about communication in contemporary dance


table of contents


Collaboration is working together.  It implies knowing each other’s identities, goals and values, each other’s weaknesses and strengths.  In the performing arts we often consider this a given – after all, a work is a team effort.  But it is not obvious.  Collaboration asks for trust in each other’s input, skills and commitment and requires a great deal of planning, which affects the timeline within your communication strategy.

Focusing your efforts: mapping your (desired) collaborators as Insiders or Outsiders

Funders, artists, festivals, dancehouses and networks.  In our chapter on dialogue we invited you to list all of the people and all of the institutions you are already in dialogue with, and/or would like to be dialogue with in the future.  Following on from this, the next step is to identify whom of these people you consider as insiders and outsiders, and second, which of these people do you consider your collaborators?  Does it highlight that there is a particular person that you would like to become one of your collaborators?
This process can help to specify your communication strategy with regards to dealing with your network, for example in identifying which contacts you want to spend more time connecting with or prioritising over others.

A collaboration is most likely to succeed when you and your partners embrace a similar set of values.  In our chapter on identity we have invited you to define which values you choose to work from.  Sharing values, a mission or a goal is essential, if not crucial, to a successful collaboration.  When mapping your collaborators as insiders or outsiders, keep this in mind.

Roles, responsibilities and additional skills

Collaboration requires clarity on roles and responsibilities.  In every working process it is crucial to identify who is responsible for what.  When designing your communication strategy, consider when and how to articulate this within your process.  If there are implicit or explicit hierarchies in place between you and your collaborators, it is best to identify them.  Transparency in hierarchies generally helps to move both communication and collaboration forward.  Questions you could ask yourself are:

  • How transparent are you in addressing hierarchies in your working process?
  • How do you define collaboration with each individual, or within each project?
  • Who co-creates with you? Who works for you?
  • To what extent do you allow yourself to learn from your collaborators?

In identifying roles and responsibilities, it is also important to understand if they match the individual strengths present on your team.  Whether you identify a certain hierarchy between collaborators in a project or not, collaboration can only thrive when everyone involved is recognised for their specific skill or role within a project.  This goes for everyone of course, but with regards to our mission, we point toward the additional and creative skills of communication professionals in particular.

Planning and timeline

Activating and inviting the complementary skills of others into our work (such as the skills of a movement coach, a dramaturge, or a communication professional) affects your communication which will in turn affect your planning and timeline.  It is therefore important to consider how much time you need to reserve to allow collaboration to start up and flourish, as this might also impact your artistic result.  It is best to ‘over-budget’ the time required for this aspect of the process of creation.

As an independent artist, it already requires a considerable time investment to get to know who you are talking to and how to approach each person in a dialogue.  When starting a collaboration with institutions, you often need even more time, as there are a number of different people with different priorities within each institution.

Let us focus on your collaboration with a communications professional first, be it an independent professional or a representative of an institution.  Consider for a moment, at which point in your process do you encounter the communication professional?  If you encounter this individual when a work is already finished, how would you then define your collaboration with him or her in this situation?  And, if we consider your ideal collaboration, when would be the best moment for you to begin the dialogue with a communications professional?

In our chapter on communication, we underlined some of the challenges communications professionals experience working in the dance field.  We are also aware of the fact that from an artist’s perspective there are also specific challenges, wishes and needs.  By clarifying what the needs and wishes are from both sides, as well as being aware of each other’s additional skills and planning in the time for this dialogue, the gap between artists and communications professionals may be closed.

Of course, this is equally true for all the other (future) collaborators you might encounter in an institution.  To be able to communicate, dialogue and collaborate with each of them, understanding their specific roles and what each of them is offering, and what their interests are, is important.  This means you need to take time to inform yourself about the institution and its modes of operation.  It also means: the more your network of collaborators is growing over time, the more there is to manage.  This needs to be reflected in the time you allow yourself when developing your communication strategy.

Within this framework, several questions arise for those working for a dance institution.  It is not only how the person/programmer/artistic director who brings in an artist builds up a relationship with the artists and their artistic team, but also how the institution as a whole can become more committed and therefore become a collaborator as well.  Does the team in your institution know which artists are being brought in and why?  Is there a strategy to work together with the incoming artist?  

How can the interest in the artist, and the investment in their process, trickle down through every member of staff in an institution, from the artistic director to the marketing manager, to the venue receptionist, to the lighting technician in the theatre?  This is a huge task, and it is not on the artist’s shoulders, but equally, it does not purely rest with the artistic director of the institution.  Because collaboration is a two-way street, everyone involved needs to be conscious of the conditions needed to make it a successful collaboration, and be willing to commit the energy to realise a good relationship.

As much as collaboration is about opening up to others and investing time in developing and maintaining contacts, it is as much about acknowledging boundaries:  yours as well as the boundaries of your collaborators.  Time management is needed here; when to have certain conversations and when to conclude them.  The conditions required for good communication and dialogue also need to be in place for collaboration to flourish.  

Cultural differences

The dance field is internationally orientated, with a lot of people collaborating from different countries and with different cultural identities and traditions.  Each culture has its own social codes and its own specificity with regards to dialogue and collaboration.  Plus, there is a language issue.  Many of us operate and dialogue in English on a daily basis, but English is the native language to only a few of us.  This is challenging when considering communication with international colleagues and audiences, as concepts and words do not always carry the exact same meaning in another language.  The constant translation of ideas means that intercultural communication and collaboration can take more time.  This is important to take into account when mapping international collaborations into your communication strategy.

The terminology used in this text may also slightly differ in meaning from country to country.  We therefore present you the information that was applicable to all six of our contexts, acknowledging that specifics might differ in yours.