Between the 20th till the 24th of July I was given the opportunity to visit Dance Ireland and do a Carte Blanche week there, an invaluable experience which has enabled me to meet Paul Johnson (Chief Executive), Sian Cunningham (General Manager), and the rest of the Dancehouse staff and be informed about all the aspects of the Dancehouse.
Studying their program through their website, brochures and discussing it with them, it is exciting to see how many wonderful things are happening at Dance Ireland. The workshop ‘Choreographic encounters’ was taking place at the Dancehouse during my stay there, which I had the opportunity to observe. John Scott led the workshop and the dancers were given the opportunity to use group dances, tasks, performance actions and text.
During the Carte Blanche week we discussed many aspects of the Dancehouse, such as the way they work with artists, how they schedule events, the responsibilities of each member of staff, etc. Most importantly, however, we analyze the strategies that they implement in order to attract new audiences, as well as the dance residency program.
What strategies can a Dancehouse implement in order to attract new audiences?
Examining the Dance Ireland annual report 2014, one can see that the numbers of the Dancehouse attendances have increased. These numbers have been growing steadily over the past 10 years and according to Paul, one of the factors which has played a significant role on this is their consistency. We also discussed the importance of being clear on what you do, for example when they decide to do something they stick with it and they will never drop an idea. In case that a project/ program did not attract a large audience, the following year they will not drop it, however they will repeat it but they will probably need to examine the idea again in terms of the way it was scheduled or the manner in which it was advertised.
Also, the printed materials at the entrance of the Dancehouse give a clear image of what the Dancehouse does and thus attending an event at the Dancehouse one can easily pick up information for the upcoming events that they may interested in attending. In the brochures, as well as on their user friendly website, one can find every piece of information needed, where they give a good overview on what they do.
An interesting strategy used by Dancehouse in order to attract a wider audience was the program ‘MINUTES IN MOTION’. On the occasion of their 21st anniversary, Dance Ireland implemented this program and on the 21st of each month throughout 2013, a one minute dance film commissioned by Dance Ireland was premiered on the Dance Ireland website. Through this the artists were called to portray dance through the medium of film and this program, according to Paul, has not only encouraged other young artists to experiment and create, but has also encouraged the general audience to use the website and see the commissioned films.
In addition, it is clear that Dance Ireland does not only give opportunities for training for professional dancers but also for guidance and support. Through the residencies Dance Ireland is trying to support as many different dance styles as possible. Having discussed a lot around the program of the residencies, the discussion led us to the issue of the mentor.
Providing an emerging artist a space to rehearse and research, is in itself a great opportunity, however, no one can underestimate the value of providing a mentor during the residency. Dance Ireland recognizes the value of the mentoring and has therefore developed the ‘Mentoring Residency Support Awards’ in response to members’ desire for more self-directed mentoring opportunities.
How do you choose the ideal mentor? What do the dancers need? Certainly, not a person that will just say ‘Great, well done’. Having a professional guidance can help the dancers to progress their work even better. Dance Ireland was trying out different ways of choosing a mentor. Last year, Dance Ireland was responsible to choose the mentors for the dance residency artists and interestingly this year they ask each dancer to suggest their own mentor. Furthermore, Dance Ireland at the same time encourages the dancers to invite other artists and friends to watch their rehearsals in order to connect and share ideas.
These and many other discussions around the Dancehouse have helped me to come back home with many ideas as well as questions that have been raised through discussions and can positively influence the way we work and program in Dancehouse Lefkosia according to the need of the dancers.
In general, Carte Blanche was a great opportunity to exchange information between Dancehouse Lefkosia and Dance Ireland. The staff there has been amazing and made my experience in Dace Ireland beneficial. This experience has also been a good step in developing a working relationship between Dancehouse Lefkosia and Dance Ireland in terms of future collaborations and exchanges.