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Tanya Steinhauser in Italy for Performing Gender

Thu 4 October 2018
Part of: Performing Gender: Dance Makes Differences | 2017-2018
Tanya Steinhauser (far right) in Bassano 2018 © Performing Gender

As one of five dance dramaturgs on the European project Performing Gender, I have had the privilege of taking part in a training week with the legendary Peggy Olislaegers (known to our regional dance scene through leading on Yorkshire Dance’s Sketch programme) during B-Motion Festival in Bassano del Grappa, Italy.

B-Motion Festival is one of those gems – a unique and truly inspiring experience. The festival manages to bring together an array of exciting people and projects, this time around the European projects Migrant Bodies – moving borders, Performing Gender and the European Dancehouse Network all get together in the same week. The programme is a rich and fascinating mix of thought-provoking, stimulating and, on occasion, boundary-breaking international contemporary dance. It’s supported by local audiences of all ages who are curious, adventurous and support the festival through their on-going presence.

The setting doesn’t come much better than this. A lot of the work is programmed in hidden chapels, museums and gardens (some open to the public specifically for site-responsive performance events), which offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the hidden architectural treasures of this small medieval city in the foothills of the Venetian Prealps.

Immense energy and effort goes into connecting communities at B-Motion.

In the morning, a diverse group of people come together for the daily ‘Dance Well’ class, which takes place outdoors, on the grassed area in the cloister of the Civic Museum. The class runs weekly throughout the year and is for local people living with Parkinson’s disease. During the festival, the class is joined by a rich community, including refugees, older adults, dancers presenting work or attending the festival and other arts professionals taking part in various European projects such as our small group of dramaturgs.

The class offers a wonderful opportunity to move together, share and connect with each other through various tasks and instructions. The experience of being able to connect in this way (across languages and cultures), with people that I might not otherwise meet in my daily life, is incredibly powerful. It is also a stark reminder of the rather homogeneous bubble I normally operate in and I make note to try and break out and disrupt this bubble more often.

Because something gets sparked in the experience of moving together with this rich mix of people, simple tasks feel powerful, connecting through our eyes / gaze, placing a hand on another person’s back and moving at their pace, laughing together, copying each other’s way of moving, sharing a sad experience only through gestures, all evoking strong feelings of connection and empathy with one another.

The classes are followed by conversations, which try to carry on the sense of community; valuing and listening to everyone’s voice in the room, cherishing everyone’s personal and valuable perspectives on topics such as personal archives, experiences and identity, exploring all the differences of perspectives and working out how to share them. We also talk about vitality and what we need to feel vital.

It feels much harder to connect when talking in a large group. Language and diverse backgrounds start to get in the way, even though the conversations, their set-up and facilitation have clearly been conceived with the conscious effort to overcome some of these known barriers.

In the afternoon, we carry on the conversations in smaller groups, the Performing Gender dramaturgs with Peggy. We reflect on our experience of the rich programme of dance performances, reflect on the morning conversations and share our impressions and insights. We discuss any topics that have arisen for us. I cherish the opportunity to learn from and exchange with Peggy and my fellow Performing Gender dramaturgs, to have the chance to poke further and go deeper.

Six weeks on, I still treasure the B-Motion experience, the connections formed with fellow festival participants and project partners through carefully curated encounters, conversations and performances. I continue to reflect on who makes dance, what (personal) archive, experiences and identity we draw on in our work, the questions we explore and experiment with, how our work connects with others and what it is that we experience and take away, having witnessed the work. The week has maybe made me more curious, given me an appetite for more diverse experiences and encouraged me to ask more and different questions.

I will also continue to reflect on, hone and act on what I would like to be co-responsible for… thanks Peggy!

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