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The right connections

May 28. 2014
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Performing arts professionals meet to open the doors to greater collaboration between Europe, Australia, and Asia

Hosted by the Australia Council for the Arts, IETM, or the informal European theatre meeting, brought together performing arts professionals from all over Asia. A five-day affair that saw the participation of 240 participants from 38 countries, it resulted in numerous connections and re-connections being made and paved the way for collaborations that can only liven up the region’s stages.

IETM commenced in 1981, and in 2005, adapted its name in accordance with the changing nature of theatre to “international network for contemporary performing arts”, while retaining the key themes of international co-production; collaborative projects and processes; mobility of artists; and exchange of professional know-how. Spring and autumn plenary meetings are held in Europe, where most members reside and work, Satellite meetings have also been held in the US and Asia, including Jakarta in 2010 and Yokohama in 2011, with this month’s Melbourne satellite event being the biggest to date.

Participants adapted to the new time zone and autumn weather prior to the start of the conference by watching performances over the last weekend of the 10th edition of “Next Wave Festival”. This presented works by emerging Australian and international artists that were highly diverse both in theatrical style and dramatic content.

Louis van de Geer and Samara Hersch’s play “Hello There, We’ve been Waiting for You” was a poignant commentary on our fear of insignificance and contemporary television culture through a specific example of a small town USA. More culturally specific to Australia was Sean Jorvn’s “SEETHrough”, written by the two performers, a “Blackfulla” and a “Whitefulla”.

Matthias Schack-Arnott experimented with metal, glass and granite in his sound installation/concert “Fluvial” which was captivating aurally as well as visually.

Feminist theatre troupe I’m Trying to Kiss You discussed issues around young women’s bodies fantastically in “Madonna Arms” while dancer and choreographer Natalie Abbott pushed her and her bodybuilder co-performer’s bodies to the max – and the definition of contemporary dance too – in the unforgettable “Maximum”.

Rounding out my “Next Wave” experience was Lebanon-born, UK-based Tania El Khoury’s, seen in Bangkok last year at “Live at Scala”, “Gardens Speak” in which each audience member enjoyed a different experience from listening to a story of an actual Syrian activist who passed away.

Afterwards, during the three-day conference at the Arts Centre Melbourne and Footscray Community Arts Centre, “info cells” on performing arts of Asia, Australia and Europe were held. Participants chose to attend four out of eight or 10 on different topics such as site-specific performance and digital practice in the Australia window and councils and festivals/presenters in the Asia window.

Working groups, or think-tank sessions, on such significant topics as “green” international exchange, traditional and contemporary creation as well as political and social constraints were held and participants got to share their insights almost as much as guest speakers.

That meant that each delegate got an opportunity to share what they’re doing and problems they’re facing in one session and to gain information in another, and of course to get closer to potential collaborators during the during coffee, lunch and dinner breaks.

Democrazy Studio’s artistic director Wasurachata Unaprom says he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I was expecting to play just a small part in the conference and listen to the various arts and culture policies of the Australian government as well as meet many arts professionals. By the end, I realised that the whole event was organised for Asian arts professionals to meet with European and Australasian counterparts. It’s obvious that both Europe and Australasia have a strong interest in Asia but we’ve had little chance to get in touch with them. It was interesting to learn that to find out that there are many funding sources as well as residency programmes in Asia, Australasia and Europe which would welcome our artists’ applications.”

Attending the “Window on the Performing Arts in Europe” information cell, Wasurachata chose to meet with representatives from countries without any strong connection with contemporary Thai artists.

“Many of our artists graduated from the US, UK or France so I chose to talk to delegates from Belgium and Finland, world renowned for their design works, and hopefully in the future our artists’ experience in these countries will help further diversify our contemporary artists’ perspectives,” says the respected designer.

“My perspective on international performing arts exchange has also changed. I used to think that they’re only interested in Thai artists and works that are deeply rooted in traditional culture. From all our discussions though, I now know that they’re as interested in our present as our past,” he adds.

Democrazy’s co-founder Pavinee Samakkabutr agrees, saying “I think they’ve also been trying to connect with us [contemporary Thai performing artists]. But whenever they connect through the government, it’s only our traditional counterparts who get to represent Thailand.”

Both Wasurachata and Pavinee are part of the Bangkok Theatre Network and since returning to town have been relaying and sharing the information as well as networks with their peers.

That can only be beneficial for the intercultural traffic in contemporary Thai performing arts.

“This [IETM Satellite Meeting Melbourne] has been a miraculous opportunity,” Wasurachata enthuses,

“Asia is the future” was proclaimed more than once in this fruitful meeting in which name cards, emails and Facebook addresses were exchanged.

We would do well to remember that the word Australasia is not only geographical and political but also cultural.

The Thai delegates’ trip was kindly supported by the Australian Government’s Council for the Arts and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australia-Thailand Institute, the Australian Embassy Thailand and the Next Wave Festival. Special thanks to Sophie Travers for all assistance.

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