[Estimated reading time: 11 minutes]

International touring is a must for most performing artists, a tool for creating professional continuance and subsistence. Also, performing live is the essence of artistic self expression and development. Yet international touring as we commonly know it – artists and companies flying frequently from one country to another with groups of several people – is a serious threat to the environment. How should we address this dilemma?

All international traveling cannot, will not and should not stop. So instead, we must find more sustainable ways to tour. What kind of touring models, networks and environmentally friendly options that we can benefit from exist already, and what’s bubbling under?

I interviewed four of the Ice Hot partners, who are also Nordic dance presenters in Oslo, Stockholm, Reykjavik and Denmark, about their thoughts on possibilities for sustainable touring in and outside the Nordic countries. It appears that many things are in common in the Nordic region; there are shared ideas, interests and initiatives on top of a functional infrastructure to build on. Yet there is diversity in perspectives and differences in geographical conditions too.

From anxiety to hope

What do we talk about when we talk about international traveling today?

“I see two things at the same time”, says Danjel Andersson, Director of Dansehallerne in Denmark. “First, there is a feeling of panic. Total anxiety. Driven by a fear for the state of the planet, and connected to our precarious business model. Basically: what is my place as a work traveller in a world hurt by traveling?”

“And second: there’s a feeling of hope. We are trained in rethinking and we are all collectively and from a trillion different angles rethinking how we operate. It’s a very creative time,” Andersson continues.

Ólöf Ingólfsdóttir from Ice Hot Reykjavik also sees that a change of mindset is on its way. “Constant travelling from one residency to another and tours where you only see the insides of theatres and your hotel rooms that all look more or less the same, may have lost their allure. Less frequent travels with longer stay in each place now sounds like a better alternative. In Covid-times we have also seen “residencies abroad” where the artists didn’t travel at all, but rehearsed in a studio in their home town while receiving feedback and artistic support online. I think we might see more development of international support models along those lines.”

Picturing a here and now

Is it actually possible to tour sustainably in the Nordic countries and beyond? Where do we start? What kind of facts should we take into account?

Samme Raeymaekers, Artistic Director of Dansens Hus in Oslo sounds realistic and optimistic at the same time: “There are much more tools and more possibilities to sustainable traveling nowadays.”

“But I come from Belgium where it is much easier to travel sustainably. Now in Norway it is completely different, when the route to the next biggest city might take seven hours by train.”

“So the challenges are very different, and to describe it I always use this as an example: the distance from Oslo to Hammerfest is the same as from Oslo to Rome. It’s almost half of the length of Europe.”

Since we cannot change geographical facts, “we just need to find as sustainable ways to travel as possible”.

From national to international collaboration

Dance presenters collaborate in many ways from artistic to institutional levels. Artistic Director Johannes Öhman from Dansens Hus Stockholm sees progress in conversation between organizers.

“There is interest in investigating how to share costs in relation to environmental sustainability. Especially when bringing overseas companies to Europe, we can make a group stay a longer period in a certain region.”

Samme Raeymaekers from Oslo agrees.

“If we invite international companies we work as kind of an unofficial network, a collaboration between Nordic presenting places and organizations, for instance with Dansens Hus in Stockholm, Dansearena in Umeå and in the future with Dance House Helsinki too. Also, especially when talking about non-European companies, we can collaborate not only in a Nordic network but on a European level too.”

Johannes Öhman continues: “I think that as soon as the pandemic slows down this topic will have a very high priority.”

First things first, to make international touring more sustainable for dance and choreography, one key factor would be a strong national touring system which is still lacking in some of the Nordic countries.

“National touring of dance and theatre lacks a supportive infrastructure in Iceland, although the interest is there on the artists’ behalf at least,” says Ólöf Ingólfsdóttir. The situation is more or less the same in Denmark – and Finland – too.

Performing arts meet digitalization

The word of the day is digitalization. Because of COVID-19 the possibilities and challenges of the phenomenon are now debated perhaps more than ever.

When do digital accessibility and distribution of content actually enhance dance professionals’ career and touring opportunities? And when are actual encounters, experiences and performances still needed and why?

These are perhaps the questions the four interviewees agree upon the most: live energy, performances and encounters cannot be replaced by technology.

Ólöf Ingólfsdóttir: “The restrictions and isolation of Covid times reminded us all of some core values of the performing arts; sharing the experience of participating in an art event by being physically present. When performances could take place it was clear that this had huge value for both performers and audiences. Nothing can really replace physical presence.”

“However, streaming live events opened other possibilities, such as allowing audiences all over the world to witness the event as it was happening. It is not the same as being physically present, but it is another way to give a wider public some kind of access to the art work. I don’t think this changes the possibilities for touring.”

Johannes Öhman: “Digital distribution is of course the key when introducing choreographers and makers to organizers, festivals and companies. However I believe that the core of performing arts is live encounters: the actual performance or showing. As of today the technology does not match any live experience. Perhaps it is a bit of a financial problem too since more investments might mean better digital experiences.”

Danjel Andersson: “It’s a live art form. It needs to be experienced live. And it’s a social art form. Digital representations are great but an art form in itself.”

“When talking about live performing arts, it needs to be performed live!”, Samme Raeymaekers laughs and continues:

“They are two different kind of art forms, and there are two different kinds of logics and apparatus around these two. Still, one shouldn’t exclude the other one.”  There certainly is a future for digital projects “but such a performance needs to be made from the start as a digital project”, says Raeymaekers.

An ecological perspective into artistic programming

How do presenters take ecological sustainability in consideration when making artistic choices? Sustainable aspects can be considered in many levels of the process. Many organizations have created their own sustainability program. Communication is another powerful tool for change, as is stated in the Ice Hot Helsinki’s sustainability policy, too.

Danjel Andersson: “We need to be sustainable in so many ways: economically, socially and environmentally. How do we create working conditions that are functional for the field? How do we work in a more sustainable way – in tune with nature?”

Johannes Öhman: “In our organization, we’re discussing the procedures of making the artistic selections more sustainable. Part of our policy is sustainable traveling, and we are currently discussing how to improve and optimize it, and reduce all unnecessary traveling.”

Samme Raeymaekers: “In Dansens Hus Oslo’s sustainability strategy, our aim is to lower as much as possible the travel pressure. It is something you assess in making decisions. We aim to convince the artists to travel in a sustainable way, not influencing them directly, but it is something that you take in mind.”

“This doesn’t exclude that sometimes you make a decision to invite a company that is not on an international tour, because you think that it is important for the audience, for the house, the field, the national dance ecosystem to present that piece. So it’s constantly making balance.”

Text by Helmi Saksala

Author is Communications Specialist and Entrepreneur who contributed to the environmental policy Ice Hot Helsinki published early 2021.