Entretien avec John Ashford – Directeur d’Aerowave – Dance Accross Europe

En marge des nombreuses représentations données à Pilsen lors du Festival SpringForward auquel CCCdanse était convié (lire notre chronique de festival ici), nous avons eu la chance de rencontrer son directeur John Ashford. Celui qui célébrait cette année ses 20 ans à la tête du réseau Aerowave a accepté de nous répondre, entre deux spectacles, le temps de revenir sur son parcours et son aperçu de 20 ans de danse à travers le l’Europe.

Attention! Interview en anglais #Mytalorisrich

John Ashford - source Delo.si
John Ashford – source Delo.si

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, how did you start the Aerowave network? Where did the Springback Academy started, how did this idea occur to you?

When I finished a degree in English in University very many years ago, there is a magazine in London called Time Out, I became the first theater editor of Time Out because they needed someone to write about dance and even though I had no plan to become a journalist, for the first four, five years of my professional life, I made my living by writing about theater and performances. At that point Time Out was quite unusual because it was an entertainment guide, but it carried quite serious reviews but in a short format and I was always interested in the process of editing down longer thoughts about work and presenting it in a way to a readership that had probably bought the magazine because they are interested in films, not necessarily interested in theater and dance. So that was my background as a writer and then I moved into theater and then I moved into dance.

So the short answer to your question is that some years ago when I worked at The Place because of my interest in writing, I did start something, which is a kind of prototype for Springback Academy.

It was called « Resolution Review ». It engaged maybe 12 young writers, in a process of six weeks. It was a mentor scheme like this, and Donald Hutera and Sanjoy Roy were in the early people working on that. There were 6 mentors in that case.

Two years ago in Umeo, when we had our festival there, the Swedish Arts Council gave us more money than we asked for, which was very generous. So I thought, okay I think I have a good idea, why don’t we get a whole bunch of writers and try the Resolution Review idea on a continental level. My thinking at that point is : We need fresh voices to talk about dance. The international language of dance is English, it is a skill I think that many people need to develop to be able to write with confidence in English and I’m worried about what authority and criticism outline, because newspaper are getting rid of their paid full time critics, experts’ opinion is being overtaken by twitter crowds. How are people guided now? Where is the thinking, which is serious thinking about performance of dance? Is it only an academic circle? How can we somehow produce new platforms for writing which is as maybe as popular as the stuff I did in Time Out, in today’s digital environment? That was basically it.

So in the first year in Umeo, we did not have time to advertise it properly, so we think that was a pilot year. There was no real process. So last year for Barcelona there was about a 100 people applying and the people here from there are 10. This year a fewer people applied but the quality was much better and again we have ten people. What I want to do now is to extend it to a three years process, because we seem to hit on something that people need.

About Aerowave, the first meeting was in 1996 October, in all those years how has it evolved, has it grown a lot?

It was a very very slow growth over the 20 years. It has been boosted the last 3 years by funding from the EU, up to then we did not have any funding, it existed as a kind of private network and it has changed out of all recognition.

Because at the beginning the EU was 12 countries, and there was very little independent dance. I worked at the Place Theater in London and people from different European countries were sending videotapes to me of their work because they wanted to be presented in London. I have friends from other European countries who, I felt, could advise me as to which one I should spend most of my attention with, because those video tapes were such poor quality, you are just watching fussy little figures, so you needed people’s help.

And I also thought : there is Guy in Gant he has a terrific program, nobody is sending videos their to Gant. The Place was the reference, it was in London, it’s easy, but they don’t even know he’s doing all of that. I thought if you bring the people from Gant, and other places to London to look at the videotapes with me, then that’s a result, since they wouldn’t otherwise have.

So in the beginning we had 70 videotapes, now we have 506 videos on line very high quality, so we can see them very well.

Instead of 12 friends we have partners from 33 countries. From the very beginning we said we were interested in the independent work being created in dance in the cultural space bounded by the Algarve, the Euro mountains and the west of Ireland, so ignoring country barriers and just talking about the common culture or history in Europe. It wouldn’t be impossible to apply to the European Union earlier to get some help but at that point it was not big enough it was just the 12, it was Western Europe, I did not want to have a network where half the people are funded and half aren’t. It would have killed it.

So we waited for Europe to become big enough for us and then we started applying for money and then we were able to do the Festival. So the festival came out after 15 years of working as a network. It was not just pulled out of the sky, it came slowly and partly because a friend of mine Olivia working at the Mousonturm in FrankFurt really picked up the idea of presenting Aerowaves companies and there is one week end where she presented 9 companies and so I thought that’s very interesting I will go along.

Marco D'Agostin - Aerowave Artist 2016 "Everything is Ok"
Marco D’Agostin – Aerowave Artist 2016 « Everything is Ok »

I noticed all the artists were meeting, something was happening which was bigger than just putting on 3 or 6, or like I did in London putting on 10, but through 6 week ends, so they never met each other. So I realized through what happened at the Mousonturm that we could do something like that but bigger. And instead of inviting 12 friends from other European countries to come and sit in a dark room and watch videos we could invite anyone who is interested in independent dance to come in a different city and sit in a theater and watch the real thing.

When was the first SpringForward?

It was in 2011 in Ljubljana. We had no money then, I begged and borrowed from all my friends. Iztoc Kovac took a big risk to present it in Španski Borci which is a dance theater in Ljubljana and were able to do it because our hotel rooms were 19 euros each.

Public de Springforward à Pilsen - crédits: Michal Hančovský
Public de Springforward à Pilsen – crédits: Michal Hančovský

You have an overview of 20 years of contemporary dance across Europe, is there anything that comes to your mind when you see all this evolution, a trend or something that has emerged now the West and the East are united in Europe.

The point about the evolution of the network was that we did not have a take on a new country because we wanted a new country, we only took on a new country when I was persuaded that there was a sufficiently strong independent scene to justify being represented in the meeting and that I found a voice that would represent it well, so being quite careful assembling the things. It is true that for instance 10 years ago I would get from Greece videos of 12 ladies doing very graceful kind of 1930’s Martha Graham inspired choral dances in long dresses and we don’t get this anymore, and there used to be things from Eastern Europe which are very influenced by Ballet festival and by an idea of contemporary dance from 40 years ago and we don’t get this anymore.

Springforward à Pilsen - crédits : Michal Hančovský
Springforward à Pilsen – crédits : Michal Hančovský

There is no doubt that the esthetics of contemporary works are spread throughout new spaces. And you see things emerging from the center actually that go to the periphery and then stuff on the periphery which is new and fresh that are refreshing the center.

Are you still integrating new countries?

There are still pockets, Belarus is off the map, Georgia, Serbia, Macedonia, we keep asking is there anything there…

It terms of general movement, often people ask me about trends, I often have this phrase : It is the way the world moves us now. We are moved by the world in different ways by different influences and the work that interests me most is that which most openly represents the new ways in which the world is moving all of us. I can’t perceive what that is going to be cause I don’t know how the world is going to change.

But you do see general trends in terms of kind of production formats. For instance one of the critical issues panels question « Two’s company, three’s a crowd – but here I am alone (with you) ». Because this year one third of the applicants were soloists, I don’t think that is not interesting, I think some of the most interesting work here is the solo work, but I can see why financial choices are making the people chose the solo form rather than the esthetic choice. I am not so sure it is a development or not… but there are questions around that.

Fernando Belfiore (NL) crédits : Vojtěch Brtnický
Fernando Belfiore (NL) Aerowave artist 2016 – crédits : Vojtěch Brtnický

What is absolutely clear from my long perspective of 20 years is simply that you very very rarely ask the question: “are the dancers technically good enough”. We used to say the choreographer has very good idea, but the dance is not good enough, nobody says that anymore. The standards of dancers, and the standard of dance education all across Europe is so much higher than what it used to be.

And secondly, people travel for that education, and as a result it is difficult to find a European company where everybody comes from the same place. Generally speaking if you look at any reasonable successful dance company you’ve got 3 or 4 nationalities.

You come from reviewing theater, and it seems that dance is always behind theater in a sense of reaching new audiences?

Everywhere it is a big issue: renewing the audience of dance, we constantly want to find new audiences for dance. It is reinforced by the fact that the only way we can develop, is through grants from the European Union and for perfectly correct political reasons, audience development is a priority for European Union. This European Parliament began in the crisis, and its one fundamental objective is creation of jobs, so if you apply creation of jobs to the creative industries then the political view is “if more people go, there will be more jobs”, it’s brutally simple. So you engage the audience development not for any kind of art reason but because there will be more jobs in the creative industries, and because more people will go.

Aller plus loin :

Sur Aerowave

Etre artiste Aerowave

Rejoindre la SpringBack Academy

 Lire notre chronique de Festival 

Image de Une : SpringForward à Pilsen 2016 – crédits Michal Hančovský

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