Vertical Dance Forum 3rd Summit in Venice, Italy – Nov 2016 / Report

Introduction – by Fabrice Guillot, Retouramont –

A simple invitation the company Retouramont sent to some colleagues choreographers based in Europe and Canada to meet revealed immediately that vertical dance is a strong art form and that it is composed of a great variety of pathways and artistic choices.

We, as VDF members, are interested in exchanging in a peer-to-peer relationship about common topics (security, gear, teaching…) and we organise meetings during which various audiences, such as academics, researchers, onlookers… can share their viewpoint on vertical dance.

All these moments help us to be more aware of this art form we want to better understand and promote. Each meeting increases our desire to explore together and to invent new actions.

Objectives over the 4 days of the Summit in Venice:

  • To meet with University Ca’ Foscari M.A.C. Lab members and to start a networking collaboration with researchers interested in the management of cultural productions
  • To imagine the ways VDF could become more open to external participation in the next meetings
  • To prepare the next event in Wales (July 2017), to fix a provisory calendar for future events (Venice in November 2017 and so on) and to talk about potential future collaborative projects
  • To decide on what would be the VDF e-publication
  • To finalise the Europe Creative application for VDF project

Meeting with Ca’ Foscari M.A.C. Lab – Nov 18th, 2016

Presentation of M.A.C. Lab

“The Management of Arts and Culture Lab (M.A.C. Lab) is a “place” where research and teaching activities concerning the management of cultural productions can meet together.

It aims to enhance interdisciplinary links with other research activities both in Italy and abroad, to increase and strengthen communication and collaboration with private and public institutions, and with organizations engaged in policy and social activities, as well as with the subjects involved in cultural development as a social and economic driver of growth.

The idea that nowadays the “cultural dimension” plays a fundamental role in the process of creating value, is what drives the M.A.C.Lab project. Cultural productions and creative activities are increasingly important for the economy and are consequently taken into account  in the decision-making processes aimed at fostering economic growth.”

Meeting organized in 3 times

In the morning of Friday 18th November 2016, we were 6 of the VDF members and 9 M.A.C. Lab members.

The first part of the day consisted of a quick presentation of both groups and a presentation by Anna Moretti of her research on The Network Organisation.

She briefly described how different networks could be depending on their:

  • Format (informal/formal, horizontal/vertical, process of partner’s selection…),
  • Complexity (social or more institutionalized mechanisms, serendipitous or goal-directed trajectories, network dynamics/individual agency)
  • Functions (economic benefits, learning and innovation, legitimacy, effectiveness, internationalization…)

She then introduced one of the 5 topics that were to be discussed in round-tables: How to cooperate with diversities?


The second part was dedicated to 5 round-tables on 5 different topics proposed by M.A.C. Lab researchers:



Natural and Artificial Worlds – the relationship with spaces/working in spaces – by Kate Lawrence, Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence –


This topic gave rise to a consideration of the nature of the human condition – perhaps there is no natural world where there are humans, and to be artificial is ‘natural’ for humans.

The VDF film presents vertical dance in natural and urban environments prompting reflections that humans moving in natural environments seemed more animal-like, whereas they seemed more human in urban spaces. It was thought that their action gave new meaning to space. Humans adapt to diverse environments and affect and change those spaces; vertical dance can be an agent for such change. If the natural world is habitual, vertical dance might be a subversion of body habits, taking body habits that are taken for granted and inventing new habits for different contexts. Creating moments of disruption is perhaps crucial to encourage other processes of sense-making (emotional, technical, intellectual, etc) to emerge.

Vertical dance in a production space – a contamination – by Lindsey Butcher, Gravity & Levity –


We began by attempting to define ‘production space’ and ‘contamination’.

The first as a place where an exchange takes place e.g manufacturing, developing, preparation, trade etc be it a factory, classroom or office for example. We also pondered whether it’s the dancers themselves who make the space/any space a production space?

And contamination in this case as a corruption or disturbance which Fabrizio claimed were welcome in the production space under the proviso that it was a positive intervention and even better profitable!

We discussed the role of the vertical dancer working on the membrane or interface between private and public space.

I spoke of the challenges (mostly positive) of creating work outside of the private rehearsal studio and of the work being influenced by the employees, inhabitants, passers by also how it can on occasion, be misinterpreted by an anxious member of the public. There is the potential for vertical dance to be merely decorative (moving wallpaper) or at the opposite extreme be antagonistic (as in a political act). In reality my experience is that our work is socially responsible and responsive with the potential to celebrate and change perceptions of the world and communities we all inhabit.

Practice and learning – how sharing knowledge and building a new one? – by Wanda Moretti, Il Posto

practice-and-learningVertical dance is a particularly interesting discipline not only because it requires changing the usual perspective, but also because it is developed by self-made artists. The self-learning has interesting influences on the management of the cultural enterprise as well as on the conduction of the relationships with collaborators and clients. In this sense, practice and learning are strictly connected in a circle of development where one is the cause of the other, and vice versa.

Therefore, the developed knowledge in the artistic and managerial spheres is really different for each member of VDF. The practice is highly dependent on the personal growth that each choreographer built for himself/herself.

The result is that VDF is a harmonious puzzle of experiences, ideas, and professional behaviours linked by the same passion and belief on the vertical dance as an artistic language with different faces.

Participation – how vertical dance can generate participation? – by Chantal McCormick, Fidget Feet Aerial Theatre


  • The distance between the audience and the vertical dancer i.e working at height, offers a big question: “how can the audience feel connected to the performer, when the audience is so far away? “
  • Large-scale aerial work is it spectacle? Is it only wallpaper on the building or site? How can spectacle connect to the audience so they feel connected to the art?
  • Performers  ->   Audience   ->  Performers   =  HEART

The relationship between the artists/performers and the audience is important to the creator. There is a need for the audience to grow with vertical dance, the more the audience sees the more educated the audience can become in this art form. The audience is just as equally important as the performers in this exchange and if the work can connect to the audience through the unspoken words, through the heart i.e. to connect at a deeper level and feeling.

  • For audiences to fully understand the art form of vertical dance, does the audience need to take part in a workshop and if they do this they have a better understanding to watch vertical dance.
  • Vertical dance tends to have the back to the audience so how can we, as creators, bring the audience in to feel part of the show?
  • How can vertical dance communicate to a large audience and grow the appreciation of the art form. What marketing tools can we use and how can we grow and educate audiences that in turn can raise the access to increased funding to grow the art form?
  • Contemporary dance   ->  vertical dance  <-    contemporary circus

Vertical dance takes from the contemporary dance world while also appearing in the contemporary circus world, but not 100% accepted in the contemporary circus world. Some believe if you are not working to lift and suspend yourself using circus equipment then it is not contemporary circus. So this raises another question of who is vertical for: a contemporary dance audience or a contemporary circus audience?

Diversity in network – how to cooperate taking care of diversities – by Julia Taffe, Aeriosa –

diversity-in-networkOur roundtable discussion “Diversity in the Network” delved more deeply into the topic of Anna Moretti’s opening presentation “The Network Organization”

This was a very timely discussion for the Vertical Dance Forum, because it provided the opportunity to reflect why our international group of artistic directors came together in the first place. We talked about what makes the VDF effective today, and what kind of organizational structure will best suit the VDF in the future. Any organization, no matter how small, must build its reputation in the community and establish trust both within and outside the group. In the case of VDF, we know that many vertical dance artists are excited to connect and benefit from the support of a wider peer group. We are motivated by the potential be a focal point for vertical dance exchanges, both artistic and technical. However, because VDF is informal and artist-driven, we also feel it is important to resist external pressures towards institutionalization even as we organize ourselves to address accountability issues for the community. Our present challenge is to include the wider community of vertical dancers in participatory events and activities without becoming an unwieldy organization with complex administrative requirements.

VDF Internal Meetings Summary – Nov 20th & 21st, 2016 – by Julia Taffe, Aeriosa

VDF founders gathered at the Venice Public Library in Mestre for our annual internal meeting on November 20th & 21. Our conversations included:

– Planning for upcoming VDF workshops and creative labs,

– Sharing individual artists’ research,

– Developing activities/ideas and discussion of our aspirations for connecting the VDF community.

Here are a few highlights, from my perspective. Wanda Moretti told us about her soon-to-be-published research into “ The Roots (or is it “The Routes”?) of Vertical Dance, exploring the establishment of vertical dance as a defined artistic practice, developed by a generation of pioneers working around the world. Her work will be published in the form of a film as well as a book written in Italian.

We made good progress with planning two upcoming VDF workshops that will be taking place in Wales and Italy in 2017:

  1. Vertical Dance Kate Lawrence is coordinating a VDF creative lab during Circus Fest in Bangor North Wales in July. For this lab, VDF members will collaborate in developing a “vertical conversation between spaces” providing opportunities for public engagement by animating the interior and exterior spaces of the new Pontio theatre building.

“VDF discussed initial ideas for the meeting at Pontio, Bangor at their recent meeting in Venice, looking at images of Pontio and hearing from me about the location and the history of the site. We all became excited about the idea of using vertical dance to make connections through spaces, for example from the university on top of the hill, to the city below, through the various levels of Pontio. We proposed to work creatively and collaboratively (possibly in pairs), in the public eye, for 3 days, and to present an intervention/informal performance on the fourth day (date tbc).” said Kate Lawrence

  1. Next fall, in Venice, Wanda Moretti of Il Posto is coordinating a VDF mentorship lab that will pair emerging vertical dance choreographers with a VDF mentor who will guide them through a personal research topic that is proposed by the emerging artist.

There were many great conversations, but one that stood out for me I will sum up with a phrase used by Monica Calcagno during the MAC Lab Workshop at Ca’ Foscari University: “Inspiration, Not Imitation”. In this discussion we touched upon core values for collaborating in a respectful way, upholding spoken and unspoken expectations of discretion regarding technical innovations and artistic concepts developed by fellow artists. The idea of “inspiration not imitation” recognizes the importance of consultation, seeking permission and providing acknowledgement of the originator’s contribution.

Special thanks to Wanda Moretti and Il Posto Company for hosting this 3rd VDF Summit and organizing the meeting with M.A.C. Lab !!

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