This text was first published on 30/05/23 by European Dancehouse Network, and is reproduced here by courtesy of EDN and La Briqueterie CDCN du Val-de-Marne
The EDN Atelier ‘Equity in Dance: What Challenges?’, co-organised by La Briqueterie and EDN in Paris during the Biennale de Val-de-Marne, aimed at positioning the question of equity (in creation, in collaboration, and in relation with the audience) in the French context where equality has been the dominant principle guiding public life since the French revolution.
The difference between equity and equality is most famously illustrated with an online meme with three people of different height trying to peek over a wooden fence. On the other side of the fence is a playing field and baseball match that they don’t have the tickets for, while the seats in the tribunes are full. In ‘equality’ they are stepping each on three equal wooden crate platforms – but because of their differences, some of them are unable to see above the fence. In ‘equity’ the three platforms are redistributed individually to every person’s height, so they all get a chance to see the field beyond the fence. The tailor-made situation in equity refers to the anarcho-communist principle ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’
On the first day of the atelier, in a social choreography session guided by Monica Gillette, we were asked to rearrange the space – a dance studio at La Briqueterie mainly full of chairs and a table with microphones for the simultaneous translation – in an equitable way, without speaking to each other. A perfect circle emerged almost immediately – and for the statements that followed the inside of that circle represented the ‘yes’ and the outside the ‘no’. The statements tackled various aspects of the question of equity: representation in our contexts on stage, in the audience and in leadership positions; checking one’s own privileges because of physical abilities, ethnicity, skin colour, age, place of birth or passport; identity politics and its contradictions. The only time I found myself outside the circle completely alone was the statement ‘Sometimes I feel very uncomfortable talking about equity’. I stood outside – after all I was supposed to write about it, but I was honestly surprised that everyone else went in and was quite close to the centre. What does that mean? Are our conversations held hostage by fear of making a mistake or offending someone? Are we self-censoring because of the positions we take and the institutions we represent? Is being uncomfortable maybe a good thing, a sign for the first step towards change? I also can’t help but wonder, who are we, the people of the circle, in relation to the three people who remain outside peeking over the fence?
The picture with the fence which originated and had its evolution within the internet meme culture, seems to hold other questions, emerging out of our collective unconscious. The fence makes me think of another image – a wall that separates the global north (73% of world’s income but 14% of the population) from the global south (27% of world’s income, 86% of the population’) – my country is in the limbo between the one and the other world, literally a ‘liminal space’, a term so trendy in contemporary dance these days. This wall was not physical throughout the 90s and early 2000s – it was enacted through visas and passports, shock therapy economic policies, cheap labour as a form of competitiveness, public debt, etc. It was invisible and it could be felt only if you were coming from that side of the wall. The people in the tribunes watching the game are blissfully unaware of the existence of the wall.
However, in the last decade, following the migrant crisis and the fear it stoked, the shift to the right in the former East, and now the war in Ukraine, it started to fortify. It is literally being extended and erected at this very moment – Finland just joined NATO and is reinforcing its border with Russia, but fences and walls already exist between the Baltic states, Poland and Belarus, between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, between Hungary and Serbia and Croatia. According to the Telegraph, these are 1800 km of walls, the equivalent of 12 Berlin walls, with a budget of Frontex, the border agency of the EU, going from 6 to 543 million in 16 years and expected to reach 900 million in 2027.