Making Space for International Collaborations
Elisabetta Bisaro is the Head of International Projects at La Briqueterie, a centre for choreographic development in Val-de-Marne, France. Her job is to connect. Connect art with audiences, institutions with cities, and artists with opportunities. We met in a busy local cafe, on a bright Sunday morning, to talk about how and why she does it – connect the dots, that is.
Why is international collaboration so important anyways? Is it important? Why do we do it? What purpose can it serve? I literally looked up to the stars one evening to find some context.
Collaborations across countries have been proven to lead to countless inspiring endeavours. The International Space Station is arguably one of the most impressive accomplishments of nations working together. Fifteen member countries compiling knowledge, expertise and the ability to dream – to create something a just few generations back would have been deemed impossible and unimaginable.
When up at the ISS and while orbiting our planet, many astronauts and cosmonauts have experienced the “overview effect” when looking back at Earth. This effect, coined by the philosopher and writer Frank White, is known to be a profound shift of perspective. An overwhelming feeling where the divides between nations suddenly seem menial and the fragility of the planet calls for unified, global action to protect this tiny, hanging blue marble.
The late astronaut Edgar Mitchell describes this feeling as “an instant global consciousness, a people orientation” and felt a “universal connectedness”. Ron Garan, an astronaut who spent 178 days in space, said his experience gave him an “orbital perspective”. While on Earth, he developed his organisation the Fragile Oasis with a goal to “unify efforts to establish an effective mechanism for collaboration to solve the challenges facing our world”. According to many, working together is the only way forward in creating a future for the world, where we all can live.
While few people have had the opportunity to experience the “overview effect”, many work on a daily basis to connect and collaborate across nations with the aim to foster inter-nation understanding and exchange. Making the world smaller by connecting the dots.
Let’s zoom in from outer space, to a tiny dot on the globe – Val-de-Marne. In this Parisian suburb, you can find La Briqueterie. Over the past eight years they have developed their reputation to become one of the leaders of international collaborations in the field of dance and cultural exchange.
While their projects always have a dance element to them, their broad approach to collaboration has brought them to a variety of locations. From local community houses to large-scale institutions such as the Louvre and the National Gallery.
Elisabetta Bisaro is the driving force behind the international initiatives. She has a background in linguistics and previously worked for Dance Ireland connecting countries, projects and artists. In 2013 Elisabetta was recruited by La Briqueterie director Daniel Favier, to fulfill their mandate of being the French specialists in international collaborations. I was very excited to learn from the expert and to hear what it takes to connect the world through artistic projects.
Christina: What is a key factor to doing your job and collaborating internationally?
Elisabetta: I think that in this job you have to trust your instincts. The human element is very important in collaborations. It’s not just about being strategic – thinking in terms of which organisations you want to work with based on their prestige or if they can give prestige to your artists. If you truly want to work collaboratively, you have to trust the people you are working with.
C:Internationalisation is a constant negotiation between zooming in to the local and zooming out to the world. Can you tell me more about the relationship between the local and in the international from your perspective?
E: For me it’s crucial to always relate the international work to the local community. Think of a plant, if it doesn’t have enough roots, then it’s not going to grow.
A lot of what I do is about introducing international artists to a local scene, bringing a different perspective to it and, why not, sometimes challenging it. It also gives a lot of perspective to international artists who are coming into the local scene. They are confronted with a context that could be very new to them.
I think that there can be a lot of interesting connections that can develop even after a program is over. I think you always have to think about that. It’s not just about the current project. One project can lead to another and it can inspire connections. It is a progression in the development of the artist as well as the organisations involved.
C: Can you give me an example of a project where the international aspect played an important role in the collaboration?
E: A few years back we had a project called Métamorphoses.
“Métamorphoses was a project between dance houses in Belgium, Poland and France. It investigated the institutions and their surrounding communities and neighbourhoods, which were all undergoing profound transformations. Métamorphoses took religion, work and political power as the points of departure for carrying out artistic research on the theme of transformation, in which local communities were invited to join in together with international artists.” – La Briqueterie.
E: There was a Polish artist collective called Animatornia participating in the project. In their group they had a performing artist, visual artist and graffiti artist. For this project at La Briqueterie, they worked with women from the surrounding community many of whom are originally from the Maghreb countries.
The Polish artists didn’t speak French the women from our community didn’t speak very much English. Working with the body could have been one way of dealing with the language issue, but instead they collaborated through the act of cooking. They exchanged Polish and Arab recipes while making meals together. This was an important moment in the project where international artists could exchange and learn from the local community. For the women from the community, it was a first introduction to get to know La Briqueterie, to get to know the space. Through this activity they could experience that the space is not just a place where dance happens, but also an open space, a social space as well.
What we have been trying to do is relate the artistic practice of the international artists on a local level, but also social level. To do that, we link up a lot with associations for civil rights for our international projects and find creative ways for that relationship to grow.
C: Does having an international element to your projects help in collaborating with local organisations?
E: Yes. It’s sometimes as if the “international” aspect of a partnership proposal acts a mediating element. There is a certain unknown and curiosity. It can be something new for an organisation. When building a connection with another local organisation this third element, the international aspect, can create a common bond. This way, it is not just a binary connection. Artists and local organisations are often interested in collaborating when there is this international element.
C: What do you see is important in sustaining international collaborations within the dance community?
E: I think we need to make the benefits of internationalisation more visible to the public. Also, I think that we, as an industry, need to lobby to other networks and to link dance to the outside world. We should collaborate together, across industries, raising the profile of arts in general. I think that if you leave it to your own small sector to do all the work, you are not going to be powerful enough.
C: Most of the international projects La Briqueterie is involved in are within Europe. What can you learn from outside Europe?
E: Often Europe is thought of as the reference. There is this idea that “Europe can do it because they have more money than the rest”. Yes, we do have good infrastructure here, but this could disappear very quickly. I am concerned with how we can anticipate this and start to connect with other entities outside of Europe – how can we learn from them and how can we collaborate with them. The more experimental things could be happening in other places.
We have to be careful about just thinking, “I need the money to produce what I want”. There might not be enough resources to do this in the future. So we need to find other ways of collaborating together. And I definitely think that there are other models outside Europe that could work better or differently, so it is interesting to get insights into those as we learn from each other.
To date, La Briqueterie has been directly involved in seven collaborative international projects. Currently, their projects include: 360 – Building Strategies for Communication in Contemporary Dance and Aerowaves – a network of 33 partners to support emerging dance artists throughout Europe.
*Collaborating countries for Dancing Museums: Austria (D.ID Dance Identity), France (La Briqueterie), Italy (CSC Bassano Del Grappa), the Netherlands (Dansateliers) & U.K. (Siobhan Davies Dance).
Banner photo: Bairbre Colley