Internationale Tanzmesse NRW 2018: A World of Contemporary Dance in Dusseldorf.
From the 29th August - 1st September 2018 over a thousand dance professionals from across the world descended on Dusseldorf for Internationale Tanzmesse nrw: the biennial trade fair and festival and the largest professional gathering dedicated exclusively to contemporary dance. Thanks to The Work Room and Creative Scotland I was able to attend as part of the Dance from Scotland Delegation, joining a team of around 25 other practitioners all representing the vibrant and lively Scottish dance community.
Over the course of four intense days of meeting, talking, listening and watching performances, what stood out for me was the incredible worldwide network of support available and sense of community this creates. It emphasised the importance of building trust by face to face interactions in order to develop meaningful professional relationships. Connecting outwards was my main focus as an independent producer and dance developer, alongside representing the work of Rob Heaslip Dance and Barrowland Ballet.
During the day many delegates, like me, spent their time in between meetings browsing the busy and colourful exhibition halls, where organisations had trade stall/booths set up to present their work, almost in the style of a shopping mall. Walking through the halls and speaking to representatives at the booths helped me comprehend a dance map of the world and gauge just how much opportunity and possibility there is out there. Some of my most valued conversations in the halls were with other artists and producers, who blew me away with insights into their creative work, and also generously shared models of practise within their local dance sectors. This guided me towards potential routes for collaboration and exchange between our work and countries. I had particularly inspiring conversations at the Singapore and Hong Kong booths, who both described notably thriving contemporary dance networks. I came away with invitations and plans to try and visit both countries over the next couple of years (on the end of planned touring work in China), to immerse myself within the dance communities and develop further working relationships. I also came away with many a tote bag and postcard. Love a free tote.
My Tanzmesse experience also highlighted the value of having artists as ambassadors and connectors, representing not only their own work but also spreading the word on developments within their local sectors. Being part of the Dance from Scotland Booth was a great opportunity to talk to people about our dance scene, and I came away feeling very proud of the community I belong to. Creative Scotland and The Work Room did a fantastic job of creating and managing a buzzing hub of exchange and information for Scotland’s Dance within the exhibition halls. When I visited the booth there was always plenty action around - helped along with a complimentary Irn-Bru, Tunnocks or a wee dram!
The performance program was vast, with approximately 45 full productions, 26 pitches and 23 open studio sharings. Working these figures out from the programme, I realise how little it was possible for me to see and how my selected tickets were largely based on chance and programme notes. It’s great that Tanzmesse offers so many opportunities for artists to present work at different stages, however, I wondered what could be developed to make it clearer for the Tanzmesse audience to navigate the programme.
A personal highlight of my time Tanzmesse was seeing Shifting Realities’ performance of Specific People Create Specific Problems. This collaborative piece by 5 international artists (from KE/NL/NG/ES/TW) explored themes of otherness and alikeness. It constantly provoked and challenged the audience around cultural perceptions and translation, whilst being intensely fun and wild. The big disappointment in this was that it was supposed to be a double bill with more of Shifting Realities’ work but one of the artists, who was coming from Africa, wasn’t granted a visa. Another frustrating story to add to the artist visa denial book, that seems to be getting thicker by the day.
In all, Tanzmesse for me was about dialogue; building new relationships and nourishing existing ones. As an independent producer and dance artist, these kind of conversations are the basis of everything. It all takes time and investment with the key being presence. It’s hard to measure the real impact so soon after the event, but it will be interesting to see what develops over the next couple of years. Perhaps that conversation I had about creating a new model for international presence at festivals will be something I get to work on, maybe I’ll work on a new project with some of the artists I met. Perhaps the presenters who had conversations with me about the work I was representing will look to Rob Heaslip or Barrowland Ballet or other Scottish work when it comes to programming. It’s hard to say right now but it definitely feels like many seeds have been sewn.
It also felt like a celebration of the high quality dance that Scotland is capable of producing and as part of that it wouldn’t feel right not to mention the late Janis Claxton, who sadly passed away earlier this month. Janis’ Pop Up Duets continued it’s international tour by popping up and delighting audiences throughout Tanzmesse. Janis and her work really raised the bar in Scotland and contributed significantly to our growing reputation internationally. She fearlessly advocated for our artform and equality within it. Her death is a huge loss to the dance world and my thoughts go out to Janis’ family and friends and everyone who knew her. Pop Up Duets will continue to tour, as Janis wanted, so be sure to check it out if you get the chance - it’s a mesmerising joy.
Thank you for reading.