Dance and Ageing Seminar

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Dance and Ageing Seminar

Debbie Lee-Anthony
Published by Debbie Lee-Anthony in Dancing as you get older · 20 December 2021
Tags: Dancingasyougetolder
What’s age got to do with it?
Seminar on Dance & Ageing
Friday 12th  October 2007 4.30pm
Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, Level 5 Function Room
Prior to the seminar I had the privilege of seeing one of the panel artists, Paul Andre-Fortier perform a 30 minute solo as part of the Dance Umbrella 2007 festival.  This performance took place for 30 minutes for 30 days, at the same time every day, (whatever the weather!) The work took place in the busy pedestrian high street outside Liverpool Street station.  I was struck by the performer’s wonderful presence, open face, and articulate, moving body. Even with moments of stillness, he was completely present , his whole being alive and radiating passion and commitment to his dance – totally convincing his audience with his incredible body of knowledge and experience.  There was a particularly beautiful moment when Paul-Andre made a sweeping circular run, with arms wide open.  This was repeated several times throughout the piece and each time a flock of pigeons flew around immediately above his head – quite breath-taking. During the performance I overheard some passing comments from on-lookers, which made me smile, for example:

‘How do we know when it’s finished? ‘When are we supposed to clap?’ ‘What’s he supposed to be doing?’  ‘What is he doing this for – do you think he’s paid to do this?
‘Actually he’s bloody good isn’t he?!’

I was delighted to be able to witness 30 X 30, which demonstrated artistry and innovation. Also, importantly, the notion of taking contemporary dance ‘out into the streets’ to attract people who might not otherwise see contemporary performance practice, can only be a good thing.
Following the performance I attended the Dance & Ageing seminar on the South Bank. The seminar was a most stimulating discussion and debate surrounding issues and dilemmas concerning ‘mature dance artists’.  Consisting of four highly experienced artists from a diverse range of dance backgrounds, the panel was chaired most superbly by veteran dancer/choreographer Gill Clarke.  The focus of the discussion centered on sustaining professional practice, and how the U.K. is now seeing a substantial generation of mature artists emerging from the genre of contemporary dance. The panel included Canadian artist Paul-Andre Fortier, long standing artist Fergus Early, American Scott Smith and British-South Asian Chitra Sundaram.  To open the debate, Gill introduced the artists and invited them to say a brief something about their current practice.
Paul- Andre Fortier
I rather liked Paul-Andre’s opening statement that, rather than describing himself as ‘a dancer’ he prefers to refer himself as ‘a man dancing’. I liked this poetic way of defining what one does. I agree with his sentiments that perhaps the word ‘dancer’ conjures up images of glamour, glitter and touring (not that touring is particularly ‘glamorous’ one could argue!) and that possibly ‘a man dancing’ is more appropriate for the image, nature and philosophy of his work. Paul added that dance and age is such a broad concept.  He reflected that, last year (at 58 years of age) he performed a particular solo 150 times, many more than in younger years! Paul added that it’s about finding the right context to perform in that is appropriate for you, your body, the audience and what you have to say as a performer.
Chitra Sundaram
Chitra also introduced herself in a similar fashion, her approach to her practice being ‘I dance’. It was interesting to note that in the South Asian dance form, Bharata Natyum, the narrative is a key focus of the form and the dancer is held with very high regard, notably from the age of 35.  Dancers become known as ‘rising stars’ once they approach middle age, the notion being they can more ably express the narrative with greater sophistication, having more life experience and greater ‘knowledge’ of the form.
Scott Smith
Scott Smith interestingly talked about the notion of how we age differently.  He pondered that actually age might not have anything to do with it!  He talked about the notion of labeling, and how this can sometimes limit how we look at something, implying a kind of ‘deficit’.  Scott added that of course the aesthetic changes, and we have to negotiate the bodily changes to accommodate this.  He talked about how when an artist creates and performs their own work, they are ‘in charge of their bodies’ and therefore able to do the work that is appropriate for their own body.
Fergus Early
Fergus Early talked about the body being like ‘an encyclopedia of dance’, how the accumulation of all our experiences both in life and dance enable us to express diversity.  He explained how he has trained in a variety of forms, classical ballet, a variety of contemporary techniques plus contact and release work, and how he utilizes all the forms in terms to contribute to his choreographic work and performance. An amusing moment was when Fergus, on talking about preparation and recovery time when in the studio, spoke about on a bad day he ‘just rolls around the floor’. Scott interjected that on a good day, he ‘just rolls around the floor!’ Fergus also talked about the fundamental issue of lack of funding and opportunities in place to support mature artists; this was heartily agreed by all the panel members.  
During the last 30 minutes of the seminar there was opportunity for questions and comments from the floor. Some interesting reflections and issues were raised, one being a concern from an Artistic Director of a middle-scale National touring company, concerning payment structures for mature, highly-experienced artists employed in collaborative dance work/devised projects. Should all artists be paid the same in collaborative work, regardless of age and experience? This aroused some interesting discussion, comparing and contrasting the genre of contemporary dance with other work-place environments and professions, in terms of  acknowledgement of extensive experience, value, progression of pay, etc.   
The seminar concluded by chair Gill Clarke reflecting on contemporary dance being still a very young art form, and that perhaps we have not yet learnt how to age’. She added that what is important is we ‘matter’ and that it takes time (and space) to reflect on this; mature dancers must have opportunities to be an integral part of the dance infrastructure and profession.  
I am very grateful to Dance South West for awarding me the bursary to attend this important event.  This I hope will be the start of further debate, and, hopefully pave the way to provide new initiatives to enable, support and help in practical ways in order to sustain and nurture a growing generation of mature dance artists.

Debbie Lee-Anthony
October 2007

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