Interview with Bush Hartshorn

19. Dec 2013


Bush Hartshorn, artistic director of Dancehallerne Denmark, gave performing artists in Iceland a coaching session entitled „Going international“ over a weekend in Reykjavík before the new year.

PAI had a talk with Bush after the event.

How did this come about and what is „coaching with Bush“?

I have known Ása, (i.e. Ása Richardsdóttir, president of PAI until October 2013), for quite a long time. She knew about my coaching work and we wanted to try it out in Iceland.

The first evening I gave a lecture on Strategies on becoming visible and mobile. Some of these point were pshychological e.g. be flexible, while others were more practical. Most of those strategies were to do with the self and how to gain more insight into what you are getting yourself into when going international. Realizing it is a marathon not a sprint, preparing to invest and preparing to fail.

Over the weekend I had one on one sessions with over 20 artists, along with my partner Lucy Suggate, choreographer and dance artist.

Bush´s coaching is a matter of confidentiality between himself and the artists he coaches. Therefore, we asked Bush to give us a more general insight into his experience of coaching Icelandic artists and pinpoint some strenghts and weaknesses?

I did noticed some common trends but feel I need to come back and explore further, with the artists. Actually I would do more of the same because I understood that some people found this very useful. I only had a short time with each group of artists. So there is a sense of having started a relationship with some people that I think could benefit from returning.

Turning to your question – actually - the strenghs are the same as the weaknesses which has to do with being small geographically and very centered into one city and your location on the globe. In some ways these are weaknesses because you are remote but on the other hand it is possibly a strength because of that remoteness there is an interest in what goes on up there. The fact that it is a relatively small community can be very positive as far as it can be very supportive but on the other hand it can be come very obsequious and build and breed some bad habits in relations to other people and not relating very well on a personal level, and let that get in a way of professional relationships. This happens all over the world but I guess in small places this is more frequent. I however witness quite a unity amongst those artist I worked with but in smaller places it can be more difficult to get an objective view. So I would like offer some methodology on giving feedback to one another that puts in on another level then merely wheater someone likes you or like your work.

So you are suggesting that Icelandic artists need to engage more systematically in constructive criticism?

Exactly! And try to find a way to build that into the community. That is, to support eventhough you might not agree and eventhough you might not have the same taste, but to have, as you say, a well managed critical response which I think in a small community can be extremely supportive. However if not managed well or people are not being given the right tools to implement this critical approach it can also be quite deconstructive. So the strength and the weaknesses need to be managed well.

Did anything come to your surprise?

No, not really. But I was reminded of how much I like Icelanders and their positivity and kind the kind of “fuck-you” attitude they possess.

Do you think that a longer period of coaching would be more beneficial to these artists?

I do not think that is what the patient needs at the moment. What the patient needs, I know this is kinda of a cliché, is time to heal and work with the tools I presented to them. However one hour in the spring and then again in the autumn might be very helpful. Some sort of a systematic followup in a way just to help people keep momentum especially if things have changed for them, just to check in and build more trust with me. I felt that some people were very open while others were more guarded. But you would have to ask the artist on how they would like to proceed with this, some might have gotten what they needed while others need more guidance. I am like a mirror bouncing back to them reflecting on what they are saying and doing and that is the joy that this coaching brings to me, seeing people´s self-relialization in this process, that is a beautiful thing. I think it takes a certain support through that process and to continue to give yourself confidence. One of the things I have been saying, without being too hippieish about it, is try to make sure that you are available to yourself as often as you can because often we get in our own way and I hope that I have helped people move some of the obsticles out of the way or at least realize what these obsticles are.

If you were to continue coaching these artists how would you proceed?

The tool I can give them, which would take a day or two to implement, is to try to teach them in more coherent and contructive way in giving feedback to one another. Learning how to give constructive yet critical feedback takes time and commitment of the group cause it is about giving and receiving feedback to one another within the group. It is also essential to realize the responsibility of giving feedback and moving it away from being superficially opinionated towards being deeply constructive and critical in essence.

Feedback from artists attending the course:

“Bush quickly pinpointed the things I need to work on and the time was used very efficiently to reflect on those things. But more time with Bush would have been even more beneficial to me”.  

“The meeting was very useful to us. Bush and Lucy were not really telling us anything new however it is always good to pause regularly and critically reflect on work your modus operandi with the goal to improve. It is okey to make mistakes if we learn from them and continue onwards.”

“It really helped to lay down my goals like and get a positive response on them and advise on how to proceed. I feel like on the right track now but the time was limited and I would have liked to dig more deeply into some issues with Bush and Lucy” 

 “Great meeting Bush and Lucy. They helped me set up a clear strategy on a certain project and brought in many new ideas on how to reach the goals regarding this plan. It was also beneficial to reflect on issues that can impede your goals; often those barriers are only of your own mind”.  

“It was surprising, because sometimes you don't know what you need and want until you start talking about it out loud. It was much needed to reflect on opportunities for an independent artist. It was helpful, inspiring and strengthening. The atmosphere of trust and support was a gift”

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