Theatre Bristol has always been passionate about dance, as we are here to support and develop all live performance, but 2016 has been ALL ABOUT DANCE. We’ve shared ideas around dance strategy at every monthly team meeting and every quarterly Board meeting.
It felt like Theatre Bristol had a job to do: to shine a light on dance in the city.
I’ve met with lots of people over the year – funders, producers, presenters, regional partners, students and professional practitioners making or leading a wide variety of work for audiences and participants.
I’ve heard about the need for more professional classes, a sense of home (but with the freedom to know that artistic peers don’t have to be fellow dance artists), connection with others and better sharing of information and opportunities, studio space, programming ambitions, players to help share risk, opportunities outside arts and culture, leadership, advocacy, equality of opportunity, excellence for audiences and participants.
I’ve heard that it is a terrible time to seek public investment, but have also seen some entrepreneurial genius and partnerships outside the arts – bringing in resource.
I’m personally particularly excited by the possibilities of new space to make dance in unexpected places outside our city centre, partnership between everyone who cares about dance to increase the offer to artists and audiences (distributed leadership and advocacy), thinking regionally and nationally, being open with this ‘strategy’ process to encourage often unheard voices, and in breaking down any remaining hierarchy between dance for the stage and dance for community – because this might find us what everyone working in the arts needs – more resource, even more meaning in the world and new people to play with.
At Theatre Bristol, we are keen to build on the excellent work done by Dance Producer Emma-Jane Benning whose post came to an end in 2015. Emma-Jane fought hard for funds to go directly to the people who ‘make and do’ and she always put ambition and quality at the heart of her work.
So as well as all the meetings and chats on email, Theatre Bristol started the DANCE IN BRISTOL AUDIT. We started it but lots of people contributed – adding people we did not know and re-writing bits to make it better. It is still a draft document and perhaps always will be because things change very quickly. The point of the AUDIT is to map what already exists and to celebrate this work. We wanted to start with opportunities rather than problems. You can download the AUDIT below. I think it is exciting to see the quality and quantity of work that happens and believe that even better things can happen if more people know about each other.
The next step was a city-wide conversation and for this I worked with Pavilion Dance South West, Katy Noakes, Bristol City Council and Arts Council England. We invited some brilliant people but not ALL the brilliant people, because it was a working group and time was tight. You can download the notes from this meeting below. The attendees at the meeting had this ‘starter for 10’ to kick things off:
Aim: Loads of participants and audiences for dance in Bristol. ALL people. Super top quality
To get this:
- Look after the people already making, teaching, producing, presenting, doing AND the people who want to / don’t know they want to yet (sustainable lives)
- Catch all the opportunities for the people above and create new ones to make good things happen. Gaps, opps, worm-holes, bridges (through super networks?)
- Shine a light on all things dance so people with opportunities to share can find Bristol’s dancers/practitioners/producers/presenters/ – e.g. policy-makers, health commissioners, artists from other disciplines, programmers, educators
- Facilities and expertise to show dance works
- Facilities and expertise to make dance work
- Facilities and expertise to train people
- Make it easy for participants and audiences to get involved
- Advocate for dance
- Be investment ready through widening public benefit, be entrepreneurial and find partners outside the sector
- Throughout all of this we MAKE SURE that social, financial, geographical, ethnic factors are NOT a barrier to involvement.
I came away from the meeting wanting:
- Another chance to unpick ‘how we organise ourselves’ as we ran out of time
- A commitment to write a first draft of a manifesto for dance – calling in help from y’all and/or organising a mini manifesto boot-camp. I think some people at the meeting were also keen to do this so we will make sure we align.
- Align the 15K Bristol City Council funding for dance held by Theatre Bristol to this manifesto and publish how it will be spent and why- Being alert to future cuts in this annual amount. One current use of this money is dance practitioner bursaries.
- A strong belief that much needed ‘joining of dots’ can’t happen without extra capacity and I’m wondering if TB could incubate this.
- In the meantime – better dot-joining regionally – I’ll follow up with Zannah Doan at PDSWA meeting with Bath Dance and Swindon Dance to see what we could share
- A desire to meet around a kitchen table (informal sharing/plotting)
- Pleased that programmers are up for a bi yearly meet up and hoping that a cross sector group that meets regularly can tie in … or even replace this at some point. Cross sector feels very important to me.
- To be open about this work to get more people from all over to contribute, even though this takes time (it is key to diversity.) PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD.
- A commitment to make sure Tom Flemming and the BCC commissioned Culture Strategy, renamed Culture Futures is aware of our work in dance (I mean all of you). And maybe to rename our manifesto/ strategy as Dance Futures.
- Shout louder about Theatre Bristol Artist Support Associates to reach more people (2 x dance practitioners to be employed over the next 2 years)
- Use our network more – or make sure more people are aware of the google group, the classes section and the shared dance info on theatrebristol.net. Get more on there too.
- Test out our thinking with people outside the arts
- Be confident and impact-based
- Long-term, continue to lobby for facilities that can meet the ambition in the city
- Tell everyone that we should build dance studios in the new hospital in South Bristol until it happens (or other unexpected places outside the city centre)
- Answer the questions on Tom Flemming’s Culture Futures with an eye on dance, which are:
How do we open up Bristol Culture?
How do we make the international local and the local international?
How do we do partnership, infrastructure, investment?
- Ask the first question again as this feels like a real opportunity for dance (great work already happening) – ‘how can we open up Bristol culture?’
You will have different ideas / impressions from the meeting notes and we’d love to hear them.
The next coming together focused on dance is an event that Theatre Bristol has supported, led by choreographer Karla Shacklock called Out of the Box: How to Survive as a Dance Artist.
LOADS of people are coming to this. I’ll be listening and scribbling away on the Dance Futures manifesto.
So I’ll leave you with the meeting notes and the audit and say again – please contact us at if you would like to talk about dance and Bristol.
Co-Director Theatre Bristol