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Interview: Donald Hutera curates his first dance festival - dance with risk, intimacy and play

Donald Hutera is a veteran arts journalist whose writing has appeared in The Times, Time Out, Dance Europe and many other publications and websites world-wide. This year, he has been invited to curate the GO live Dance & Performance Festival which takes place at the Lion and Unicorn theatre, and runs from Monday 9th - Sun 29th September 2013.

Spread across 21 consecutive days, and comprising over four dozen individuals or companies, the GOlive Festival will feature work by Darren Ellis, Ella Mesma, Renaud Wiser, Anusha Subramanyam, Daniel Hay-Gordon/Eleanor Perry, 70/30 Split, Shane Shambhu, Nuno Silva, Moreno Solinas, Peta Lily, The Dangerologists, Mamoru Iriguchi, Stephanie Schober, Anna Williams, Stopgap's Sg2, Angela Woodhouse, Dog Kennel Hill Project, Avatara Ayuso,  Mickael Marso Rivière, Jennifer Jackson/Susie Crow, Annie Lok, Zoi Dimitriou and Fred Gehrig amongst many others. Between them they have worked with the likes of Complicite, Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies, Shobana Jeyasingh, Russell Maliphant, The Royal Ballet, Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, Rambert Dance Company, Henri Oguike, Arthur Pita and Fiona Shaw.

We caught up with Donald to ask him about risk, intimacy and play - and in doing so gleaned an insight to a man who truly has his finger on the pulse of the dance and performance world.

 

[Photo by James Rowbotham | Ella Mesma Company]

 

Fiona Campbell: How did the idea for the festival emerge?
Donald Hutera:
It was George Sallis, the artistic director of Giant Olive Theatre at the Lion and Unicorn pub, who popped the question to me about curating a dance festival on May 29th of this year. It's something I'd wanted to do for years but never had the opportunity, and in this case I didn't even have to seek it out - how good is that? Plus there was the symbolic significance of the date as May 29th 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the infamous premiere of Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps. Given all that - the date and the offer - how could I refuse? Also the pub has a past record of presenting dance thanks to the efforts of George and Antonia Franceschi, formerly a Balanchine ballerina and latterly a top-notch teacher, coach and choreographer. (Film buffs might also recall her as the ballerina who gets pregnant in the film 'Fame'.) It was because of them that Giant Olive first came to the attention of dance-goers. Ideally the GOlive festival will build on that history in a big way.


 

[Photo by Bee Mackenzie | 70/30 Split: Content part 1]


Fiona Campbell: As someone who has reviewed thousands of performances over the years, how have you found the transition from critic to curator?
Donald Hutera:
I love talent-spotting and tend to champion the work of people I believe in anyway, so to have the chance to actually programme some of them in the GOlive festival is highly gratifying.  It's a way to give back to an industry of which I'm a part. I mean, I wouldn't have the professional life I do have without artists of all stripes making work of all kinds. They all feed my appetite for culture. Okay, I may get tired, but even after all these years (36 since I wrote my first piece as a budding film journo in my home-town of Minneapolis) of writing about the arts and live performance I'm still hungry for more. I guess you could say I'm the opposite of the jaded crit. To cut to the chase, the transition from critic to curator feels pretty natural and kind of a dream come true.
 

[Hayley Barker: Womanish]

 

Fiona Campbell: What qualities were you looking for when selecting artists to take part in the festival?
Donald Hutera:
First of all I contacted people whose work I know and believe in. Unsurprisingly, the initial call for submissions I sent out then got spread about. I had no problem with that whatsoever as it enabled me to learn about dance-makers I'd not heard of before. I figured out pretty fast that I ought to be willing to take the chance of programming artists whose work I haven't seen live but that sounded interesting or looked like it had a spark of originality.  I was also thinking about the available space. The Giant Olive Theatre is a small black box venue of only about 50 seats, so the connection between the performers and the audience can be very immediate. I love seeing dance up-close - seeing the effort, the skill, the sweat and the shape is a continual source of fascination for me and, I suspect, for others too. I kept that in mind as I was making decisions about who and what to programme. The bottom line is that the watchwords of GOlive are risk, intimacy and play. It's maybe worth noting here that some of the work shown in the festival may not, in truth, be all that 'dance-y' but will, I trust, capitalise on the proximity between performance and public.
 

[Paulette Mae (Rehearsal Image)]

 

Fiona Campbell: The programme features both recognised and emerging artists, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing emerging dance artists today and what advice would you give young choreographers looking to make their mark in the dance world?
Donald Hutera:
As a very busy and active writer on the arts I know there are loads of people who don't get picked up or, as I sometimes put it, 'annointed' by such institutions as Sadler's Wells, The Place, Dance Umbrella, the Royal Opera House and so on. I'm not at all knocking what those established entities do or the choices they make in terms of who receives attention and support. Perhaps GOlive can function as a 'big/little' alternative to what happens elsewhere. Ultimately what everyone who makes work wants is for it to be seen, or so I suspect. They'll grab at whatever opportunities arise. GOlive is now one place within their reach. As for any advice I could offer, I suppose I'd say just keep at it - go after every opportunity you can with a polite persistence. It's that same principle that's kept me going as an arts journalist for all these many decades. That and my innate curiosity. The 'trick' is to just keep doing it and, with any luck, the people who might be helpful or supportive or interested will find you.


 

[Fred Gehrig: ICE BEAR]


Fiona Campbell: The festival is described as having ‘an emphasis on risk, intimacy and play’. What are the qualities which you most and least appreciate when reviewing a performance?
Donald Hutera:
Something that rocks my world, that makes me question my preconceptions or assumptions and that perhaps transcends technique. I want to be touched - perhaps even literally! By which I mean I don't at all mind the notion of participatory or immersive performance. I'm the guy who can often be found scribbling (discreetly, I trust) in the front row especially in smaller venues. I want to see something 'new' or fresh or maybe raw. I don't mind self-indulgence as long as it has a ring of authenticity about it. I want to believe in the people, the ideas and the feelings that have shaped the performance I'm seeing. I want to sense the playful inside of the work, and to be stimulated intellectually, emotionally or even via that ol' but not often unacknowledged condition known as 'kinaesthetic empathy' - which especially in dance terms refers to the feeling of identification you have with what you're seeing others do physically. With any luck many of the performances in GOlive will push all the above-mentioned buttons for me and most other audience members.
 

[Element Dance: Birds of Paradise]


Fiona Campbell: How do you envisage the festival evolving over the years? Is this a one-off, or do you hope to make it an annual event?
Donald Hutera:
George, his partner (and Giant Olive's ace press officer) Tamzin Paskins and the theatre's tech wizard Ciaran Cunningham and I are all very excited about the inaugural edition of GOlive. We'd love it to continue. Let's just see what happens this first year. It's amazing to me that we've managed to pull together three solid weeks of performance in such a relatively short amount of time. What an adventure we're about to embark upon. I trust others might  want to join us in the fun.

Donald Hutera on Twitter
@DonaldHutera

Donald Hutera at The Times
thetimes.co.uk

GO live Dance & Performance Festival
9-29 September 2013
at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre
42-44 Gaisford Street
Kentish Town
London NW5 2ED
lionandunicorntheatre.com
@GiantOlive