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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Of dance, cities, the globe
Animated, Winter 2001. Imagine an international performance event which started in Berlin in 1998 and which has travelled to seven cities in three continents, an exchange of artistic skills and knowledge, creative processes and creations amongst international companies and venues. This ambitious initiative, led by British-based Puerto Rican choreographer Ana Sanchez-Colberg and her company Theatre en Corps, plans to work in Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Aruba, Uruguay and Puerto Rico. Here she and Eugenio Cueto Barragan, director of Ballet Experimental Contemporaneo, Colombia, speak of their shared experience of collaborating on Futur/Perfekt

Futur/Perfekt aims to find collaborative ways of working and participating within cultures with a view to debating a key question: What do we want from our artform as we face the challenges of the millennium? It achieves this through a cumulative event informed by contributions from dancers, designers and audience (albeit in different proportions) and the traces of its own history as it travels through its performance calendar. Each performance furnishes another layer, each object donated by audience members, offers another dimension and builds a 'time capsule' which transgresses countries and continents as it explores the relationship between individuals, their cityscapes and notions of the global.

Crucially, this multifarious project is process based and through a myriad of performance products and outputs - including choreographic pieces, conferences, web-discussions, written articles - tackles not only the artistic but also the education and audience outreach through its intervention activities related to the performance, and the concerns it addresses.

In spite of its scope, we as artists have struggled to keep the event, artistic led, with the members of the collaborative team, including dancers, sharing not only the decision-making but also managerial and administrative duties. This has been the biggest challenge and the biggest threat to the survival of the project. Although funding institutions refer to supporting artist led initiatives, there remains a mistrust towards the competence of artists to manage a project effectively without a fixed bureaucratic structure.

Of cities, nations, continents and beyond
Perhaps the most significant of the Futur/Perfekt collaborations and in the projects 'history' has been the work with Ballet Experimental Contemporaneo from Bucaramanga, Colombia. Two companies from two very different continents with a complex mutual historical and cultural legacy working as one.

The driving force behind this collaboration was the desire to extend cultural exchange beyond the boundaries of dance theatre as it has been defined by international festivals. And, whilst international cultural frontiers have been opened by international festivals over the last two decades, the focus has remained on the exchange of cultural 'products' often supporting narrow national agendas. In many cases these are attached to competitions which promote attitudes which have an hierarchical undertone that validate particular aesthetics over others. Moreover, there is little or no room to take into consideration the creative forces or vision which are part of the work, with few opportunities available for questioning or direct involvement which would open-up these products. These tend to be relegated to the separate field of dance research and academic conferences and in only a few instances do these two areas come together.

This is even more pronounced within the Latin American context, where the antecedents for cultural development have their genesis, and are tied to, syncretisms historically associated to cultural development in Europe. The particularities of Latin American geography and resultant cultural heritage, necessitate therefore that any artistic endeavour evolve from 'invisible forces' which differ from those of Europe. For each of us our history is inscribed within our bodies and our movement gives account of our being within the world. In Spanish this has two different realities 'ser' y 'estar', which does not translate into English. Thus, this was the legacy and the context that we were starting from.

Local meets global, the global meets local
The exchange between Theatre en Corps and Ballet Experimental Contemporaneo began over two years ago as a dialogue between Eugenio and myself. From the outset differences and similarities between the two realities - the dance culture in England vis-a-vis that in Colombia - began to be evident. Colombia is a corner of the Latin American continent framed by the Caribbean sea on the one hand and the Pacific on the other, with particular geographical characteristics as diverse and organic as a human body in motion. For Colombians, choreographic creation goes beyond the aesthetic. Dance is a way of life. Both dance and song flow as water flows within the map of the continent. Culture is not seen as an exchange of products, culture is a process of life, affected by markets as most of Latin America, but operating outside of that framework. Dance is a 'vivencia', a life's project and a project of life, not just what one does to make a living. Even moves towards professionalisation are viewed as nurturing artists, not just as a means of employment.

Such a different dance culture then to that in England. But it was not about one being better or worse, both have plusses and minuses, but rather the contrasting creative methods which were to have a significant impact on the planning, execution and subsequent reflection about this collaboration.

Eugenio first visited London in Autumn 1999 where he met a number of directors from participating companies and countries. It also provided us with an opportunity to reflect on each of the companies creative practices and contexts and enabled him to see our premiere of London Calling at the Blue Elephant Theatre, London.

In the spring of 2000 Ballet Experimental Contemporaneo and Theatre en Corps worked side by side, creating and performing their collaboration Entre Mito, Sueno y Realidad at the Luis A Calvo Auditorium of the Universidad Industrial de Santander in Columbia. The exchange also included a presentation of London Calling, various choreographic workshops in a number of Colombian cities, two conferences and free open masterclasses everyday for local dancers led by Jemima Hoadley, Domingo Bermudez and myself.

The title of the project and its play on the words future-perfect, created an immediate affinity with the Colombian community who foresee their unrealised vision developing in the same terms as the title implies, the future will be perfect but it is still uncertain. From the moment Theatre en Corps set foot in Barranquilla, the first city we visited, the effects of, Futur/Perfekt's proposals were visible and tangible in the community.

To the majority of the company, with the exception of myself, Columbia was a great unknown. Their trepidation however, was soon dispelled as we were greeted from every quarter by such human kindness - be it the directors of the festival, the theatre technicians or the many communities we visited. We were received with open hearts, given all manner of support which is hard to equate. It was no longer a question of being a 'guest' but about devoting our entire energies, our personal dynamic to the work in hand. In fact, even today, the company still feel that this debt will never be paid in full, so touched were they by the generosity.

By the time we reached Bucaramanga, where the core of the exchange was to take place, the momentum was at its height. The dance community there comprised mainly of young people with a great desire to learn, who were able to mobilise and engage in direct action to generate something out of nothing in order to realise their vision. It was a case of "triumph of art over scarcity" (1) as Chilean author, Isabel Allende puts it.

The themes of the project seemed to have a direct resonance with people's individual histories. The audience, who was asked to contribute an object from their history to be used in future performances took great care in what they offered. People even created their own time capsules which were then incorporated into the larger vision in ways that reinforced the ethos and dynamics of Futur/Perfekt, something which had not happened before. But even more poignant than the little boxed histories was the participants' shared experience through their bodies and consciousness. Suddenly, Colombia as a place, country and nation changed in our minds as it changed us as a company, as individuals and as a project.

Even after our departure, Futur/Perfekt continued to resonate within the Colombian communities it visited, initiating, reactivating and providing momentum to a number of projects. Significantly, it led to debate around the 'professionalisation' of Colombian dancers, and the establishment of the Escuela Taller de Danza Contemporaneo programme at the Municipal Institute of Culture, Bucaramanga, with a view to it becoming a formal training programme. Subsequent debate has also led to the reopening of the Escuela Departamental de Danza which had been closed due to the disappearance of the Departamental Secretariat of Culture in the region.

Furthermore, the project initiated a relationship between Ballet Experimental Contemporaneo and a programme for contemporary dance training for children at the Corporation Cana Brava of the Municipality of San Vicente de Chucuri. Crucially, these outcomes solidified the commitment of personal and local governmental resources to make sure that the final stage of the project, the visit of Ballet Experimental to England took place.

What we did not anticipate was, that irrespective of the international profile of the collaboration, there would be a distinct lack of interest from public funding sources in England. And so, the third and final stage of the project found itself relegated into invisibility. Up to the last moment, it almost did not happen. Ironically, it was the country with least resources that was able to contribute most. A grant from the Colombian Diplomatic Mission in London came to the rescue together with the Laban Centre London who supported the vision by housing the now orphan project. And although three months intervened between visits, when the two companies came together it was really as if no time had passed, such was the understanding and trust. The reconnection was immediate and an unpredictable transformation took place.

Coincidentally, two former Ballet Experimental dancers, who are pursuing graduate courses at Laban Centre London, joined the project as well as two Colombian musicians in residency at Goldsmith's College, London. Suddenly the Colombians outnumbered the British which completely transformed the content and look of the piece - it was no longer post-modernist and minimal. It had become what we all termed humorously as 'tropically, baroque' with a larger cast, live musicians, singers set amidst thousands of prominently placed collected objects which were no longer archived in boxes. It was not about one company learning to be like the other, one cultural group learning 'artistic progress' from the other, it was a new identity forged in the encounter.

The days began with open masterclasses, not only for both sets of company members, but for any London based dance artist interested in the initiative, and were again led by Jemima and myself. Ballet Experimental Contemporaneo also had the opportunity to present part of its repertory at the London based Coin Street Festival and at Il Covo, Community Outreach Voluntary Centre.

The future will be?
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that this last stage led to a new development - a further yearlong integrated project co-directed by Eugenio - and myself, focusing on exchanges and collaborations with Latin-American artists and companies This has come in part from the realisation of how little visibility there is within Europe of Latin American dance theatre. European markets (with perhaps the exception of the Dance Platform in Hamburg, in 1996) remain interested in a post colonial view of Latin America which is exotic and folkloric, enabling only a few 'enlightened' ethnic companies to be assimilated into the European (and North American) aesthetic 'network'.

We, however, remain committed to the project's aim which is to make Latin America more visible in Europe, with its differences and particularities, through a context that goes beyond cultural tourism and which allows sufficient time and space for the sharing of work, process and debate. Our focus is on intervention and is seen as a way to achieve discovery of creative and intellectual methodologies which can establish stronger relationships between artists, companies and countries. It is being planned as a biennale, with a festival of work, a further encounter between all the companies involved over the duration of Futur/Perfekt as a macro-project, and a conference Fronteras: Latin-American Dance Theatre Beyond Classicism and Folklore. Now all we need are sponsors and a venue. Are there any takers?

Ana Sanchez-Colberg, Artistic Director, Theatre en Corps. Contact +44 (0) 2 7587 3729 or email encorps@aol.com

Reference
1 Allende, Isabel. Source unknown

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001