Dancing Across Europe: England, Ireland & France by Kyle Gross

“Step, kick, step, prepare, turn turn turn turn!” is a phrase I’ve yelled one too many times.  As a competition dancer, and now teacher, I have spent nearly 15 years of my life focusing on execution of technique and showmanship in order to win big at competitions. My name is Kyle Gross and I am the latest Chisenhale Intern from Minnesota, USA.

While I have briefly studied modern dance (the US name for contemporary), my training has centered on tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet musical theater, and hip hop – notice how the term “experimental” has not once been mentioned! Yes, I am attempting to dive head first into the world of experimental dance during my time here at Chisenhale and in Europe as a whole.

Never being outside of the States prior to this summer, I’m taking every travel opportunity I can fit into my short six weeks abroad.  I will be traveling around England, Dublin, and Paris – hence why my posts will comment on experimental dance in each unique area.

– England –

It should go without mentioning that X6 pioneered experimental dance here in England. The longer I work here at Chisenhale, the more I witness how courage and hard work can benefit future generations of artists. Everyone walking though our doors should be grateful that X6 helped create a dance scene in which artists are free to break boundaries, create their own rules, and innovate new styles of dance.  Yet I sit unsatisfied, wondering – do we know if and how experimental dance spread across borders?

I found today’s dance scene in England to be much more diverse and developed than that in Minnesota! My favorite experimental examples, beyond Chisenhale, include Greenwich Dance’s “Low Tech” nights which informally showcase new pieces and open them up for debate. I also came across Dance 4 in Nottingham, England – an artist development facility that includes R&D often in collaboration with nearby universities! It is great to know that Chisenhale is not alone in nourishing a space for dance experimenting.

Today government funding of the arts is spread across more forms than in the days of X6.  An interesting tool they have developed, with the help of the BBC, is a digital media platform called “The Space.”  Here artists can experiment merging performance and visual art with the latest online tools.  It is a great way for artists to evolve with the exponential boom in Internet use and gain exposure to the public through current channels. Creating and delivering dance that addresses changing trends in society should sound a bit familiar to all of us!

My next post will travel across the sea to Dublin where I intend to meet the Irish and track down any traces of experimental dance.

The luck of the Irish was strong with me last weekend.  After dealing with delays on the Tube (no surprise), my friends and I arrived at our coach bus with literally two minutes to spare.  Spending two days in Dublin, it is safe to say that I would rather be a dancer here in London.

However, I should give Ireland some credit. With breathtaking coastal views and charming cathedrals, I found the area to be a source of inspiration for both dance and life.  There is a national pride and cheerful atmosphere in Dublin that was contagious. Not to mention that the Irish accents remind me all too much of my “Minnesoootan” accent from back home.

– Ireland –

In my research, I came across a group called “50% Male Experimental Theatre” focused on fusing contemporary dance with physical theater. The company was founded by three men and three women, almost sounding like the X6 of Ireland! Its pieces are rich in diversity, with performers from South America, Poland, Uzbekistan, Ireland, and more.

One of Ireland’s most prominent annual dance events is The Dublin Dance Festival – showcasing contemporary pieces by dancers old and new. The 13-day program includes “Moving Conversations” which holds collaborative arts discussions and “Re-Presenting Ireland,” a mixed bill of developing contemporary artists.  I love that the festival’s mission is to “enable audiences to discover inspirational artists to all people” as it helps to grow the hunger for experimental dance among the masses.

On that note, I am often fascinated with how obscure experimental dance can be to the public eye – particularly on the Internet. Google searching “experimental dance” does not give you a neatly packaged summary of all that the experimental dance world offers. This clearly shows how undiscovered our art form is – but more importantly how much potential it has!

One of our current projects here at Chisenhale is digging through and reinvigorating our archive of past experimental performances.  As our 30th Birthday Celebration approaches, keep your eye on Chisenhale for a bit of our own history. I feel so fortunate to witness passionate people working everyday to nurture our artists and develop the world of experimental dance.

How can you help? Post, comment, like, write, do something in your power to help spread experimentation and creativity.  Through collaboration we may continue to build upon this community that we all love and cherish.

My next and final post will trace my experiences in Paris, France!

Are you an avant-garde artist? The French first coined the term “avant-garde” which refers to anything innovative or experimental. Perhaps Chis should expand to France with a tagline of “Bonjour! Chisenhale Dance Space – home to the avant-garde artist.”  Actually, the term more so describes the modernists and postmodernists of the 20th Century – Pablo Picasso, Isadora Duncan, and Martha Graham to name a few.

I have never witnessed more art than during my trip to Paris last weekend. I felt as if every building, park, and storefront needed to be boxed up and put on display in a gallery! My friends and I also traveled outside of the city, touring Claude Monet’s Gardens and the Palace of Versallies – both of which were overwhelmingly beautiful.  With so much artistry to be found, it was no surprise to find experimental dance bustling in France.

The coolest experimental facility I found in Paris was Dimanche Rouge. It is an association that produces live art incorporating dance with sound, video, installations, and multimedia.  Besides discipline crossover, Dimanche Rouge’s artists are ethnically diverse.  It has presented over 700 artists from 62 countries!  More impressively, the association is entirely funded on donations from its artistic community and partnerships rather than the government – quite refreshing to see.

Much like Chisenhale Dance Space, Le Regard du Cygne was established in the 80s to provide an entire facility dedicated to the emerging artist. Originally focused on mixing contemporary dance with chamber music, it has evolved into a point of collaboration for daring experimenters in music, theater, and dance. I learned that the building has actually housed different forms of dance since the 1700s! This autumn the organization will be holding a string of events in combination with European Heritage Days.

My trip to France however marks the end of my time in Europe.  I will be heading back to the States this week with no regrets – having traveled to a variety of locations and learning many skills here at Chisenhale.  I am excited to get back to my competition dance students and put a little experimental twist on things.  All art forms need to evolve over time. Limits must be pushed, experimentation must flourish, and artists must be given space to breathe and grow.  I think Chisenhale Dance Space helps us all in more ways than we realize – I know it has for me.