This year’s British Dance Edition is hosted by eight partners, from all across London. Lise Smith describes their experiences of breaking the dance programming mould
Dance is a highly collaborative artform – choreographers often work in close partnerships with musicians, filmmakers, set and costume designers, to say nothing of the hours spent in the studio creating work with groups of dancers. But when it comes to programming dance, directors and programmers often working individually; making decisions alone on behalf of their venues. This year’s British Dance Edition (BDE) showcase transformed that model by bringing together eight consortium partners to produce the first jointly curated programme in the event’s history. So what have the BDE partners learned from their collaborative experience?
The idea originally came from a drive to bring BDE 2012 to the five Olympic host boroughs, but soon grew to include venues operating across the capital. East London Dance, Greenwich Dance and Trinity Laban Conservatoire had worked collaboratively on the London Thames Gateway Dance Partnership; a groundbreaking project in terms of thinking about how together we could achieve more. It also demonstrated that the dance scene in London is getting bigger and has grown beyond the centre. Greenwich Dance was the first to put the call out, initially to colleagues at the Southbank Centre and Trinity Laban.
The consortium of eight partners – Greenwich Dance, East London Dance, Trinity Laban, Dance Umbrella, The Place, the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells and the Southbank Centre – come from all corners of the capital. Early on they established ground rules – each would have an equal say in the decision-making process. While working together to share ideas and information, the BDE partners recognised that it was at the same time important to maintain a degree of individual identity and respectful disagreement in order to retain a diversity of offer.
The opportunity to discuss work productively with peers was one of the most valuable things to come out of the consortium working experience. Kiki Gale, Artistic Director of East London Dance, said: “The partnership meant lots of discussion about current work, about who's making what at what scale. It also gave us all an opportunity to articulate our particular passions and to have – in the best sense of the word - challenges to one's own perceptions of work, which certainly broadened my understanding and experience.”
Dance Umbrella joined the process once it became evident that the BDE consortium wanted to develop not just a programming body but a strategic partnership for dance development in London. Artistic Director Betsy Gregory said: “I’ve been around a long time and not since the early days have all the key dance promoters sat down together to work to a common purpose, for dance and not for our own agendas. I think what’s been great is the quality of the discussion, the collegiate working, the willingness and enthusiasm of everybody to embrace ideas from across the range of partners, and I think probably all of us have been introduced to work we haven’t seen before.”
As well as providing a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas about work, the consortium’s discussions provided a model for looking more holistically at dance in London as a whole, beyond the BDE event. “Out of this has come a commitment to more collegiate working rather than seeing ourselves as competitors, which I hope will benefit dance artists,” said Director of Greenwich Dance Brendan Keaney. “If we’ve all got different types of resources we can together offer people different things at different times – and rather than people having to negotiate with six different people for rehearsal space or production time or mentoring, it might be possible to come along and sort it out with a few conversations.”
Partnership working also has the potential to avoid unnecessary duplication of similar projects. “If I know what The Place is planning over the next six months, I won’t plan something that competes with it, I’ll plan something complementary instead,” said Keaney. “It just makes sense for us to know what each other are up to, so that we don't start tripping each other up.”
The new, London-wide dance consortium is currently at the start of a journey, but very much wanting to build on the partnership working of BDE and Big Dance. We don’t yet know the conclusion, but watch this space!