On the Ground

Arts to Politics and Back Again

A Q & A with Nadine Medawar, the new executive director of the Regroupement québécois de la danse By Philip Szporer
  • Medawar / Photo courtesy of Regroupement québécois de la danse

Philip Szporer: Nadine Medawar is the newly appointed executive director of the Regroupement québécois de la danse, popularly known as the RQD. Her career experience is diverse, encompassing management, public policy, the arts and public mobilization. Notably, she has been key in the development of national cultural policy, or particularly in relation to the governance of federal cultural agencies. The RQD is an association that represents the vast dance sector in Quebec. To honour that mandate is no simple endeavour. But Nadine Medawar states that she wants to develop and ensure the continuous enrichment of dance in Quebec. With a new season of dance upon us, it is a great pleasure to welcome Nadine Medawar. Hello! 

Nadine Medawar: Hello. Thank you so much. What a lovely introduction. 

PS: It’s very nice to meet you, I have to say, and I guess the first question that’s top of my mind is, why were you interested in this position? 

NM: I’m a musician, I’m an artist, I was in the cultural sector for many years. Even when I worked in the media sector, it’s completely dependent on the cultural sector, and vice versa. And after four years of working in government, and six years working in politics in general, I really felt like I needed to get back. I wanted to come back to the sector here in Montreal and contribute everything I was able to build so far into the cultural sector and make sure that it benefits out of the knowledge I was able to have and the experiences I was able to build. And so I was searching for the right opportunity, and the meeting with the RQD and the board just was evident to me that there was a very good connection there. Their objectives and their vision resonated with what I see the cultural sector being or becoming. I’ve met so many organizations ever since I started looking for those opportunities, and I felt like with this group, we were able to do things together in ways that we both felt were very important and were necessary. So mainly that was it, and having been in dance, I have so much respect for professionals and dance. It’s not easy to be an organization and a company in dance, and the fact that they keep doing it because of the love and the dedication, we all have to be aware of this, and we all have to be aware of how much work is put behind it. So it’s an honour, you know, to make sure everyone gets to know that and everyone sees all the effort behind it. So yeah, that’s why. [Laughs] 

PS: Well, it’s interesting. You’ve said many things, and I think, at the essence, the RQD can be an agent for change in terms of the dance milieu. What did you want to achieve in your role as the director of the organization? 

NM: Well, that’s where me and the board were in agreement: what they expect of me and what I would like to do. There are several things. I think it’s important to remember that Quebec is vast, and it’s humongous, and my experience in government allowed me to see the diversity on this territory and how our different realities and priorities can sometimes make very complex, let’s say, policies that are necessary. So I think what one of the things that is expected of me and that I also would like to bring is, you know, shedding light on the different realities across the territory. In dance, there’s so much going on, and what they face and what they accomplish is so different from one place to another, and making sure that as an association, we really promote that and also inform and make governments aware of that reality and of the potential that exists out there. And then another one is continuing to be one of the leaders [in] inclusion and diversity and in that, it’s not only cultural but it’s in diversity and dance, diversity in the types of members we have. The dance sector is not only full of artists but really smart administrators and organizers who have guts. They have the guts to lead companies that are presenting such amazingly contemporary and new ways of putting forth creations, and so we’ve always been some of the leaders who, when it comes to social topics that are about changing status quo, we’ve always been there in the front, talking about it, challenging each other, and sometimes that can be fragile, and just continuing to have the courage to do that, and making sure that we promote it in culture in general, not just in dance. And then I think another vision right now that’s important, especially after the two years of COVID, is making sure we keep representing dance and ensuring that we have what we need in order to stay alive, basically. So professionals can keep dancing; they can keep their practice. Organizations can keep promoting dance and presenting dance, and all that [coming] together and not each fighting for his own and forgetting that we really need to stick together as an ecosystem. And like any other sector, it’s so easy to divide when there’s a crisis. And that’s not only in dance. Everywhere, it’s like that. And I think the RQD plays a role in ensuring that that doesn’t happen and that we stay together.  

PS: As you say, vast is the word for the mandate. Vast is the word for the community. Vast is the word for the actual terrain that is being covered. And you did touch upon the idea of diversity and inclusion in terms of the membership, and this is very much on the front burner. Over the last few years, the RQD has been, I would say, grappling with how to better deal with the issue of inclusion and diversity and representation. How do you make this a priority? How do you engage with this essential aspect of our lives? 

NM: I think it’s through actions. In the last year or two, the board has done a lot in order to make sure that things are going forward on that front and in order to make sure the team has what it needs in order to play a role on that file. But I think the most important thing further than studies – we have a study going on right now with the UQAM about inclusion and diversity and dance. We have recommendations from the DAM [Diversité artistique Montréal] for RQD specifically as an organization about diversity and inclusion. We have a committee dedicated only to that topic on our board. But I think the most important thing is that we just start with actions. And that starts with us within. So the way we do things, the way we communicate, the way we express concerns and the way we explain realities or pass on information just with the nuances and the knowledge of what diversity and inclusion means and what it represents for people already is a big difference. And so having those nuances in the way we communicate, acting in an inclusive way within our team and the way we hire, talking about the topic when we’re meeting other organizations, whether they’re in dance or in other arts sectors, and also in our own membership criteria. So I know that in the last two years, for example, the way we accept certain members or the way we accept the definition of a professional, we’ve widened that in order to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate certain types of dances, certain types of professionals that might not have the traditional and typical path that we’ve grown up to believe is the right one, or is the one that defines what professional dancers are. So in little ways that are maybe more invisible to the public, there have been actions, but I think now it’s going to be important to have actions that are more visible to the public. So in the way we communicate, in the way we represent the RQD, in the way we request from other arts or associations or even the funders. You know, always talking about this, putting it at the front of priorities. For me, that’s number 1, and it’s always going to be part of every job and every task I have. 

PS: Well, this is interesting to hear you say that because, of course, we’re talking about the current realities. But I think also, when we talk about Quebec dance, it’s important to be more inclusive in terms of the history of what has been and to recognize the different players and the different forms and the different possibilities that were preceding us. And oftentimes, that’s missing from the discussion. We often think about dance in the present moment. But it’s so interesting to hear you speak in the way that you are because I do think that reflection of the past is part of who we are today, as well, and where we’ll move in the future. 

NM: Yeah, and that’s really perceptive of you. I think, often, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we’re afraid that we’re going to lose what’s been built so far, and we’re afraid that we’re going to lose what we fought for so far. And diversity and inclusion doesn’t mean that; it just means that on top of everything we were able to acquire or we were able to defend, we want to deepen that thought and make sure that it is inclusive and that it keeps being as strong as it is now but in a way that doesn’t exclude others, and often unconsciously. Diversity and inclusion is about recognizing that some barriers are invisible, and recognizing them already opens our eyes to new ways of communicating, of seeing. And what’s really important behind all that is ensuring that nobody feels threatened by the concept of diversity and inclusion and that it doesn’t mean people are going to lose their ways or we’re going to push aside anyone who’s already there. It’s the contrary. And it’s not this, you know, sharing a pie where if you take a bigger piece of the pie, then somebody loses. It’s not a concept of a pie; it’s really widening our vision of what we have. Because we’re humans. We see what we’ve lived, and we see what we know. But when somebody else brings another perspective, then we can have a whole other, more global view. 

PS: You were speaking earlier, and something I want to pick up on. 

NM: [Laughs] Uh-oh. 

PS: You just said very briefly that you were a performer in the past. What did you learn in that role?

NM: Number 1, it’s not easy to live off being a performer. Number two, it takes so much to prepare a performance. So often the public will go watch a short performance, and you come and you go and that’s all you take from it. But we have to make people realize that behind that performance, whether it’s 20 or 50 [minutes], or an hour and a half, there was months and months, if not years, of preparation. And it’s much more complex than just saying it’s time and practice and discipline. There needs to be the right state of mind; there needs to be the right environment; there needs to be the security to know that you can take the time to think it through and develop it and resource yourself in a way that will make a good product. Another thing I learned is that people often underestimate performers and artists. We are extremely disciplined; we work so hard. And unfortunately, maybe the pop culture makes it look like performers are, you know, slack. I don’t know what kind of reputation they give, but it’s the very contrary, and we are people who can deliver very good quality because we work hard, and we’re disciplined, and we’re dedicated to what we do. And we love what we do. And once an artist, always an artist even if you do other things. [Laughs] 

PS: Fabulous. Fabulous answer. [Laughs] We’re talking about the artist and the artist sensibility and I suppose the challenges that are inherent to that role, but I’m wondering if you could elaborate on what the challenges are, at least in your opinion, confronting the dance community today. 

NM: So the dance community in general or? 

PS: The dance community at large, yeah. 

NM: There are many. Digitization has brought a lot of challenges to the performance arts in general, but I think that’s just forcing us to rethink our ecosystem and to rethink the way we fund the performance arts. However, in dance, particularly, I think it’s a sector th.at has had a public that’s been increasing. So studies have been done here in Quebec up in the performance arts by the GTFAS (Groupe de travail sur la fréquentation des arts de la scène), and it actually shows that there is more and more public in dance. But still, compared to others, it’s a very small one. So when you think of theatres, who are going to buy shows or promote shows in their theatres, dance is not going to be one of the most frequent ones you will have (that’s being presented in the theatre) because it’s more niche. It’s not such a popular art that the general public might just automatically go watch. You kind of have to make them aware of it; you have to show them the possibilities in dance because there are so many different ways to watch and to appreciate dance. You have to kind of make people see that there are dance performances that you will love; you just have to discover all these different things that exist. Also, I find dance is so diverse, and that makes it difficult to [put into one] group. Also, it’s small, you know? It’s a small performance arts discipline, and that will always make it difficult for us to speak with a strong voice, to be well represented. But in Quebec, we’re lucky in that sense because we have such big companies; we have such big names that they allow us to have a stronger voice. But otherwise, in dance in general, I find it’s the performance art that requires body movement, touching, being close. So for COVID, it’s brought about enormous challenges for dance professionals, for people who are vaccinated and not vaccinated and having to manage all of that and ensuring that everyone is always going with protocol. 

PS: You were speaking about the deeply rooted companies that we have in Quebec here, and that’s absolutely the case. It raises that other question, though, about a younger generation. How do we support, or more particularly, how do you support younger artists who are coming forward? 

NM: This is a discussion that’s really strong right now among everyone in the sector, even among the big companies who are worried about the new younger ones coming in, and especially because of the effect of COVID that’s limiting the opportunities of shows, the opportunities of promoting the newcomers. So there are a lot of ideas that are circulating. So the way we present dance, how can we widen it? The very specialized theatres right now only have so many dates they can present dance. And how do we ensure, first of all, their survival and to give possibilities to the newcomers? Maybe thinking of non-traditional places to present dance, for example, whether it be in galleries and libraries. In the summer in COVID, the outdoors became a possibility, but it’s not necessarily one that is the best for dancers because of the floors. But it’s only the summer, what about the rest of the year? And then there’s also talk about possibilities of not copying but kind of being inspired by the music sector, where we have open shows. So you have people come to see one big show, but then in opening, you’re presenting somebody new who the public should discover and who are worth supporting. And then there’s also talk about increasing residencies. At the RQD, I think what’s important for us is to really go out there and discover these people. Yesterday, I was in Sherbrooke all day discovering what is there in dance and who’s new and what’s been there for a long time and what’s going on. And it’s going to be the same for the new people in the dance sector, the new choreographers, the new interpreters, the new dance companies, just going out there and discovering them, meeting them, listening to them because they bring ideas. They’re the ones who bring solutions because they are the ones who want to make it. 

PS: You’ve been in this job now for just about two months – 

NM: One month! [Laughs] 

PS: One month! One month! OK, one month! So the question is even more pertinent. What would you like for your tenure to be recognized? If we look at this interview five years from now? What would you like the next few years to be like? 

NM: The last two years have been tough for the dance sector and the RQD because the dance sector challenges the status quo. It’s kind of created a fragile moment where we need to solidify who we are, why we do what we do and why we’re together in this. And so I think one thing I would love to be able to accomplish is being able to bring everyone together towards common goals and making everyone realize why these challenges are important. And yes, they might cause little fractures here and there, but they’re only there in order to make us stronger and to make us better. Another thing I would love to bring about is just a new way to see and do. In all sectors, we really sometimes need just a new eye and somebody to say, ‘Well, why not? Why not do it this way even though we haven’t done it this way ever?’ You know, just new ideas. And I know it’s abstract, the way I’m explaining it to you. But I really see that there is the opportunity to do that here and I hope I can. And then otherwise, if I can say by the end of my mandate here, I brought in an extra, you know, XYZ extra million dollars to dance, then that would be an enormous victory. So, for sure, that’s number 1 on the list. [Laughs] 

PS: Fabulous, fabulous. One last question: what plans do you have for connecting with the wider Canadian dance community? 

NM: Absolutely. Me and Karla [Etienne], who represents the Canadian Dance Assembly, were in touch from Day 1. First of all, that relationship, we want to renew, we want to build and we want to make sure to work together. In my first week here, we drafted questions for the federal election to federal parties asking them specifically what they were planning to do with specific visions and concerns. And the other thing we want to do is widen the participation of the RQD within Canada in the art sector in general. Karla introduced me to other arts organizations that the Canadian Dance Assembly is part of. I know other arts organizations that I reached out to and that I want to be part of. It’s a broader view of the cultural sector in Canada. So it’s not specific to dance, but it’s still important to be part of that. And I think that as the RQD, a member association that still is very strong and works very hard and represents Quebec in many ways, there is a lot to say. There is a lot we can bring in, and I want to make sure that we do because it can really contribute a lot to the development of the arts sector. And then ensuring that the Quebec dance community gets to know the rest of the Canadian dance community. And that’s already happened in the last two years because of the limitation of travelling. The dance sector here already started looking for opportunities in the rest of Canada, and bringing the dance sector here too, and getting them to know what we do and who we are. So I guess tightening those relations and making sure those bridges are there so that people can cross them whenever they feel like it.

PS: It’s a pleasure meeting you, I have to say. 

NM: Likewise! 

PS: Thank you so much for doing this interview. 

NM: Thanks for the opportunity. Thank you so much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.

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