Stories At the Well blog 09.06.2021 Thinking about sustainability and modes of presentation Tags art, contemporary dance, pandemic Share: When the global pandemic hit the performing arts scene, many productions already in the pipeline were postponed until better times. At the same time, the planning of new work took a full stop. In her blog post, Kerstin Schroth, the Artistic Director of the contemporary dance festival Moving in November tells how the aftermath of the pandemic has challenged production and presentation practices in the performing arts field. Could changing old habits bring more space for local artists and give longer lifespans for individual pieces of work? The pandemic created a full stop in presentation, in spilling out new pieces. It’s as if one big part of one and a half cultural years, almost three seasons, have been postponed to better times. Postponed in most of the cases, not cancelled. But what happens when we postpone and postpone in a scene that lives and takes its logic and energy from the production of new pieces, new names, festivals, season programs, and so on? Very simply, a traffic jam. Postponed performances, festivals, rehearsals and events basically prevent new ones from happening. Amplified through the experience of this global pandemic, it seems important to question how we have worked in the past and how we would like to work in this community in the future. How are we looking now at locality and internationality in a performing arts scene that vividly lives from exchange and working cross-border, vis-à-vis an audience that got used to having access to internationally touring artists, brought to them. With the experience of inevitably many pieces never making it to a stage during this time, events disappearing, swallowed by the void. The past one and a half years also pointed out and asked us to reflect on the finite resources of culture. Who can hold commitments and who is not able to, who is able to pay cancellation fees to artists, and who repeatedly postpone a festival or performance, as cancellation would mean no shows, but still bring expenses that might have a rather negative impact on one’s own structure. For some time now, I have been thinking about the output of a performing arts scene that lives from the notion of the new, and on a high frequency of presentation. Reflecting on the circulation of pieces, pace of premieres and presentations, and wondering if there are other ways of working, especially in regards to local scenes and not only international circulation. Particularly in relation to Moving in November and the objective to present more works from Helsinki-based artists within the program alongside international guests. What would happen if we agreed to produce less pieces in exchange for longer rehearsal periods and more chances to perform? If theatres and festivals could show pieces over longer periods of time? Whether pieces could be revived more often, instead of presenting new work by a different artist every other evening, both locally and internationally? Until a piece is really being widely talked about, it often has already run its course, faded away like mist in the sunshine. How could Moving in November contribute to creating longer lifespans and more visibility not only to international guests, but also to Helsinki-based artists? A question I started working with when thinking about my three years term as artistic director of Moving in November. One strategy is to let go of the habit of co-producing one piece of a Helsinki-based choreographer each year, as it has been in the past. Instead, to invite remarkable already existing pieces from the local scene, and to re-show them alongside international works. This way we are prolonging the lifespan of pieces produced in Helsinki and giving the artists the possibility and visibility to show them in an international context. Moving in November can’t be seen as a significant co-producer, as our financial contribution can only be minor, due to the limited stable funding the festival obtains. (As I described in a text, we published in January 2021 “A First Dance. A Manifest”, Moving in November receives project funding, similar to the producing artists, which does not allow us to plan long-term ahead and support artists with bigger amounts. We are in a very similar situation as the artists, thinking year by year, from project to project.) On the other hand, we can assist with dramaturgical, conceptual and productional thinking and building connections for the presented artists abroad. Letting go of the annual co-production, but including locally produced works naturally into the program allows us to present more than one Helsinki-based artist each year, as you will see translated into our November program this year. In November 2021 we present two installation projects of Helsinki-based artist. Astral Projections by Mikko Niemistö opened right before the first lockdown last year and has not been seen by many. From Mother to Daughter by Maria Saivosalmi in collaboration with documentary director Vytautas Puidokas has so far only been shown abroad. We re-show the remarkable solo Odd Meters by Mikko Niemistö and invite dancers, choreographers and students to perform in two works by international guests. This year, the second part of Moving in November will take place from June 14th to 20th. More information: movinginnovember.fi Author Kerstin Schroth The author is the Artistic director of Moving in November, a contemporary dance festival organised yearly in the Helsinki area.