Halfway into the Gothenburg Dance and Theatre Festival I start to have doubts. What does a festival in 2010 actually do? What can a festival do when the circumstances for its existence are only discussed in respect of economy, expected subsidy that didn’t appear and how difficult it is to produce a program under the circumstances of today’s cultural policy. If it is so difficult and so much agony involved why to do a festival at all? Where did we store away our convictions?
Is festival a dead format that at best can perform some quality time for people who choose between television, children and going to the theatre? I’m not interested in serving this audience. They can stay home, because they never anyway stay around afterwards for a decent conversation. What I hear most of all in the foyers is a mixture between “-I liked it”, “-That was nice” and “-It wasn’t that uninteresting”. I had at least hoped to hear some technical critique in the style of defining what and not was bad, lousy or great, even if it is concerned with comparison it’s okay. “-It was better than…” or “-I prefer” at least implies a position. Today it seems that we are back in the 80s where everything was nice, interesting and when it came to dance “-What amazing bodies”.
The festival as we know it showed up some 30 years ago. It was conceived due certain communicational capacities and, well, not even fax machines. The festival is a child of a time when distance was an issue. When it was impossible to see shows if they didn’t come around during the two weeks festival thingy. In Stockholm the festival took place in August (obviously) and it presented stuff that was completely new to me (to most of us). Wooster Group’s “Emperor Jones” in 1991, next to Robert Lepage’s “Snake Song Trilogy” (or whatever it was called), even some idiotic new circus was there and it was fresh. But what do we experience today, a fresh conservative mixture of dance-theatre, tired – not again – oh so amazing French circus, and some unarticulated interactive whatever.
The important discussion right now is not this or that international guest appearance, but what on earth is a festival good for and how the hell does it become proactive, empowering and undeniable for dance, theatre, performance makers and doers? This year’s edition of the festival in Gothenburg has made me even more doubtful. Yet, I’m happy to be here being part of a team that dare pronounce five important words: “-No, we are not fine!” accompanied with an ambition to stop, willing to try something else independent of budget cuts, audience numbers or festival centers. It wont be a nice experience, but hey there is no way out but to start from the beginning.
The festival is dead, long live the festival.