An Interview with Assis Carreiro

by Stuart Sweeney

January 2, 2003 – Assis Carreiro is the Director of Dance East and the organiser of “Ballet into the 21st Century”. She took time from this very busy period to tell CriticalDance readers something about the background to the event.

Many of our overseas readers and some in the UK won’t be familiar with the National Dance Agency structure, so first off could you tell us briefly about the role of Dance East?

A. DanceEast is one of 9 National Dance Agencies set up strategically throughout England to develop the dance infrastructure around the country and to support regional dance development on all levels. NDAs have now been around a decade. We offer a pyramid of activities from community classes to professional commissions and presentations of performances. We are similar yet different and each specialises in certain areas of work. The rural nature of the East of England allows us to work in a very specific way in terms of offering sabbaticals, rural retreats, village hall tours and working at the grass roots with communities who would not otherwise have access to dance.

Q. What’s your own background in dance?

A. I started dancing at age 12 in Ottawa, Canada and then went on to take a BA Honours in Dance at York University in Toronto and later an MA (Dist) from Surrey University in England. I started working for The National Ballet of Canada from 1981 and remained with the company until December, 1993. During my time there I was Archivist and later Director of Education, Community Outreach and Publications – the first education unit in a Canadian dance company! In 1994 I came to England and was for 3 years director of DanceXchange in Birmingham and later Fund Raising Executive at The Place, Executive Director of Random Dance, Director of Programming for Das TAT for William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt and since January 2000 have been director of DanceEast, the National Dance Agency for the East of England.

Q. Why choose a ballet theme for the first conference in this annual series?

A. We had three potential themes in our first proposal to funders and then one that funders suggested we undertake first was the ballet theme as they felt this was an area that needed addressing as we entered the new millennium.

Q. There was a conference with Artistic Directors in Toronto earlier this year. Are you hoping to build on their work or head off in new directions?

A. We were planning our gatherings simultaneously. Firstly, ours is not a conference it is a think tank/retreat. The Canadian gathering was for 10 directors and was hosted by the director of The National Ballet of Canada. He invited directors with whom he had been associated as a director/choreographer and representing leading/major companies. We have been more catholic in our invitation – because I don’t believe it is about the size/budget of the company, but the deeper issues of directing into the 21st century that we will be addressing. We also have 26 directors – which is probably too many, but it is about the power of the mass to go out and make changes. We hope to empower these directors to have the confidence to move forward into the new millennium and to feel that they are not alone.

Q. What were your criteria for selecting the themes and the participants?

A. The themes were discussed with my steering group over 2 years. We have since interviewed all the directors and the themes have slightly changed based on these interviews. But, amazingly, we were pretty close. The criteria for selecting participants, was to make sure all of the British companies would be there, no more than 2 per country, people we already knew… and now people are clambering to come and we can’t take more. We couldn’t invite many Eastern Block Countries and Asian countries just because of the expense of travel and need for translators. We know we are missing parts of the ballet globe, but we can’t do everything and this is the first gathering and there will hopefully be more!

Q. With so many participants with strong personalities, I imagine that there is a risk that the debates could become “difficult”, shall we say. How do you plan to organise the sessions to see that they stay on track and aren’t dominated by a few voices?

A. The two facilitators are working out the schedule in detail and we have two brilliant guest speakers who will be there all weekend to help them, Charles Handy and David Lan (AD at the Young Vic).. There is flexibility within the schedule for the directors to change it. Yes, there are lots of BIG personalities in the room, and how we manage it will undoubtedly determine the success of the weekend – very daunting…

Q. Are there particular themes that are of special interest to you and if so, why?

A. I don’t have an agenda. I am just very passionate about ballet and dance and feel that ballet has hit a big of a brick wall both in terms of the product as well as how companies function in the 21st century and I want to facilitate a way forward for the survival of the art form that is visionary and in keeping with the world we live in.

Q. If there was one thing that you could change about today’s ballet world, what would it be?

A. Not have to worry about always raising money and just focus on the artistry! And, hope that we can find a way to support and enrich the minds of dance students not just their physical bodies!

Q. This must be one of the most prestigious arts conferences ever held in East Anglia. Do you hope that it will that be helpful for the cause of dance in the region?

A. I hope it will raise the profile of dance and the arts in general in the region and also nationally.

Q. Is it going to be all work or will there be any opportunity for the participants to see something of the surrounding area?

A. They will be eating in beautiful restaurants in villages around the coast and there is time for long walks at Snape and on the beach…so not lots of time as it is only over a weekend, but a little!

Q. Any points that you want to make that we have not already covered?

A. Just that this is a huge undertaking and probably complete madness on my part. But these directors have all agreed to come on good faith and that is amazing. Just to get them together is an achievement – with no performances to attend or dancers to audition – we are giving them space to think, dream and be honest about an art form that they have all dedicated their careers to – I think this is hopefully the way forward for the art form to grow and develop. It is only when we are away from what we are close to that we can really see it for what it is and often the light goes on for change and huge possibilities.


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