Educating students about the World of Work is not easy, particularly when the ‘World’ in question resists straightforward career structures. Graduates seeking a way to make a living by working with dance in some form or other (note the vagueness in which I construct this sentence) often have to be ingenious at devising their own pathways – often several at once – drawing on their environment and cultural ecology as part of the process. As an educator, I have been interested in exploring how best to prepare students and graduates who are beginning their professional journeys, for this peculiarly transitory existence.
It was my colleague, Roehampton Dance Network Co-ordinator and independent choreographer and performer, Amaara Raheem, who put me in touch with Christopher Matthews. (Note the mouthful of titles Raheem has to describe what she does). Her work as Network Co-ordinator is outward facing, inviting, on behalf of the university, conversations with independent dance artists and organisations. Matthews is an American choreographer and artist living in London and choreographing, devising, performing and teaching in diverse places around the world, most recently in Germany and Angola. In talking to Matthews it was clear that he wanted to explore his own experience of his nomadic career in dance, in order to pass his understanding, knowledge and know-how on to students.
Matthews became our Creative Entrepreneur in Residence at University of Roehampton, funded by Creativeworks London. The money has supported the creation of a week long workshop for dance students and graduates, consultation with two independent dance artists and a week long artistic residency at Asia House London. In addition, Matthews and I have been working to produce an online tool kit for students and graduates to develop their awareness and understanding of the nomadic World of Work in which they will find themselves.
We have titled the Creativeworks London project as Artist as Nomad. Nomadism aptly sums up the itinerant nature of working in the arts. Whereas a nomad in the desert sets up home in a variety of locations in order to subsist, dance graduates may find themselves working in different locations to pay the bills, be it different cities, or even different work environments, be it behind the bar one night and in front of the barre the next morning. Nomadism for dance professionals is found in the negotiation of culture(s) and citizenship, in engaging with what is there within each and every environment, in making decisions that have ethical and political considerations. These acts of nomadism have been explored within the residency and will be the focus for students engaging with the online tool kit in helping them develop resilience in, and sensitivity to, working in a plurality of environments.
The culmination of Matthews’s residency with us will be an installation (15th – 19th July) and live performance (17th – 18th July) at Asia House by both Matthews and Raheem. Raheem takes as her focus Hestia, Greek Goddess of the Hearth, who was one of the most honoured deities. Described as imposing, discreet, immobile, and calm, she presided over the centre of the Earth, the centre of home, desiring neither change nor adventure. However, in as much as she reigned over the household, Hestia, Goddess of Settlement, also presided over the state and the establishment of new colonies. The live performance of Hestia puts to question our relationship to home from the viewpoint of migration, precariousness, imbalance, inhabiting the edgelands of place and race.
Spectators will be invited to witness a dialogue between Matthews and activist/writer Huw Lemmey. The two will be discussing topics that have arose during the Artist as Nomad residency. Lemmey will unpick Matthews’s artistic practice in hopes of demonstrating cultural citizenship, nomadicity, and the sense of place and displacement.
This article was first published on the Creativeworks London website on 14th July 2014.