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Interviews, essays and commentary published by The Dance Current.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Weight of Words

The Second États généraux de la danse professionnelle du Québec
by Marie Claire Forté

“The written word endures and is eventually accepted as authority,” proclaimed Regroupement québécois de la danse (RQD) director Lorraine Hébert at the launch of the second États généraux de la danse professionnelle du Québec, a summit conference on professional dance in the province. A striking statement for an art form whose transmission relies on the body.

Following up on their first such event held in 1994, the RQD, a provincial dance service and advocacy organization, began planning for this summit conference in November 2003. In 2006, they published a report on the results of the first summit conference and ensuing 1994–1997 triennial plan. At the annual general meeting in October 2007, the RQD launched the “Grands Chantiers de la danse”, a vast research and consultation process. In the wake of this meeting, a steering committee decided on five specific axes of study, delegated to five research committees: 1) Renewal of the discipline: continuity and change; 2) Paradoxes and challenges in a qualified work force; 3) Conditions of practice and artistic requirements; 4) Consolidation and regeneration of the dance [infra]structure; and 5) Dance territories: anchors and nomadism. For two years, members of these committees volunteered over 4000 hours in total, meeting among themselves, soliciting information from the RQD membership and the community at large and submitting over 200 recommendations back to the steering committee. Addressed to funding bodies, institutions and the dance milieu, these recommendations aim to ensure the sustainable and vital growth of the art form. The steering committee paired them down to seventy-nine, distributed along with a discussion of their groundwork in the 119-page participant catalogue for the summit conference.

On April 26th, during a seven-hour closing plenary session, over 200 dance professionals voted on these seventy-nine recommendations, plus 112 amendments and twelve new recommendations issued from two days of workshops April 24th and 25th. These have been submitted back to the RQD and the steering committee. The project will culminate in April 2010, when the steering committee will present a master plan for dance in Québec for the next ten years. These second États généraux were weighted with information and process.

Opening night, a type of launch/performance party, was the exception. Circuit-Est transformed their Jeanne-Renaud studio into a reception hall, with small round tables, bistro-style. With great emotion, Hébert and Anik Bisonnette, chair of the RQD, gave speeches alongside Simon Brault, vice-chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, Louise Roy, chair of the Conseil des arts de Montréal, Yvan Gauthier, chair and general manager of the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec, and Christine St-Pierre, Québec’s minister of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women. Rencontres revisitées, a video installation and performance by Alain Francœur in honour of the dance profession, followed. After, the chairs of the five research committees delivered "Ours in Solidarity", a declaration of intent written by Hébert, inspired by recommendations issued from the Grands Chantiers. Catherine Lavoie-Marcus, research assistant at the RQD, then unveiled the Toile-mémoire de la danse au Québec, a “memory-web” of dance professionals in Québec since 1900, presented on a large, flat digital screen, with names linked via affiliations with notable artists, schools and companies. A bout of festive networking ensued.

The following two days were dedicated to workshops, where recommendations were discussed, amended and adopted. Out of a possible three, I was able to attend one. I registered for a workshop on Dance territories: anchors and nomadism; it was informative to have the time to discuss each recommendation and to get more background information from one research committee in particular. Even then, I sometimes felt ill equipped to take a stand because my knowledge of the issues was incomplete. Consensus was a clear goal of the workshop I participated in, though wording was often cause for great debate. Over the course of three hours, the focus shifted many times from the placement of a comma to voting on all of the many recommendations. In the afternoon, Lavoie-Marcus formally presented her Toile-mémoire with one of her project supervisors, Michèle Febvre (the other, Philip Szporer, was absent), insisting on the work-in-progress nature of the image.

On the last day, the plenary played out a now familiar tension between the details of wording and the bigger picture. Debate topics included the need for more infrastructure; provincial, national and international touring strategies; preservation practices; and generational bridging plans.

I was both excited and exasperated to have so many people caring about words. Because of the breadth of the issues, the sheer number of recommendations and the process of debating and voting, and despite rigorous work by the plenary chair, we occasionally bumbled through big questions, cutting the discussion short and voting despite lingering questions from different members. There was an ongoing confusion for me between distant dreams and concrete possibilities. This was brought up by a question about the possibility of securing funding for rather lofty goals and one member offered that “we cannot always be logical, we must be political”, suggesting that we should request the money for every project knowing that the outcome will be uncertain. Though the plenary was governed by a desire for consensus, some recommendations were reworked entirely during this session.

It was inspiring to interact with so many different players within the dance sector in Québec. I am proud to be part of a community with so many impassioned, well-spoken individuals. My dance activities do not afford me many opportunities to chat with a dance company’s accountant, nor to listen to a presenter’s needs for specific funding, nor to participate in a debate about teaching certification for dance in public schools. Meeting so many different people allowed me to broaden my horizons, and engaging in longer conversations with a few individuals gave me a sense of different perspectives within the community.

Registration for the summit conference was divided by electoral college as follows: dancers, rehearsal directors: 45; choreographers, companies and production designers: 67 (I didn’t notice any designers); professional schools, teachers and researchers: 23; and presenters, service organizations, festivals, cultural workers, associations/networks: 49. The majority of attendees were from Montréal (239 versus 20 from Québec City and other regions), primarily working in contemporary dance. This demographic is consistent with statistics published on the 1994 summit conference. Interestingly, one of the issues that arose from the workshops addressed the need to reflect on the diversity of artistic practices in the milieu.

The amended recommendations are now back with the RQD and will be articulated in a ten-year master plan. Notable outcomes of the first triennial plan submitted in 1994 included La Danse sur les routes du Québec, a provincial network for dance touring, and several new dance presenters. In a 1995 press release regarding the implementation of the first triennial plan for professional dance in Québec, the RQD said: “We are of course aware that the current economic and social situation is not the most auspicious one in which to consider the development of an artistic discipline. However, the dance community considers that the process, and the resultant synthesis which we submit today, reflect the hope that we will overcome the prevailing gloom and that there will be a resurgence in the development of the arts in general and of dance in particular once our society recovers from what must be called a crisis in values, a crisis which translates into instability of the social climate, economic stagnation, and a radical calling into question of the social contract.”

In lieu of the current economic and social crisis, potentially more transformative than the one cited in 1994, will this same statement apply in April 2010 when the RQD presents its master plan? I personally hope that the vision of our community leaders will translate the weight of words into action, and that these actions will “overcome the prevailing gloom”, lighting the future path for dance in Québec.

Declaration of Intent: "Ours in Solidarity"
Déclaration d'intentions: "Solidairement nôtre"

Marie Claire Forté is a dancer and choreographer and also works as a translator and writer. She has performed and presented her work primarily with Le Groupe Dance Lab in Ottawa, from 2004 through 2008. Currently, she dances for choreographers in Montréal and Toronto.

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