Interview with Sharon Fantl, Assistant Director, Redfern Arts Center, Keene State College, NH

September 29, 2016 | By French Culture Arts

Sharon Fantl, Assistant Director, Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College, NH, attended the Dance Focus 2016 organized by Institut francais and ONDA (office national de diffusion artistique) from September 21 to 24, 2016, at the Lyon Dance Biennial.  The 2016 edition of DANCE FOCUS -- designed for international presenters and curators - brought together more than 280 professionals from 50 different countries. Professionals had the opportunity to see new works by Christian Rizzo, Bouchra Ouizguen, Olivier Dubois, Francois Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea, Olivia Grandville, and recent works by Rachid Ouramdane, Vincent Dupont,  and meet with artists developing new work, such as Radhouane El Meddeb, Dorothee Munyaneza, Fanny de Chaille, Lafifa Laabissi, Melanie Perrier, Ali Moini, Amala Dianor, Antoine Defoort, and more.

Sharon's trip was part of a series of curatorial research trips supported by the FUSED (French U.S. Exchange in Dance program), a partnership between New England Foundation for the arts-National Dance Project, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and FACE Foundation.

Sharon shares her impressions with Nicole Birmann Bloom, Program Officer, Performing Arts,

N.B.B. (Nicole Birmann Bloom): Could you tell us about your experience of the Biennial, the Focus Dance, the performances that surprised you?

Sharon Fantl (S.F.): The Focus Dance Festival was a great opening for me into the contemporary dance scene in France. I had the opportunity to explore a new physical and professional landscape. I had never been to Lyon before and had never seen any work by the choreographers in the program. Since so much of it was new for me my main intention was to absorb as much as I could. I walked all over the city and glimpsed Lyon through the various neighborhoods and venues I visited during the festival. The Café Danse hub was a great social space and the other gatherings curated for the festival felt expansive to me. I met interesting people, made some great connections and I learned more about the support systems for the creation and dissemination of dance that exist in France and elsewhere. I also loved the “corps rebelle” exhibition at the musée des confluences- it was a smart and exciting show and strengthened the links between the various performances in the festival. The performances did not particularly surprise me. Perhaps what was most surprising was considering my reactions to each performance alongside colleagues from other countries- to see performance through our own cultural and political lenses, but also to find a common language in our shared interest in dance.

N.B.B.: What elements of the performances impressed you the most?  

S.F.: I was impressed with the production value, scale, aesthetics, and sumptuousness of a number of the performances. Many performances had a clear idea running through it, which grounded the piece. I could see the skill and technique involved with each piece, and how it encountered and challenged the dance tradition. Although there was a clear concept to a piece, the idea did not always develop layers or move into surprising terrain. The simplest piece in my eyes, “Corbeaux” by Bouchra Ouizguen, was the most effective and provocative to me. Also, Rachid Ouramdane’s “Tordre” was very intimate and sensory. It got under my skin and my breath- I was really mesmerized.

N.B.B.: Were you able to connect with the artists and their administrator?

S.F.: I connected with a few of the artists, more so their administrators and programmers, at the gatherings and meetings organized by the Institut francais and ONDA. I met others organically on route to or from a new location and show. The last evening at the Café Danse was especially fruitful for making more connections with different parties. I also enjoyed meeting some of my North American colleagues and interacting in a different context.

N.B.B.: It is the first time you are attending a meetings organized by ONDA and Institut français. Were you able to connect with the network of professionals?

S.F.: Just a little bit. I could see how the Institut francais and ONDA were trying to increase the network and be inclusive, but it still takes a while to become more familiar with the networks in place. This was an introductory trip for me, but I am now more aware of the dance networks across Europe and Asia, which is something we can build on.

N.B.B.: During the professionals meetings, were the questions raised by curators similar to those you hear in the U.S. or did you notice major differences?

S.F.: The questions were not necessarily different but the format and approach for asking the questions felt different to what I am used to in the States. We are all trying to work within and beyond our limitations, to improve our networks and conditions. This is common across cultures. The main impetus for most curators is to discover, share and support work. I felt a desire among curators for complexity, to take performance into more nuanced places, to move beyond preciousness into the real matter.

N.B.B.: Could you tell us more about Redfern in New Hampshire, the audience, and maybe your future projects, your expectations?

S.F.: The Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College is a college-based arts presenter within the Monadnock region of New Hampshire. We program a multidisciplinary series of music, theatre and dance, and we support the academic departments of Music, Theatre and Dance, within our building. We are artist-focused, collaborate across disciplines and departments within the college to bring artists and audiences together, and partner frequently with the communities in our local region. We also work closely with partners across New England (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) on tours and the sustainability of the arts in New England, which due to our small size as a region, strong communication links, and community-minded ethos, is a model for the arts within the United States. At the Redfern we value the creative exchange of ideas generated by collaboration, experimentation and the artistic process, and the personal connections formed in support of the performing arts. Future projects are still in flux, but includes performance instillation and site-based work, and hopefully a continual exploration of international work.

Thank you, Sharon. It was a pleasure to meeting and speaking with you!