Ticking the Box

16 02 2009

Interdisciplinary Collaborations in Dance
by Vanini Belarmino

This article was published in German, “Der Bruch mit dem Selbstverstaendnis,” TanzRaumBerlin, March-April 2009.



"Paulina in Motion," Sketch by Philippine National Artist Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera, 2006

"Paulina in Motion," Sketch by Philippine National Artist Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera, 2006



Coming from a “halo-halo” culture (which literally translates to mix-mix), putting varied elements together is integral to my being and professional work.  Prior to my European orientation or re-orientation, the usage of terms “interdisciplinary” and “contemporary” hardly crossed my path until such time that it became necessary for me to label a specific type of programme or work.  The practice of cross-disciplinary collaborations amongst different types of artists, particularly in the performing arts is and has always been the core of a production, in whatever direction one could think of.  If one would have a reality check or just take a closer look into history, choreographers, dancers, actors, musicians, visual and literary artists, filmmakers, directors, curators alike have been engaged either consciously or sub-consciously in a communal process towards the development of their respective works.


To address the question of how much contemporary dance is willing to open up to other art forms and how it profits from such an opening, I wish to channel my position by zooming into the hyperconsciousness that I have extended over my own work/s in the past couple of years.  From my professional experience, openness to hybridity within the realm of artistic practices particularly in contemporary dance is hardly a point in question, but rather the effort of investing in the coming together of artists from diverse cultural backgrounds as well as the creation of a renewed working environment.

The idea of interdisciplinary work for me goes beyond putting one artistic practice next to each other.  My ultimate goal is to find live avenues for the trade of different minds, philosophies, ideals, values, language games and most importantly the meeting of individuals; to establish the initial person to person contact that can arouse curiosity which can later on generate creative energy.   The creation of a circulating process that opens fresh avenues for exploration of the mind, body and soul of the participating creators represent the essence of interdisciplinary work. I think that its strength is contained in its infinite potential of offering and securing multiple perspectives not only of the other/s but also of oneself.  Thus, allowing a recalibration of oneself both as an artist and individual, inwards to outwards.

Having observed the lifestyle of many artists and cultural professionals (myself included) whose day-to-day activities revolves within the studios/centres, having limited contact to ones own family/household and friends in the similar business, provided me the impetus to search for something outside the routine. In the case of the dancers that I know, the day starts and ends with dancing, a way of life which they have consistently followed more than half of their lives, considering that majority begin their training between the age of 4-10 years old.

It is quite easy to fall into the trap of living within ones circle and with this I speak also from personal experience: be isolated and move within a compartmentalised environment without taking notice. Thus, making it convenient to tick the box in the prescribed classification and framework whereby artists have been accustomed to move or develop his/her own work. Fortunately, as a contemporary arts practitioner, especially in an international city like Berlin, one is blessed with endless possibilities and/or excuses to move beyond these classifications.  

Through my work as curator and producer, I have had a number of opportunities to challenge different types of artists to work outside their immediate comfort zone.  Of course, as individuals, the initial drive is to work with people that we are comfortable with.

Looking at a project I curated 3 years ago, I can say that there is no concrete formula that would immediately address nor satisfy the complexity of thought of each and every individual artist in any interdisciplinary collaboration. The project that I wish to refer to as an example, took place in Lisbon, Kuala Lumpur, Baguio City, Paris and Warsaw.  It was divided into two phases.  The first phase was the exchange between four pairs of established visual artists and young choreographers originating from Asia and Europe.  The young choreographers spent a week visiting the visual artists in his/her home/studio learning and sharing about their respective works and life experiences.  The idea behind this was to draw inspirations from each other and essentially for the young choreographers to develop ideas for his/her choreographic sketches in time for the second phase. 



Polish National Dance Theatre's Paulina Wychicovksa in front of a work in progress by Philippine National Artist, Benedicto "Bencab" Cabrera at the artist's studio in Baguio City, August 2006.

Polish National Dance Theatre's Paulina Wychicovksa in front of a work in progress by "Bencab" at the artist's studio in Baguio City, August 2006.


The second phase was a 10-day exploratory process led by the 4 choreographers with 21 contemporary dancers selected through an open call.  Since majority of these artists met only through this project, I can only feed your imagination with the tangible artistic tension that emanated over this period with 6 works in progress presented to public at the end of the exchange.

During the time of immediate confrontation, questioning and debates, it was quite difficult for me to reconcile the value of such collaboration. Apart from the 30,000 Euro painting hanging in a Filipino socialite’s living room, which was the result of the first phase visit of Polish choreographer, Paulina Wychicovska to the home of Philippine National Artist, Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera, the outcome that I hoped to achieve was as foggy as the winter weather in Warsaw.

Nonetheless, stepping back a bit helps one to see that the concrete value of interdisciplinary collaboration lies on the individual participants. There are many factors to be taken into consideration. It could be the atmosphere in a specific space, locale, environment, city/country, season, weather, hotel, food, mix of artists, art forms, personalities, etc.   But nothing is ultimately definitive. The artists are the decision makers of what they wish to give and take out of a specific encounter. There are no corner stones in qualifying and quantifying results. 

As there are many and will always be issues about different approaches of working, I can say that interdisciplinary work can bridge the learning and unlearning of ones artistic orientation.  In the case of contemporary dance, it offers an eye-level recognition of other art practices and establishment of support systems, which includes not only funding but also the sharing of resources. Interdisciplinary collaborations bring contemporary dance a step further into its own realities and beyond.




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