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Hans van den Broeck ‘s Amost Dark Hans van den Broeck ‘s Amost Dark
Chris van der Burght
Critical Path, the New South Wales choreographic research and development centre, is located in the old drill hall—now called The Drill—on beautiful Rushcutters Bay. Early in the 20th century the building was used for the training of submariners and subsequently for other naval activities. Refurbished when Rushcutters Bay became the yachting base for the 2000 Olympic Games, the building is now the home of Critical Path thanks to the farsighted support of the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts and Woollhara City Council. The director of Critical Path is Sophie Travers who wrote for RealTime on dance and arts politics from the UK before moving here with her Australian partner. Travers is an ideal director for Critical Path, bringing to it an alertness to the needs of local dance ecology and the experience of working through partnerships and networks at local, national and international levels. Critical Path cannot solve the funding challenges faced by NSW dance artists, but it makes a very generous and serious offer, to support choreographers in developing their understanding and undertaking of research, to find partners and consolidate their sense of community. By focussing strictly on research through artist-directed projects, guest choreographer workshops, specialist shared-interest workshops and mentoring, Critical Path keeps a healthy distance from the demands of production, creating a new niche in the dance ecology where artists can think, reflect, learn and connect. I spoke with Travers as she commenced her 2006 program.

What did this job mean for you when you applied for and took it on?

What attracted was the sense that there was a real necessity behind the project. It wasn’t one of these things that had just happened through the momentum of a funding scheme. It had actually been initiated through real need. And that was to do with the sense that there was a lack of cohesion in the New South Wales dance community. There was an abundance of talent but a lack of community. Being very close to artists was another thing that attracted me. It was less pinned to structures and more linked to individuals. And as a result, it sounded, and has proved to be, very flexible.

How much of a role have you played in the actual shaping of Critical Path?

There was a steering committee, a very artistic committee. They’d come up with the need for research and with a role for the director. And they’d actually defined what that was and what it wasn’t. But in terms of the program and what would actually happen from the day I rolled up, there was nothing there. So from the word go, I was very involved in interrogating the steering group and asking them to really expand on the small document that was the starting point. Mostly I did an awful lot of talking to artists. Sometimes I was having up to 5 meetings a day. I was literally “at home” with people coming into Sydney Dance Café one after another. It was incredibly useful. I thought people were quite straight; I think they were great with me.
Workshop, Hans Van den Broek second from left Workshop, Hans Van den Broek second from left
They obviously took to the idea that this was an R & D set up to fuel and nurture them, but not provide grants.

Critical Path is a bit of an anomaly in the ecology in that it is well resourced to meet its needs. We’re not scrabbling around like other parts of the sector are. We’re actually doing something quite solid. What I did find was people wanting to see if they could stretch Critical Path into some of the leaner bits of the ecology. When people come to Critical Path and they have a great idea and, to some extent, they hit paydirt within their research project and realise they have somewhere to go, that’s where we struggle to help them move on. That’s where there’s very little money around. [I have to say] no, you actually have to go away and complete that project and come back when you have another idea.

Are there different levels of expectation of involvement with Critical Path?

Depending on the maturity of the artist, absolutely. That’s what we’re trying to maintain—that kind of responsiveness. So we set up the 3 strands of the program [responsive to] distinct differences in people’s capabilities or how far they’ve established their own research practice. Some are completely au fait with research. That’s exactly what they do constantly, even in the making of work: it’s all ongoing research. For others, it’s a new way of thinking, the idea of making work as research.

So what do you think people get from each of these 3 strands, beginning with say the workshops and masterclasses?

The people we’ve chosen to run the workshops have a porousness about their practice. They’re not Socratic. They’re interested in group dynamics. They’re interested in winkling out the indiosyncrasies of the individuals and playing with them within the group. That’s exactly what (ex-Les Ballet C de la B artist) Hans Van den Broek is doing at the moment. A lot of the people on that workshop didn’t know each other before. And from the last one with Antje Pfundtner (RT 69 p 12) last year, a couple of little projects have rolled out...because the artists found each other in the workshop.

There are 2 parts to the workshop strand; the shorter ones [just discussed] and then the more closely curated ones like the Japanese one coming up with Asialink or the big one on film. They’re addressing a theme. So the people selected are much more carefully chosen. The idea is that it moves a whole sub-genre on a step. So with the film workshop for example, in partnership with ReelDance, we’re looking at what ReelDance can’t do in terms of research and development. We ask what do all the ReelDance artists want to do and then devise something that moves that on.

The sense of network and partnership is a big part of Critical Path, and it extends your activities across state borders although primarily focused in NSW.

I’m from the UK where partnership is just in your blood. If you want to work in the arts, you’ve got to work in several partnerships with everything you do. Of course, it comes with its own difficulties but with Critical Path, it’s crucial because it helps us bridge what happens outside of it. In each case a partner is chosen because they have a research agenda of their own but then they’ve also got the other side of the equation—the producing, the presentation, the distribution. An organization like ReelDance doesn’t really get to do much research but they understand it. So we can work with them nice and tidily on our shared goals and then, hopefully, hand over the bits that work for them to take on. It’s a little bit the same with the Asialink project.

What sort of role are you playing there?

Similarly inserting research into a project that was going to happen anyway. The projects [as part of Asialink’s Australia-Japan dance program] in other states are much more about performance whereas because Critical Path exists in NSW, Asialink decided to do a research project. It’s about the exchange that will take place between the Japanese and Australian choreographers talking to each other for 2 weeks at The Drill [after working in pairs in Japan].

And what about the reseach that artists themselves propose?

My feeling was there should be a responsive strand where the artists made their own suggestions; a curated strand where we made the suggestions; and then there was the need for something in the middle that was a bit more fluid, that could be a bit more of a discussion—a mentoring strand. In the responsive strand, the artists make their proposals and we don’t interfere.

How much time do they get?

It can be up to 4 weeks. It’s actually the budget that ends up determining it. The budget limit is $10,000 so the larger the team, the longer the time, the more...you know. So the bigger projects are usually 3 weeks and the smaller ones can be up to 4. This year we have 11 projects. We had 33 applications. Last year we did 17, including more of the shorter ones. This year we were determined to try and spend the full $10,000 on each one if we could.

As for mentoring, there was a feeling there was a need for something in the middle that was a bit more of a learning experience, a dialogue where other people’s skills could feed into our programming. That’s how the film project came about. Erin Brannigan did a mentorship last year and through that discovered what was at the root of ReelDance’s research needs and of choreographers who are making film. There it’s the idea of addressing distribution. But we couldn’t have got there in one jump. We needed to take that mentoring step.

This year is quite different from last year. We have a project with dancer-choreographer Wendy Morrow called Research Tools. Last year Wendy mentored 2 mature artists and, getting to see what we were doing at Critical Path, she expressed a real interest in articulating research. She’d come to some of the sharing sessions and realised that there was a blockage in articulating and distinguishing research from other parts of practice. When we did the responsive strand and had to reject 22 people we got a lot of feedback, as we had in the first year, about what constitutes research. Wendy was very interested in working with a group of those people who were struggling with that.

Do you know of organizations like Critical Path elsewhere in the world?

Not exactly the same. I know of others who do what we do but then do all the other bits. The classic model is Dancehouse in Melbourne. The Place in London has its Artist Development Services which does all this sort of stuff. They have Choreodrome and workshops...but then they also have a season, festivals and a school. I don’t think I’ve come across anything that’s quite like this.

Tell me about the choreographers you select to run workshops. I assume they reflect on your background.

It’s very opportunistic, the selection. It’s absolutely pragmatic in terms of the budget. Almost everybody who’s coming is coming on somebody else’s dollar. What I was careful not to do was to spend the Critical Path budget on airfares. You could jet in any number of glamorous international artists quite easily. But most or all of those people are coming to Sydney and then going on somewhere else. So all I’m doing is using my contacts to persuade these people to linger a little longer.

We should tell readers a little bit about your career how it fits with Critical Path.

I studied languages. Then I worked in business and then in dance administration, company management mainly, although I did do one of those 3 jobs in one situations—fundraising officer, press officer and company manager.

You worked with Random Dance at one time?

That was for 3 years, 1997-2000. That was through the whole period when they really got their foot on the ladder. So it was great training for me, going from projects to a triennially funded company, and they’re an amazing company for partnerships and producing. That really turned me into a producer, I guess, just by the sheer momentum of the artistic director [Wayne McGregor, interviewed by Travers on p4].

Then you went on to work with the British Council?

I had an interim period at the Roundhouse in London where I worked on arts education. The British Council experience was where all the European contacts came from. I was responsible for Theatre and Dance in the Performing Arts Department. I looked after Western Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. I did a lot of travelling, saw a lot of work, a lot of international and British work. I travelled and went to a lot of festivals. And that’s where a lot of the contacts I have now are coming from that period, people I met over a beer, like Wim Vandekybus. I tripped Emilio Greco [another of Critical Path’s 2006 workshop leaders] on my handbag in a very dark bar. That’s how I met him.

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 5 &

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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