Why collaborate internationally?

Internationalisation in arts and culture has been the topic of yesterday's panel discussion of the conference "SYNERGIZE! Culture in Democratic Action" celebrating the 10th anniversary of International Visitors Programme of NRW KULTURsekretariat. The conference has been very inspiring and has asked many important questions: What is the impact of international cultural relations on a democratic coexistence? Within these relations, how important is the personal encounter? And how can we expand intercultural networks, making them possible for everyone? All these questions apply directly to the biannual event of internationale tanzmesse nrw - especially taking into consideration that tendencies of exclusion, polarization and censorship are radically increasing. Also with the internet, digital technologies and expanding infrastructures, how important is the personal encounter for cultural workers and artists? One answer to this last question came from keynote speaker Mike van Graan: Personal relationships enable us to relate to the broader reality of a country and the given situation there. Art can foster empathy between cultures. But it is also important to find the right balance between personal encounters and responsible ecological actions. Another question we need to ask ourselves how encounters, exchanges and collaborations are made? Partners need to meet at eye level. Mike van Graan together with IETM, Dutch Culture and On the Move has published a tool kit on fairer international cultural collaboration: "IETM Toolkit Beyond curiosity and desire: Towards fairer international collaborations in the arts" ( What are your experiences on international collaboration? On collaborations that have emerged through Tanzmesse encounters?

Tanzmesse User

Kemal Payza


Thanks for posing the question “Why collaborate internationally?” and for soliciting examples of collaboration in dance. I appreciate the opportunity to respond here in this forum. “Mythologies”, the dance that I submitted in my application to Tanzmesse 2020, is one example of collaboration. It was created within a unique collaboration of 7 choreographers; see sources in the link below: I conceived and produced “Mythologies” and submitted the application to Tanzmesse on behalf of myself and the contributing artists comprising our collective “Synergy InFusion” (note: originally, we applied as “Kemal Payza and a team of independent choreographers”. The new name is to reflect the synergy derived from the fusion of creative powers from different choreographers in this project). The dance weaves a narrative through 14 vignettes tracing through themes of migration and the resulting conflict between cultures and between tradition and the present. The four dancers play fictional characters representing multiple layers of meaning. The narrative dramatic structure depicting one of the layers of meaning is outlined in the link below: Also seen in the outline above, is that the musical dramatic structure of “Mythologies” has an unusually diverse range of music and one spoken text. Each of the 14 parts of the soundtrack was commissioned or selected to fit critical aspects of the narrative. I wrote two of the compositions for classical guitar. Each choreographer was then chosen to create one or more parts of the dance based on their skills, experience, and affinity to the music and subject matter. The project took about 21 months from the original concept (December 2017) to the premiere performance on stage in Montreal (September 2019). The collaboration yielded a work of art that was appreciated not only by its creators and performers, but also by the audience (all of whom gave a long standing ovation) and by a dance critic at the show (see I hope to share it at Tanzmesse 2020. For the time being, a video recording of the premier performance can be viewed here: Such a collaboration, however, is not always understood or appreciated, and is sometimes even seen perhaps in a less than positive light. One example of this is the following question, which didn’t arise from the audience or from my collaborators, but rather from administrators working in the dance world. I’ve been asked, “Why did you use so many choreographers in your project, rather than just one, and what exactly was your role?” My answer is fourfold. First of all, I did not “use” choreographers. “Using” is what one does with a tool. How I engaged with the very talented choreographers was a collaboration. Yes, it was a paid collaboration, as they were duly compensated for their creative contributions. As the originator and leader of the project, I offered guidance and explanation regarding the overall rationale and artistic vision and, as appropriate, I also indicated where the narrative required certain actions to be portrayed. However, the choreographers were granted the “final word” as to the dance forms they created for the narrative structures (dramatic and musical) that I provided to them. For avoidance of doubt, the choreographers are the uncontested sole authors of their individual contributions to the project. Secondly, before I should be asked to explain why I chose to involve more than one choreographer, the poser of the question must explain why ultimate artistic perfection would rather be attained with just one choreographer on the project. In other words, if the current tradition in contemporary dance is that only a single choreographer must be involved per production and furthermore that that choreographer must assume the leading role in the project, then I say that it must be remembered that, unlike tradition, the present is changing constantly. Thirdly, as I explained above, each choreographer has an individual identity and experience that made them especially suitable to create one or more parts of the whole. Furthermore, the selection was not only based on what they could bring to the project, and my gut feeling, but also on what the project would offer each of them, as an opportunity to rise to the atypical artistic challenge of this project and to grow as a choreographer. Although many of my collaborators are established, seasoned choreographers, for one of them it was her first paid choreography, and for another it was her first choreography involving a male dancer in a duet. The rationale for each pairing would be too lengthy to detail here, but it can be inferred by reading the choreographers’ CVs (which can be found here:, their artistic statements, and by examining within the final work the various sections of the narrative and associated music (or spoken word) to which each choreographer was matched. Fourthly, the very act of creating a work of art, i.e., the manner in which it is created, can also be considered in some cases to be a facet of that work of art – in addition to the artwork itself. In other words, part of the art of “Mythologies’ is the way multiple choreographers, musicians, dancers and a writer worked with me in its creation; a synergy wherein the whole is greater than the fusion of its parts. The audience members’ awareness of this fact added another dimension to their appreciation of the work. As a final note, however unrelated to the rationale around collaboration, I’ve been asked why the narrative of “Mythologies” is not spelled out in the program flyer. My answer is that the mystery of “Mythologies” is a unique defining feature of the work. If I say what should be interpreted from it, then that would limit one’s freedom of imagination to construct one’s own meaningful interpretation. It is the abstraction of the movement and the soundtrack that allows the audience to interpret the “story” in a way that is personally meaningful. Below are some of the different interpretations received: “For me, ‘Mythologies’ is about encounters, different universes, different visions and lifestyles that co-exist. As an Indigenous Métis of the Wendat Nation, I understand the respect and honour that the character Kyzyl feels for her family and her culture.” – Catherine Dagenais-Savard (formerly of Marie Chouinard Dance company, choreographed 3 parts of “Mythologies” and danced the key role of Kyzyl) “This is a beautiful coming-of-age narrative about a young woman’s emergence into the world, finding love and then returning to her family. ‘Mythologies’ contains many layers of meaning within its interweaving musical and movement lines. It succeeds in being both universal and personal in the way that classical art is often both.” – Aili Bresnahan (professor of dance philosophy at Dayton University, USA) “For me, ‘Mythologies’ speaks of leaving one's roots and traditions to look for a better future; it's significant for me because my parents have been through the same." - Marietta Muñoz (audience member, daughter of Cuban immigrants to Montreal) “I appreciate that this beautiful dance maintains appropriate respect for Altai spirituality and dignity. As you may know, most of the guardians of Altai identity and culture (storytellers, singers, shamans, artists and local leaders) disappeared in the 1930s under Soviet repression. That was followed by a long period of cultural assimilation imposed by Moscow. But since the end of the 1980s, many Altai people, such as I, have been devoting much of our energy to reviving our language, music and traditional culture before it is too late. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I believe the use of my music in ‘Mythologies’ will help the people of Canada and the world to understand and appreciate the artistic nature of the Altai people and, in some small way, to share our love for our songs and of our cultural heritage. We Turkic-speaking Altaians, the indigenous people of the republic, now make up only about 30 percent of the population. Like the character Kyzyl, in your story, many Altai people have made, mainly for economic reasons, the difficult decision to part with, or at least dilute, their Altai identity. Altai has been a part of Russia since the 18th century, so we all speak Russian and many of us converted to Orthodox Christianity and married Russians, similar to Kyzyl and ‘The Stranger’. In the last part of ‘Mythologies’, if I’m interpreting it correctly, I am happy to see that Kyzyl has managed to maintain a link to her family and her original culture.” - Urmat Yntaev (Leader of the AltaiKai band of musicians in Gorno-Altaisk, Altai Republic, Russian Federation).