President of EDN (European Dancehouse Network) and deputy director of KLAP, the Marseille Dancehouse, Laurent Meheust is passionate in telling us about his work supporting artists and his hopes for choreographic art.
Since 2019 you’ve been president of EDN (European Dancehouse Network), a network of European Dancehouses committed to developing choreographic art. Can you tell us about your career before you took up this position?
I started my career in public relations before becoming an administrator then a general coordinator. Today I am deputy director of KLAP, the Marseille Dancehouse, alongside choreographer Michel Kelemenis. Regarding EDN, my appointment as president is voluntary: the network was built in the early 2000s and we have been affiliated with our European partners since KLAP opened in 2011. I have always collaborated with artists, whether they be directors, conductors, pianists, and now choreographers. Each one of them is committed in two ways: leading an institution and infusing their company with their own artistic features. I’ve learned a lot working with them and that only further enriches the discussions I have with the many artists we support.
How do you envisage supporting artists in the wealth of these European exchanges? How do you organise your work with them?
For me, the wealth of this organisation, and of artist organisations in general, lies in sharing the material of their creative approaches. When working with them, I first of all draw up a rough outline of their project. I don’t just discuss artistic intentions, I also observe the viability of their production, their organisation, and their group of partners. Have they got the right temporality? Is the project too ambitious, or on the other hand, deliberately self-censored? We can then be present for the different phases of the creation process, from initial research to technical finishing touches. We don’t just give money, we provide real networking.
You’ve notably collaborated with creators in theatre and music. What is your vision of dance in relation to these other artistic disciplines? Why have you chosen to devote yourself to this art specifically?
I’ve always wanted to devote myself to dance but my career path led me to start with theatre and music. Dance is a more limited area, historically younger and more fragile. It is said, moreover, that it’s the poor parent of live performance, and that it has to be exported to survive. Personally, I was attracted by the international dynamic and the political dimension unique to this art. It’s my way of finding my place in society and contributing. Dance is political because it’s part of a variety of bodies that helps to connect people. It’s a medium that could also be used to test new governance arrangements and establish a different kind of collaboration with our policy-makers.
How important is dance today in the programmes of theatres and cultural spaces? How do you raise awareness among programmers? Introduce audiences?
I would say that there’s never enough dance and I advocate for the art. Given the lifespan of a choreographic work and the increase in smaller organisations co-producing dance, we have to work differently on our level. This means extending residencies in one place — and not just having shorter ones in more places — to create strong territorial anchoring, then disseminating the pieces widely with the whole network. As for the approach by audiences, it’s simple and direct. We all have a dance in us that’s a cultural part of our history, the medium is natural to us. Dance has in essence collaborated with all other forms of art. We have to get it out of our heads that dance is complicated to approach, and just accept intuition.
You are also deputy director of KLAP, the Marseille Dancehouse. In the midst of the health crisis, how was the programme for the 2021 season created?
I won’t lie to you: the 2021-2022 season is a real puzzle. Thanks to KLAP, we have always been present for artists based in our region and they’ll be on the programme in the autumn. For reasons of safety, the international aspects have been pushed back to December and cover the first half of 2022. It’s a new way to plan a season but the problem isn’t just with postponements. The performers’ calendars are turning into a disaster because, out of want and necessity, they have to collaborate on several projects without being able to set their schedules. So we decided to postpone our autumn brochure and we still have a third of the season to sort out.
In a constantly changing world, what is your take on the new generation of dancers and choreographers? What details and approaches hit home for you and speak to you as a spectator?
I feel we are at the end of the era where the artist creates their work alone. In the new generation, the emerging approaches are more collective and inclusive with different professions gravitating about the act of creation. While dance in France had distanced itself from dramaturgy, it now nourishes itself on experiences from Northern Europe. I’d love to be able to go in blind as a spectator but my job makes that difficult. I want to see a singular voice, and understand what connects the artist to what they want to talk about. More intimately, what really speak to me are projects exploring our relationship with identity, our place in society, and what defines us.
Between November 2020 and February 2021, the EDN network, in partnership with KLAP, offered online dance classes by associated artists. What do you think of the emergence of digital technologies for the cultural sector?
If we’re talking about a performance being replaced by a recording, I can only be critical. Using digital technologies as a way of replacing live performances doesn’t work. We have to recreate the forums where we meet and how we want to connect with others. The most interesting thing with digital technologies is to conceive of them as a space in their own right. It could enable the development of new practices, new ways of filming, particularly a show. We’re currently participating in a study with EDN – Perform Europe – launched by the European Commission with a grant of €2.25 million to draw up a future support programme for cross-border tours and digital distribution of the performing arts.
What do you think of your relationship with the Institut français and what are the prospects for future collaboration?
It’s an established relationship that should remain part of the organisation. We want to continue working on projects with the Institut. For EDN, that involves thinking at the level of the ecosystem: we want to show our ability to engage in dialogue. A Dancehouse helps safeguard artists’ work by supporting them and setting up collaborations. In our relationship with the Institut français, we open up these prospects for discussion within the Dancehouse network. By prioritising a “translocal” approach, I want us to act together against this ecosystem emergency.
What are your prospects for the future now that the health crisis is becoming protracted? Do you have other ideas in mind to stay connected with the audience?
In this context which, beyond a health crisis, is also social and economic, we have to find what we’re losing and what grounds us all. It is essential to nurture our ability to wonder, to imagine, and to dream together. Coming out of the first lockdown, we decided to commission artists so that they could stage dances in a 4 m² area. Created by choreographer Michel Kelemenis, dance took place in squares, on streets, and in school yards. With 250 shows, we invented a format that created jobs for artists while staying connected with the public. The audience is always there, and like us they’ve been adapting since the beginning of the pandemic, and we’ve never stopped dancing.
The Institut français works with the EDN networks and also with KLAP, the Marseille Dancehouse, in particular by supporting two projects of KLAP as part of La Collection 2021: 8m3, a project by Michel Kelemenis and Emprise, a solo by Maxime Cozic.
An initiative proposed by the Institut français, La Collection brings together 135 turnkey proposals for the French cultural network abroad, which are easy to broadcast and modular, and span the fields of performing arts, visual arts and architecture, urban planning and landscape.
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