Curating Dance?

A conversation with a dance manager friend got me thinking about dance and curating. She complained not enough people knew how to curate dance events and showcases. A number of platforms that have been advertised, as curated events seemed to have been put together randomly. At times the producing artist simply places himself or herself at the center of the event and presents the other dance companies or performers like supporting acts. In England, it seems to have grown with the entrepreneurialism of the independent dance sector where dance artists get together, form collectives and showcase each other’s work. Support organizations whose aims and objectives are different from those of festivals and theatre venues have also made curating as opposed to programming popular.

The concept of curating comes from visual arts. We wondered together where one could go to learn to curate dance. It seems to me that the skill should be one available to learn. Dance artists in this climate especially have to create opportunities for themselves and curating seems a way forward. It is a skill requires knowledge of art history and audience or stakeholder development. Should this be a skill that dance administrators should learn?

I stumbled across an article a couple of years ago now by Dena Davida on LinkedIn. Entitled ‘Building a Profession for Performing Arts Curation’, the article announced that the outcomes of a conference on this topic is now housed at the website of the Association of Performing Arts Curators of Québec. Evidently many others before my dance manager colleague and I have been wondering where one could go to learn about the curation of the performing arts. And this organization has done something about it.


Dena Davida suggests that the curation is more is about organizing the presentation of work in the ‘context of contemporary thematic concerns’ whilst programming is more business orientated, and is associated more theatre seasons and annual festivals. I am simplifying things of course read so Davida herself. The discussion reminds me how entwined the making of dance is with the organization and presentation of dance. Something we would rather forget.



Contemporary Nomads: attending a lecture by Henry Daniel

I attended a talk at the Southbank University on the 30th of November 2016, given by Henry Daniel, a professor of Dance and Performance Studies from the Simon Fraser University Canada. He has been in Britain researching at the University of Bristol as a visiting Fellow. He was invited to Southbank by Maria. He told an amusing story about being caught up in a struggle between disciplines as a PhD candidate. He was told by his supervisor when he started his PhD in the late 1990s that his thesis was about 80,000 words, not choreography. He wrote 80,000 words. When his external examiner read it she said something along the lines of ‘this is all well and good Henry but what about your choreography’. He had to then revise his thesis writing his choreography into every chapter and producing a DVD of his works. This situation seems to have fed hs passion for practice-based research and transdisciplinarity.

The talk given by Daniel revolved around two projects of his, one he is rounding up and the other he is just beginning. The first Project Barka (2011 – 2014) explores the legacy of Columbus’ trip that leads to the ‘discovery’ of the West Indies.  He advertised for Dancers who had felt in some way Columbus voyage had impacted them and their families and at the audition, for a dance project to explore this on the topic he found the none of the dancers were from his background. He decided to go ahead and a three-year project evolved. Through Contemporary Nomads which starts this year and will end in 2021, Daniel will be looking at the relationship of choreography and movement to the movement of people around the world. His projects bring multiple histories together in an event.

Daniel says that he enjoys working in a transdisciplinary context because you get to look at other disciplines through your disciplinary lens and therefore produce knowledge which transcends them all.  Self-reflexivity is one of his tools. He uses it as a starting point for engaging with others and finding common ground.



The Legacy of Elroy Josephz

This a piece of writing I have had ‘on file’:

The symposium of the British dance and the African Diasporas project took place on Friday the 26th of October, at the Slavery museum in Liverpool. One of the highlights of the day was the chat show hosted by dance historian Ramsay Burt. The guests were Sue Lancaster and Steve Mulrooney, custodians of Elroy Josephz’ archive.  They spoke about their relationship with Elroy Josephz.

Elroy Josephz moved to England from Jamaica in the 1950s. He trained in Ballet and Caribbean dance forms and was a member of Les Ballets Negres  – the first black British company whose multicultural and at times inter-racial cast performed a fusion of ballet, jazz and African and Caribbean dance forms to critical acclaim.  After Les Ballets Negres ended due to a lack of funding, Josephs worked in London and started Dance Company 7, which he left in the able hands of Carl Campbell when he moved to Liverpool to teach.  Lancaster and Mulrooney now well know dance practitioners who continue to work in the Liverpool area were teenagers when they meet Josephz. They say he changed their lives. This was the 1980s a time of race riots and social change. His love for dance and the community, shaped and gave direction to their energies. Mulrooney at the time was a break-dancer; part of the Eastwood Rockers and Lancaster was attending a conventional dance school but rather bored, not knowing where it would take her.

Lancaster and Mulrooney used to watch Josephz teaching his jazz dance class through the glass walls of a posh building at the teacher training college. He caught them one day learning his technique from the outside. He invited them in. When they said they could not pay, he offered them free classes. They ended up dancing in his company. Mulrooney recalled Jospehz having all the men sewing their own costumes and rehearsing them to perfection… and exhaustion. By the time Sue Lancaster was 21 she and Steve Mulrooney was running a youth training scheme, teaching, dancing in a company and following the Josephz ethos of giving back to the community.

Elroy Jospehz had a varied career – appearing in several films, Dr Who, the West Side Story, Spanish dance performances in Madrid whilst taking time out to study Race relations at Masters level and develop a jazz dance curriculum. Besides performing in the first unfunded black-led dance company in Britain, he was a pioneer in using the dance as a tool for social change. For me his story gave me further insight into what a career in dance can give the practitioner. Because dance is  at the confluence of various social practices it teaches us what human connection is about.

A number of students present expressed an anger or loss for not having heard the story of Josephz before now and felt hearing his story filled a hole in British dance history. What does hearing a dancer’s biography do for you?

For more information on the project see: