with the DanceWeb project itself, but more to do with a sense of a pervasive cynicism and joylessness among some of the Webbers. Perhaps the pressure to operate at the cold, clinical realm of intellectualism, real or phony, robs them of a simple memory of their own humanness. It is a challenge perhaps to find ways within the project to keep reconnecting them to that simple basis that, they are, indeed, human and the scope of being human is vast and diverse. There are other elements that constitute intelligence other than the crushing need to prove the veracity of their own intellect. Human intelligence is a vast sea, as imagined by one Sir Ken Robinson, to be described by the consideration of the totality of the human being and his/her total and diverse capacities, not simply one aspect that resides somewhere above the neck. This is dangerously limiting and robs contemporary art of that one element that matters more than the work itself: humans make the work, for humans.

Conclusion

What gift then, for the next generation of Webbers? Above all else, they are human and it should not be a matter of fashion, or trend to remember this. To pledge solidarity with the world and all men and women should not merely be a memory activated at the doorstep of the loss of privilege. Our best work is not and should not only be about how clever we are in our output on stage or paper, or any other medium we choose, but it could reside in the courage to simply be human and see the world for what it is.

Finally, I would like to add my voice to the truly amazing work done by the DanceWeb team, headed by Rio, Hanna and Dennis. The amount of attention to every detail entailed in not only the arduous preparation, but the demands of not only the running festival component, as well as the ever challenging juggling of the participants various needs and changing desires, sometime at very short notice.  All of this handled with the most gracious and calmest spirit. Kudos to this team!

It was a rare privilege for me to be a part of this project and an even greater privilege to have shared it with Isabelle.

My respects.

Boyzie Cekwana

 

*****

 

Isabelle Schad

Report on DanceWeb11 by Isabelle Schad

After having been a DanceWebber in 1996 - together with Boyzie Czekwana, I followed this year's inviation to co-mentor - 15 years later again: together with Boyzie Czekwana 65 young dance artists coming from all kind of different countries, backgrounds, social realities and experiences.

Some of our initial outlines were to provide an environment of trust, confidence and understanding, as much as a space for sharing experiences and work, for reflection, critical discourse, and learning processes: a space for dialogue and meetings, crossing borders and cultures. A space for human relationships based on empathy.

When I have been asked to join Boyzie Czekwana as a co-mentor, this year's scholarship holders have been already selected by Rio Rutzinger and Boyzie. Some of the criteria were diversity in background and their own motivation letters. I have been happy with the choice of people. The level of curiosity, articulated reflection, focus and passion has been rather high.

Boyzie and I decided to do the mentoring together. It has been quickly clear, that this was a good choice; as there are so many different responsabilities to be taken care of:
between, simply being available and present, facilitating frames and spaces that respond to the various desires of very different individualities within a large group, organizing the 3 Salons, an Artist / Curator / Webber talk, offering personal meetings or guiding through body practice sessions or writing tasks.

The long-year experiences of the DanceWeb team have been of great help, the biggest thanx to Rio, Hanna and Dennis for their support and for sharing their experiences from previous years, which is an essential condition for the mentors, in order to learn from what has been found out already. As a consequence it allows for starting from somewhere instead of anew - from scratch.
It has been also helpful to read the reports of the previous mentors, as it seems that similar topics or problems come up every year, and therefore our experiences allow for to build a collective knowledge: a potential for an enrichment of the overall DanceWeb project - caring for continuity within work being done.
Furthermore, a big thanx to the whole team of the ImPulsTanz Festival. The organization and care for every single detail has been just amazing.

For the first 3 days, we decided to start the process of getting to know each other through a physical approach, introducing a specific work on and from the body, leading through practice sessions based on Body-Mind Centering and Embryology, which would allow for experiences that offer a common ground for exchange as much as an actual meeting from the body.
Our focus has been to establish an understanding of our creative processes as a unit of body and consciousness: body and conceptual thought being one entity rather than 2 separate ones (which is unfortunately still often the case in western cultures). We suggested learning process as an inside learning rather than an outside one.
The proposed body practice embraces a particular way of creating a community, of organizing bodies in space as much as people within social networks, thus engaging into social-political dimensions underlying the playful, sensual, conceptual, reflective ones. Community is sort of created by the way - implied in the practice, without putting a stress factor on it: like a by-product, but not as coincidence.

Furthermore, those body practice sessions have been of great energetic flow that made people not only happy, but also helped them to gain confidence in each other and in the making of work through a practice orientated approach.
Our common experiences have been followed by verbal exchanges in small groups of max. 6 people, so that everyone got to talk.

After this part of getting to know each other we have asked everyone to do a small self-presentation of 3 min. (we had a time keeper in order to avoid expansion of those presentations in 'large solos' which was not our intention). The presentations were meant to give everyone an opportunity to introduce her/himself in a personal way. How this could be solved was kept completely open and up to every body. We encouraged everyone to be easy and relaxed about this task and to really take it as an opportunity to get to know each other in another way than just telling one's (hi)stories.
The variety of people's choices has been very high, from propositions for collective tasks till expressing oneself in dance or singing...

The process of going through 65 short presentations has been extremely demanding, in what concerns attention, patience and concentration. Some of the presentations are still inscribed in my memory and will stay there as a strong image that i got from a person.
The disadvantage that the procedure takes a lot of time till getting all the way through, (and some individuals were not so comfortable in introducing themselves in front of everybody else), has been compensated by a valuable opportunity displacing more dominant ways of positioning oneself within a group, where the emphasis goes usually towards every individual's social capacities or ego.
If I would have to do this again, I would probably frame the task more, in order to avoid the rise of insecurities through the openness of the task.

Once the festival has started, first performances have been seen and we initiated an open discussion on the perceptions and receptions of one show, as a way to get familiar with each other's reflective, critical and analytical discourses.
This discussion could have lasted forever, as manyfold topics came up right away:
- question of contemporaneity
- questions on mechanisms of production / relation to type of representation
- the idea of (re)presentation being (higher or lesser degree) political (and in which sense)
- liking / not liking in relation to aesthetics in performing arts
- vulnerability and nakedness on stage
We narrowed  down the discussion to 1h, but I got the impression, that it nourished all kind of further discourses around the shows in a rather fruitful way and allowed for reflective thought and exchange to continue during the whole period.

Once the workshops have started, we offered personal meetings that they could set-up with Boyzie and/or myself, flexible in time and location and based upon appointments made by e-mail.
I ended up meeting roughly 30 people, each of them coming up with very different issues, from sharing their work till very personal questions they were busy with.
In the flow of the events and every day's social life, it seemed to be a nice place for focus and human relationship that has been very much appreciated by either side.

Quite late within the overall period, towards the end of the third week, I felt such an exhaustion and tiredness deriving from many factors (by then people were seeing more than 30 shows, have attended many different workshops, were exposed to constant social demands: all in all an overwhelming amount of information to be dealt with), which made some of them collapse in one way or another (getting sick, injured, arisal of frustrations or confusions).
I began to offer individual Body-Mind Centering / Body Work sessions. People signed up like crazy (more than 20 people in 3 days) and it seemed that it made them feel themselves again, allowing for to continue in a softer way.

The 3 Salons were organized in 3 very different ways, yet with an intention to have a red threat going through the 3 of them: The first one has been a combination of reflective brainstorming and an international food evening, an idea that has been borrowed by other DanceWeb Salons e.g. mentored by David Zambrano. Everyone has been invited to bring, prepare or make some food from their respective countries and we would have a cosy and social eat-taste-drink-talk-togetherness at a first place. Lateron we introduced an idea of writing down key topics / notions and key questions that they were interested in discussing or reflecting upon within the overall period. Topics and questions were to be written down on papers with 2 different colors.
We ended up discussing in small groups on the roof terrasse of Boyzie's apartment till late in the night - with the view over Vienna.
For the second Salon, we asked everyone to bring back their papers, notions and questions in order to create a sort of map with them, figuring out the landscape by linking related topics and/or questions. During that time everyone would be able to walk around and read the created map. One of the DanceWebbers introduced into a concept called Open Conference, a method that enables discussion in smaller groups, stressing the individual desires within the larger one on some of the topics or questions.
For the third Salon we followed the desire of the Webbers to have time, in which they were able to show their respective works to each other. By that time, it felt necessary to respond to the general saturation and tiredness of the group, and we kept this Salon in the Studenthouse, where everybody was at home already.
This allowed for a variety of presentations in more intimate settings, and many of them decided to show their work in their rooms, inviting only a few people at the time.
The general direction from the first days to the last Salon went from guiding through towards self-organization and self-education where different people from within the group took on specific responsabilities or organizational tasks.

Towards the end of the third week, we organized a Curator - Artist - DanceWebber - talk. The topic has been Perspectives on mechanisms of production and their effect(s) on presentation.
Noticing that for some of the Webbers the most important question has been how to make it into the market of contemporary dance festivals, it has been nevertheless a very interesting discoursive discussion beyond the ambitions of some young dance makers, around the different (im)possibilities and (market) conditions every body has to deal with in regards to one's respective countries.

During the last 3 days, one full day has been dedicated to continue the sharing of their own works in short presentations - by video or live - up to 20min. which became a marathon of showings and has been very productive/informative for what concerns eventual future collaborations or desires for meetings : with whom, what, how.
The second day, we proposed to bike towards the river and to Prater, to engage into indivdual reflection in silence and draw or write it down as some sort of timeline-curves. Workshops, Performances and personal feeling states would get each one curve of its own drawing the time of the 5 weeks with its peaks and downs.
The self-reflections would then be shared within smaller groups of max.6 people each, and should be brought in relation with potential dreams, utopian ideas, collaborative projects that could emerge and how...
The last day has been mostly about saying good bye, and planning or looking out into the future. An idea and project called The Haunted House has been brought up by one of the Webbers. The proposed project and stucture would serve different collaborations in different cities and places as a frame welcoming various ideas and networking proposals.

The overall DanceWeb within ImPulsTanz is an extraordinary event and meeting place, and it is for sure unique in what this gift means to people who are lucky enough to go through this experience. In times of financial crises, where more and more of the smaller structures or alternative places get less and less money or even need to close, it is of even bigger relevance that one of the most important European dance festivals is engaging into projects like DanceWeb, giving chances to many people and value to all kind of different ways of creating, thinking, reflecting, doing, making dance and relating to the world. Our different realities, backgrounds and perspectives can help opening up horizons and understanding the complexity of being part of this world where there is enough place for all of us.

I m very thankful to have had this experience, and to have been able to share it with Boyzie !
I m very thankful to have met lots of wonderful people working in the field of dance.
Thank you !!

Sincereful,

Isabelle Schad




Please find below a few personal thoughts, comments, suggestions, questions...

One of the recurrent questions - that are reappearing each year during DanceWeb - is the question of the days off and how to schedule them.
Within 7 days, it is most recommended and healthy to have one day off.
Some of the DanceWebbers haven't taken a day off within the whole period, or only one, which is far too little and it explains very much the exhaustions and injuries they get warned of from the beginning, but it seemed that a few people realize only when it is already too late.

This year, on the days off there has been a Dance-Ability Day, or a Salon (obligatory presence).
2 of the week-ends propose Week-End Intensives, which are great, as they have a very different intentisity than the other workshops that last for one week or longer, but therefore this means as well that most of the Webbers don't take a week-end off when they would need it.

I m not able to come up with a solution or proposition how to do it else, but it is surely necessary to carry on thinking what to do about it.
I would probably sacrifice one Salon, in order to have a real day off, where people are not obliged to attend again something that requires high social capacities, even if a Salon is organized as a leisure event.

I feel that saturation is reducing the capacities of taking in new information, and therefore the new things you learn are rather counterproductive to what has just begun from before...

Even though everyone agreed with the less is more rule, that they have been hearing from various people (Rio, Boyzie and myself, Kata - our frog - or anyone who had done ImPulsTanz before), the offer to take whatever workshop one wants and see whichever show one wants is so seductive that it seems hard to say no to things.

The fact that people are swapping workshops if they are not happy or not completely convinced has different sides to it:
- it is important that they swap if they feel the workshop is not what they expected or what they would need
- but it can be as well a trap, if swapping becomes overused and from the second choice they go to the third and so on.
This can become very tiring as one needs to enter the new environment and teaching method every time anew.
In the most extreme case, the swapping-procedure evokes some sort of supermarket idea in workshop-hopping which is rather unhealthly for what concerns personal, social and ethical principles.

I feel it is rather important that people find out about their own limits themselves, yet there could be some re-thinking around structures that enable more possibilities for recuperation and digestion time.
A quiet space in which resting, sleeping, reading or quiet body work could be done would be very helpful and I guess it would be quite frequented by people.
Instead of waiting outside, at the pool or in the tent of Arsenal for the next workshop, where you are again exposed to social environments, it could be very helpful to have a moment in a room that is quiet and peaceful. It would be nice that this space is offering blankets and a cosy environment, really inviting for rest.
 

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