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Dance is perfectly suited to being toured internationally, says Anthony Missen. He explains how exporting has allowed Company Chameleon to grow and flourish. 

Photo of two men doing acrobatics
Company Chameleon performing at Fira Tarrega in Spain

Export and international trade is something we’re far more likely to associate with the business sector than the dance world. For Company Chameleon exporting has been a key part of our strategy from the outset.

Our international offer significantly contributes to the strength of our business model and to our survival as a company

Since 2007, we’ve created productions and developed educational programmes in our home city of Manchester, which have been exported all over the world, from France and Spain to Trinidad and South Africa. So far this year, we’ve taken our work to Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Romania.

Why does dance as an international export work for us? The most obvious reason is because dance is a universal language and doesn’t require a translator. As themes and ideas are transmitted through dance and movement, they can be experienced, absorbed and understood by the receiver no matter what their nationality or spoken language.

Scalable shows

From a purely Company Chameleon perspective, dance as an international export works because our dance pieces are scalable. Working both indoors in theatres and studio venues, and outdoors at events and festivals, our work can be presented in small squares, big plazas and huge theatres in sprawling cities, busy towns and relatively isolated rural communities. This flexibility means we can perform in a huge number of contexts and within a wide range of budgets.

Our international offer significantly contributes to the strength of our business model and to our survival as a company. Central to this offer is our suite of outdoor shows, which tour year on year.

The costs for taking outdoor shows abroad are a world away from the costs involved in theatre touring. Our outdoor touring works require two to five dancers and the music – that’s it. Our theatre shows require more personnel, time and equipment, and thus, more money.

The business perspective

International partners more often than not are willing to pay the premium for the quality of our ‘product’, whereas many UK theatres pay around the same fee that they paid back in the 1990s. We are often paid the same for a short outdoor duet abroad as we are for a UK theatre show, so the profit margins for touring internationally are significantly greater.

From a business perspective our international work is able to support areas of activity that are not financially lucrative, like UK theatre touring. It enables us to take dance into ‘cold spots’, which is something we greatly value and which forms part of our ethos as a company.

Company Chameleon, and the UK in general, is incredibly well regarded abroad for its educational and participatory dance work, and we are often invited to countries specifically to deliver this. This might involve teacher training, professional development with dance artists or working with schools, universities or young people at risk. We are regarded as specialists in this area, and international partners are willing to pay for this expertise.

A growing company

As our international profile and demand grows (this summer we toured our largest summer tour to date), so does our capacity to sustain ourselves. Touring internationally has enabled us to grow as a company and supports us in becoming more resilient to potential changes in arts funding.

Demand for our services increases year on year, which has enabled our team to grow, both in the number of salaried staff and freelance artists. We are now at the point where our shows go out with different casts in different countries at the same time.

Our international work also adds value in relation to profile-raising and reputation. When we work abroad, the perception of quality is somehow raised in people’s estimations here in the UK. Engagement on social media from the public or arts organisations abroad very often provokes comment at home.

Strong partnerships

This broader visibility also increases the pool of artists who want to work with us, having a positive knock-on effect on the quality of artists that we engage. Being at more international festivals often creates further invitations as more people are introduced to what we do. It’s a great self-generating system, but only because the quality is there.

Strong partnerships are crucial and we have nurtured and developed some great relationships with key partners who now advocate for our work internationally, broker new relationships and sometimes act as informal booking agents.

It is essential to foster these relationships, and within this make constructive contributions to the conversation around arts and dance development in the UK and internationally. We are proud to be able to challenge perceptions and show what British dance has to offer.

Power in our hands

Economic arguments are well publicised now with the work of the Warwick Commission and the like. For us with regards to our international work, it’s crystal clear. We generate income abroad that in turn creates jobs here in the UK and makes a positive contribution to the UK economy.

This relies on investment in the first place, and in the volatile and uncertain times we are in this could all change rapidly. Some things we don’t have the power to change, but what we do have in our hands is the power to generate a greater evidence base for the social value and impact of dance.

Country to country there are more fundamental things that bind us than there are that divide us. Now more than ever we need to celebrate and share this. This is something we will continue to do through dance theatre, for as long as we are able.

Anthony Missen is Co-Artistic Director at Company Chameleon.
Tw @chameleon_info
Tw @MissenAnthony

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Photo of Anthony Missen