Many international dance companies tour the UK thanks to the Dance Consortium, but venues, young dancers and many others also benefit from its work. Ros Robins explains how.

Photo of dancers rehearsing
Matthew Rushing of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with young dancers

Rachel Cherry

Dance Consortium was established in 2000 with the specific aim of touring international contemporary dance around the UK. It has 17 members, all large-scale theatres, and since its formation has presented 40 tours by 22 different dance companies. Companies have come from across the globe and have performed to over 600,000 people in venues from Plymouth to Inverness and major UK cities in between.

An important benefit of the model is that it encourages networking and knowledge-sharing among the marketing, technical and education teams and with sector partners

Our turnover is over £1m with members contributing up to 55% of the income through membership and performance fees. In addition there is a no-contra deal, which means that member venues cover all technical, marketing and overhead costs.

Company fees can range from £12,000 to £25,000 per performance and although our overheads are limited to under 8%, the cost of international touring – flights, accommodation and local transportation – means that a subsidy is also required. We were funded through Arts Council England (ACE) Grants for the Arts until 2008, and have since received £489,000 per annum as a National Portfolio Organisation to support the costs of the tours and make a contribution towards our overheads.

Performance and education programme

Each tour averages between five and six weeks, visiting two venues a week with two performances in each venue. An education programme accompanies each venue visit consisting of post-show Q&As, open rehearsals, workshops with local schools, colleges and dance groups (from young dance students to the over 55s) and opportunities to meet international choreographers, dancers and artistic directors.

Although each visiting company is in the UK for a limited period and visiting each venue for only two or three days, we want audiences, participants and the local dance sector to have the maximum opportunity to engage with them.

During the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater tour last year, audiences exceeded 40,000 with nearly 6,000 experiencing the education and participation programme. 17% of the audience were new to dance, 15% were first-time attenders to the venue and 15% were young people.

Networking and knowledge

The benefits of the consortium model extend beyond cost-sharing and audience development. By working in collaboration, each of the member theatres builds its own capacity and expertise as well as benefiting the UK dance sector. In choosing the companies, the theatre CEOs share and develop their knowledge and understanding of international dance. They undertake ‘go and see’ trips, write and share show reports, watch footage and discuss their findings at regular programming meetings.

This is not just limited to the CEOs. An important benefit of the model is that it encourages networking and knowledge-sharing among the marketing, technical and education teams and with sector partners. Annual technical days are organised with the Dance Touring Partnership (DTP) and annual education networking days with DTP and the Dance Educators Group.

Future leaders

The consortium members are also keen that young arts leaders and dancers have the opportunity to benefit from the tours. We have a relationship with the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, linking students directly to the world of venue management and touring. Initiated by Heather Knight, our Coordinator since its inception, two second-year students from the BA Management of Music, Theatre, Entertainment and Events course accompany Heather for two weeks on each tour, gaining a practical introduction to tour and venue management, marketing and communication.

In 2015 we introduced the Future Leaders programme, a career development opportunity for young people aged 18 to 25 to participate in a year of support and mentoring, learning from leaders within UK theatres. Nine young people from across the country participated, visiting seven member venues, meeting CEOs and their teams, as well as UK and international dance companies. Each of the participants had a mentor throughout the programme. This programme will be repeated in 2019/20.

Dance development

Prior to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s tour, we worked with Dance East and Centres for Advanced Training (CAT schemes) to offer a four-day intensive with members of the company. The residency was attended by 46 dance students between the ages of 16 and 18 who were drawn from CAT schemes across the country. The intensive was led by Matthew Rushing, the company’s Rehearsal Director, and was designed to augment the students’ dance training and raise their levels of confidence and aspiration.

Matthew said of the intensive: “It gave me great pleasure to have the opportunity to share what I’ve learned with some of the best dance students in the UK. What a privilege it is to be part of passing on a legacy of inspiration to the next generation of performing artists.”

The intensive was a huge success for partners and students and this is a way of working that we plan to repeat in the future. I will leave the final words to a 17-year-old CAT student:

“These four days have been significant and life-changing. I know that dance is for me even more than I did before the intensive. I’ve found a voice in me that I didn’t know existed. I have courage and the nerve to do what I thought was impossible. It isn’t impossible – everything is within your grasp if you just try and you have the people around you to help it become a reality.”

Ros Robins is Executive Director of Dance Consortium.
Tw: @DanceConsortium

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