Travel Diaries

Heart of the Art

Aravinth Kumaraswamy, Artistic Director of Apsaras Arts talks about his experience at the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) that was held at Manchester, UK in June 2023. A report…

This was the first time that I had the opportunity to attend the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA) session representing Apsaras Arts Dance Company.

This year’s June 2023 edition was held in the historical city of Manchester in the UK, known for many things including music, football and its contribution to British history. 

The mission of ISPA is to strengthen the performing arts globally through the advancement of leadership, the exchange of ideas and by fostering a diverse and engaged membership. At the outset, looking at the well-thought through agenda, topics and sessions curated for ISPA Manchester June 2023, had this mission amplified. 

Co-creating the Future was the overarching theme for ISPA Manchester 2023. 

“What does co-creation really mean for performing arts leaders? How can co-creation help our sector move forward with intention, relevance and resilience? 

At the ISPA 2023 mid-year congress, we will come together in Manchester to take stock of where we are, to collectively reflect on these questions and to envisage what the journey forward could look like. Delegates will be challenged and inspired by a range of speakers and panelists, and we will provide space for conversation and exchange. 
Manchester has creativity and culture at its heart, and we look forward to welcoming delegates to explore the rich offering in the city and across the North West region.” 

The conference was structured into six key sessions with several other break-out sessions, performances and visits to iconic performing arts venues. The first session shed the spotlight on Co-creating the Future: Leadership and Co-creation. 

Over the years, there has been much discussion about balancing the power dynamic, but are we seeing any real change? The session deep-dived into who are the players who are setting the global cultural agenda  and really whose voices are finding representation in the programming of the performing arts. 

The second session was titled Co-Creating the Future: Art and Next Generations. This session brought to fore the next generation of leaders and explored the opportunities and training options that are available to them. In line with the idea of co-creation, the session reinforced how co-creating can truly improve opportunities for the next generation. 

The next session focussed on the idea of equity, and was titled Co-Creating the Future: How do we co-create with equity? Focussing on the best practices in the industry, this session was a refresher in terms of how creators can ensure that all voices have equity in the space and what are some of the challenges and opportunities within. 

The fourth session was titled Co-creating the Future: The Role of the State in the Arts Sector. As a crucial session, this one was about how the state can actively collaborate with the arts and cultural sector without over-exerting its power; without interfering with thought and expression.

The fifth session was titled Co-creating the Future: Sustainable Practice on the Road. This session was focussed on the notion of sustainability and allowed participants a sense of how they can learn from indigenous communities and other regions on how to reduce our carbon footprint. 

The final session was titled Co-creating the Future: Art and Conflict. There are many examples of arts projects that move to address these conflicts and/or raise awareness about those who are impacted. This session investigated in what ways these projects are effective, and do they, if at all, address the underlying sources of conflict. 

Each and every session was curated with thought and had enough room for questions and conversations. 

On the third day of the convention, ten new works were given an airtime to pitch for support and touring opportunities. Mehek, a contemporary dance production, produced by Aakash Odedra Company (UK) featuring Kathak dancers Akash Odera and Aditi Mangaldas caught my attention. 

Mehek is a new mainstage work by two of the great Kathak dancers of their respective generations: Aditi Mangaldas, dancing the first-ever duet of her 50-year 

Career with Aakash Odedra. 

Mehek gives a voice to an unspoken and overlooked love story – that of an older woman and younger man – weaving narrative that celebrates love in all its forms: raw, authentic, and infinitely resonant. In Mehek, the stage transforms into canvas, where bare feet inscribe rhythmic tales of desire, shadows blur and a single finger traces narrative down a trembling spine. These raw moments mirror the complexities of love, its electrifying spark, beguiling allure, shattering heartbreak and soothing comfort. 

Later that day, ISPA created an opportunity for art makers to share their works in an exhibition format of an Arts Mart. The Apsaras Arts Dance Company stall attracted many visitors which led to very interesting conversations. 

Overall, attending ISPA Manchester 2023 was a great meeting place to get to know art makers in the industry – from South America to Northern Asia – all under one roof.

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Devata: Guardians of Dance

BLK D Goodman Arts Centre

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