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Quirky Veem sets example for dance sector

Het Veem is a small but important theatre and unofficial production house overlooking the Houthavens in Amsterdam. The house has long been home to internationally operating contemporary performing arts. A place where the artist and his or her experimental work are still central. Since Anne Breure became director in 2014, it carries as an add-on House of Performance.

With Breure, the Veem has again become a true pioneer, not only through its clear artistic policy choices, but also through the constructive alliances it enters into and its clear communication with audiences and politicians.

Panda Express, Oneka von Schrader.
Panda Express, Oneka von Schrader.

These important efforts, especially for Amsterdam, where dance development has stagnated for over a decade, have unfortunately not been honoured by the national fund. Since Zijlstra's cuts, the Performing Arts Fund (FPK) provides subsidies per performance, depending on audience size. You get money based on forecasts of performances sold. Afterwards, you are judged harshly.

Running production

Such a system has no place for Veem, with its commitment to developing contemporary work and discourse. Structural subsidies are mainly for conventional companies, which are quite productive.

Hello Hollow, Julian Hetzel.
Hello Hollow, Julian Hetzel.

Dance company ICK also noticed this. It fired its curator-guest artists after calculating that there was no other choice, at least, according to the new artistic coordinator Michiel Nannen: 'In the current arrangement, the fund only gives money to makers who produce. And just like at the Amsterdam Arts Council, they were apparently unhappy with ICK's talent development.' So ICK lifted Renée Copraij's terribly interesting programme.

In this way, Amsterdam further compromises international artistic relevance in dance and performance. Increasingly, this programming is being left to visual-art institutions.

Innovation in dance must now come from ISH and the National Ballet; they did receive development grants.

Samira Elgoz, Contemporary Cruising.
Samira Elgoz, Contemporary Cruising.

Abroad

Internationally successful makers who, through ICK, Frascati, Veem, sometimes also Dansateliers Rotterdam and formerly also through Grand Groningen, built up their work, such as, for example, Aitana Cordero, Jan Martens or Florentina Holzinger, then simply leave abroad. The question, of course, is why the various committees at the funds react so allergically to new developments in dance and performance.

Tekton, Ola Maciejewska.
Tekton, Ola Maciejewska.

So the Amsterdam dance and performance scene still suffers from a now decades-long national feud over what dance is (via flat classifications like neo-ballet, modern or SNDO - dance or conceptual). But the capital, once renowned for new dance, mime and physical theatre, has also suffered from a non-functioning dance workshop for years. This had been under Ger Jager's leadership since 1993 and was relaunched in Amsterdam-Noord under the name Dansmakers.

Dance house

Apart from the vicissitudes surrounding The Dance House and Ger Jager's dubious role in it, the project could never really grow into a place where makers could seriously build up their careers. In terms of content and organisation, Dansmakers was riddled with ad hoc decisions and grandstanding (international programming, production house).

Ger Jager left quietly this autumn, under pressure from subsidy woes. Artistic director Suzy Blok, after all the negative decisions, is now fighting for Dansmakers' survival through the courts. Verdict 13 January.

Clear course

Veem director Anne Breure and her board, meanwhile, are charting a clear course. Other companies and institutions bend over backwards to accommodate new government directors. They pile one task programme on top of another, hoping to bluff their way past competing applicants. Veem, however, has opted for a more responsible choice, one you wish more institutions did.

An example is the 100-day proposal in response to the opinion of the Amsterdam Fund of the Arts. That fund linked an extremely positive assessment to the (very modest) subsidy remaining the same. 'If we don't get more money, we'll just close for part of the year,' Breure reasoned with her board.

Veem has apparently had enough of underpaying, squeezing its own and others' buffers. Clearly they are also fed up with constantly moving with politics and the substantive compromises this entails. Next week, on 20 December, the statements by the municipality and the AFK on the revised proposals of the Amsterdam art institutions will follow. It promises to be exciting.

Holzinger & Riebeek, Schönheitsabend.
Holzinger & Riebeek, Schönheitsabend.

Closed stronghold

Another striking aspect of Veem and Breure is the way they engage in audience development. These include neighbourhood initiatives, as well as an international curatorial show The Curators piece questioning the role of the mediator. Veem tended to become a somewhat closed stronghold under previous directors, where mainly colleagues and insiders came to see and performances often travelled on to the next foreign country rather than visiting the Netherlands in several places.

The VERY NOW pilot, which Breure co-created with Rainer Hofmann of Spring set up should change that. The small festival showed work by Riebeek&Holzinger, Rodrigo Sobarzo, Oneka von Schrader and Florian Hetzel in Tilburg and Groningen in recent weeks. The tour ends these days at the Veem in Amsterdam.

Aitana Cordero, Three ways to master a kiss. Photo: Maya Wilsens
Aitana Cordero, Three ways to master a kiss. Photo: Maya Wilsens

Judith Blankenberg, who used to be programmer of De Keuze in Rotterdam and started as programmer of the restarted Grand Theatre in Groningen in May this year, is enthusiastic about the pilot. 'It was not a very large audience that came to see the performances, but the people who came were very happy to see something that is not mainstream in Groningen again. Students, people from the academies, from the visual arts and from the university. I didn't speak to everyone, of course, but spectators were really pleasantly surprised with the programme.'

Hope in Groningen

'As a programmer, I have always been concerned with the boundaries between disciplines. I also really like performing artists who ask the question: what are we doing here at this time, in this theatre. The VERY NOW pilot clearly shows that there is room for more experimental programming. The old Grand is of course co went under because of the loss of the production house budget due to Zijlstra's cuts and the city not compensating.'

'So far, the new Grand has just enough money to programme productions once a month. The rest of the month we do with what comes from the city in terms of activities and also show residents what they are doing. When the money from the regionalisation policy is released from the fund soon, I am hopeful that I will be able to continue this experimental programming.'

Jan Martens, the dog days are over. Photo: Alwin Poiana.
Jan Martens, the dog days are over. Photo: Alwin Poiana.

Discussion

The fact remains that various grant decisions have taken quite a bite out of grant money for experimental work in dance and performance. Veem is organising a discussion today, under the cheerful heading Wishful Thinking. Key players in the Amsterdam and national scene of contemporary dance and performance engage in a public conversation: Anne Breure welcomes Rainer Hofmann, Suzy Blok and Michiel Nannen.

BAU is also in favour of more open governance, more voice for artists, and joint action despite artistic differences. This platform of independent dance and performance makers in Amsterdam sent a alarm letter on the Amsterdam situation. To be continued.

Good to know

For more information: discussion Whisful Thinking and the programme Very Now Today to Saturday at Veem House for Performance.

For reviews of grant requests, see FPK and AFK.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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