Three well-renowned Hungarian dance professionals, Éva Duda, Katalin Lőrinc and István Simon discuss the question of harassment in dance – which recently was once again the a focus of media attention – and possible solutions to the problem.
Éva Duda, the initiator of joint declaration of solidarity gathered from the wide-ranging dance community was seeking to address revered personnel to share their regards to this matter. This is how she encountered Istvan Simon, who – lately had been the leading principal dancer at Dresden Semperoper Ballet – and is currently travelling the world as a guest artist. They were in agreement with Dr. Katalin Lőrinc, a dance artist and theoretician, that seeking justice via the media was not the most productive option in ‘serving the truth’. Their conversation, with Katalin Lőrinc acting as moderator began from here.
Éva Duda: Public appearance has up to now only been important as a way of drawing attention and thereby opening a dialogue. With it’s assistance, we can direct a spotlight on this extensive problem, but what is really important would be to initialise some relevant treatment, in a professional way: with proper forums, discussions, conferences. It is fine if some communication happens on social media, though it would be misleading to expect anyone to solve anything in this way.
István Simon: For me, the basic question was, how is it possible to avoid the media ping-pong match and steer the communication instead towards a professional platform. Generally, those, who are affected have to endure a long, drawn- out process before they reach the end: through media publicity, with the hope that this will remedy their problems, rendering a solution for their pain.
Though in practice it seems that this is usually not the case. More often than not, the opposite is true: media pick up such snippets of information from various sources, the details of which those concerned would not necessarily want to have circulated.
A discussion regarding the problems concerning on the performing arts field should be initiated which brokers a common reasoning, involving the profession’s leaders and role-players, by bringing into existence such a platform which affords them an opportunity to connect.
Katalin Lőrinc: Let’s take a closer look at exactly what this is all about. I would state there are two levels of typical harassment within our profession. One of them (the most common): verbal abuse (for example, humiliation or more precisely that is perceived as such by the person affected), the second is sexual and/or physical abuse.
IS: Let’s clarify a couple of points. How and on what level the abuse of power manifests itself, is possibly dependent on the situation. There are circumstances when obviously verbal abuse is the issue, in another situation then physical abuse is going on and that is not only like hitting for example, but also of accomplishing a physical performance by force, for example insisting someone works with an injury, but denying resting time also counts as abuse, along with an inappropriate workload for the particular age group.
ÉD: The theatre is such a place, where dependence and defencelessness towards leaders or creators is very relevant. Just one example: if someone dares to question if the rehearsal time announced as ending at 2 o’clock will go on for hours longer, that might risk the job security of that dancer, and that is also an abuse of power. As are threats and intimidation.
KL: Our experience could be – and from the reaction of the accused it appears so – that more often than not the perpetrator isn’t aware of having caused abasement, as they are also a victim: the same thing happened to them, and became acceptable behaviour this is how they were socialized. (And let’s not delve into the wider context that leads us to all other general social stereotypes, for example the power structures of head of the family over the other family members).
IS: Yes, often, due to the belief system within any given community and because of the habitual inner dynamics of that group, it is hard to recognise that what you do or say may be unpleasant for the others. They just don’t know;
Their self-awareness and self-reflection is blocked
Of course it is possible that all of a sudden someone from outside the group confronts them about it. Though, one wonders how they could be like that for years at a time, what caused the obstruction, and how can self-awareness be practised? What is the factor which renders this obstruction?
ÉD: We are talking about behaviour norms inherited through generations, wherein things work according to “unwritten rules”, which are considered sacred.
This present system protects those who sit in the higher positions in the hierarchy, those whom no-one underneath can question.
It would be important to create such a framework, both in the theatre-world and in the dance-world, whereby all role-players are protected and supported.
The subordinate, the student and also those above them. Control needs to be put into place where rules are laid down, and not simply just at the director’s whim, his words being sacrosanct. Perhaps an advocacy organisation, a trade-union, or regular professional forums – the main thing is the rules are formulated under a consensus. Without this we will be back to the trans-generational legacy, and there will be no real change, of which there is great necessity.
KL: It would be important, to enable the sufferer to dare to communicate, to speak out if something happened to them that they didn’t like. So that the perpetrator understands: their behaviour is counter-productive. Though everyone has a slightly different level of tolerance and sensitivity…..
ÉD: The misconception that unequivocally only under duress and suffering can great artistic work be achieved, still lives on. From the start dance extorts daily struggles from the artist, and that is exactly why it is so important whether – that while still fulfilling expectations – results are achieved under acceptable, human conditions, working professionally according to a plan; or under stress in fear and anxiety, writhing about helplessly.
Blood-letting won’t make the work more productive or the result more brilliant products.
IS: This misconception is a serious problem. Originally that is a romantic art-concept, amplified during the twentieth century, while it’s by no means certain art couldn’t have been done differently; as in opposition there are many things which indicate to the contrary. From a point of view of control, it would be necessary to have power-decentralisation within the structure (theatre, company, group, school). There should be centres of formal and informal power separate from each other, whereby under certain circumstances they can monitor each other, and let there be a self-regulating organisation for the company members, so that if there is a perceived problem, then it can be stopped as soon as it starts.
KL: Nowadays during dance education, these frames are given, in principle. The question is, how the participants can use this frame. Of course this still takes us back to: tradition of socialization in dance. Though, this at first glance appears to be an institution-specific problem, how do you see it, Éva, in contemporary dance, where smaller, often temporary companies work together on a particular project?
ÉD: Despite contemporary dance not being a dogmatized sector, the expectations, the psychological and physical overload, or the abuse of power also feature on this field. In a smaller company it is easier to bring the matter to the table and discuss it, but also in this case it very much depends on the company leader, how open she or he is to this kind of discussions. I have learned this the hard way when founding a my company, as I was sometimes drawing the longbow with inappropriate intonation or about working hours, but I got feedback from this chosen community which led me to self-examination.
I also thought at first, that the tougher I am, and the more I demand, then the more I can achieve.
However, after a while, I opened a circle where one could speak out, even about my style of leadership – and this became very benefical. It is very important while working with creative, sensitive people, how they are present and how they work as a team. When appreciating and respecting them it’s possible to work with better energy levels, the result is uplifting and collectively enhanced. Therefore, I am grateful to those who helped me on this journey.
IS: Working together towards a common goal can be a lot more productive than just revolving around each other. But to return to ballet, I mentioned that deconcentrating power could install a self-correcting company culture. Though I see a noticeable deterioration in the international dance world in this respect. In earlier days the popularity of one or two performing artists gave them power, a star dancer could be the representative for the community in opposition of the directors. These days this situation no longer exists, because a star-director structure has come into being: and now there is a lot more power in the director’s hands.
Basically there are two kinds of company structures. One where there is a company, and a director is brought in to lead it, in this case the system of self-governance works more easily. The other where the director/choreographer realises his dream by founding a company, here it is less likely to be so: dancers can be replaced. In the sphere of contemporary dance however, let’s not lose from our sights the fact that, there the creation of the pieces can exact such extremes, (if for example we think of a Jan Fabre, Jacopo Godani, or the work of DV8), that the performance of them pushes the boundaries both physically and mentally.
KL: What do you think, how is it possible to include pro-activity in this regard during the education process? It is very common that the youngsters who are being abused or intimidated, don’t know that what is happening to them isn’t right. How can this be remedied?
ÉD: Art-form specific courses and workshops should be introduced to the school system, thereby affording an opportunity to talk about such things. Coaches, lawyers, psychologists, and other experts, who can speak about the rights and boundaries. There should be a school psychologist all time available to listen to the complaints and reports of grievance (which should also include bullying) during the education. At the moment, those concerned, don’t know what is what, concepts are not clear. They don’t know when they can say that a certain action has now crossed the borderline, because it is not clear where is this line exactly. Every dance pedagogue and every child needs to be educated where healthy borders are. Let there be discussions about this in schools, so that the problems can be nipped in the bud, instead of coming to light after someone has had years of suffering.
IS: But this is hypothetical, until the adult dance company system punishes those who dares to speak out because they are suffering hostility or abuse in their workplace. I know this from personal experience: I reported in the most cultured manner that I had been experiencing unethical actions: my professional career was blocked. I was publicly shamed and my wife was also sanctioned, I lost my job and it took three long years until I could prove my case at the court. So, if someone is not able to safely report a hostile situation within the company, and there is no built-in methods to process it in positive context, seeking a resolution; until that time an educational institution that is aiming to integrate students to the company culture, cannot fulfill it’s role.
ÉD: Of course, that is why I also wrote in our public statement, that the workplaces, performing art environments, should be reformed, along with the educational institutions, and a new system of values must be introduced. Though the aim is not to go from one extreme to the other and become so PC, that we dare not to breathe without permission, as emotions, and temperament is an essential part of this profession. But we are still very far away from this extremity.
We need to find the middle ground, so that the emphasis is on a healthy environment – and that should be achieved through collectively made decisions, with a general consensus – and not the higher ranks dictating to the lower ones
IS: Such an environment needs to be created, in which it’s possible to work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, where an anti-abusive routine can develop, and in which the models of everyday communication, behaviour norms are formed and there is coaching, helping, and retaliations are disabled. If communities could successfully achieve a communication breakthrough, then any areas of difficulty could be dealt with at a much earlier phase in the proceedings and it wouldn’t be necessary to get to the point where there is an ethical misdemeanor, or a media scandal.
KL: What would happen to those, who would come forward to free themselves, or to make sense of the burden of their pasts? Effectively what form would the treatment take for each individual grievance? I believe public commentary, potential lawsuits because of accusations or defamation are not the luckiest outcome.
SI: Supposing we set up some a professional discussion groups? Or if we invite specialists, who have expertise in trauma resolution and members of our community can discuss problems in smaller groups whilst mediation is present, be it in a workshop framework, or with the possibility of movement therapy processing?
ÉD: These kinds of forums have been started to form on all kinds of community levels, but our field, dance is a very specialized area, for us, tailored and profession-specific support is required.
Besides prevention, people also need to be offered help during the psychological processing of the problems.
KL: Though it is often the case that the victim doesn’t report the problem because they want to work it out, but rather due to a feeling of satisfaction that the offender will be punished even by just pointed at.
SI: There is no such thing as restorative justice. You won’t feel better afterwards. Even if you win in court. Even if the perpetrator loses their job.
You won’t feel better. I know from experience.
ÉD: I think one thing helps sometimes: an apology. Of course by itself alone it won’t be enough and it doesn’t erase what has happened, but for those who have been victimised, this can be a huge step forward towards being able to work through it.
IS: What helps, if we can accept, that we suffered unnecessarily and that happens in life. Though it’s impossible to turn back the clock, perhaps someone could build something positive out of the experience for the future, to develop their environment, community: maybe this would help. In my own case, my negative experiences gave me the motivation to found the “Praetorian Art and Health Consulting” non-profit organisation, whose fundamental activity is to develop health-education, and help to promote built-in anti-abuse practices to the theatre, based on workshops and therapy projects.
KL: Would the organisation operate internationally, or only in Germany where you live?
IS: Internationally is our undertaking. But my belief is, that the Hungarian dance world has particular gifts that are potential building blocks for the future: our community is relatively small, but cohesive with strong roots, divers cooperations and composed of, on many levels, people who know each other very well. Perhaps Hungary could pioneer the elaborate coping strategies and be a model for other countries to emulate.
Dr Katalin Lőrinc after graduating from the State Ballet Institute, she furthered her studies in Brussels and London. She danced in Stockholm’s Cullberg Ballet and also in Ballet Pécs and Vienna’s Tanztheater Wien. Afterwards she freelanced as a dancer and teacher on an international level and settled in Budapest when her children were born. She is active in high school and academic level of dance studies, but her activity as expert consultant covers the elementary level of dance education as well. A member of professional bodies and boards of trustees, as a journalist she has published on many forums. During the past decade she returned to the stage, by invitation from independent artists and with her own improvisational works.
Éva Duda Choreographer, director, artistic leader of the Eva Duda Dance Company, winner of the Imre Zoltán, Lábán Rudolf, Honthy Hanna and Harangozó Gyula prizes. Completed the Choreographer MA degree at the Hungarian Dance University in Budapest, later studied at the University of Targu Mures, continuing her education as a stage director. She started her career at the age of 22 by creating independent contemporary dance productions followed by countless contemporary pieces, alongside of her works in a wide diversity of productions of many genres, as director and choreographer of a variety of musical productions, including large-scale operas and musicals too.
In 2009 she founded her own company and as an artistic director she is always looking for new directions to take, though it is easy to recognise her personality, expression, and way of approaching progressive themes through movement in her work.
The Company’s diverse repertoire can chiefly be seen in Budapest, but they also appear in festivals at home and abroad. She was invited as a choreographer to the Czech Republic, Austria, Romania, Germany and Poland.
She has choreographed great number of well known musicals, such as:
“Beauty and the Beast” (over 1,000 performances) and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Romeo and Juliet” (over 600 performances), etc. She has worked in Budapest’s most significant theatres, and as a guest teacher she has worked in several vocational schools both at home and abroad, including the Budapest Theatrical Academy and the Hungarian Dance University.
István Simon is one of the most successful and sought-after Hungarian ballet dancers of our times, who, next to his international career, also regularly performs in Hungary. Besides his Ballet Master MA degree, he was selected by the Lüneburg University for their experimental cultural management master’s programme. The founder of the Praetorian Non-profit Art and Health Consulting, whose basic mission is to protect the health of the performing artist. Praetorian aims to introduce anti-abuse management model into the theatrical and artistic educational institutions systems.
The Transylvanian-born dancer earlier on was the principal dancer in the Dresden Semperoper, The Hungarian National Ballet and the Dortmund Opera. As a guest artist he has danced in 21 countries at 43 different theatres. Amongst them, at the Paris Opera, New York City Center, Naples Teatro San Carlo, the Moscow Kremlin, the Saitama Theatre in Tokyo, at the Antwerp DeSingel, Paris Théâtre de la Ville and Theatre Champs-Elysées, and in smaller venues too.
He has danced all the major male lead roles in the classical ballet repertoire, but he also had the opportunity to work with the most decisive choreographers of the international dance world, such as Jiri Kylián, Mats Ek, William Forsythe, Alexander Ekman, Alexei Ratmansky, David Dawson, Jiri Bubenicek, Andreas Helse, Goyo Montero.