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Paul Burns: At Tanzmesse 2018, Dance from Scotland went global

Paul Burns, Interim Head of Dance at Creative Scotland, reflects on Tanzmesse 2018: the world's largest professional gathering dedicated exclusively to contemporary dance.

Read more about the brilliant movers and shakers that represented Scotland on the global stage.

Tanzmesse 2018 group shot

Internationale Tanzmesse NRW (or just Tanzmesse for short) is the largest gathering of the contemporary dance industry in the world and brings together dance artists, companies, venues, producers and programmers to meet, share their work, discuss issues of mutual interest or concern, and watch performances by artists from across the world.

Tanzmesse takes place every two years in Düsseldorf, Germany – a city similar in size to Glasgow on the banks of the Rhine river in the state of North Rhine Westphalia (the NRW of the title).

Promoting Scottish dance on an international stage

Scottish artists have attended Tanzmesse independently for many years but this was the second time that Creative Scotland had funded a delegation of Scottish dance professionals, led by the team from The Work Room.

In 2018, the delegation was made up of 10 independent artists and producers, three Scottish companies sharing work during the festival (Rob Heaslip Dance, Shaper/Caper and Janis Claxton Dance), a number of regularly funded dance organisations, and me representing Creative Scotland.

The Scottish dance scene is incredibly rich and varied for a country of our size and it was striking how many delegates from all over the world were aware of some of our artists, festivals or dance organisations- Paul Burns, Creative Scotland

I am an old hand, having attended my first Tanzmesse back in 2008 whilst programming a venue and festival in England, and have been to every edition since. This time I was there to support the delegation, help people make connections and, perhaps most importantly, represent and promote the wider Scottish dance scene, beyond those able to attend in person.

Tunnock's, whisky and conversation

Days at the event features an exhibition or marketplace of over 100 booths where visitors can meet dance companies, and representatives from organisations or agencies from across the world. Booths share information and offer a consistent meeting point on each morning of Tanzmesse.

It can be overwhelming, as more than 1500 delegates head to the same place, but there are quieter moments, and booths offer various ways to connect with a country – from timed “socials” where you can meet all the delegates from a place; to quieter spaces to meet and talk. Most also offer food and drink from their country to entice people in!

Scotland’s booth followed the trend, with a social on the first day, a meeting table for serious conversations, and malt whisky, Edinburgh Gin and Tunnock's chocolate treats to keep people coming back. All of which worked really well – delegates were really curious about the dance sector in Scotland, were keen to meet the delegation, and were interested to discuss the opportunities and challenges for artists in the UK.

Performances from around the globe

The booths close at 3pm each day, and for most of the delegation this signalled the move to seeing performances, taking part in talks, or visiting some of the studio sharings and presentations by artists. The focal point for this was Düsseldorf’s Tanzhaus – a beautiful old tram depot which now features eight dance studios, two theatres (one with 100 seats, the other with 350 seats) and social space.

However, performances were also staged in other theatres across the city, in the neighbouring towns of Krefeld and Leverkeusen, and even in an old bread factory. Scottish delegates embraced these performance evenings, seeing work from across Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America and Australia. As well as the performances themselves, they appreciated having time to discuss shows with colleagues, to meet new people on buses and trams to and from venues, and to think about where Scotland fit in to this wide world of dance making.

Celebrating excellent Scottish work

As is so often the case with trips like this, they also provide the opportunity to get to know your local colleagues better. Personally, I really enjoyed hearing more about each delegate’s work and their thoughts on Tanzmesse, and having the time to do that over a number of days in both formal and more social settings.

The Scottish dance scene is incredibly rich and varied for a country of our size and it was striking how many delegates from all over the world were aware of some of our artists, festivals or dance organisations.

For Creative Scotland, international platforms of this type are tremendously important. They offer a moment to celebrate the excellent work already happening in Scotland; to initiate conversations, partnerships and friendships that will lead to new collaborations; and to learn from the best work happening elsewhere in the world.

I look forward to hearing about the connections that were made and the projects that emerge, and to seeing our Tanzmesse colleagues again in 2020!

Tanzmesse took place in Dusseldorf from 29 August - 1 September 2018.

This article was published on 07 Sep 2018