On the go: Australians performing internationally

Keith Gallasch

Melissa Madden-Gray, Moon Spirit Feasting

Melissa Madden-Gray, Moon Spirit Feasting

In this feature report, the first of several on the marketing and touring of Australian artists to the world, we focus on 2 recent programs, artsaustralia berlin 2002 and the Biennale nationale de danse du Val-de-Marne, Paris. There are interviews with Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann, Artistic Director of the Zurich Festival and one of the instigators of artsaustralia berlin 2002, Karilyn Brown, Executive Director of the Australia Council’s Audience and Market Development Division as well as Gravity Feed and Tess de Quincey who both appeared in Val-de-Marne. Fiona Winning, Artistic Director of Performance Space talks about initiatives for touring and exchange in the hybrid performance scene. John Davis, General Manager of the Australian Music Centre (p12), details how the AMC works nationally and internationally with examples of recent developments including innovative exchange programs through the International Association of Music Information Centres (IAMIC).

We also take a look from the other side of the picture. Laura Ginters from Sydney University’s Centre for Performance Studies gives a vivid account of recent theatre productions in Berlin and Vienna. German broadcaster Anke Schaefer takes a comparative look at the Melbourne theatre scene. Erin Brannigan reports on the Monaco Dance Forum. We also preview the forthcoming Magdalena Festival of women’s performance in Brisbane.

[Liza Lim in Moon Spirit Feasting] has achieved an overwhelmingly powerful and contemporary invocation of an old Chinese myth that neither sinks into rigid avant garde nor pop, but plays instead with both—one of the few examples of a successful hybridisation.
Bernd Feuchtner, Opernwelt, Aug 2002

 

Did you know…?

Acrobat were in Singapore, London and Genoa in October and November last year; the Sydney Theatre Company production of Kevin Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers played for 2 weeks at the culture shock! Commonwealth Games Cutural Festival in Manchester and did a 6 week tour of the UK in late 2002. Melbourne’s Kage Physical Theatre is off to Japan, where the Elision ensemble’s Liza Lim opera, Moon Spirit Feasting played mid last year before heading off to Berlin and Zurich. Melbourne’s Museum of Modern Oddities (Neil Thomas & Katy Bowman) have been in Zurich and this year goes to London, Oerol (off Holland), Ghent and again to the Zurich Festival. Dancer-choreographer Lucy Guerin’s producer, Cultural Pursuits, has just confirmed a 6-city US tour plus Ottawa, Canada. The list goes on and on.

 

A success story?

It all reads like a success story, but it’s more the case that it could be the beginning of one. To date it’s the result of hard work in preparing the way by numerous artists and companies, a very small group of industrious producers (including Wendy Blacklock, Justin Macdonell, Henry Boston, Marguerite Pepper, Barry Plews), and some very determined government agencies like the Australia Council’s Audience & Market Development Division and its Victorian State Government counterpart. As well there are individuals (presenters, producers, embassy staff) in Europe, Asia and North America who have taken to Australian work with a passion and whose labours on our behalf are as important as our own.

However, at every level there’s talk of under-resourcing and the challenges of distance (invariably the enormous costs of travel and freight), of difficult markets, of building networks, getting promotional strategies right and the need to form long term partnerships. High on the list of goals is continuity, getting past the one-off mentality that puts a show briefly on the map without charting the next stages of its journey.

Yet, despite the considerable odds, the drive to tour Australian arts to the world seems inexorable. For performers, there are new audiences and income, and the inspirations of exchange, for governments there are the benefits of cultural representation that also support trade and political alliances.

[Moon Spirit Feasting] is by turns mysterious, funny, aggressive, mystical, rude, expressive, obscene, in short uncompromising. Especially the mezzo soprano Melissa Madden-Gray…and baritone Orren Tanabe…let loose an explosive performance energy. Both their physical and vocal performances are acrobatic and virtuosic…The Elision ensemble presented the work outstandingly.
Tages-Anzeiger, Aug 24, 2002

 

Berlin: a new direction?

It’s 7 years since the Australia Council set up its dynamic and influential Audience and Market Development Division. Its Executive Director, Karilyn Brown, describes how AMD is currently reviewing its strategies, suggesting that the international marketing of Australian work needs to now enter a new phase.

One sign of a significant change in direction, and one which Brown discusses, is artsaustralia berlin 2002, a program that became part of the calendar of everyday Berlin arts activity for 6 months as opposed to the one-off events, festival participation and performing arts markets that have come to typify Australia’s venturing into the world at large.

The 6 month program included the Nigel Jamieson-Paul Grabowsky The Theft of Sita, William Yang’s Blood Links, the Sandy Evans Trio and The World According to James (trombonist James Greening’s band), Robyn Archer, Elision ensemble’s Moon Spirit Feasting, choreographer Phillip Adams and a selection of Australian films (through the Australian Film Commission). Also in Berlin as part of the program were dancer-choreographer Rosalind Crisp, performance poet Amanda Stewart, and authors Peter Carey, John Tranter, Sonya Hartnett, Phillip Gwynne and David Malouf. With the collaboration of numerous German partners, artsaustralia berlin 2002 was an arts export strategy of the Australia Council in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade through the Australian International Cultural Council (Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, Federal and State Arts Minsters and government arts agencies).

Why the push into Germany? It’s 9th among Australia’s major trading partners and is cited as the second largest market in the world for Australian Indigenous art. It’s also responsive, according to Maria Magdelena Schwaegermann, to Australian artistic innovations in cross-cultural and multimedia collaborations.

[The Theft of Sita] is a cultural critique proferred by the West in the theatrical forms of the Far East…Nigel Jamieson has the requisite chutzpah to reinterpret the morality play…as a political, comic and environmental thriller…a metaphysical bed of nails from which fakir Jamieson conjures up a sensual sensation.
Daniele Muscionoco, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Aug 28, 2002

 

Karilyn Brown

Karilyn Brown

Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann

For over a decade Schwaegermann, as Deputy Director of Berlin’s Hebbel-Theater, has been responsible for significant commissions and collaborations involving Robert Wilson and other leading international artists. Schwaegermann has visited Australia numerous times, attracted to the country’s distinctive cross-cultural, multimedia and collaborative performance works. She has played a key role in the touring of Australian works to Europe, the setting up of artsaustralia berlin 2002, and now presenting Australian work at the Zurich Festival of which she is the Artistic Director (2002-2004). RealTime phoned her in Zurich.

How did artsaustralia berlin 2002 go from your perspective?

I think altogether it was a very good beginning. If you follow the arts scene and the audience and the focus in the city, Australia “arrived.” It’s not easy to have a season over 6 months and to keep an interest in it. Altogether, Berlin is very curious about Australia. The productions were received very, very well and the immediate reaction was that the next literature festival in Berlin will have a big Australian focus. A lot of different institutions now are very keen to get Australian work.

How were the reviews?

There was a fantastic review of Moon Spirit Feasting in Opernwelt [the leading German opera magazine] by Bernd Feuchtner. It is really a top critique which understands the contemporary nature of this production, the hybrid form as a quality—a contemporary composition in combination with something that comes out of a street ritual and the meeting of different cultures.

What about the public response?

Very positive. The ELISION ensemble with their installation Sonorous Bodies with artist Judith Wright and [koto player] Satsuki Odamura (in 2001) had already been very well received. Their Moon Spirit Feasting was also very well received [in 2002]. The Theft of Sita was the success. They also loved Robyn Archer’s concert and William Yang.

What about the Australian work at your own Zurich Festival?

The best critiques! Moon Spirit Feasting was the big, big surprise: 3 nights, 700 people. And maybe every night 10 to 15 people left, which is nothing. The critics were more traditional. They had a bit more of a problem with the hybrid form. But the reaction from the audience was very good. Very controversial. Lots of discussion. The Theft of Sita had standing ovations. William Yang was packed full with 300 people every night. And the biggest success was Neil Thomas and Katy Bowman’s Museum of Modern Oddities.

Neil built up a little village with 4 houses. There’s a special thing here in Europe. These little parcels of land that you get, when you don’t have that much money, along the railway. And you have a little hut on it and you can plant your own vegetables and these little houses are a kind of symbol for the little people, having a garden and creating a little paradise. Neil set up a village and implanted the museum into these houses with 2 local artists. The Swiss are not really famous for being communicators. They are careful and they like to wait. But it was interesting that immediately they opened a dialogue with the artists. It was the place for a dialogue.

What sort of things did MOMO install?

They got the material mainly from secondhand shops and this one chain of shops which has a social background. You bring something for nothing and they sell it and the income goes into a social bank. They found a lot of very typical Swiss materials and created installations, objects and stories that somehow connected to Australia and Switzerland. Like the story of a little boy in 1908 who dreamed of going to Australia. He understood it was underneath him and so he started to dig under his bed for 42 metres into the ground with a little spoon.

You’ll be inviting other Australian groups in 2003?

We are in negotiation first of all with Stalker with their new piece, Incognita, and Back to Back Theatre with Soft (RT52 p33). Soft is terrific. Now I’m really needing to get other people into the tour and it looks as if Berlin is interested, London is interested, Hamburg. Next is Acrobat with a new piece for the stage we have on the lake. That will be something very special. And then Neil Thomas and Katy Bowman will come back to create something new, a co-creation with Melbourne Festival. We are commissioning them to create a concept for a kind of club chill-out space…people are welcome to come in and there will be different kinds of landscapes, different climates created where you can choose whether you want to eat or play or just sit and talk. And it will maybe be the key space where the [festival] dialogues will be held. Not bad, eh?

After all your years at The Hebbel-Theater in Berlin, which you’re still associated with, are you happy in Zurich?

This is a dream. People are much more open-minded here and careful, whereas Berlin is such a hard market. Here they love the festival and everything sold out. We had 100,000 people within 2 and a half weeks and 32,000 tickets sold. Imagine. Every night sold out. And that’s wonderful and it’s very constructive. I have a 3 year contract and maybe we’ll extend it another 2 or 3 years. But you know, my focus is in Australia.

What I’ve also started to introduce is an interesting process I’ve been working on. I invited a German director, Uwe Mengel [who created Lifeline at the Melbourne Festival, RT 52 p4], to join the jury for an award we give here in the festival. He saw every performance. I wanted him to be introduced to the Zurich Festival to create a piece for this year. And he saw Moon Spirit Feasting with Melissa Madden-Gray and he chose to create a piece for her. This is what I like to do, to put people together.

 

Museum of Modern Oddities, Zurich Festival

Museum of Modern Oddities, Zurich Festival

Museum of Modern Oddities

MOMO are on a roll and with work that is not based on box office. Their Zurich Festival show (described above) is followed by not only a return visit with a new commission but also a show for LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre, now a year round program instead of a festival) at the Natural History Museum in London with Neil Thomas’ son, Miles, as a child curator, and appearances at festivals on Oerol (off Holland) and Ghent (in an old birdseed shop). Thomas’ other project, Urban Dream Capsule, with its collaborators living in shop windows, continues to attract international interest, says his producer, Perth-based Henry Boston. On Sunday February 16, ABC TV will premiere a film of the same artists in the 30 minute Heavenly Laundry—a bus ride with angels.

The success with which the ritual power of this ancient art is so effortlessly combined with the language and technology of today is miraculous…[In The Theft of Sita] Grabowksy’s music, with its natural fusion of jazz and gamelan forms is magnificent…a swinging groove with gestures for attention, bawdy commentary, impassioned citation and soundtrack-style illustration.
Der Tagesspiegel, Sept 7, 2002

 

Biennale Nationale de danse du Val-de-Marne

Tess de Quincey
De Quincey, a unique performer whose style and preoccupations have emanated from her training in Body Weather with Min Tanaka in Japan in the 80s, combines solo projects, a part time company (DeQuincey Co) and international projects (her Triple Alice series of responses to Central Australia). She has just returned from performing her solo work, Nerve 9 at the Biennale de danse du Val-de-Marne Novembre Australien program. Director Michel Caserta selected De Quincey, Rosalind Crisp, Gravity Feed (all from Sydney, though Crisp is currently based in Europe) and Melbourne’s Chunky Move for his 2003 program. The Franco-Australian International Contemporary Dance Exchange 2002-2003 is a reciprocal touring program of contemporary dance involving the partnership of the Biennale, the Australia Council and the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. The exchange was initated by Caserta after his visits to Australia supported by the DFAT Cultural Awards Scheme.

How was the experience?

It was weird, Nerve 9 was not funded by the Dance Board and my company is now not supported by the Australia Council and there it was being promoted. It was picked up by Michel Caserta…I must say I was very happy with the experience. I was performing last (of the 4 Australian showings) and there was very clearly a sense that a feel had been created by the other 3, that people were coming on the basis of thinking, ‘this is fascinating because we’re seeing Australia from another angle….and each work is very different from the other, but there’s something that binds you together and it’s work that could never have been done in Europe, and it’s very fresh. I had the impression that Michel had put together a really interesting balance of work that worked well for Paris.

Did you talk to your audience?

Absolutely. Particularly women came up after the show, even given the dense amount of English in the piece [Francesca da Rimini’s projected text, Amanda Stewart’s vocal score]. I asked them directly if this was problematic, they shrugged their shoulders and said, “Not at all. What I didn’t understand came through in the poetry of the delivery and the relationship between the tonality and the visual images made it comprehensible.” For me it was important to take the work to Paris because of its connection to Kristeva…but the French were just not interested. People don’t have a lot of worries about what they’re seeing, they respond directly to what they’re experiencing. It was such a relief to get such a sophisticated level of response. And the feeling that the program presented something totally different from the expectations of what exotic Australia is. I kept hearing that.

Paris felt a lot different—it was 6-7 years since I’d last been there—more pressured, harder, faster and at the same time I felt a little shift in where dance was lying, a much wider embrace than I’d experienced previously. I would have liked a formalised forum after the dances…there were unanswered questions.

Is it easier nowadays to get your work picked up?

It’s just harder…I am my own agent with some help from Performance Space. And not so many producers are travelling—10 years ago they’d hop on a train or plane. Now they don’t have the money to do it. We invited a lot to Paris, very few came.

What do you think is needed?

Exchange, to my mind, is based to some degree on continuity…it’s got to keep rolling. We needed that extra person, like Gabriel Essar, to work on an engagement with process, an awareness of the body of work behind a show, not just the moment. Essar worked on the Olympics. He’s a business person who loves sport and dance and functions as a kind of informal agent for Ros [Crisp] and I since he went back to Paris…We got onto the subject of Central Australia—he’d been to Triple Alice—and as a result we might be able to get Digital Country up. It’s a cook-down of the 3 years laboratory work on Triple Alice, a 72 hour performance in a river bed, straddling the different aspects of the labs. This linked into the issue of what is going on in Australia and how this work is different.

How do the strands of your work connect with respect to marketing yourself?

I’d love De Quincey Co to tour. I’ve put together a repertoire with the company’s Cold Feet from 2000, a family friendly work, a public space work, making myself as accessible as possible [laughs]. And then a late night nightclub work dealing with deviancy, perversion, danger, eroticism. And Digital Country working out from the centre of Australia. I’m hoping that the first 2 are commercial enough so that we can live.

Athletic responses, an instinct for play, and eyes in the back of one’s head! These would be useful tools to benefit from Host, a spectacular trap, intelligent and malicious, laid by the Australian company Gravity Feed…[They] easily manage, successfully and without any concession, to weave a bond, artistic and human, between themselves and the public. This very beautiful stroke one owes to the tenacity of Michel Caserta, director of la Biennale de danse du Val-de-Marne for the past 20 years, who dreamt of making a discovery of Australian dance.
Tosita Boisseau, Le Monde, Nov 24-25

Gravity Feed

Jeff Stein, like all his Gravity Feed collaborators is an ensemble member and has his own practice. The company has wanted to tour for a long time. He recalls: “In 1999 towards the end of the season of Tabernacle, we actually dug in our heels in and said, look we’re not going to make a new work until we finally tour. What’s the point in doing one-off seasons in Sydney again and again? Before this trip, it looked like well, that’s it, it’s never going to happen because of the challenges of touring a company like Gravity Feed. Thanks have to go to Michel Caserta because he virtually just went okay, we’re gonna do this. I’m not saying it wasn’t difficult. And thanks also to Marguerite Pepper for pushing it through too. She facilitates a lot of things.”

Stein describes the pleasure of getting to do Host again, with the huge cardboard structures the performers move—transforming the space and the movement of the audience—having to be re-designed in Paris and adapted to 2 unfamiliar spaces. “It was really a re-working of the show because they were different designs. It was actually very positive. We rehearsed in Sydney and we virtually got to Paris and then had to adapt.” Horst Keichle created the original sculptures and re-designed them for Paris, but couldn’t go at the last minute. Fortunately the day was saved by the arrival of William Woo from Visy in Australia.

The first venue for Host was Salles Jacques Brel in Fontenay-sous-Bois and the next the Théâtre Jean Vilar in Vitry-sur-Seine, virtually outer suburbs of Paris. Stein says “they’re both communist areas where big theatres have been built. They’re not considered part of Paris. Fontenay has a lot of housing estates. It was a nice community. There were things like free internet. The first place we went into was the bistro in the local town hall. Everyone came in from work at lunchtime to eat and we were invited. The chef not only cooked but he served and greeted everyone. He came to see the show and he cooked kangaroo for us. And I’ve never eaten kangaroo in my life. I go to France to eat kangaroo. He was so pleased and thanked us for the show. And people came from the community to see the show, not just from outside. It was a community event. The second venue was in Vitry, probably the worst area in the whole of greater Paris. It’s very poor and it’s an area with a lot of problems. Before we went there, we had no idea…you don’t really notice it. The show sold out in the end. And the last 2 nights in Fontenay sold out. We did 5 nights in both towns. It was great to run something in and move to a second venue. The second venue was even better. It was a bigger area where you could step back a little bit and gain some perspective. At first we thought it might be a problem, ‘cause you know, you don’t wanna let ‘em escape! But in the end it’s good for the audience to have a respite and make the decision to be drawn back in rather than always being in, in, in.”

Audience response was very positive, says Stein, and the post-show Q & A sessions were good, helped by having several French speakers in the company. Stein says he got into trouble for describing the French audience as more compliant than Australians when it came to negotiating space, reasoning that the more crowded nature of the Metro, for example, might make them so. “It came back to haunt us.” Most of the audience stayed for the discussion, “which you don’t normally find in Australia after a show. They stayed and they were genuinely interested.

“The great thing in Fontenay was that the general community came whereas in Australia we have, for want of a better word, a narrower audience. From this community we got all age groups, people who’d never seen this kind of work before. It was great that they really enjoyed what we do, eclectic as it is. I have a feeling that a general audience here in Australia given the opportunity would enjoy this work too. I understand why this narrowing happens but I don’t think it’s necessary. Our number 1 fan was Michel Caserta. We did 10 shows and I think he came to 7 of them…he was genuinely excited to be part of the show.”

Did any other producers or entrepreneurs come to see the show? It was difficult. We invited lots of people and previously through arts markets we’d tried to make connections and hoped that once we got there, people would come. But it’s like doing a show in Sydney. You invite people from other parts of Australia and they don’t necessarily turn up. The hope though is that once you’ve proven yourself, they see that you are actually viable.

And you got a review in Le Monde?

Yeh, finally we made it to the world!

[William Yang’s] Blood Links is geography transcended; it is background historiography and a lesson in philosophy, its relevance extending well beyond the personal sphere: it examines the significance of tradition and assimilation, of identity and ancestry in a world in which individuals value the unbounded ‘pursuit of happiness’ above all else and release themselves from their blood links as a result.
Daniela Muscionico, Neue Zürcher Zietung, Sept 2, 2002

 

Karilyn Brown

Karilyn Brown

Karilyn Brown

The Australia Council is over 30 years old, but the Audience and Market Development (AMD) Division is just in its 7th year. Karilyn Brown says, “When it started it was very much fast turnaround, people like Philip Rolfe and Ron Layne did a huge amount of work, but also created important long term strategies that we work from. But I think we’re at a really interesting point now…it’s time for us as a team to evaluate where we’re going. There are a couple of reasons why that’s important. The first is that AMD is not a grant funding agency. Our role is to broker and initiate and to add value and develop longer term strategies. Secondly, how do we ensure we’re at the crest of the wave? This requires the flexibility to carve out some new territory, see what works and what doesn’t…how can it be picked up in different ways by different organisations and agencies, these are the new directions we should be heading in.”

You’re in collaboration with the Theatre Board on the Playing the World program and with the Music board on International Pathways. How does this work?

It offers fast turnaround. Once ensembles, theatre groups, companies are invited—they need to be invited overseas by a festival or performing arts centre—they then can apply and between AMD and the Boards, we look at a number of key things. Is this the right work at the right time with the right company in the right region and venue? Does the company have the capacity and capability to deliver the work and to be able to follow up interest generated by the tour? We’ll look at the business and marketing strategies. More often than not we’ll be familiar with who’s inviting the companies and where they’re going, but if not we’ll seek more detail to see how it’ll work. And we’ll look at the pragmatic side. How much is it costing? Is the inviting organisation paying fees and ground transport, because the killer continues to be freight and travel. So our focus will be getting the product there. Once the work is there we’re increasingly demanding of international presenting partners to cover fees, accommodation and on the ground costs. This issue is not going to go away, but increasingly we see companies being invited overseas and the call isn’t on government funding.

What’s the value of artsaustralia berlin?

Berlin for us is a very interesting model and one of the things we’re doing as part of our re-evaluation is trying to test different models of developing longer term outcomes for international market development. We are increasingly not inclined to go with the big bang, one-off event. We recognise that they have had a role, like the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) project in New York in 2001, but they have greater impact if they’re actually based on a whole matrix of relationships and projects, exchanges and dialogues that develop over a period of time. And then you can have a peak that brings with it quite a profile…but then it has to continue. What are you doing to consolidate the connections and the networks and the opportunities for the companies?

I suppose one of the key things is recognising the role that a government agency like the Australia Council has, because we don’t have the equivalent of a British Council or a Goethe Institut or an Alliance Français. We don’t have that kind of well-resourced cultural infrastructure that’s located out there internationally. Almost everything we do internationally has to be done in partnership with other organisations, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), with presenting partners overseas, state government agencies and business partners because our resources can’t facilitate the outcomes that we need.

Therefore we have to look at the most appropriate models. The Berlin model was one, I have to say, that government partners struggled with a bit because it is long term, it’s about developing relationships with particular individuals and organisations, it taps into venues, but it’s not the high impact ‘Australia’s in town for a week’ model. And it doesn’t have the high profile opportunities consistently for the higher VIP delegations.

What about the recent Shanghai Festival focus on Australia?

It was probably very similar to past models. It involved trade, education, it involved tourism, whereas BAM and Berlin were purely cultural activities. We are working with DFAT and the Australian International Cultural Council so that we can each have critical international roles, different objectives and strategies, but also ways to find the threads that link us…We want to be able to say to Austrade, we have a big program coming up in Japan, or wherever, in 2 years time, how can we work together to contribute to the long term outcomes—to force the boundaries a little as well, so that they start to see the value of longer term cultural engagement.

How important are international arts festivals?

You can’t keep tapping into festivals around the world all the time. I’ve noticed that people say of a work, “It’s a classic festival show” and that’s when you start to think you don’t want Australian work always being positioned in festivals overseas with that kind of expectation. So we’re not coming up with little festival packages here and thinking where will we send them but rather we’re constantly developing the depth of knowledge and understanding of Australian art. There’s a huge spectrum of curiosity and interest and commitment to Australian art overseas, but the depth is not there for a lot of artforms and in a lot of regions. We bring people here, encouraging them to commission, to present work.

We have an increasing number of overseas people who are becoming very strong advocates for Australia. Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann moves from the Hebbel-Theater [Berlin] to the Zurich Festival. She programmed to high success an Australian program in 2002 and is looking to program more work for 2003. These people, when they move, take Australia with them. We want to have more of this, shifting away from the days when people would say “but we’ve brought this person out to Australia once already.”

Given the lack of an infrastucture like, say, the British Council, are there Australians overseas playing a role?

We have Market Development officers. Catherine Hunyor was in the pilot role in Tokyo for 12 months and fortunately she was so fantastic she was then offered a permanent postion with the Embassy and continues to play a very active cultural role. The Tokyo embassy is one of the most culturally active Australian embassies in the world. Because of the work that was starting to develop around Europe, post-Oympics, particularly in Germany and in Berlin…we appointed Margaret Hamilton to that position in Berlin. We’ve just extended her term to its third year, based at the Embassy, because of artsaustralia berlin 2002 and 2003, but also because her role is Germany-wide and she has performed an extraordinary job and we have received nothing but amazing praise from people who deal with her in Germany and in France.

In an ideal world, one of the long term strategies I would like to start working on is creating more of those positions and longer term. It’s not about compensating for DFAT’s complete cut back on its cultural relations branch—what 5 years ago was 40 people is now 4. They were public affairs positions, but the Market Development Officer role is not public affairs, it’s about brokering and positioning opportunities for Australian art. It could be done with partners like Austrade and Asialink.

How important are Australian producers?

In the performing arts they are absolutely critical. I don’t think in Australia we recognise the role that these people play, still existing on the smell of an oily rag. It’s not a lucrative business…you’re in it for the love of it. Their role has created some really significant outcomes. There are few newcomers but we’ve been looking, with the Theatre Board and others, at how to create some emerging producer roles. If we had the resources I’d see a role for a strong mentoring program and a training and development program, because one of the key issues around is the burnout of these sorts of roles and who then takes on the responsibility for these companies. Wendy Blacklock (Performing Lines) and Marguerite Pepper have mentored many people who move on into other areas because it’s not a financially viable area. Karen Rodgers is with Wendy as part of a 2 year pilot project. Most recently we’ve supported a person for 12 months to work with The Studio team at the Sydney Opera House. These people have to be involved in international work as part of their brief. The interest overseas is often in contemporary performance, contemporary dance, physical theatre and hybrid arts and these artists are not in a position to represent themselves, they are in desperate need of support from producers. If we lose one or 2 producers that’d be a very bad situation. Producing is a whole area we need to look at carefully: for market development, for international exchange, for infrastructure, for the future of the companies. [Especially contemporary dance companies] which need audience development strategies put in place in Australia, a firm base before they can even think about international developments. We’re working very closely with the Dance Board. Our priorities for the next 3 years are contemporary dance, new media arts and Indigenous music and dance…while continuing to work on the other areas.

What is the role of performing arts markets as Australian work becomes better known and in light of other approaches, for example commissions with overseas investors?

We went to Osaka, Tokyo, Cinars (Canada) focusing on Indigenous work, New York (APAP, Association of Performing Arts Presenters), focusing on contemporary dance, and we’re going to the Singapore Asian Arts Market mid-year. Then we’ll review them and see if any of them are appropriate markets for us to continue in. It will always be hard to find a balance between ‘export ready’ work (they see it, they can get it) and work in the early stages of development. How do we find other avenues outside the market context to expose Australian work on our soil? We could look at a recurrent music market. Dance? No, not yet, but we could use the next Melbourne Festival, which has a contemporary dance focus, and target 8 to 10 key international presenters. They’d see fully-fledged Australian works but also could be involved in choreographic discussions and so on. Markets are not terribly expensive until you start showcasing work overseas, so we need different models.

AMD spend about $2.4m on international activities, the Australian International Cultural Council has about $1m, and the states, particularly Victoria, and Austrade all contribute significant support to varying degrees. The Major Festivals Initiative has $750,000, but it is focused on national creation of work. The amount of money going into creating international markets is no more than 3 to 4 million dollars. The UK, US, France and Germany spend no less than $2m and usually $3-4m just on the Venice Biennale…We’ve been talking with the Confederation of Festivals about trying to focus additional resources on international collaborations—having the buy-in from presenting partners at the beginning of a work’s creation because of the quality and calibre of the artists involved. Then we don’t get into the situation where works like Cloudstreet, Crying Baby, The Theft of Sita are all done, go to 3 festivals and then there’s a gap. It’s a bit of a dream, but it would be fantastic if it could happen, as part of the planning process from the beginning, part of the funding process with international investment. Then presenters would be involved in the beginning and know that in 2 years time they’d be getting that work.

 

The power of exchange

I meet Fiona Winning (Artistic Director), at Performance Space on a steamy Sydney afternoon to discuss some hot topics, all with international ramifications for Australians working in the burgeoning hybrid arts field. We discuss the second of PS-PICA-ANAT’s Time_Space_Place hybrid performance workshops (see Williams and preview of TPS2), the PS-PICA Breathing Space development of a body of tourable Australian work in exchange with Bristol’s Arnolfini contemporary artspace (a venue that partly inspired the founding of PS), and, less certain at this stage but urgently needed, a touring consortium to take innovative work to Australian audiences.

Speaking about the Breathing Space initiative, Winning says “it began with the visit to Australia of Helen Cole who was the live art and dance programmer and is now Senior Producer at Arnolfini.” Winning describes Arnolfini’s Breathing Space program as being “about giving space and commissioning money to emerging and established artists to start new work. InBetween Time is a small festival, a platform for showing some of that work. As a curator Cole often challenges the artist, for example she encouraged Robert Pacitti [one of the Time_Space_Place mentors] now doing large scale works to go back to some of the early things he was doing solo. Cole also established partners in Manchester and Nottingham to show several works, not as a tour but programmed over the year. The artists learn from their first outing with their work and then develop it with these further showings. It’s an interesting model we don’t have here.

“Cole was looking for Australian partners, we kept in touch, and she came out again and we began working out how to collaborate over a long period.”

So the idea is for PICA and PS in partnership to establish an Australian Breathing Space program which supports the development of a group of works annually, presents them at least in Perth and Sydney and, later, in a joint touring program in Australia and Britain with a mix of Australian and British works. It was hoped that Brisbane’s Powerhouse Centre for the Live Arts would be a partner, but that will now be a matter of wait-and-see after the surprising appointment of theatre director Andrew Ross—ex-Black Swan Theatre Company—as Artistic Director/CEO, replacing Zane Trow whose focus was on programming, commissioning and producing contemporary performance (see p 26 for Trow’s new venture).

For Winning the challenge of developing Breathing Space Australia is not just the availability of talent or works of quality to tour, but of funding models that don’t allow contemporay artspaces resources for commissioning:

“It’s instructive how things work in the UK. None of the Australian contemporary art centres have commissioning money in the way that UK centres can apply for it.”

Winning points also to the distances between Australian cities and a small population base from which to draw audiences as having to be factored in to touring, planning and funding.

The Breathing Space project comprises a number of stages, commencing with the recent showing at PS of 32,000 Points of Light (an evolving British work soon to be shown in its new motion simulator version at Arnolfini). In exchange, Arnolfini is to show the George P Khut-Wendy McPhee collaboration, Nightshift from February 14. Winning says, “Nightshift was not a commissioned work, it’s an artist initiative; this is an opportunity to show the work in a bigger context.”

The next stage is the development of an Australian body of work. As with the UK Breathing Space, a pool of commissioning funds would be ideal. However, says Winning, “We pitched to the Australia Council to see this as an important initiative to invest commissioning funds in…but they didn’t fund it. We thought it really fitted into the New Media Arts and Audience and Market Development Division plans for developing projects in the UK. It was also an across Council application, but the other boards didn’t have intiative money.”

How then do you develop a body of work without commissioning funds? “It’s all about artist initiatives funded by the Australia Council or the states. We will then offer them further support, include them in Breathing Space Australia and try to value add to their development. Our residency and PICA’s R&D programs will augment this. About 4 works will be shown by the end of this year. Some might already exist as first drafts or as works-in-progress.”

As for the makeup of a touring program, Winning says that the module will be a mix of long and short works, of live performance, installation, laboratory work and a talk event: “The whole program should be able to be shown in a weekend.”

Another stage brings some of the UK work to Australia in 2004 to be shown with Australian work. In 2005 Australian work will appear in Breathing Space UK. “It’s a long term strategy and we’ll keep talking to the New Media Arts Board and Audience and Market Development. The British Council are absolutely on board and extremely supportive of the UK work coming to Australia.”

Arnolfini are providing the fee that will take Nighshift to the UK and Performance Space is sending Winning, who will get to see the UK works, speak on a panel and use the opportunity, a few days later, to visit Glasgow for new territories, the annual festival of live arts, incorporating the National Review of Live Art. This year Australians Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham are presenting their acclaimed Morphia Series (RT52 p6) as well as teaching in the festival’s Winter School.

In RealTime 54 there’ll be more on the international marketing of Australian artists: interviews with artists and producers, a report on literaturWERKstatt, Dr Thomas Wohlfahrt’s innovative literary crossartform program, and a close look at the resources available to artists and presenters from the Australia Council.

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 4-7

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2003