While many festivals have already decided to cancel this year’s events in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, Aerowaves’ Spring Forward will take place as planned this month – in online form. The company’s artistic director tells Nick Awde how it aims to remain as social an event as possible, in the spirit of the original
When taking the decision to postpone this year’s Spring Forward in Rijeka, Croatia, the international dance festival’s organiser Aerowaves also knew that the show must go on. And so a virtual edition will exactly replicate the physical event’s programme, taking place on the original dates of April 24 to 26.
“From what I can see, what the bigger institutions are doing is putting old shows online free for a limited period,” says John Ashford, artistic director of Aerowaves, the network for specialists in independent dance across Europe. “That seems to be about it, really. And if you’re lucky you get a rather sedate interview bunged into it.
“But that’s not our response to the crisis. What we’re doing is sticking to the dates and the timed plan of Spring Forward in Rijeka. The obvious bit is that we put the existing videos of each of the 21 pieces online according to the original schedule, at the exact time when you would have gone to see them. Afterwards, they will all be available on demand for a year.”
Each video will be followed by a 30-minute Zoom Q&A with the artists led by a writer for Springback, the festival’s magazine. Show attendees can log in and they’ll also be able to ask questions. “The great thing about Zoom is that you can put all of this up as content during the course of a webinar,” adds Ashford.
Each of these performances will be preceded by a clip from festival host Edvin Liveric, director of the HKD Croatian Cultural Centre in Rijeka – a European Capital of Culture 2020. “Edvin is recording a series of five-minute videos where he will humorously show you exactly which theatre you would have gone into had we been able to go ahead with the event.”
‘The important thing is that people are brought together to have that sense of watching things as a group, as they should have been’ – Aerowaves artistic director John Ashford
All those elements will then go as a free accessible package on Springback magazine in its mentored section. Aerowaves is also asking the artists to make a direct-to-iPhone, one-minute promo in their living room, possibly solo, which will also go up online.
“The important thing is we’re trying to make it as social an event as possible,” says Ashford. “So it’s not people watching from their individual rooms – they’re all brought together to have that sense of watching things as a group, as they should have been.
“I should emphasise is that if we are ahead of the pack in this – and I think we are – it’s for a couple of good reasons. First, we’re working with young people on the digital package who are digital natives and who are recent graduates of the Goldsmiths cinematography MA. So there’s a breadth of expertise going into it, which is unique to Spring Forward since it reflects us both geographically and in terms of age and experience.
“The second thing is that we already have an online publishing platform, Springback magazine, which most arts organisations don’t. They may have a few videos on their website or a Vimeo channel, but that’s not the same as a proper, up-and-running, fully fledged publication that can deal with this.”
The delay has a double impact on Spring Forward as it faces the loss of European Union support because of Brexit – Spring Forward is funded through Creative Europe – but Ashford is pragmatic about this.
“We’re actually in a pretty secure situation until September 2021, because even though we have now left the European Union, the contract remains valid until then. Obviously the problem that we have, like everyone else, is with having to delay events. What we would have spent in Rijeka we’re spending on the live stream, trying to use the money and planning for that as creatively as possible.”
• Organised by UK-based Aerowaves, Spring Forward is a peripatetic contemporary dance platform that has moved across Europe to a new city in a new country each year since 2011.
• For the 2020 edition in Rijeka, there were 725 applications from artists, of which 601 were eligible.
• The final roster of 20 productions, each between 15 and 40 minutes long, was selected by a meeting of 45 dance experts from across Europe. Their choices were not based on any national or representational criteria, but on artistic talent and potential alone.
• The European Union will continue its support for Aerowaves and Spring Forward until September 2021.
Ashford does hope to present Spring Forward, the real thing, live in Rijeka in October this year. “What we’re doing online in April will be an advertisement for the rescheduled event. So we’re asking everybody who should have been appearing in April if they can appear in October, and to those who can’t, we’re offering the following Spring Forward in April 2021, which is in Elefsina near Athens – it’s one the three European Capitals of Culture for 2021. It will be our 25th anniversary as Aerowaves too, so that’s going to be a good one.”
He adds: “There’s a lot to be discovered. I think probably what we’re doing is quite primitive. In a crisis like this, it requires bringing people together to work out how this technology really works. In our case, it may be that by the time we get to the livecast we will have invented some more stuff because we’ve got some really good brains on the job. I think it’s a rehearsal for the future.”
‘Normally I would take a plane, but it’s been obvious for a long time that we need to stop flying around so much’
International partnerships and collaborations are a core part of the dance world and Ashford finds it normal to be working in a virtual office across five countries: the UK, Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Croatia.
“Normally I would take a plane,” he says. “But it’s been obvious for a long time that we need to stop flying around so much. We have to, and as a response I’ve already been developing 360VR recordings of dance performances to replay in what I’m calling ‘Springback Ringside’, where you get 30 people together in a circle and everyone watches the dance performance in VR simultaneously, again socialising the event.”
Ashford sees one of the major side-effects of the coronavirus crisis being that many airlines will go bust. “When we return to the new normal, whatever that is, there’s going to be very much less cheap travel and it’s going to be much more difficult for artists to get around to work with other artists in different countries. And that’s right because that’s what we have to do for the planet, but it’s going to be a differently connected world.
“If it’s going to be trains, then that has a financial consequence because it takes eight to 10 hours to get somewhere instead of two and you’re tired, so you have to have an extra night in the hotel. So touring is going to have to be more logical. You can’t just get on a plane and then get on another plane and come back, you’ll have to do a proper tour which goes from town to town to town, like they used to.
“I think it does have to go as far as possible like that, although this is more appropriate for the dance sector than the theatre sector, because you usually don’t have to carry a set with you in dance, whereas in theatre you’re more likely to take a van or truck around.”
He adds that while none of us can know what the future holds, the one thing that is assured is that there will be deep cuts to the arts. “I don’t see how culture is going to be a priority when people haven’t got carers. It’s going to be really tough. So we all have to be very inventive.
“What we’re all doing now is a kind of ground plan of how it’s going to have to be in the future. Lots more, for example, is going to have to be like what we’re doing in April. It might be VR, it might be holography. Who knows?”
Artistic director: John Ashford
• Livecast: April 24-26
• Physical: October 23-25, 10th edition in Rijeka, Croatia
Employees: 3 full-time; 12 seasonal
Spaces/venues (2020): 5 indoor, 1 open-air
Participating companies (2020): 20
Shows (2020): 20
Audience/delegates figures (2020): 200 (guests plus Springbackers)
Countries represented (2020): 15
Total budget (2020): £110,000 for Spring Forward out of annual EU grant of €500,000
Funders (2020): Creative Europe/European Union; Municipality of Rijeka
Key contact: Anna Arthur, Administrative Director – firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, see Aerowaves’ website