Choreographer and performer Joseph Simon: “What kind of a life was I leading?”

Two months of (artistic) lockdown have brought choreographers and dancers in a precarious position. In a dynamic field that is usually centred on live action, urgent questions have arisen around working for the stage. Movement Exposed talked to Joseph Simon, a young choreographer whose work with Dansateliers in Rotterdam mixes modern ballet with hiphop, film with live dance and serious research with laughter. Simon explains what the situation is like for him and what his thoughts are about the future.

How did you experience the change in position of the independent artist and how do you see the future of that position?

“What the situation has exposed, is how vulnerable our position is. How dependent we are of people coming together in the same space. I had never even considered social events being jeopardized – it was a scenario I’d never imagined.

There’s another aspect to this vulnerability. I had a crazy month scheduled in March, and when all of that fell through I wondered: what kind of a life was I leading? We sacrifice ourselves when we are stretched in every direction like that. So then I started to romanticize ideas such as working on a farm and leading a secluded life. Then, slowly I began to discover a new routine, which was more focused on introspection. In my case I’ve noticed I’m also going back to being a performer rather than a researcher: I’m taking the time to take more classes, focusing on my own dancing, and taking care of the body.

Coincidentally, I was set to apply for a Nieuwe Makersregeling with Dansateliers, so I needed to take the time to think about these things anyway. But even though I had all this time, it was difficult to gather my thoughts because I was so out of context. How to plan two years of activity as an artist, as if nothing had changed? By tending to these thoughts little by little, day by day, things did begin to grow gradually in my head. It was such a slow process. But maybe that is really the time it needs. If the situation were normal, how could I have done it?

It was a journey to find out what kind of ecosystem I need as a person and an artist. How can I really choose this life? Does this application mean that I’m choosing wholeheartedly to be a choreographer and focusing on making fulltime? Especially since, in this scene, you somehow seem to disappear if you don’t keep on producing and make sure you’re being seen. Is that what I want? I had to assess the distribution of my activities. That emphasized how much of an independent artist I aspire to be.”

How do artists stay afloat in these times? And later, when we feel the backlash of the current situation?

“The backlash is still to come… I’m not thinking of it too much yet, not wanting to anticipate negative scenarios. It’s hard to speak in general terms, but the most powerful thing you can do is to stay close to what surrounds you, to what is already there. To see if within those relationships there is something that you want to fix, or talk about for a long time. Or if you see any ‘gaps’ coming to the fore that were in the background or in the subconscious before. If we act from there, we can each find something meaningful to engage with individually. And trade these points of view within the community.

Do you see any aspects in the field and the profession that demand change?

“It’s going to be difficult I think, but the intention should be to stick more to what matters. To choose more firmly, and be bolder about what you stand for and where you want to go. About who or what you want to work with. To be more selective, and consider your attention and your energy as something more precious. Make sure it’s invested in something worth your while.

Also, something that I’ve been thinking of lately: because I travel a lot, I haven’t engaged locally, in building a stronger network and community. In making my plans for the Nieuwe Makersregeling I realized I actually want to build strong ties in Rotterdam, and participate more in different fields that I’m interested in. The current climate has made me think more about my position as an artist supported by Dansateliers Rotterdam.”

Photo: Barbara Dietl