Reflections p1

Surf The Wave: harbinger of Brexit or dance showcase of the future?

Surf the Wave: harbinger of Brexit or dance showcase of the future?

by Gustavo Fijalkow

The timing of the announcement of the new Surf The Wave (STW) format could not have been more particular: Three months prior to the Brexit referendum. This context provoked two almost opposite interpretations of what turned out to be a radically new format.


A fine line between internal strengthening and isolating yourself

Rather than showing products in a one-off fashion it concentrates on processes; instead of creating an atmosphere of competition it is pro-active in community-building and yes: instead of curating a shop window for mostly foreign programmers its focus is directed inwards. Was the new paradigm, conceived and carried out by its creative producers from Pavilion Dance South West and enabled by the funders that had made monies available already picking on a not-yet-outspoken but about-to-crystallise desire to disengage from the outside world?

I was thrilled to be invited to two of Surf The Wave’s regional gatherings, despite me being neither a UK national, nor part of any regional production structure, but only a temporary local (I had been living in the UK for approximately three years at the time).

Getting the right mix: Inward focus with outside inspiration

What I found was an endeavour that had nothing of the insularity foreboded by the wider political climate. The workshops were led by experts both from the UK and continental Europe, and not all attendees were British-born. Hence, although the focus was clearly laid onto strengthening the capabilities of the regional professional dance communities – and as a result, of the British dance sector in its whole – the energy was outspokenly non-partisan, and the structure definitely promoted exchange and porous contours. Actually, the focus was clearly laid inwards, but the view was neither narrow nor disengaging from the wider, international dance-scapes that the British dance sector co-creates.


A role model for openness and inclusion

There is much to congratulate STW’s team for: their engagement and enacted responsibility, their intelligent choice of workshop leaders, their human-ness and presence, their willingness to learn from each experience and open-ness to criticism. But above all, they seem to have grasped correctly the spirit of the time and more than that, they have taken the right conclusions: By all means, the British dance sector needs a renewed focus to strengthen its creative skills and its capability to mediate the work it produces. This requires engagement, energy and a special focus onto the sector. At the same time, the British dance sector interacts with wider dance structures from other parts of the world (both formal and informal), and its healing does not lie in disengaging from them, but in open and constructive dialogue and co-creation

The wider political context would be well advised in taking a close look at the conduct of its dance sector.


© Gustavo Fijalkow

dramaturg | curator

researcher | producer

Reflections on Artist as Entrepreneur intensive sessions

Joan Cleville's reflection on the Surf the Wave Artist as Entrepreneur Intensive in Birmingham- October 2018

 As a choreographer and artistic director of an independent dance company, it is not unusual for me to meet and engage with other artists, producers and presenters. What is rare is to do that on a peer-to-peer level, where everyone is encouraged to take risks, to share and question what we know, and to remain open to Other perspectives and experiences.

This was the invitation from the Artist as Entrepreneur programme of Surf The Wave, which have offered myself and producer Vicky Wilson an opportunity, not only to gain new skills, knowledge and contacts, but to take ownership and co-responsibility with others for the change we all want to see in the sector.

Throughout the sessions we were invited to unpick some of the terms we casually use in our work: excellence, success, touring, engagement, programming… It was very useful to interrogate these ideas in order to open up possibilities, new approaches to old problems. We were encouraged to think both radically and realistically, to envision incremental change within the existing structures and to think out of the box and put forward alternative models.

As an independent company based in Scotland, it was extremely valuable to hear about what other artists, producers and venues are successfully doing elsewhere in the UK. We felt inspired and invigorated by the ideas and examples of best practice shared, and they will no doubt inform our strategic and artistic thinking as we move forwards, hopefully making our practice richer, more inclusive, and more significant for our audiences.

Much like making a piece of work, the sessions required a high level of trust and investment from everyone in the room. There were light and difficult moments, and hope mixed with struggle. What I really appreciated is the opportunity to come together as a community and engage with each other beyond a transactional setting, challenging the usual power dynamics that determine our interactions and opening spaces for more creative and meaningful relationships between artists, producers and promoters.

The possibility to now take some of these relationships further with the support of seed bursaries and to get involved in the showcasing and legacy phases of the project over the next two years feel like an exciting opportunity to keep the dialogue and learning alive. We look forward to new encounters and conversations, and the challenge of bringing forward a more sustainable, diverse and confident dance ecology.


Joan Clevillé, AD Joan Clevillé Dance