Three dancers from Nalitari, Indonesia connecting together draped with scarves

International Artistic Exchange in the Covid Era

In 2019, Nalitari in Indonesia and We Are Epic in the UK were very excited to receive funding for an international exchange through the Connections Through Culture Fund from the British Council.

Inclusive dance leaders from Indonesia would travel to the UK to observe inclusive dance leaders and disabled artists and work alongside Dance students and teachers from UK Universities.

The aim was to explore inclusive arts practice and develop new inclusive dance workshops and choreography skills to be taken back to Indonesia. Lots of emails, video calls and WhatsApp messages later and the flights, hotel, trainings and class observations were booked and leaders from the Nalitari were excited to be traveling to the UK in March 2020………

Unfortunately, they never made it!

A week before the Nalitari leaders were due to board the plane, the UK went into lockdown due to COVID-19. Thinking that the pandemic would be over in a few months, activities were put on hold until September 2020 and we waited. Many months of waiting passed and it became clear that this physical international exchange would not be impossible.

Leaders from Nalitari and We Are Epic kept in regular contact, sharing inclusive ideas and work and developing new ideas to develop our partnership in the future.

The pandemic brought about new virtual opportunities between us and Nalitari were able to take part in workshops and film projects in the UK. Suddenly, virtual working was giving us all more opportunities to share and engage:

Nalitari took part in a virtual workshop with disabled artist, Lisa Simpson (UK) – Unlimited Micro Commission:

Nalitari featured in a dance film produced by Serendipity (UK)
’30 Seconds of Freedom’ –

In July 2021, we developed the original exchange aims into a virtual project.

Inclusive dance leader, Charlotte Tomlison (UK) delivered an inclusive dance workshop for Nalitari supported by two dancers from We Are Epic.

A workshop and inclusive training took place online with film crews in the UK and Indonesia to capture the activities. Ideas were shared and new ways of working developed.

Nalitari then worked virtually with their artists to use the new choreographic ideas with their dancers and make a performance.

Four new films were generated from the project that show and share learning from both Indonesia and the UK.

The potential of the virtual inclusive working became very obvious as the workshop was delivered live in the studio from the UK to the studio in Indonesia.

A workshop in two countries with three translators and two film crews was an exciting and insightful experience for us all. We realised that we could do more of this in the future and creative ideas could be shared without physical travel.

For both Nalitari and We Are Epic, the possibility of using this process to enable disabled artists, who may not be able to travel internationally, to work together could open many new doors in the future. The nature of the workshops meant we could capture activities and thoughts to share easily through film and the films that resulted from the workshop would help to share the learning widely, give more insight into inclusive arts work and raise the profile of both partners.

Although the opportunities provided by virtual delivery are endless, we all thought that the additional element of physical cultural exchange was missing and we felt that the impact on artists and leaders of actually experiencing and absorbing the culture of each country would have further impacted on creative learning and understanding.

Nalitari and We Are Epic’s relationship is stronger and we are talking about how we can instigate more exchanges and collaborations between disabled artists in the UK and Indonesia.

Nothing will ever replace face-to-face creative delivery time, but we can now see how initial ideas can be shared virtually and how the testing of creative concepts between Indonesian and UK based artists can happen virtually. This would establish a strong understanding between artists and initial research and development of ideas, before even stepping on a plane.

The environmental and accessible benefits of this way of working are wide and will enable our organisations to develop more sustainably in the future. From our original partnership developed through the DICE programme, we have established a long-term working relationship and are excited to see how this will grow in the future.