‘What we do matters’ (speech)

door Kristin de Groot

Openingsspeech during the kick-off of Dansateliers 25th anniversary on October 9th, 2018 in Theater Rotterdam.

In the month of April of the year 2011 I said yes to the position of being the future director of Dansateliers. I was thrilled and I thought; wow, that organisation has such a solid base, it has a history and has developed so much over the years building knowledge, expertise and opportunity. I considered all of that one big invitation to further develop and expand on what had been built so far.

However, when I officially started my position, five months later I thought:
Wooooow, where the hell did I get myself into? Had I taken the right decision leaving my previous job? Because what I found, was an organisation under big threat as massive cutdowns had been announced and on top of that, one month later, we received a letter telling us we would have to leave our spaces as of January 2012. You may understand that the questions that came to my mind at the time were: how can we convince people that what we do matters, that we have an impact, that time and space for research and development is crucial for innovation to happen within an artform. The crucial question I, and we asked ourselves was: will we be able to survive all of this at all?

And here we are today, I am standing here in front of you all and I can proudly tell you Dansateliers is alive and kicking and we are very excited and more than ready to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Due to the power of resilience, creativity, perseverance and an open view, we have built, talked, acted and danced……., we have stimulated, received, embraced and danced again…….., we have questioned, coached, invented, criticised, partnered up and collaborated and we will keep on dancing.

Why is an organisation still relevant today, after 25 years of existence? I believe it’s a question every organisation should ask itself from time to time. Artists development is what we do and we do it in a very specific way. Over the years of developing and building the organisation, dramaturgy has become an integral part of how Dansateliers functions. It is in our DNA. Questioning, mirroring, reflection and dialogue are key to how we operate and how we govern the organisation. This has helped us adapt to new contexts, requirements and times. It has also helped us adapt to the need for new working methods, various artistic practices, new types of venues beyond the theatre and new approaches to audiences and audience development. We build close relationships with the people we work with, on the base of trust, shared responsibility, values and principles. We are transparent in what we can offer and we are transparent in what we demand, always remaining flexible in order to customize to needs. We tend to become a home for our artists, we may even become family for a while, which allows our studios to become safe spaces, where experimentation and failure is allowed, where thorough research is done, where development through critical feedback and reflection leads to in depth learning, new forms, aesthetics, languages and insights. What we do, matters.

In 1993, Dansateliers started off as a nomadic organisation. Founding mother Amy Gale would drive around in her car from studio to studio, having her office in a box in the back seat. In 1996 the HBS, an old school building in the centre of Rotterdam, gave space to one office and one studio. From the year 2001 on, Dansateliers received structural funding from the municipality of Rotterdam, who still structurally supports us today and we thank them for doing so.  In 2009 Dansateliers no longer functioned solely as a workspace for research and development, but also as a production house for contemporary dance and was one of the 21 production houses that were structurally funded by the ministry of culture in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, this lasted for four years only, leading up to the massive cutdowns in 2013.

Building an organisation for twenty-five years in an ever-changing world, with ever-changing arts and culture policies, has led to what the organisation is today. We were, and still are an independent house for the development of contemporary dance. Artists’ development has been, and still is our focus. They are offered space, time, resources and coaching on various levels, in order to develop themselves to a self-standing position in the field. But by now, in the slipstream of what is needed to bring an emerging dance artist/choreographer to the field, we have also made ourselves responsible to develop young creative producers, whom we offer specific coaching regarding planning, production, budgeting, fundraising and networking. Next to that, we hire one or two interns a year supporting the team in the office, offering them a learning experience and an insight on the various aspects of our organisation to develop themselves as future professionals.

As facilitating development is something we are good at, we have recently installed three junior board members. Three talented young people, aged 17, 21 and 23, who bring in a fresh and critical eye and ear and in return, they can learn from the whole process of governing a small cultural organisation, under the supervision of our four fantastic board members; Marco Florijn, Johanne Leemans, Gerard Steenbergen and Marc Pil. In order to facilitate the development of talents of people and knowledge, we constantly develop plans, projects and collaborations. I can proudly say that we have recently received the good news that yet another two European projects are granted, both based on strong collaborations facilitating research, exchange of good practices, artists’ and audience development.

We are in a good place. We have been and are very ambitious. At times may be a bit too ambitious. If I tell people we have a total of 2,8 FTE in the office, they tend not to believe me. Obviously, this big ambition is our pitfall at the same time. Especially since the past 7 years we not only had to re-invent and rebuild the organisation, we have also constantly had to find additional money to finance our activities and we’ve had to deal with housing issues. Especially the latter has taken a lot of our time, energy and effort. As I said earlier on, we should have left our spaces in January 2012, but we didn’t, by now we inhabit 3 studio’s and various other rooms, for the office and the reception of guests and audiences. We are in the midst of developing plans for the building we work in, for which the municipality of Rotterdam has given us time to do so and I am positive that within this celebration year, we will be able to announce some good news. So, do come back next year in June, when we will be celebrating our big closing party of this festive season.

We are a Rotterdam based organisation, and that fits us very well. Dansateliers fits Rotterdam and Rotterdam fits Dansateliers. Somehow, we are alike. We do not answer to set standards, we do not operate from preconceptions, we move constantly and we both appear in lists. Yes, also we, like the city of Rotterdam, regularly appear in lists. With best practices, with selected works, with outstanding EU projects and with awards or nominations for awards.

So, to come back to the question; why are we still relevant? It is because what we do, matters. It is because what we do, we do very well. It is because we believe in the power of dance and knowledge built through the dancing body and the affect it has on people. It is because we keep a critical eye on what we do in order to keep on doing what we do on a high professional level, constructively and critically, honest and capable. And how great is it that all the knowledge and expertise that was built over the years, not only sits in the organisation. Over the past 25 years it has organically found its way into the field through all the people we have worked with, both nationally and internationally.

As a director, one represents the organisation to the outside world. But Dansateliers wouldn’t be where it is now, without Johan Cuperus, our business manager and Lody Meijer, who is responsible for PR and communication. I have had the great pleasure to be revitalising and rebuilding the organisation together with these two beautiful and very dedicated people, after the cutdowns in 2013. They have both more than full heartedly put their energy and effort in whatever needed to be done. They have been a tremendous support, not only to me, but also to the makers. I want and have to thank them from the bottom of my heart for that. A warm round of applause!!!

To finish off, I want to bring gratitude to all the beautiful and inspiring people we have been working with in the past years; makers, dramaturgs, producers, designers, technicians, dancers, interns and not to forget the many partners with whom we collaborate. I will not list names, as they would be too many, but it is important to state that we have learnt a lot through the many partnerships and we learn tremendously from working with the artists. They all have big brains, are extremely flexible, creative, critical, inventive and very, very supportive. Having a constructive dialogue is key to how we work and we couldn’t have wished for more in the past couple of years.

I guess by now you will understand that I am so, so proud of what we have achieved over the years. Do keep an eye on us, because the party isn’t over yet, we’re only kicking off today, there is much more to come! The motto of our 25th anniversary is Gaining New Perspectives, which today was practiced in the inspiration atelier through exercises for both body and mind.  I can tell you we have had an extreme fruitful day with the most inspiring contributions of some very knowledgeable colleagues.

For now, I want to thank you for being here and I wish you a beautiful evening. An evening that brings together Flatland by Mor Shani, created in 2011 and the premier of I trust in this life; the hand of God by Connor Schumacher, who is currently one of our associated choreographers. We will also be bringing golden oldies back in December in the frame of One Night’s Dance and next year in June, when we will have our big closing event of this festive season.

What we do, matters.

Thank you.

Kristin de Groot