He left his position as artistic director after less than a year and went overseas. Karen van Ulzen finds out why.
In 2014, Leigh Warren and Dancers (LWD) made a big announcement: its founding artistic director was to step aside after 23 years and would be replaced by Daniel Jaber in 2015. Both men expressed their excitement at the change.“The future of LWD and indeed dance in Adelaide is in excellent hands,” Warren said at the time.
Roughly a year later, those plans have come to nought. Just before Christmas, the company announced that Jaber had left for the United States. LWD is to be transformed into a dance hub,”a dedicated dance arts venue and incubator that supports and develops mid career, independent and emerging artists”.
Both men again expressed excitement about the plan, but the outcome is clear: the company is no longer a dance company.
So what happened?
"There are a number of factors which contributed to my decision to change," Jaber said on the phone from Los Angeles. "The main reason was I was frightened at the speed with which opportunities for artists had decreased over the past two years. Mainly from the standpoint of available funding. This obviously created nerves in the entire industry but also was a particular challenge for independent artists and small to medium companies.”
The company's Australia Council triennial funding had expired in 2012. Since then it has survived on project grants. Jaber says that only one out of nine of his applications for 2015 had borne fruit. The SA government had contributed an organisational grant of $50,000, barely enough for a single salary.
Another factor was how that money should be put to use. Jaber and the board of LWD, which includes Warren, were unable to come to an agreement.
“I thought it was imperative that the organisation needed to change to accommodate financial restrictions. But this is a very difficult process when you're working with the board and also the previous director sitting on that board. The proposition was essentially for me to sit in an office two days a week writing applications, doing administrative work. There wasn't enough money to employ dancers or to present dance works.
“I know it's difficult with funding for any company to survive, but I don't think you can have a dance company without dancers.”
Jaber is first and foremost a choreographer – and one who is just starting to fulfil his promise. He has won a number of awards and commissions, and was developing an inventive repertoire that bridged the contemporary and classical idioms. “So I took the initiative to continue building my choreographic career because you have to practise, you have to be in a studio, and I really wasn't happy with the offer of becoming an administrator. I've always thought one life, one career, and I felt very much that I was stagnant within the organisation.”
Jaber had a number of commissions in 2015 which he says he would not have been able to take up if had fulfilled the board's expectations. There were engagements with Melbourne's Transit Dance, a 6-month residency in Tokyo and a commission from Houston Ballet 2 in Texas.
So Jaber left. But why LA?
One reason was personal – his partner is American. Another reason is artistic.
“In Australia a lot of the criticism [I received] from the funding bodies was the lack of experimental aesthetic in my own work. One of the criteria is how much you 'push the boundaries' or challenge dance. I'm more interested in selling tickets and entertaining people. I like to challenge and provoke but I also like to communicate and reach a broader demographic than just other artists.”
Jaber says he has an affinity with the dance in America – he is a huge fan of Balanchine and William Forsythe (who is an American and now returned to his homeland from Germany). ”I felt this was a place where I could be challenged and accepted.”
He hopes that he can establish an ongoing connection between LA and SA. In the wake of his resignation from LWD, he established Daniel Jaber and Dancers International, a project-based troupe of 10 dancers with whom he had already developed a small repertoire of works. “Realistically, [South Australia] doesn't have the funding or resources to fund another full-time company,” he says. “So my goal is for myself and my dancers to work across the borders, to collaborate and perform and teach and create all over the world, and to bring that knowledge and experience into our works for South Australian audiences and communities.
“This does not by any means propose we are not committed to SA, it simply means we are kept busy and have more experience and produce to invest back into the state.”
Jaber is looking for markets for such works as Nought (originally commissioned by Australian Dance Theatre) and Shades (a “reincarnation” of the Kingdom of the Shades scene from La Bayadere) that is yet to be given a premiere.
As for LWD, he says that, despite the fallout, good things were achieved in 2015. “We held incredible workshops and masterclasses with some of the best dancers from around the country. We established an education and community program. We appointed an education manager: Kialea-Nadine Williams.” She also performed a solo show, A Dying Swan, choreographed by Jaber and financed by crowd funding. “So a lot of things happened which have benefited the company but essentially I need to be practising and creating.”
“I've not left Australia,” he insists. “I would love to work there more often. It's just that the opportunities are not there. I'm really unhappy when I don't work.”
See Shades: https://vimeo.com/137522217
See L'Affichage: https://vimeo.com/100324171