Lina Johansson & Silvia Fratelli : Mimbre for Carry On Touring

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Lina Johansson & Silvia Fratelli : Mimbre for Carry On Touring

This article was written by Mimbre joint Artistic Directors Lina Johansson and Silvia Fratelli for Carry On Touring and was published there on 8th August, 2021.

The day of the Brexit result in 2016, coincided with the London premiere of Mimbre’s new show If I Could I Would. Myself and my joint Artistic Director, Silvia Fratelli, were both distraught on a personal as well as a professional basis. Delivering a thank you speech at the end of the performance, I shared our company’s journey: an Italian and two Swedes who met at a circus school in London in 1996 and consequently founded Mimbre. And the European influences on the show we had just premiered, with performers from Italy, the UK and Portugal/Congo, a Greek set designer, German costume designer, Basque music composer and Swedish director. I had a catch in my throat and audience members were openly crying.

If I Could I Would at Tete-a-Tete, Germany, credit: Lina Johansson, 2016

We were in shock for a while but as the Brexit negotiations dragged on, we were all hoping that in reality, it couldn’t really be as bad as we had feared. Surely the logistics would get sorted.

The current actual scenario, with the Covid-19 pandemic on top of it, seems to be even worse than anyone in the arts could have imagined. We are in desperate need for the politicians to sort out a clearer system for 2022, when we hope international touring can start up again in earnest.

Mimbre as an artistic entity was created thanks to free movement across the EU. From the outset, international collaborations were part of the backbone of our company, with the creative team for a production often spanning seven or eight nationalities.

Dior Haute Couture Show Spring-Summer 19, Mimbre Acrobats, credit: Inès Manai. Produced by Bureau Betak.

The European work has always contributed a significant part of our earned income: many of our productions have received European funding, commissioning money or support towards part or all of the production costs. European bookings allow us to keep our main productions touring for longer – enabling us to invest more time and money into each production. The results are higher quality performances, more work for our artists, and more time and money reinvested in our other work, such as our UK-based community youth programme, creative commissions and cross-artform collaborations.

But it is not just about the money. The international work brings inspiration, new influences, increased skill levels, and cross-pollination. Be it performing a small, intimate show to an Italian mountaintop village or presenting grand ensemble choreographies on a runway of Paris Fashion Week, our European work and collaborations have always massively contributed to how we have grown and excelled as a company.

We are not saying European culture should be valued higher than any other. We trained in Cuba at the beginning of our careers; we have performed our shows on five continents and taught at circus schools across the world. Several of our performers are Britons and Europeans from the African, Asian and Latin American diasporas, and through them, we have widened and enriched the internationalism in our work so much further.

However, through our overseas touring we also know how complicated and costly visa applications are. We had a system of free movement for artists across 28 countries, which was so fruitful, so valuable, so nourishing. And that is now replaced by red tape, complications and massive barriers for touring, recruitment and artistic collaborations. The negligence of failing to negotiate a better deal with cultural work permits will impact artists and the arts in the UK very hard over the next few years, both financially and artistically.

Wondrous Strange at Feta Festival, Poland, credit: by Lina Johansson, 2017

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has been so destructive for the arts, has covered up the full impact of the current Brexit agreement, but even so, hours and hours have been spent by companies, producers and artists, sifting through visa rules that are totally different between the 27 countries now. Time and money that could have been spent on paying artists, creating new projects, teaching kids, performing to new audiences.

Mimbre is deeply steeped in circus training and attitude. We are used to finding a way around, to do the things that seem impossible. We are determined to keep taking our work abroad, employing artists from outside the UK, and we will keep fighting for international and multicultural collaborations. But we would really prefer to keep our focus on how we make fantastical structures of bodies and make audiences gasp, rather than spending our energy on jumping through bureaucratic hoops that make everyone lose their hope and artistic spirit.

About Carry on Touring:

“Carry on Touring is an umbrella campaign which all those who tour – and rely on touring – can support and sit under. This public facing campaign brings together voices from across the touring, cultural and creative industries sectors to secure cross-party support for Tim Brennan’s petition and campaign for the only realistic solution, a pan European EU visa and work permit waiver to be negotiated. The strength of this campaign is that it is inclusive reaching across the sector, industry and political parties.”

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