|Mr. Cosmin Manolescu
Born 1970. In addition to being as director of the Gabriela Tudor Foundation (http://www.gabrielatudor.ro/site/en.html; www.e-motional.eu; http://zonadstudio.wordpress.com), Manolescu is also well known as an active manager and curator, founder of the National Dance Centre Bucharest (the only public institution for contemporary dance created in Eastern Europe), member of the Coalition of the Independent Sector, initiator of several international exchange programs and executive director of the ArtistNe(s)t Association / Network of Artist-in-Residence Centres (the only residency program in Romania created by Gabriela Tudor in 2006), He has established a broad-reaching network in the contemporary dance world, primarily in Europe as an active leader of the contemporary dance scene in Romania and the Balkan region.
|The 1989 revolution that ended the despotic Ceausescu regime brought the promise of newfound freedom of speech and expression to the people of Romania. As the new generation of post-revolution artists began exchanges with Western Europe, one of the first things they encountered was a new world of contemporary dance that contrasted sharply with the Romania’s existing Russian-influenced ballet tradition. In this interview we spoke with Cosmin Manolescu (Director of the Gabriela Tudor Foundation), an active choreographer who brings his own works to stage while also serving as a key person in efforts to build a better environment for contemporary dance. Manolescu is also known as the executive director of the ArtistNe(s)t Association / Network of Artist-in-Residence Centres (the only residency program in Romania created by Gabriela Tudor in 2006), and he talks about his efforts to build a network in the Balkan countries and the latest developments and new projects on the Romanian dance scene.
Interviewer: Takao Norikoshi, dance critic
Before and After the Revolution
We would like to begin by asking you about the conditions in Romania before the 1989 revolution and how you began your career in dance.
I had graduated from a public ballet school in 1988, the year before the revolution and had begun my military service when the revolution took place. So you can say that I am one of the first generations of the “post-revolution artists” to emerge in an environment liberated from the closed system of the despotic [Ceausescu] regime with newfound freedom of speech.
Due in part to the standing relationship with Russia (the Soviet Union), there was an active and popular ballet scene in Romania from before the revolution and just a small underground modern dance scene. In the school I finished, modern dance classes were only taught once a week for about one hour. The teachers were the ones who had studied the styles of Jose Limon, Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham abroad during the period between 1970 and 1980 when the restrictions governing foreign travel had been liberalized temporarily.
Censorship was strict and it was difficult to stage works freely, so the only information we had about the arts outside Romania came from the magazines in foreign embassies, while the only free performances were secretly staged underground performances. However, what was actually staged massively under the Ceausescu communist regime was the stupid communist propaganda mass performances on the stadium with hundreds of dancers from many cities meant to celebrate the “Joy of Labor” and dictator’s birthday.
When I finished the dance school, one thing was clear, ballet was not for me. For the first two years after the revolution I enjoyed freedom for the first time and had many interesting experiences, such a dancing in a cabaret at the Black Sea resort areas (laughs). Then I joined the public modern dance “Orion” company established under the artistic directorship of Ioan Tugearu by the new Ministry of Culture.
So, you immediately saw an influx of contemporary dance after the revolution.
Fortunately, around that time France had launched its large-scale “La Danse en Voyage” project that sent to Romania several important French choreographers to lead workshops and master-classes and present performances. My first real experience in contemporary dance was in fact during the workshop led by Christine Bastin and her dancers in Bucharest in 1991. I learned to free up the body and let it move with the flow, which was a completely new experience for someone like me who had only known ballet prior to that. I remember that two weeks after the workshop I did not understand what happened to myself and my body! (laughs).
Two years later I left the public dance company and together with three other colleagues from my generation and founded Romania’s first independent dance company. Feeling that we were truly outside the mainstream, we named the company “The Marginals Group”. At the same time, I had the chance to start working with Christian Trouillas, a French young choreographer (who visited Romania in the frame of the larger event I mentioned) and went to Paris, and that was the first time I ever flew in an airplane. I was 22 at the time and a new era was starting for me.
Despite the good energy we had, the situation in Romania was very difficult. No dance studios, no money, and very performance opportunities for us. I realized that in order to help change the difficult circumstances affecting dance in our country I would have to study management. I concentrated on studying management for a year and took study tours to France and the UK learning from from where to start and what to develop a cultural project. In 1996 I finished the European Masters’ Degree in Cultural Management “Ecumest Programme” in Dijon (France). One year later, I and my wife Gabriela Tudor founded Romania’s first private-sector dance foundation, which we called Project DCM – Dance Cultural Management and began a variety of projects. The foundation was later renamed Gabriela Tudor Foundation in the memory of my dear wife and colleague who passed away in 2009.
I find it very interesting for artists to be the ones to start a foundation. Is that common?
Yes, it’s quite common in Romania. Artists are one of the most powerful engines of development of the cultural sector, especially in the contemporary arts.
After the revolution there was a big shift that saw privatization of the whole economy sector but the culture and performing arts sectors remain under the strong influence of the government. Still nowadays most of the theaters in Romania are public ones, funded by public authorities, and there are very few private-sector theaters or organizations in the performing arts that manage to survive. The national and municipal theaters receive funding from the government/city councils to maintain their theater staff and administration and other necessary infrastructure, but for the private-sector funding is only offered for individual projects. The result is that there is no regular funding for administrative costs and maintenance [of facilities], which eventually drives many organizations to dissolution. So as an artist you need to be creative and you need to engage publicly in shaping the context.
One of my first large projects, created together with Gabriela was the “Inter/National Centre for Contemporary Dance”, a private initiative of the DCM Foundation aiming to improve and create a context for contemporary dance in Romania. We started to organise a series of workshops and classes, offers fellowships abroad to emerging dancers and choreographers and launched some audience developement projects. In 1998, we organised at the National Theatre the first Romanian dance platform in which two nights more than 12 emerging and established choreographers presented works. This event led to the birth of the first dance community among young people. Also, investing in the nurturing of professional development of artists over a five-year period led to the mergence of a number very interesting, progressive artists, and to several of these artists going abroad with their activities.
How did you raise funding for these activities?
At the begining we were funded from abroad by cultural organisations that supported the developement of contemporary arts in Eastern Europe arts such as KulturKontak (Vienna), European Cultural Foundation (Amsterdam) and the French Institute in Bucharest. We started our centre for contemporary dance with a six-month funding from the European Union in the frame of the special program to support the developement of the NGO-sector. Later on we started to attract some local private sponsoring for bigger events such as a Portuguese dance festival.
A major project was made in 1998 when the British Council decided to organise the “British Dance Edition” a touring dance festival in 4 cities in Romania, which attracted a lot of attention. I worked for two years and managed to put together a tour of three Romanian cities for four British [dance] companies in 1998. Eight performances only in Bucharest during two weeks drew a total audience of 7,000. After that success of the festival, British Council continued to present regurarly dance performances and even commissioned us to organise co-productions involving Charles Linehan, Balanescu Quartet and Romanian choreographers.
How was the response of the audiences?
It was very good, but we became painfully aware that it was still not sufficient. In Romania, most people thought of dance in terms of opera and ballet or as part of a theater performance, but it wasn’t recognized as an independent art form until 2004 when the National Dance Centre was created in Bucharest following a long term campaign. Even if we applied many time for public funding from our governement we never received an answer. In 2001 when we organized “Movements on the Edge”, a special program for professional development for Romanian and Eastern Europe emerging performers, we got funding from different foreign cultural institutes and organisations from Austria, Poland, Netherlands and France, but nothing from our own Ministry of Culture. Therefore I decided to publicly mention the non-support through a press conference. Also on all promotional materials underneath the logos of the foreign fund-givers that had contributed to the project I printed clearly, “This project was made without any funding from the Romanian Ministry of Culture”. Colleagues warned me that writing such a thing would surely cause trouble, but I felt we had nothing to lose anyway (laughs).
And in fact it worked quite well, since one year after that we started to receive public funding. The success and recognition of the Romanian contemporary dance abroad started in 2001 when more than 20 foreign presenters came to Romania to see the second edition of the Romanian dance platform and later on attended the first “Balkan Dance Platform” in Sofia. The interest of these presenters is the result of the continuous lobby I made for the Romanian artists on the international scene through the IETM and Aerowaves networks (the last one founded in 1996 by John Ashford in which I participated until 2006 as a Romanian representative). Following these two events, several Romanian emerging choreographers were invited to perform at important foreign festivals and venues in Vienna, Berlin, New York etc.
And, as the recognition [of the Romanian dance] grew abroad it became easier for me to negotiate with the Ministry of Culture and the media. In 2002 I started to negociate with representatives of the Cultural Comission of the Parliament and the Ministry of Culture to receive support for creating opportunities for the people of Romania to see performances by these Romanian artists who were winning recognition abroad. With this occasion I launched the idea of a public institution for contemporary dance that would support the developement of this art form.
We had similar conditions in Japan. Many artists like Sankaijuku and “dumb type” that had won high acclaim [abroad] in the 1980s were moving their bases of activity abroad and there were no opportunities to see their outstanding works performed in Japan.
I remember another important moment for the Romanian dance scene. In 2004 following the second edition of the BucharEast-West international dance festival I was invited by the Minister of Culture in a meeting with some older colleagues to discuss the future of the Romanian dance. During the meeting, I was attacked by everybody including the Minister itself. He said “So you are the one who is stirring up trouble and saying bad things about us publicly?” And I answered, “I was just telling the truth.” My only defense in this discussion was the excellent audience, the important media coverage the festival attracted and the important international recognition existing for the emerging generation of choreographers. In the end of the discussion, the Ministry offered me a funding of 10.000 Euro (which was very big at that moment) to organise a special Gala show. I had to turned down the proposal. “What we need now is not a Gala. What we need is a system to support outstanding artists to create and perform works in Romania. We want to meet our audience here not abroad”. He was furious, saying, “You are turning down an important amount, are you out of your mind?”. I refused obviously (laughs). I proposed them to use the money for launching a one year season with regular performances in Bucharest. But simply getting money is not enough.
This discussion went on for eight months. In the end it was’t possible to do the season but the positive result was the creation Bucharest National Dance Center in 2004. Today it is an important public organization supporting contemporary dance and a major public funding body for our projects. In this way, dance came to be recognized as an art form that was worthy of special [public] funding just like opera and theater. You could consider this my main area of activity during the period from 1997 to 2004. It took those seven years to achieve such a simple thing.
It was a real battle for you, wasn’t it? (Laughs) Were there any subsequent developments in how the Ministry of Culture responded to the needs in the arts?
Yes. I was able to get a considerable number of results from my long-term negotiations with the Ministry of Culture. One was in 2005 when I managed to convice the Ministry of Culture that artists should be also directly funded for their artistic projects and not only through an association, foundation or institution. Unfortunately in 2008 it was decided to change the law so nowadays artists need to be officially registered as authorized physical persons and pay 16 % taxes from the funding received for their artistic projects.
Another achievement is through the Coalition of the Independent Sector. In 2010 following our lobby, a new funding scheme was officially launched for European projects supported directly by the European Union through the program Culture 2007-2013. As a result of our negotiations, from 2011 the Ministry of Culture decided to open a public call for such projects, so every year we can receive funding for bigger projects. This funding line is essential for our “E-Motional Bodies & Cities” projects that I launched with Stefania Ferchedau in 2011 targeting artists and managers from Romania, Cyprus, Ireland, Latvia, United Kingdom and Turkey.
I have heard that the National Dance Center is in a crisis situation. Is that true?
Yes, I’m afraid it is. For some reason Romanian history is a continuing series of advances and retreats. Let me explain in a little more detail about the National Dance Centre. In 2004, the Centre was offered an unused space of about 2500 square meters within the National Theatre in the centre of Bucharest to use. The team of the Centre created inside two big dance studios and one performance stage of 120 seats, which were used as facilities for artistic research and creation. The Centre was also regularly running an annual dance season presenting local and international artists. In 2010, the National Theatre (the owner of the building) began structural renovations.
Unfortunately, the space of the National Dance Centre was not included in the future plans of the building and in March 2011 the Centre was kicked-off from the buidling. But after these developments, the Dance Centre received only an office space and a small studio with quite bad conditions for creating performances. This was obviously insufficient. At the same time there is no mangement, only a director ad-interim who can’t do much in terms of a strategic planning without having a space. To completely re-negotiate things from scratch will be difficult, but I do hope that we will find some other solutions.
Balkan Dance Platform
Would you tell us about the Balkan Dance Platform that you established for professionals in the field of dance?
It was a project that I initially started with Dessy Gavrilova and Red House from Sofia with the aim of connecting artists of the Balkan region back in 2000. I was bothered by the fact that everyone was so concerned about what was going on in Western Europe and not in our neighboring countries. We began by promoting exchanges through workshops and talk events between artists from Romania and Bulgaria, and then gradually other Balkan countries became interested. Later on other people and organisations from Skopje, Athens and Ljubljana joined us. The project has been held every other year, beginning in Sofia (Bulgaria) in 2001, Bucharest in 2003, Skopje (Macedonia) in 2005, Athens (Greece) in 2007, Novi Sad (Serbia) 2009, and in 2011 it was held in Ljubljana (Slovenia). We are currently planning where to hold the next edition in 2013.
For long time the Balkan region has been a virtual “black hole” for the rest of the world, about which little was known. Until 2000, there was almost no information available about what was happening in the region and it was the kind of place that no one visited and no artists were invited to. But our Balkan Dance Platform attracted foreign professionals from the arts, and it came to be a platform for active exchange between artists. Our Platform became a venue where people from Western Europe rediscovered the Balkans as an exotic place and the “Blood and Honey” of Europe.”
Presently we are searching for ways to connect the countries of the Balkans and the countries of Asia. On my trip to Japan this time I want to create relationships between the Balkan Dance Platform and TPAM and the Yokohama Dance Collection and explore the possibilities of doing joint projects.
Did the idea to create a platform for the Balkan countries come in response to the EU, or was it motivated by a concern for cultural identity?
It came from concerns about cultural identity. In the Balkan countries we share deeply rooted cultural ties in things like the food we eat and our arts. Since Romania is an interesting country where East meets West and is seen as a Balkan country in some aspects and a Central European country in others, I was interested in taking new approaches to the question of our identity through the arts.
However, there are very few movements that work traditional dance into contemporary dance. Traditional dance had long been supported and nurtured under the communist regime, and the traditional “Căluşari” dance had been performed thousands of times around the world, so almost no one was anxious to return to that kind of dance anymore. The fact that contemporary or modern art had such a short history in Romania really only getting its start around 2006 or 2007 may have been a factor. Although there were few who sought that direction, I was one of them. Traditional dance is a part of me, and you could even call it my roots.
What is the budget of the Balkan Dance Platform?
The basic formula is that the host country mainly covers the cost of lodging during the event and the artists fees (which are quite small compared to Western Europe standards) and the partners pay for local expenses of the artists attending, so it is difficult to say in general. Each edition is different with different program. When I organised the project in 2003 in Bucharest it was about 10.000 Euro but prices were lower at that time and we were at the begining with the project. You could call it a type of joint project in which things depend on the financial resources available. For sure this project was very important for the Romanian dance scene.
E-Motional Bodies and Cities
Would you tell us about the “E-motional, Bodies and Cities” (http://www.e-motional.eu) project you have started? You have said that the “power of mobility” is very important, haven’t you?
That’s right. For me mobility, exchange and artistic research are essential nowdays in a product oriented world. It means that before there is exchange there is movement/mobility. We began this project with six countries, and with the exception of the UK, the remaining five were all countries (Cyprus, Ireland, Latvia, Romania and Turkey) that knew almost nothing about each other. The project plans to identify, nurture, attract and sustain talent and creativity at the European level, by connecting artists and dance managers from countries participating in the project through mobility grants, residencies, fellowships, artistic research and performance co-production and exchange. Inside the program we offer travel support that would make it possible for not only dancers and choreographers but also for managers and critics who can travel in the participating countries and meet people, see performances and participate in workshops and local platforms.
We are also organising residencies that allow artists and professionals to think about the creative process required to create new works. We want to give these people time to think about and analyze their activities in an environment free of the concerns of daily life. Although the budget is small, it may provide opportunities of encounters from which productions will be developed in the future.
Another important strand is the Artistic Research - 10 different artists will travel and work together in Dublin, Riga, Limassol, London and Bucharest. This is a project intended to plant such seeds of possibility. On the selection criteria it clearly states that only applicants from the six participating countries will be accepted, but we ended up receiving a huge number of applications from many other countries. E-MOTIONAL is created and produced by Gabriela Tudor Foundation in Bucharest in collaboration with key partners Dublin Dance Festival and Dance Ireland (IE), The Association of Professional Dance Choreographers of Latvia (LV), Dance House Lemesos (CY), and body>data>space (UK), as co-organizers, and developed with support from the Culture 2007-2013 Programme of the European Union. The project is developed with support from the Culture 2007-2013 Programme of the European Union, Strand 1.2.1: Cooperation Projects. Co-funding of the coordinator is secured through grants from the European Cultural Foundation in Amsterdam, the Romanian Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the National Dance Centre in Bucharest.
I think it is exceptional that E-Motional is a program not only for artists but for producers and critics as well. When we think about support for artists we usually think in terms of festivals and support for creating works, but it seems that you are thinking about changing the very environment surrounding the artists from a long-term perspective.
Exactly. Festivals and large-scale events are wonderful and certainly create a good impression from the audience’s standpoint, but what is really necessary is to create projects that support the artists in different ways. In a country like France where there has been so much research done about arts marketing and management that is no longer necessary. But, I believe that in other countries this kind of effort in itself can contribute to the development of the local society at large.
E-motional is one of the few projects that makes this concept its prime focus. Overall our project will offer 14 dance residencies, 20 mobility grants will be offered for artists, presenters, producers and dance critics, 12 performances will be presented in 4 countries. We will also organised 2 training sessions in dance management in Limassol and Riga. The whole project will close with a 3-days international forum in Bucharest in April 2013. Through the range of activities proposed, our project supports the development of contemporary dance scenes by addressing mostly communities out of the mainstream cultural scene, offering direct support to small but highly creative cultural players and aiming to expand their cross-border activity in a more effervescent and challenging European context.
Was it that way that you support the presenters from the beginning?
Yes. Because presenters, managers and critics are the mediators connecting the artists to the society, it is important that they work to broaden their knowledge and horizons. A manager should not simply be someone who fills out forms and reports. They should be more creative, able to give pertinent feedback, help in coordination with people and organisations, promote and create opportunities for the next projects. For artists who tend to be ignorant to the ways of the world, the manager’s presence is so essential. However, there are still very few managers like this in Romania, so people like me have to do the manager’s job themselves. That makes the artists solitary figures and limits their possibilities as artists.
However, people are gradually becoming aware of the importance of managers. In Cyprus and Latvia we are offering training in management for choreographers and emerging managers. The curriculum focuses particularly on international collaborations, how to develop your own ideas and build up your career. It might be interesting to try this in Japan too, maybe.
Contemporary dance in Romania
Next I would like to ask you about the status of contemporary dance in Romania. You are still active as an artist today, aren’t you?
I am presently active creating works with my own company Serial Paradise. My work has been recognized by two awards in Romania and I won the Nouveau Choreographie award of the Paris-based organization SACD for talented new choreographers in 2005.
Romania’s dance community is not very large but it is full of creativity. Many of the works produced by our artists are quite experimental in nature and many are political in subject matter. Due to the nature of the difficult history and context, strong messages are being born. There are theatrical or more physical works as well. As for my own works, most are not simply attempts to present beautiful dance movement but works that deal with specific spaces and questions. Last year I made a performance-installation for a hotel room that is inspired by the concept of the love-hotel (very popular in Japan) but almost unknown in Romania. Another project that I’m curently working on with Gabriella Maiorino from Amsterdam is based on “availability”. I’m currently interested in developping cross-border projects that challenge myself and the audience.
Among the young dancers in Romania who have drawn attention recently is Mihaela Dancs, who was formerly a dentist. We also have artists who were formerly engineers or psychologists, etc., who discovered the expressive power of the human body through workshops or dance classes. In this way, people from other fields are becoming being attracted by the appeal of dance and creating new forms of artistic expression. As a result, not all of the artists on today’s dance scene have ballet training in their background like the artists of my generation. I think this is a very good trend. Because, these people are capable of understanding and discovering dance from a completely different standpoint. I am very glad to see people like them who have taken the risk of choosing to quit their normal jobs in other professions and pursue dance, because it shows that dance is open to the society at large.
What about the economic conditions surrounding the dance world in Romania?
It is still too early to be optimistic. In 2010, Romania faced an economic crisis similar to what happened in Greece that forced the government to make major budget cuts. The salaries of civil servants were cut by 25% and there were major budget cuts in the areas of the arts and culture as well. Many cultural organisations, orchestras, ballet companies or museums were forced to merge with other companies and cut staff so that the year became known as “the year of mergers.” Even the National Dance Centre was in the situation to be merged with other cultural organisation, but it was saved in the last minute. Even now, when we speak, the situation is still very difficult economically for the independent cultural sector and free-lance artists.
Is there any support from the private-sector?
Romania’s private sector seldom makes investments in culture and the arts. It is because the arts don’t produce profit like sports such as football does, and in the case of dance, there isn’t even a market yet. Another reason that the private sector is unwilling to invest in the contemporary arts is the legislation and the effect of the global economical crisis. Even though Romania succeeded in becoming a member of the EU, in the end it is still a country divided between the few percent of the very wealthy and the 70% of the population that remains in poverty. And of course, the large majority of the artists belong to the poor segment.
Is there any area that you are optimistic about in Romania’s dance environment?
Yes. There are also areas where things are definitely improving steadily. For example, in the past, Bucharest was the only base for dance in the country, but now the number of bases is growing. In Cluj-Napoca there are two dance organizations (Collectiv A and Groundfloor Associations) that are now reguraly organising festivals and creating new artistic works. These activities have made Cluj-Napoca a second important city that is serving as a base for dance besides Bucharest. Another city in the north of the country who is making progress in the dance field is Bacau. The George Apostu Culture Centre, a public cultural center lately become interested to support dance. Starting with 2006 they are running an annual residence exchange program (now developped in partnership with Luxemburg) as well as organising every year a small scale dance festival that is gradually increasing the number of dance events in its program. The last year, three Romanian dance organisation (including my own structure) were involved in the management of larger European dance projects with partners and acvities in different EU countries which is quite a lot taking in account the current context. To begin with, until about ten years ago we could never even imagine Romanian [arts] organisations being able to initiate and develop such big international projects. In that sense, things are definitely progressing.
After a stay of 6 weeks here in Japan, what has your impression been?
My visit in Japan was an excellent opportunity to meet and discover the Japanese dance community, its history and main actors. I had the chance to see some live dance performances and meet approximately 50 different choreographers, presenters, producers, dance critics as well as to make visits to different dance NPO-s, venues and cultural organizations in Tokyo, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Sendai and Kyoto. So I can say that Japan has a very lively dance scene with great artists. During the 6 weeks, I had the chance to discover and talk to great artists such as Zan Yamashita
, Mikiko Kawamura
, Kaori Seki just to mention few of them and meet many producers and directors of festivals and venues. One of the thing that impressed me a lot was the opening of the Japanese people who were open and interested in making connections. Despite the language barrier, many people showed a genuine interest in making connection with the Romanian cultural context, which is an excellent basis to launch a joint project Japan-Romania in the near future.
I have come here as a Visiting Fellow in the newest program of the Saison Foundation and I believe that, for both sides, this kind of program that invites people from abroad to stay for a given period of time is very important. So I am very grateful to the Saison Foundation. This may not produce immediate results but the kinds of connections we have established will mature over time. In the future, if the proper frameworks can be put in place, we may be able to establish a project that will bring together many organizations and companies. I hope to see Japan and Romania cooperating and putting forward ideas that will help build a better environment for artists, in the areas of infrastructure and festivals, dance companies, venues and residencies, etc. I hope that my stay in Japan this time will prove to be a first step toward that kind of development.