NextDoors - interdisciplinary project week

Royal Conservatoire Antwerp, Belgium (BE)

Many case studies posted in the present Diverse Cultures series are trans-genre or trans-disciplinary in nature; they illustrate how curricula are being opened up to encourage collaborations between different musics and genres within institutions, as well as how institutions have approached the accommodating of students with various (cultural) backgrounds. Through these case studies we begin to see the emergence of ‘diversity junctures’, ‘diversity festivals’ or non-curricular ‘heterotopias’ in an increasing number of HMEIs as a model for encouraging and facilitating trans-disciplinary collaboration among students. The following from the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp is a prime example.

Inspired by its unique position within the International Arts Campus de Singel, the Royal Conservatoire Antwerp hosts NextDoors: a course-free project week involving all its artistic programmes, including dance, music, teaching artists, research and drama. During this week, musicians, actors, dancers and researchers brainstorm, collaborate and create together to experiment and develop tight collaborative relations, which will shape their further development, and often their first steps into the professional scene as well.


NextDoors – in its current format – took place for the first time in February 2019, after considered evaluation and examination of its long-standing predecessor, Common Grounds. During this previous interdisciplinary week, there was not enough attention for the specific and unique needs of every programme at the conservatoire. Therefore, a more individual path of the interdisciplinary week has been developed.

NextDoors provides several project categories, in order for students, teachers and researchers to further develop their personal trajectories, and to explore. Students can develop their own interdisciplinary projects, receive specialised coaching and production support (light/sound/stage …), participate in different workshops held by our teaching staff and international (doctoral) researchers, or develop a more individual path by focusing on their individual challenges at that time.

This kick-off edition of NextDoors resulted in a mix of interdisciplinary, intercultural and innovative projects (over 500 students participated in 55 projects, spread out over 45 class rooms and three concert halls), where Afro-Cuban rhythms melted together with Tchaikovsky’s melodies; where conductors became dancers and dancers explored conducting; or where musicians, actors and dancers learned to create music without music.

Promenade Concert

The project Promenade Concert gathered orchestral musicians, conductors, dancers and painters around ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ by M. Mussorgsky. The conductors were especially interested in the choreographic aspects of their profession. During the NextDoors week they collaborated with dance students, whose input on movement and audience perception shaped the whole performance. They also received coaching from Thomas Moore, a doctoral researcher at the conservatoire who researches the role and importance of movement and embodiment in conducting contemporary music. The photo below shows a mix of dancers and conductors moving together in a choreographed way, in order to emphasize the emotional narrative of the music.

Still from Promenade Concert: conductors and dancers moving together in a choreographed way. Photo courtesy of Royal Conservatoire Antwerp, Belgium

Feedback Semantics

Other students use the NextDoors week to experiment with like-minded souls from the different programmes. In Feedback Semantics, students from all performative disciplines improvised with spoken word and sound connected to audio- and video-feedback. Their intention was to create a loop where everything is triggering everything, ‘as a loop of reactions, as a feedback cloud of mixed media’. They requested LCD screens and old CRT monitors, microphones, cameras and projectors. With this material they experimented for five days, before showing their interactive multimedia installation as a result on the last day of the project week.

Still from the interactive multimedia installation Feedback Semantics. Photo courtesy of Royal Conservatoire Antwerp, Belgium

Other projects

The conservatoire hosts a large community of international students and researchers, which can be a challenge for the daily activities of the different programmes. This rich diversity however not only results in cross-border projects during NextDoors, but also guides us towards an inclusive way of communicating during the project week, where every single student receives the exact same documentation and information in order for all of them to feel part of the core of this conservatoire.

The conservatoire has strong ties with the (socio-) cultural sector in Antwerp, which also results in a positive exposure for some of NextDoors’ projects. During Noorderlicht, a socio-cultural project by the Schools of Arts Antwerp and AP Hogeschool, we bring art to the underprivileged residents of Antwerpen Noord, people who have not necessarily been exposed to art before.  The project Cuban Painting, consisting of a Cuban jazz percussionist, two classical musicians and one painter, will perform the result of their NextDoors-research (mixing Tchaikovsky’s melodies with Afro-Cuban rhythms) in one of the unique locations during this year’s edition of Noorderlicht in November 2019 (e.g. barber shop, living room, rehabilitation center, pharmacy, tea house, etc).  And the workshop ‘The Beat and The Body’ by doctoral researcher Winnie Huang, where students learned to perform musical gestural pieces, will be adapted towards an accessible workshop in open air, where all people from the neighbourhood can participate.

Also throughout a vast network of venues, where our students perform their creative projects, the intercultural and inclusive character of NextDoors builds a bridge between our students and the different communities within the city. Project Melancholia, for instance, focused on the violin sonata by Turkish composer Fazil Say. This sonata is an expression of one’s melancholia and memories and embraces both the Turkish folk tradition and the Western classical tradition. A few months after NextDoors, the students performed this project in meeting center ‘coSTA’ in Antwerp, involving the Turkish community.

Continuing collaborations, influencing curriculum

The principles of NextDoors also create stepping stones towards continuing collaborations throughout the year. On top of this, NextDoors has already been proven to be a breeding ground for the further development of the conservatoire’s curriculum. Students got a taste of what interdisciplinary collaboration is and have asked for the possibility to keep developing their creative ideas through optional courses with specialised teaching and coaching (e.g. the collaboration between the conductors and the dancers).

Open doors, respect for each other, and a healthy interest in the other disciplines, are just a few of the keywords for this inclusive project week.

This article is a part of the publication titled How are diverse cultures integrated in the education of musicians across Europe? Other chapters can be found here.

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