ISPA’s 100th congress is out in full force in Montréal

Andrew Anderson reports from ISPA’s 100th congress happening at Place des Arts in Montréal

Andrew Anderson in Montréal
Andrew Anderson in Montréal

As I arrived in Montréal I learned of the bombing in my hometown of Manchester. It felt rather surreal to be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, away from my friends and family, as the city became the focus of the international news media.

But almost immediately ISPA proved a fitting antidote to these worries. After all, this is a place where people come from all over the world to share their creations and ideas in a spirit of trust, openness and love. So, a big thank you to everyone at the conference for making me feel welcome with their kinds words.

Identities is the theme for this 100th ISPA congress, an appropriate pick for a city that mixes many nationalities and is always in flux. As Martin Faucher from Festival TransAmériques said during one of the opening addresses, Montréal is a balance of French, English and Indigenous histories, combining, clashing and cooperating.

Place de Arts, Montréal: Photo courtesy of ISPA / Facebook
Place de Arts, Montréal: Photo courtesy of ISPA / Facebook

An opening blessing from Ka’nahsohon Kevin Deer, of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, was followed by a drumming performance in the corridors of Place des Arts, that had both ISPA delegates and the general public transfixed. This was followed by a keynote address by playwright Michel Marc Bouchard. Speaking in French, Bouchard discussed his own personal history, and how his identity as a gay man had fuelled his work.

Then came the first session, with three artists whose work explores identity in different ways. While Charles Koroneho’s Te Toki Haruru project caught my attention, it was Somali-Canadian poet Knowmadic whose words really stuck with me: “Your community should be your soil: if you’re not growing, you’re in the wrong field.”

As for the Place des Arts itself, it’s the perfect example of how an arts centre can be central to public life. Located right at the heart of the city and attached to a shopping centre, it’s corridors are permanently bustling and buzzing, whether with people queuing up for the opera or those heading down to the subway on their journey home.

Often, with conferences like this, the sessions themselves play a secondary role to the networking. Not here, instead the sessions have set the tone and direction for conversations to take place outside the ISPA spaces.

A great example of this was the session ‘New Practices to Cross Borders’, which took the form of three TED-style talks. It was an approach that really worked, and that highlighted how ideas developed by one ‘identity’ – such as Nordic dance network Ice Hot – can be adapted by completely different groups across the world.

Explained Ása Richardsdóttir from Ice Hot: “I have one key word when I work with new cultures: listen”.

The pitch sessions also got people talking, with female-focussed and female-led projects coming to the fore, such as No Woman’s Land from Toronto’s Jaberi Dance Theatre and Canadian musical The Belles Soeurs.

For me, though, the highlight here was King Arthur’s Night. Produced by Neworld Theatre, this is a theatre piece created from the active imagination of Niall McNeil, an artist “whose life experience includes living with Down syndrome.” Performed by a company of disabled and non-disabled performers, the sheer charisma of Niall was inspiring, as was the company’s commitment to creating such inclusive works.