As he leaves DanceXchange, David Massingham reflects on his journey from distributing Christmas hampers to establishing Birmingham as an international dance city.

Photo of David Massingham
John Snowdon

Harrods Management (1979 – 1982)

Before I went into full time dance training at the Laban Centre from 1982, I did a three-year management training course at Harrods and became a Department Controller. It was an amazing time, shifting every two months or so to take on a different role – the most notable being my stint directing the packing and distribution of all the Christmas hampers. In an age before computers, I was handed the first order on a piece of paper, shown the warehouse, and told to get on with it. Talk about make it up as you go along! It was like The Apprentice except we really did have to get thousands of hampers out the door before Christmas.

Adventures in Motion Pictures (1986 – 1989)

I had started to dance professionally before I left the Laban Centre. Mathew Bourne, Emma Gladstone and myself all danced in Transitions Dance Company in 1985/6, which was the birthplace of Adventures in Motion Pictures as it was known then. As Co-Directors we managed to get the company noticed really quickly, for example by being the first ever dance company to perform at the London Mime Festival.

David Massingham Dance (1989 – 1999)

My touring company, David Massingham Dance, was chosen in the early 1990s to open the Maltings Arts Centre in Berwick-upon-Tweed with two season-long residencies. It was an exciting and pioneering time. I found myself – the Londoner – in a tiny town in the North with six dancers who were, for the most part, happy to have some time in such a beautiful part of the country.

We made the most of the experience by teaching and choreographing new contemporary dance works and dancing in big community cast musicals. I even got to direct West Side Story. The locals were very appreciative of our impact.

The residencies led me to becoming the Choreographer in Residence across the Northern region in 1995/6, based at Dance City.

Dance City (1998 – 1999)

As Project Manager at Dance City in Newcastle, I engineered four major dance development projects that spanned the whole Northern region. Perhaps my greatest achievement was establishing a professional dance company in Middlesbrough, which went on to become an Regularly Funded Organisation of Arts Council England.

DanceXchange / International Dance Festival Birmingham (1999 – 2017)

Since my arrival in Birmingham in 1999, both myself and DanceXchange, the organisation I direct, have been part of an incredible journey. There have been several stages to my time here: working across the city venues; touring nationally and internationally to many different types of spaces; and growing the number of dance artists based in the city. Throughout the period we established dance as Birmingham’s major art form, which I think it remains today.

I arrived in 1999 to decommission the old DanceXchange building. I directed the organisation through a period in which we had no base, and this led me to take dance into outdoor spaces for the first time – a trend that is now a regular feature of Birmingham festivals across the year.

Having no home led me to create our highly successful dance company, Bare Bones, which toured to unusual spaces nationally for more than a decade and had regular seasons at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre. From the outset I used my artistic connections to pull-off shows made by Britain’s best-known choreographers, including Akram Khan, Hofesh Shechter and Jasmin Vardimon.

By 2002 the building was ready and I worked to establish life in the new Hippodrome complex by hosting the British Dance Edition within weeks of opening. This sparked the idea of creating a major dance festival for the city, and in 2008 International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) was born, creating a cultural event in which Birmingham could truly feel like an international dance city.

IDFB has provided me with some extraordinary moments of joy, such as watching audiences lap up dance productions in the city squares. There has also been the odd moment of total fear – like when we discovered our mammoth outdoor immersive dance, circus and theatre version of ‘Wings of Desire’, with a planned audience of thousands, was in danger of not happening due to a double booking on the main square. Safe to say, IDFB won the day!

My role has changed in this time to encompass Company Director, Creative Producer, and Festival Director – as well as overseeing it all as Chief Executive Officer.

David Massingham is Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer of DanceXchange.

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Photo of David Massingham