Nora Talks (too much)
We walk into the Founder’s Studio at The Place, London. There are chairs laid out in a circle (well square) but nobody sits down. Instead, we stand in queues waiting one by one to collect our complimentary drink and a blank piece of paper. Felt tip pens, in every colour imaginable, are also on offer. As they sit down at the head of the square, I mean circle, Nora, aka Eleanor Sikorski, Flora Wellesley Wesley and Stephanie McMann shout over our heads telling us to take pens and paper. I take two felt tips — a bright orange and a pale blue. They explain that this will be an informal talk. We file in — eager to participate in what is scheduled to be a captivating discussion.
They introduce themselves. They seem to be nervous or perhaps, unprepared. According to their literature, the talk will be about, ‘Who decides what dance we see’. This is a compelling topic. We expect an interesting discussion about institutions, funding bodies, identifying opportunity, gender, perhaps, even the dance world’s current obsession with patronising its audiences into valuing only ’cause theatre’, or hip-hop-contemporary-fusion, or something that’s just ‘pretty isn’t it?!’. However, they speak instead about themselves. We find out that they have set up their own repertoire company and have commissioned choreographers Liz Aggiss and Jonathan Burrows to make work on them, which they will be performing at Sadler’s Wells. They don’t speak about how the work was conceptualised and created. They don’t even explain how they managed to set up this situation, how they were able to have such prominent choreographers make pieces on them. This would have, at least, been useful to the fresh-faced students who had obviously been encouraged to attend. Jonathan Burrows gave a lecture recently where he suggested that the dance world is political (more than any other art form) simply by being a supportive system of people, I wonder if this is the case…
Nora seem uncomfortable sharing in a public forum. We crane our necks to hear them speak. The brightly coloured pens and fresh sheets of paper lie forgotten on the floor. They talk about how they want to abolish the hierarchy attached to making work. They aim to do this by being paid to work with their friends and by not being judged publicly on their practice. This is deeply problematic and seems to be the very crux of the issue. By only working with friends who, lets face it, will probably have a similar out look to your own, you are at risk of forming consensus bias. There’s no one to tell you when you’re gazing at your own navel, when you’re making the same mistakes, or when you’re perpetuating a position, which will fail to benefit ‘the new’. When, eventually, it is time to chip in, it seems, strategically placed friends are there to promote the idea that it is ‘great to work with friends’. No one speaks about the great elephant in the room. You know, the one that decides what dance we see — money.
Of course, it’s very hard to see our own privilege and to also want to share it. We see it on a grand scale and we see it in the dance world. This is why, despite everyone being so hopeful about the liberal youth, we still have a Tory government. Most people with less liberal views grow into them, especially when they have had a degree of success. We’re not going to suddenly have a left wing society, just as five or so years ago Nora would have been writing the very same things about themselves. And that’s the problem with not being judged publically and having the ‘luxury’ of working with your friends. But then again, why would you share applicable knowledge? I’m sure Nora feel that no one made room for them. Is it the doom of the dance artist to spend the first part of their career feeling like no one will make room for them only for the next generation of practitioners to repeat the cycle? Is there another way?
Of course there is! And we can start small. We need to ask people to remember what it was like working a twelve-hour bar shift to support making work that only will be shown in a basement or a mate’s garage because theatres can’t support ‘that kind of work’. We need to remember what it was like to spend hours applying for everything and fail to get a single reply — not even a ‘no thank you’. Once we have a platform, we need to remember to share the wealth. There’s room for more in this great city — let’s make some room by sharing our wisdom.