Earlier this month, three Swedish dancers performed to the music of Shostakovich and Piazzolla, dressed head-to-toe in pink Chanel suits. Les trois femmes featured Maud Karlsson, Siv Ander and Helena Högberg, all aged between 51 and 73. Intended as a witty, inspiring exploration of the trio’s experiences as women and as dancers, the work tackled change, longing, death, high heels and everything in between.
This autumn Les trois femmes was able to tour a number of regional and local theatres across the southern part of Sweden – including towns like Linköping, Borås and Växjö – thanks to the support of Dancenet Sweden, a network of arts venues, counties and municipalities. Comprised of 12 partners across the country, Dancenet Sweden tours contemporary dance productions by emerging and established choreographers, from Scandinavia and abroad. The mission is to build a curious and knowledgeable dance audience, as well as foster conversation around the artform.
Launched in 2003, and funded by the Swedish Arts Council, Dancenet identified a pronounced absence of a coherent touring infrastructure in the Swedish dance landscape. It found that regional arts hubs tended to prioritise theatre and music, whereas the presentation of contemporary dance was occasional and attracted little interest from audiences outside the three major Swedish cities, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.
‘The whole idea behind Dancenet is to create a real structure for touring dance in Sweden,’ says Viveka Sverkersson, head of the Dancenet Sweden board. ‘When the network started, it was on the premise that partners would really do something for the structure of dance. And Dancenet has been very active in the cultural and political discussion of where we want Swedish dance to go.’
Dancenet members include Region Halland, Dansens Hus, Gävle Teater and NorrlandsOperan, and Sverkersson says the network is having a positive effect on bringing audiences to dance in rural Sweden. ‘The impact is huge. We have partners as far north as you can go, also down in the south, and everywhere in between. For people in those regions, engaging with contemporary dance is a new journey. Dancenet is really aiming to tour a variety of work, to ensure audiences have a broad experience of dance, from classical and neoclassical to what you can term almost modern art.’
Each year between 10 and 12 groups or choreographers tour the network’s venues with selected work. Artists to have recently toured productions through the network include the Spanish flamenco dancer Marco Flores; Korean choreographer Sun-A Lee; Swiss dancemaker Tabea Martin; Belgian troupe EA EO; and Brazilian creator Vanilton Lakka.
This year Dancenet will launch its open call for pitches for co-productions to be toured around 11 network venues in 2015. Groups or independent choreographers from around the world can submit an idea, which will be developed during a residency.
‘In the open call we’re asking for artists who want to integrate with a local audience and find new ways to work with them. One of our criteria is to create an audience dialogue, another is that the piece needs to be adaptable to different environments. We’re really looking forward to finding someone who wants to work in a local context.’
Indeed, engaging with audiences through talks, workshops and seminars is also a key part of Dance- net’s work. ‘In the past we’ve had a seminar on the philosophy behind dance, and a workshop on clubbing and dance,’ says Sverkersson.
Collaborations between dance organisations in Scandinavia is nothing new – Ice Hot Nordic Dance Platform and Ice Storm at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters’ conference are just two examples of Nordic institutions pooling resources to reach new audiences. Why is collaboration particularly popular in the region? Sverkersson says it comes back to this idea finding a framework. ‘I think we’re searching for some kind of structure because we haven’t had any – and the Nordic countries really like structure,’ she laughs. ‘Now we’re looking for stability for artists who are currently in the field and those who are looking to get into dance.’