Choreolab Basel + The Importance of Empowerment and Play

Basel, Switzerland | Ruby Josephine
Basel, Switzerland | Ruby Josephine

Walking into the first day of a dance intensive always brings me back to that first-day-of-school feeling. Observing the fellow students in your classroom, trying to pick up on the subtle overall vibe of the group in order to align your expectations accordingly. However, unlike my first days of school, the first day of any dance intensive usually brings out more excitement than nerves and usually is paired with a creative willingness to let go of personal judgements and keep an open mind about what might happen in the studio. That’s the aim, anyway.

My first impression of the four-day Choreolab Europe in Basel, Switzerland was strong and inspiring, right off the bat. As per usual with the start of any workshop, our group of about 20 or so dancers and choreographers sat in a circle, lazily stretching out muscles and flashing warm, wondering, welcoming smiles to one another upon eye contact. Introductions were expected, the typical “Hi my name is Ruby I am a choreographer based in Tangier blahblahblah,” but what none of us expected was a simple yet powerful question that the founders of this residency posed to us immediately:

“What do you have to offer, and what are you curious about?” 

Being somewhere in the middle of the circle as we went around and shared these small parts of ourselves, I was racking my brain for what I could offer. I felt suddenly that I was not a specialist in anything- who was I to offer something to this group of fellow professionals? I swallowed my doubt and instead of sitting with my own insecurities, I listened to the others sharing their answers and realized that even personal experiences are something to offer. Abstract ideas, the way your mind may work differently from another person’s, random topics that interest you and you know a lot about- these are all things to throw out onto the table. I ended up sharing that I come from a family of artists and therefor may have some insight into how to make your life work as a creative outside of the box and that I am a certified yoga teacher. Thanks to my opening, I wound up in some great conversations with several people about the struggle and pay-off of following your passion and being an artist as your primary career, plus I taught 20 minute yoga and meditation sessions to the group before every lab each morning. 

Oh, if only this question were posed at the start of any kind of collaborative work. To ask it of everyone, regardless of age, experience, or role in the workshop is to acknowledge that everyone has something to offer and that your personal queries and curiosities are honored and important in this space. With everyone’s different answers in mind, it also made it so that every single person in the group became approachable. We knew what their interests were, how we could connect and therefore could easily break any awkward ice in starting conversations and finding common ground. We all became simultaneously empowered and connected in a single introductions round, and that was only within the first 20 minutes of the first day. 

The rest of the four days continued in this direction of going deeper into artistic and creative questions and explorations and in making dancers feel that their voices are important. Each day was structured so that we had a lab for half of the day with one of the choreographers in residency, helping them in exploring new ideas, concepts and developing movement. The other half of the day was spent in a “playground” session, meaning that all of these curiosities we had brought to the table on day one could be talked or danced out in turn in 30 minute chunks of time. It was like having a taste test of different methods, ideas and ways of working and getting to try things with zero pressure of any sort of outcome. 

Basel, Switzerland | Ruby Josephine
Basel, Switzerland | Ruby Josephine

This is something I think we don’t get to do enough as artists and as creative human beings in general. We are not often encouraged to play and exchange with each other just for the sake of doing so. Normally, we are working towards the success of something- a goal, performance, a workshop, etc. What happens when you allow for “playground” time with equal weight in voices and ideas, is that every single person is empowered to share who they are and not feel hindered by the presentation of it. In a playful, trusting space we can be open to each other and open to ourselves in a way that is not always available to us. The directors of Choreolab, Anja, Sanne and Jordi, gave us a huge gift of this space and time to play, allowing us participants to flourish and grow as much as is possible in a 4 day window, all the while practicing the beautiful art of true collaboration. 

It was the choreographer Twyla Tharp that said in her book The Creative Habit that “in the end all collaborations are love stories.” If this is the case, then our love story in Basel was like an adoring family sitting down to a feast together. Testing recipes, tasting new foods, discussing big ideas as we pass along the salt and another helping of pie. Laughing, discovering flavors we love and those that don’t quite suit us, all the while encouraging others to take bites as well. Just try it. Nothing was taken too seriously or heavily, but there was an underlying sense of deep importance in this nourishment. We all left well fed and satisfied- full up to the top with ideas and inspiration, ready to share it all back with our communities at home. 

If we had more feasts, workshops, intensives like this one, the more these big and profound ideas about art, play, community and curiosity could be spread and fed to everyone. It’s a big idea. Some might call it idealistic. However, big ideas start in small places. In humble, beautiful cities and in small basement studios.

Why don't we all start asking each other,

"What do you have to offer and what are you curious about?"

Photos by Cecilia Espejo

Photos by Cecilia Espejo