The text is commissioned by Goethe Institut Finnland and released in September 2020. The link for the original German version you can find below. 

If you don’t tour internationally, you’re practically non-existent, right? I was asked this question on the topic of visibility and ultimately of career opportunities for self-producing artists by a young choreographer at one of the first courses on production and management that I taught at the University of Giessen.

In light of how the performing arts scene has developed since the 80’s and 90’s, the answer to this question is a clear YES. Most notably, the field has expanded, been able to grow and gain an international reputation, because artists have worked, studied, researched across genres and borders and, above all, also because they have been amply invited, presented and funded. This has resulted in a network of collaborating theatres, festivals, production offices and artists.

Thoughtfully browsing through my collection of playbills, theatre programs and festivals pamphlets from the last 10-15 years, I observe the following development:

Far more pieces are now being produced or financially supported by international collaborative networks. The number of pieces performed in theatres and at festivals almost doubled over this period. In addition, more and more artists are trying to perform their pieces (locally, nationally, internationally) and bring them on tour. According to my observations and research, this frequently leads to shorter rehearsal periods. In addition, the pieces tend to have a short lifespan or very limited visibility. Until a piece is really being widely talked about, it has often already run its course, faded away like mist in the sunshine.

International versus local?

If we wish to address the international circulation of productions and the associated issue of supporting artists in the countries in which they live, we must also take a closer look at the urgent question of sustainably producing and performing these works. This also brings up the additional question of: how have we worked in the past, how are we working now and how would we like to work in this community in the future – in a world in which climate change plays an ever increasingly important role and is taking center stage in public perception.

So how can and should the performing arts continue, as a scene in which everything is focused on exchange and international visibility?

It is easy to argue against international travel and to ask how art venues, festivals and theatres today, can sustainably present performances without artists having to get on a plane. But is the solution really to withdraw completely into our local villages? In doing so, we would actually ignore the fact that the scene has grown precisely because of how it has nationally and internationally opened itself, engaging in a global exchange with colleagues and audiences. Nor should we forget that this is also a source of financial security for many artists. Not only does touring secure funding, but it also generates income for choreographers, dancers, technicians, producers, etc. and contributes to the pieces having longer lifespans, something, which is not always the case when artists only operate locally.

International and sustainable, how could that work?

To take a step back now would mean more than just taking a train instead of a plane. Instead it would mean seriously considering whether theatres and festivals could show pieces over longer periods of time, whether pieces could be revived more often, instead of presenting new work, a different artist every other evening.

We could also think about how to use the networks of exchange already in place to make artistic touring more sustainable, to avoid having a group travel from Berlin to Helsinki for only two performances. The same group could travel from Helsinki to other places in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, surrounding countries and cities. Such forms of collaboration and cooperation would not only ease the pressure on our strained environment, but also reduce and distribute costs, while allowing pieces to be performed more often, run for a longer space of time and thus be more visible.

The sommer.bar as a place of international and local exchange

In 2006, I developed the sommer.bar festival in Berlin (as part of Tanz im August), driven by two main questions:

– Why is it that an international festival like Tanz im August, which brings artists from all over the world to the city of Berlin, a city in itself so vibrant with artists, rarely seeks to engage with the local dance scene?

– Is there a way to promote such exchange, to involve the local scene more strongly in this festival and, as a side effect, to create a framework that allows the international artists to stay longer in Berlin, to show other work, to research, rehearse or to work on something new?

In addition to these thoughts, I was interested in working with a wide variety of spaces, avoiding classical stages, and thus in presenting a wide variety of formats. sommer.bar became a place to work and perform and enter into a dialogue and exchange with others in a place that formed the festival center at the heart of Tanz im August. It was also a place that dealt differently with resources (if I may call artists that for once). Almost all of the artists arriving from outside the city for Tanz im August also did something at the sommer.bar. This extended their stay in the city and gave the audience an opportunity to get to know different facets of their work.

Exchange at Moving in November and questions that remain

I curated the last edition of sommer.bar in 2011. The issues that led to the creation of sommer.bar have continued to occupy me ever since I took over as artistic director of the Moving in November dance festival in Helsinki. What is the role of the festival in a city like Helsinki, surrounded by a small but excellent dance scene? How can we establish an exchange between artists from abroad and the local scene? How can the one be a motor and support for the other?

In general, I always find it important and exciting to involve artists in new ideas and ask them directly: what do you need and how do you want to perform and produce? The answers tend to vary greatly from person to person. Not all of them aspire to an international career, not all of them want to produce and rehearse a new piece every six months. And that is where cultural policies should come in, with funding systems that are more open, offer more leeway, are more tailored to individual career choices and can thus also be applied more freely to specific needs.

What would happen if we agree to produce less pieces in exchange for longer rehearsal periods and more chances to perform?

If creativity, diversity and the personality of each artist were not treated as synonymous, in order to simply implement as many ideas as quickly as possible? If the success of venues and festivals was not measured by how many premieres and different pieces they could accommodate in their program in the shortest possible space of time?

Kerstin Schorth
Artistic director

Photo: Kerstin Schroth

Translation: Elena Polzer