When artists chase funding, they lose sight of their work

Artistic director of Dansehallerne Efva Lilja argues that contemporary dance remains underfunded, despite its vast potential as an artistic platform

After more than 20 years working in Swedish and European cultural politics as an advocate of the arts – and of dance in particular – Efva Lilja joined Copenhagen’s Dansehallerne in 2016 as its artistic director. Alongside her ongoing work as an artist and researcher, she’s been involved in a range of international initiatives, such as the European Commission’s New Narrative for Europe. The Murmur talked to her about the state of contemporary dance and her plans for Dansehallerne.

How would you describe the situation of contemporary dance in Denmark at the moment?

Everything is short-term and project-based, so I seriously think there needs to be a discussion about continuity in relation to the quality of the work – how can we develop an art form without sustainable platforms that can provide continuity and enable in-depth work? If you always have to work in a project-based way, you are constantly occupied with the immediate results of your project in the market place: selling and getting good reviews. You easily lose touch with questions that are fundamental to your work. When I talk to artists, they often express a desperate need for deeper working processes and collegial networks, which are some of the things we are now trying to develop and secure at Dansehallerne. But we are just one venue in Denmark, and we are so poorly financed. We have to convince both politicians and civil servants of the benefits of investing in more contemporary choreographic performative art.

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I also experience that the infrastructure for presenting and touring dance is poor in Denmark. Dansehallerne is a leading institution, providing 180 performances in Copenhagen every year, and another 300 performances for kids around the country. But we only reach a few regular locations. What about the adults in their schools? What kind of relationships, expectations or prejudices do they have towards the art of dance?

Dance training in Dansehallerne. Photo: Søren Meisner

When they go home and talk about their experiences, what relationship do their parents have with the art form? For most of them, probably none. Dance is just not there. If you take literature, film, music or visual art, it’s everywhere. When we exclude dance, we exclude options to relate to cultural identity, cultural heritage, and bodily expressions of the self and of the other.

How does this compare to other Scandinavian countries?

Danish politicians often highlight the fact that Denmark invests more in culture per capita than Sweden. I would like us to look at the distribution of this money and reallocate some funds – in comparison to other artistic fields, dance is clearly a very low priority. Dansehallerne has less than half of what a theatre institution of similar size has, and less than a quarter of what Dansens Hus in Stockholm gets, or the same institution in Oslo – just to run their venues.

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Another major difference is that individual artists are selected for support by Scenekunstudvalget [the municipality’s theatre arts committee] and provided with resources to rent space from Dansehallerne. This has problematic curatorial consequences: why should a committee of people, most of whom have a very limited knowledge of the contemporary dance scene, decide what is shown at Dansehallerne? Whenever we want to invite the local community in, or seek other forms of input, we have to find other money. There is no basic funding for our programming. It’s a little like being an independent artist – I feel like I am back in the 90s, running my own company. Dansehallerne could be a much stronger actor in the field and for the field if we had better basic funding. Now I am trying to attract European money to find ways of supporting the artists here in a proper way.

Inside Dansehallerne. Photo: Søren Meisner

In terms of the production of contemporary dance, Dansehallerne differs from most other institutions, since we don’t house a specific company. We are a workplace for around 200 artists, who every year train, rehearse, produce and present with us. This makes us an important forum for the development of contemporary choreographic performative art. There is nothing like Dansehallerne in the other Nordic countries. Denmark should be proud of that.

Some months ago, you talked about your vision for Dansehallerne as a ‘national resource’. What do you mean by that?

I would like to stimulate and challenge the community of artists by inviting artists from other genres who work with choreography. This spring season, we had a visual artist who worked with movement in colours. Last year, we invited composers who worked with the choreography of sound, light, thinking, and leadership.What does it do to us if we are confronted with this multitude of perspectives?

Efva Lilja. Photo: Viktor Andersson

By addressing these questions we develop new methodologies, types of performances, and ways of attracting an audience. We are already trying to stimulate this kind of work through the monthly series of talks that I host and anyone can come to: ‘Meet, Eat and Talk’. There are always some artists, but all sorts of people just drop by – we’ve had some young ballet dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet School. And these different perspectives and ways of looking at the field of dance not only change our own awareness, but also help us attract a new audience.

When Dansehallerne moves into its new permanent premises in Kedelhuset, Copenhagen, in 2018, it will enable us to expand our residency programme, Dansehallerne Artists Research Lab and Residency Programme. The programme allows us to benefit from the exciting environment of artistic development processes and research taking place in Europe.

We are also opening an inter-disciplinary workplace that draws on academic disciplines as an important element in the process and development of choreography and its dialogue with our audiences. This is all very exciting, but a lot of things remain to be solved, not least the issue of funding. M


By Franziska Bork-Petersen

An academic working in Dance and Performance Studies, Franziska is employed by Stockholm University but lives in Copenhagen where she teaches dance theory at Statens Scenekunstskole.

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