International Collaboration Review – A Cambodian-UK Exchange of Experience

Establishing an arts organisation in the UK that has previously been so embedded in the culture and context of Cambodia would always present new challenges. One of these is considering the new relationship between the UK-based We Are Epic and the Cambodia-based Epic Arts.

Ant often describes the relationship between the two as a bungee cord – each are connected to the other and able to stretch out to do their own activity, but also bounce back to help the other out. This seems like a great approach to maintaining the connection with Cambodia, but also being able to firmly establish We Are Epic, in its own right. Therefore, it seems entirely appropriate that one of the key strands of activity for We Are Epic focuses on International Collaboration.

It was identified through the Pinpoint Powwows that there is an interest in Epic Arts as an alternative culture, with having an opportunity to now access this within the UK being very significant. While links between the UK and Epic Arts have been established for many years, there have been a number of international collaborations already, with artists visiting Epic Arts and working with dancers to gain experience of working inclusively. What has been noteworthy for We Are Epic is that they can now work in the UK with artists who have benefitted from a cultural exchange with Epic Arts.

Kiki Lovechild, who visited Epic Arts in late 2016, is now exploring collaborating with We Are Epic as part of a PhD programme, thus expanding upon the connection originally made through the connection with Cambodia. Therefore, there is clear evidence to suggest that the UK inclusive dance landscape could benefit from more of these international collaboration opportunities for artists.

The process of working with dancers with a range of disabilities, plus a difference in languages, can present a challenging but greatly rewarding learning opportunity for artists, exploring ways to communicate beyond words and new movement opportunities. Therefore, We Are Epic has engaged with UK-based artists who have an eagerness to explore inclusive working practices with dance, with an application for James Cousins to visit Kampot and work with dancers at Epic Arts. These opportunities are certainly beneficial for a number of stakeholders and will be explored by We Are Epic in the future.

One of the main focuses for this strand of activity this year has been developing the work ‘Buffalo Boy’ with two dancers from Epic Arts, Thouen & Noth, performing and creating the piece, along with producer Lou Coleman and director Richard Poynton. The opportunities provided by We Are Epic being UK based means that there are people ‘on the ground’ able to find performance opportunities, venues, potential workshop activities and marketing channels.

You can read more about Buffalo Boy here: http://weareepic.org.uk/international-collaboration/buffalo-boy/

The International Collaboration strand for We Are Epic has huge potential for making significant contributions to the UK inclusive dance sector

whilst also engaging with professional choreographers and developing their on-going relationship with Epic Arts in Cambodia. As with many projects that are internationally focused, there will be challenges and obstacles along the way, including funding application bids, visa applications, travel arrangements etc. However, the experience We Are Epic have of organising these opportunities and the case studies from previous cultural exchanges should contribute greatly to the success of the programme.