Critical Response Meets Arts Coaching in Utrecht

The date: January 17, 2011.

The place: Utrecht, a lovely and historic small city in the Netherlands, about half an hour from Amsterdam

My host: Kunstfactor, the national organization for the development and promotion of the amateur arts in the Netherlands.

The event: Het Grote Coachbuffet, a moderated dialogue and conversation — complete with three course meal — on the subject of artistic coaching.

Artistic coaching? What’s that? For starters, it’s a phenomenon that’s very big in Europe but has no equivalent that I know of in the United States. That is what I told the crowd of 150 when Ruben Maes, the event’s lively moderator, called me up on stage to offer a stateside perspective on a discussion about the ins-and-outs of how arts professionals can help amateur choreographers and theater directors refine and realize their visions. The closest parallel that I could think of was the program that San Francisco’s Margie Jenkins has developed, pairing established choreographers in mentorships with their emerging colleagues. But mentoring, I learned, is somewhat different from coaching, which is much more project-specific.

A few minutes later the conversation turned to community-based art. Listening in courtesy Sandra Jeurninck, my unflappable translator, I found myself on contrastingly familiar ground as the questions emerged: What is the higher value: to strengthen community or to make effective art? When does  community arts practice cross the line into therapy, and where does responsibility lie when it does? What happens t the relationships an artist builds in developing a project once the project is over? The pressing issues in Dutch community-based arts had a very recognizable ring.

Translator Sandra Juerninck displays her Dutch version of Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process, commissioned by Kunstfactor.

My primary platform for being at the Coachbuffet was Liz Lerman’s Critical  Response Process, and during my time on the dais I had a chance to talk through the steps of the process and the ways that its principles address the goals of coaching. This topic was also the focus a workshop that Kunstfactor organized earlier in the day for choreography coaches, a group that proved to be engaged and receptive as we used the process to respond to a solo choreographed by Soosan Gilson and danced by Dido Mirck.

Are flowers the new Step Five? Choreographer Soosan Gilson and dancer Dido Mirck show off their floral tributes following their CRP session in Utrecht.

The day was a blast, and I’m grateful to Kunstfactor’s Jolanda Keurentjes and Marian van Miert for their cordial hosting and excellent coordination of my visit. Dank u wel, Kunstfactor!

About John Borstel

John’s role with the Dance Exchange encompasses functions in documentation, dissemination, and dialogue.