‘It is not just dancers, we are all nomads’

The Artist as Nomad video installation which is on display in the Studio at Asia House all week

The Artist as Nomad video installation which is on display in the Studio at Asia House all week. Photo by Michelle Outram

‘It is not just dancers, we are all nomads’

16 July 2014

By Naomi Canton

Many professional dancers are not full-time. They also work in bars, shops and cafes to make ends meet. They are often not able to put down roots anywhere as they usually have to travel, often overseas to wherever the dance work is. In that way they are nomads, similar to traditional nomads that follow seasonally available plants and game.

Indeed it is not just dancers who are nomads. We are all nomads in various ways. Perhaps we were born in one country and live in another. Perhaps we have one hat in the work place and another hat we wear in our home life. It was this universal theme of nomadism which began as a residency at the University of Roehampton’s Dance Department, which has now emerged into the Artist as Nomad project, which is on all this week at Asia House.

American choreographer and video artist Christopher Matthews was awarded the Creative Entrepreneur in Residence, a year-long residency at the University of Roehampton (2013-2014), funded by Creativeworks London, which in turn has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), to “encourage spaces for new and diverse research collaborations,” explained Evelyn Wilson, Director at the Culture Capital Exchange and Head of Knowledge Exchange Programme Curation at Creativeworks London. The idea is to encourage creative professionals to work with academic research departments and engage in research-based knowledge exchange.

The Artist as Nomad project at Asia House. Photo by Michelle Outram

The Artist as Nomad project at Asia House. Photo by Michelle Outram

Dr Sara Houston, Principal Lecturer in the Department of Dance at Roehampton University, who gave an Opening Speech about the project on Monday at Asia House, said: “This dance sector exists in a constant state of uncertainty and complexity so constant evolution is required. Dancers need to be multi-skilled and capable of managing a portfolio career and they are often faced with one thing they do as a job and one as work and often they ask themselves, ‘What is my job and what is my work?’”

Dr Houston said one of the aims of the Artist as Nomad project was to instil greater confidence in dancers that dance was indeed a graduate job and improve their sense of identity as an artist. “Identity and beliefs are key concepts in this Artist as Nomad project,” she explained.

“People wanted to express their own experience of a nomadic careers in dance. Nomadism sums up the itinerant nature of working in the arts,” she said where dancers are behind the bar one night and in front of a bar the next – to pay the bills.

“It’s not just itinerant artists we want to engage with in this project. We have also looked at what it means for those who have a desk job or one of those rare full-time dance jobs so the idea of micro nomadism becomes pertinent. Perhaps we don’t need to move around to be a nomad. Nomadism has also gone virtual. The Internet allows for a multiplicity of options,” she said.

“Rosi Braidotti argues that in globalised nomadic times we need to create ideas of belonging not around neighbourhoods, but around participation,” she added.

Students at Roehampton and emerging practitioners took part in the residency which the project emerged out of.

Matthews, who has performed all over the world, most recently in Angola, said that whilst living in London he had reflected on how dancers do not have linear careers. “We write and  we dance in different forms.

“That non-linearness of my career made me realise that nomadicity is not just about travel but travelling between your different selves,” he said.

“I am an American living in the UK but I work in different countries so this project explores: what is my citizenship? What is nomad in relation to me and my work? How does it affect my work?”

He said in his three-hour improvisation with the artist writer and activist Huw Lemmey,  which people can drop into anytime on 17 and 18 July, he would be unpicking his practice and ideas about himself “in the same way you are interviewed for immigration purposes.”

Amaara Raheem, Dance Network Coordinator at the University of Roehampton, who has a Masters in research, choreography and performance, explained that her personal and professional life often got blurred – “that is the trademark of being an artist – you don’t really know where work ends and begins. You can take things so personally, it’s difficult to know where the borders are and part of this project has been about trying to articulate those borders.”

Amaara Raheem, Dance Network Coordinator at the University of Roehampton

Amaara Raheem, Dance Network Coordinator at the University of Roehampton. Photo by Michelle Outram

Raheem pointed out that Dr Houston worked with people with Parkinson’s, so “it is all linked. It’s all interrelated, we are not islands. For me there is a whole metaphor about the internal and the external, the private and the professional – my personal nomadic life that I belong to – I have lived in three different places and in all of them I am constantly an insider and an outsider,” she said.

She spoke of the struggle of managing all her roles and hats simultaneously. “I came to this through theatre and writing so there is the nomadicism of all that. We fall between citizenships, languages, and disciplines and we wear different hats and play different roles.”

Her dance performance, Hestia, on Thursday and Friday, is a 40-minute solo performance for a seated audience. It’s about Hestia, the Ancient Greek Goddess of Hearth and Home, “because the other side of the coin is our relationship to our home, community and belonging. I am a Nomad but there is always the myth of the home in my existence so it’s about the relationship to domestic life and to the wild,” she said.

Pamela Kember, Head of Arts and Learning at Asia House, concluded: “It’s a feeling of being perfectly at home nowhere- but also being now and here – living in the moment.”


The Artist as Nomad performance takes place on 17 and 18 July 2014 at 18.45 at Asia House. The video installation is in the Studio all week. For more information click here.

To read more about the Artist as Nomad project click here and here.