Getting to Know the Good Stuff
Most of us drink coffee. Or wine? Or beer? Ok, so maybe some of us just stick to juice. Tea?
We all have our drink that we know and love. I know a good cup of coffee. And by coffee I mean anything from an Americanoto an espresso and all other the coffee/milk ratio’s that may be. I worked for a summer at a cafe, worked in the same office as a coffee freak/designer and grew up with parents who roasted their own coffee (trust me, it only smells good once it’s been roasted). I have moments when I feel like an espresso macchiato and other times when I feel like a flat white.
What I’m trying to say is that it takes time to know what your preferences are. If I only ever had one cup of coffee in my life, chances are it was probably a sub-par cup-o-joe. And if all the delicious varieties weren’t within my reach or not explained to me, I probably would have stopped after that first cup.
The same goes for contemporary dance. Really.
It takes time to figure out what style you like, which company you prefer and what it is that you want to get out of the experience. Do you want to be provoked, taught, told, fed, captivated, entertained or challenged? How can you compare one show to another? How do you know what is good quality and what’s not? That’s where the programmer comes in. I see the programmer as my good friend who told me after my first espresso “This is perfect, trust me. You just have to develop your taste buds and you’ll know what I’m talking about”. And then my good friend (read: programmer) would let me in on all the secrets, guide me though this foreign world and let me come up with my own preferences. So I can understand the value of that coffee, I mean – dance show, to the max.
Marc is the director of programming at Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona, the most important theatre venue devoted to dance and the movement arts in Spain. Spanish and international companies such as Wim Vandekeybus and La La La Human Steps have graced their stage. The building itself is a transformed flower market built for the 1929 expo (read more about its interesting history). Marc, has a deep connection with the city of Barcelona is a programmer with a strong vision and an opinion. My kind of programmer.
Christina: What makes Mercat de les Flors an interesting place for dance?
Marc: Mercat produces and co-produces international work. But it is not only a production house. We also present dance, promote dance and dance in society, and also run a residency space El Graner. We do a little bit of everything. Mercat is one of a kind in Spain in terms of the scale that we are able to reach within the dance field. We also have a strong connection with the international field. It is because strangely producing and co-producing works is actually easier for us to do with international partners than it is with partners from within Spain. And in our programming, we program everything from [experimental] performance to neo-classical.
Interesting. It is actually easier to work internationally on co-productions than nationally. Could this be the case in other places?
C: What makes Barcelona a “dance” city?
M: It’s not a dance city. I would say it is more of a physical theater city. It developed this way developed since the end of the dictatorship in Spain.
C: If it’s not a dance city, what makes the scene in Barcelona unique?
M: Barcelona has a fresh and young dance scene. It is still emerging. In the last few years we are seeing that dancers are choosing to stay in Barcelona or to come back, whereas before they felt the need to leave. They are starting to see more opportunities here. Also, in terms of aesthetics, Barcelona and the Spanish scene in general is very much into the physical body and the physicality of dance compared to other countries that have a more conceptual in their approach.
C: Why are dancers returning to Barcelona or deciding on staying?
M: In the 90’s the funding was structured in such a way that funds were distributed to a few companies. Now the money is being spread out across more artists from different levels. It is more attractive for independent dancers to stay now that the funding is more diverse.
C: How do you approach programming at Mercat?
M: Programming is not just about us liking something and presenting it. Our approach to programming has been to have a red thread, to which all projects from the season are conceptually connected. This helps us in our decision-making and to explain to the artists and the public why we say yes to one project and no to another. It also helps the audience to understand our choices. For example, this season the concept is Dramaturgy of the Body; the political body, social body, conceptual body. The productions that are presented here will all be connected with this theme.
C: What do you see as the role of a dance house?
M: A house of dance needs to serve the form, but also needs to give the artists the space to fail. Things need time to develop. If you want to provoke the evolution of the arts and their aesthetics, you have to allow for space for development. And I don’t think everything has to be for everybody. I think that if there are 40 people in Barcelona who are interested in something, as a public institution we are also responsible for those 40 people. Of course we need to be transparent about our choices. And if we choose to serve those 40 people it should be in relation to the investments we do for larger groups. However, the outcomes of our choices should not only be quantitative but also qualitative. I am interested in how we can relate artists with society and together with the artists and Mercat, how can we build the audience.
C: And what about international programming?
M: The mission of Mercat is to have 40% international programming. Receiving international artists increases and diversifies the information and aesthetics that local artists are exposed to. It is a way to open up the local norms, so artists and audiences don’t get stuck in what they know. It puts the audience in contact with other realities. Interestingly, sometimes these realities are the same outside of the country as they are inside, but sometimes not. Also, in Spain we don’t have many large-scale productions produced, and so it is important to present these to our audiences and so we need to bring them in from abroad.
C: How are international productions perceived by your audience?
M: First of all, I hope that we have built the trust from the audience that they accept our programming decision. When productions come from abroad, it can also attract an audience just because it comes from abroad. People are curious. An example of this is Dave St. Pierre, form Canada. He was a huge success, no one knew him at first but his show was very well received.
C: Can you give an example of how Mercat is involved in international talent development?
M: Akram Kahn was invited to Mercat around 2006/2007 as a relatively unknown artists in the early development phase of his career. He was given space here to develop his work. Of course it is not just because of Mercat, but he is now enjoying international acclaim. His time here is an example of how it is important for us to invest in the early stages of artists’ development.
C: How else is Mercat internationally involved?
M: Our international network is important. We are involved in EDN (European Dancehouse Network), Aerowaves and other European projects. International networks are key to financially sustaining co-productions and to give visibility to the artists that they support.
Just like the cafe down the street that serves coffee from all over the world, Mercat does the same with dance performances. Mercat’s reasons are not just because they believe in the benefits of international exchange, but because the large-scale international productions compliment the supply of smaller-scale local shows. The variety of what to chose from and the excitement of international shows has the audience coming back. Marc and his team pick out the shows like the cafe picks out the variety of their beans. Both Marc and the cafe employees help their customers make the choices that suit them best.
Together with Marc, Mercat’s new director Àngels Margarit will surely bring a new approach to Mercat and the Barcelona scene. I’m curious to find out where they will take their audiences!
Now for my coffee break, one cappuccino please – no cinnamon.