Eddie Nixon talks to Caroline Bugler about Currency.
The Place, one of London’s contemporary dance venues and creative producers Crying Out Loud have teamed up in partnership with the European Commission’s office in the UK to present Currency. It’s a November festival in which emerging artists from Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, the UK, Sweden, Austria, the Czech Republic, Romania and Finland will come together in what is described as ‘a European Exchange of Performed Ideas’. And if you imagine an empty studio in which a contortionist and a dancer who don’t know each other are thrown together for 48 hours and asked to come up with something new you’ll get a flavour of what this might mean.
I ask Eddie Nixon, The Place’s Theatre Director, about the thought that lies behind it:
‘The title Currency is deliberately ambiguous and playful. It suggests Europe, something that is exchanged between people and also something that is current, constantly in motion. We’re working in partnership with Crying Out Loud, another producing organisation based in London, the EU Commission and EUNIC London (the European National Institutes for Culture). Crying Out Loud focuses on physical theatre and the circus. Our Producer Ellie Beedham and I had been talking to them for a while, trying to find a common ground, as we’re both working with performance, although we ourselves start from the point of view of dance. We thought about how we might organise collaborations between artists to create an interesting friction, a cross-pollination between these forms.’
The format of each of the four nights of the festival is almost as experimental as the works themselves, and the audience is invited to dive into the experience: ‘Each evening starts with a series of “blind dates”,’ Eddie explains. ‘We’ve paired some of the artists performing in the festival with artists from the UK, and we’ll put them together in the studio for a couple of days. I don’t think any of these artists have met before. At the end of their two days in the studio they will have produced ten minutes of something to share with the audience. That might be a conversation about their ideas, a scrapbook or the beginnings of a performance – there’s no prescriptive outcome imposed on them. Then everyone is invited to have an informal supper in the café so that they’ll have a chance to talk about what they’ve just seen. Some of the artists taking part in the festival will be around, so those conversations might include them, but it’s not an organised discussion.’
Afterwards everyone will go into the auditorium to see a double bill of performance. ‘These represent some of the best work we’ve seen around Europe in the last 12 months’, says Eddie. ‘It’s always interesting when you put the pieces next to each other, as it creates a conversation.’
Also part of the festival is a workshop just for the choreographers: ‘About half a dozen UK choreographers will work together with the renowned Portuguese choreographer Rui Horta. They’ll swap experiences about their different practices and collaboration. That’s part of our long-term vision of ourselves and Crying Out Loud. In order to seed the things that might appear on stage in the future you have the take the chance on things like these workshops and “blind dates”. We hope these experiments in cross-disciplinary work might emerge onto the stage later on. Dance, circus and theatre are reinventing themselves all the time.’
As the pieces in Currency are all about melting the boundaries between dance, physical theatre, music and circus, I ask Eddie about performance art. Is there any longer a distinction between the kind of thing you’d get in a gallery space like Tate Tanks and what is staged at The Place?
‘Not necessarily. A perfect example of this is Hetain Patel, who is going to be involved in one of our “blind dates”. He’s a visual artist, represented by a gallery. He was in the Venice Biennale, and has also shown a piece in Tate Tanks, so he engages with performance in his practice. We’re looking for talented makers, and we follow them where they are ready to go. We’re looking for things that have a physicality, that are strongly connected to movement in some way, but that’s a really broad church. I think those boundaries are really blurred and I hope they can be for audiences too. There’s always a challenge is making people who think they are one kind of cultural consumer enjoy something different. Many of the artists we collaborate with present work in different spaces such as galleries, or produce installations and site-specific pieces.’
A lot of performance art is anarchic, politically and socially motivated, so does Eddie see those sorts of strands in the work he’ll be putting on?
‘In programming this festival we were looking for work that will provide something for the audience to react to; we’re trying to avoid a passive viewing. But some of these pieces are actually very gentle in terms of what they are trying to do. There’s one by Ludvig Daae that speaks quietly about self identity. Then there’s a piece by Aloun Marchal, Roger Sala Reyner and and Simon Tanguy that is absolutely anarchic and feral’. Some of the performances deal directly with spoken language: ‘Navaridas and Deutinger’s “Two Majesties” uses the text of Barrack Obama’s acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize, and it looks at body language in relation to political speeches, rhetoric and what’s communicated through the body. It does that in a very original way. Lisbeth Gruwez looks in a different way at hype – how speech and language are used to heighten emotions. Julia Christ’s work explores the idea of the body as a receptacle of memory. It feels quite special and is on the edge of what one would normally see. Ideas can be quite intellectual, and we’re not afraid of those, but sometimes they are rooted in the body as well, and people explore them at a physical level. We’re trying to encourage artists to deal with both.’
This article was originally published on the Europe in the UK website by Caroline Bugler.
Watch the festival trailer.