American Dance Abroad in China on May 25th

25 Aug

American Dance Abroad’s Co-Directors tested one of the initial report’s strategies in Guangzhou, China, in cooperation with the Mark Morris Dance Group, which was making its China debut at the Guangzhou Opera House.  American Dance Abroad, with the assistance of Ping Pong Productions, invited seven major Chinese presenters from across the country (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Souzhou, and Guangzhou) to attend the performance on May 25, 2012.  The performance was preceded by a presentation about American dance by Carolelinda Dickey and Andrea Snyder, a discussion about the challenges Chinese presenters face, and a preview of the evening’s repertoire and artistic mission with MMDG Executive Director Nancy Umanoff.  Joining the presentation and dinner discussion were Janis Englehart (U.S. Consulate staff), Alison Friedman (Ping Pong Productions), and Michael Mushalla (MMDG’s international agent).

Working in China is different that most other places.  Decisions are made later than when we would expect.  The customs and protocols are different.  The event only became confirmed three weeks ahead of the scheduled date.  Up until three days before, we weren’t sure how many presenters would show.  We had a dinner to arrange, flights and trains to pay for, hotel rooms to book, a presentation to finish, all without being there.  Fortunately, we hired the assistance of two local college students who we met at the International Performing Arts Fair back in October.  Together with Alison Friedman, who communicated with the presenters on our behalf and guided us in understanding customs and protocols, all the planning and details were realized.

Except for one small problem!  Air traffic control delayed flights on the day of our gathering.  The presenters arrived several hours later than planned.  We shifted accordingly, condensed the presentation, accommodated to the head of the Guangzhou Opera House’s desire to give all the guests a guided tour of the entire Opera House, and turned the formal dinner into a Q & A session before taking our seats for the evening’s performance.  Each presenter departed with a gift bag that contained a collection of DVDs representing a range of American contemporary dance along with MMDG and Ping Pong Production goodies.

What was most astounding and heartening was our realization that these presenters, some of whom run major venues, were talking together for the first time.  It was a HUGE step to put them in a room together; they bonded!  We had an honest discussion about the challenges they face in trying to present American dance (and other touring arts).  These included:

  • —  American fees are so high that they have to raise ticket prices and risk not securing audiences;
  • —  Trying to raise audience interest in little or unknown artists is daunting, especially as even the largest and most well-know American artists are unknown in China; promotion becomes a great challenge;
  • —  Coordinating with their scheduling needs requires flexibility on the part of American companies.

We left with the hope that now that we have met face-to-face and our mutual interest is piqued, there might be a greater possibility to create a network among these presenters (and other Chinese presenters) to coordinate comprehensive tours, which, without doubt, would make it more worthwhile for both American companies and the host presenters.  It also became very clear that the model presented to American artists, which requires artists to pay their own international travel costs, is one that is practiced throughout China.  Their expectation is that any non-Chinese artist will have either the company’s government cover airfares or the individual companies will raise the money to cover airfares.  This is not a practice aimed only at Americans, but applied to artists who tour in Asia.

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