Contact Quarterly 2000
Improvisation Festival Amsterdam 1994-99
By KATIE DUCK
This article is about The Improvisation Festival that took place in Amsterdam, Holland from 1994 to 1999. By participating in the performances of this festival and by way of my position as initiator, I had the opportunity to question my artistic direction and I hope all participants of the festival enjoyed that potential through out the five-year event. But I did not initiate this festival in order to address one single artistâ€™s work. I wanted to expose the conflicts between funding bodies and dance communities and to highlight the confusions there in.
When I arrived in Holland in the early 90â€™s, funding for dance was available and funding bodies were prepared to be fair but the reputation for improvisational dance was not considered to be serious dance. The artists who initiated this work in the 70â€™s and 80â€™s were conducting their practice in closed communities and places. I initiated this festival in order to broaden artists and public interests for improvisational dance and to place the work in a position where funding bodies could see it as serious business. In Holland, fair is good and if the people are doing it make it legal and regulate.
I asked Robert Steijn to produce the festival. Robert was the dance programmer at the FRASCATI THEATER. Frascati is a centrally located theater in Amsterdam with a beautiful main space and was a perfect location for the festival events. Michael Vatcher (percussionist) and Tristan Honsinger (cellist and composer) selected musicians. Robert and I selected dancers for the first two years and then Michael Schumacher joined us for the last three years. We conducted weekend performances for the first two years and a one evening performance for the last three years. Evenings were broken into sets of twenty minutes to an hour. I formed dance ensembles to begin sets and allowed dancers to enter after a period of time. Michael Vatcher did the same for the musicians. Performances began at 21:00 and ended at 1:00 in the morning. There was a bar for the public to use during breaks and publicity warned people that they were in for a long evening. This was an excellent tactic of Robertâ€™s invention. Public came to see the artists improvise but also to see how well we could evolve the composition over the long evening. The first year of this festival we filled only one half of the theater. By the last year we had a full theater. The public was as broad as our artistâ€™s invitation lists. Some years had better performances than others did but each year showed that improvised performances are serious business.
To the CQ reader I would like to say that it was very hard work digging the reputation of improvisational dance out of the closed, protective communities it occupied when I first came to Holland. I have a deep interest in artwork and I make a living at it so I can not hide from the devil like a baby. If the devil invented centralized funding does that mean I go to heaven if I do not get funding? Perhaps you can protect yourself from the devil within a community but if the devil is the powerful languages of aesthetics that run this industry or the production agendas where ticket sells take priority then there is no where to run and no where to hide. I chose improvisational dance with aesthetics and my priorities in mind. My priority is to â€œdoâ€ the work and aesthetics is what I am questioning. If I can not â€œdoâ€ the work then that questioning can not be exposed. There have been decades of work about improvisational dance, but how can that work be valued if it is not exposed? I can not afford to qualify what I value by way of my artistic questions alone. I can only qualify what I value by making a living at what it is I do. When you dine with the devil it is difficult to understand who made the meal. But that is no excuse for not sitting at the table if that is where the dancing is. I am checking out the cook, but the devil, and me we get along just fine.