Dance Audiences – everyone prepared to be surprised

horniman dance 600400Any medium scale regional theatre programmer with an interest in finding a local audience for modern dance would have been green with envy if they had joined me and hundreds of others to see new pieces by Ghislaine Doté, Alesandra Seutin and Andrea Queens in London this weekend. It was a packed attentive audience from 4 to 80 years old, families, culturally diverse and I suspect representative of the community mix of the area, watching new contemporary work by unfamiliar choreographers. The secret…

The secret of introducing new contemporary dance to an unsuspecting audience, and new work in so many artforms seems to be festivals and street/community events. I was at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill SE23 to see part of their Experience African Summer (which runs until 30th August).

On Friday and Saturday we were down at the Winchester Hat Fair – the oldest street festival in the UK now in the new hands of Michelle Walker and Mark Courtice of the Theatre Royal. Again we were blessed with fine weather, and the crowds were flowing around the City to enjoy live art, installation experiences, international artists, and community creatives [Did you know you can do the only BA in Street Arts in the UK at Winchester !!]

In 10 days time it will be my first visit to Latitude Festival and I can’t wait to see theatre, street art, events and happenings across the Suffolk sunshine pastures. And I was delighted to see Caroline Pearse winning the Best Event in the NE Culture Awards for her new festival Jabberwocky Market in Darlington (put 2nd – 4th October in your diary for the next festival, which is also Fun Palaces Year 2)

But back to those theatre seats – The challenge is to consider a bit of lateral thinking for those marketing officers and programmers (and boy have I been one of these) struggling with exciting the right audience to come through the door for amazing new work, by unknown contemporary dance companies, on our stages and studios.   All my life I have known the delight of entering a darkened space and awaiting in expectation for the lights to rise on something completely unfamiliar to me. I have been amazed. I have been bemused. But I have been there.  I have been “prepared to be surprised”.  This is not something familiar to many young people, and their parents, and their grandparents.

Somehow we have to bring the buzz and magic; the casually welcoming sunshine and festive feel; and the totally relaxed performance style to connect with the magical womb-like spaces which we want to fill with new people having new experiences.

I hope many of the people enjoying ADAD (Association of Dance of the African Diaspora) and Trinity Laban dance day in the museum gardens will have filled in enough info on their feedback forms to keep in contact with the events at the Horniman, and maybe even events championed by ADAD and Bloom – the National Festival of Dance of the African Diaspora. I know many of the people at Latitude will fall in love with a new dance or theatre company they see by chance in Suffolk, and will begin to hunt them out in theatres. I feel sure that Darlington Saturday shoppers will, slowly, connect something they have seen on the street with something playing in a venue in their town. Connecting Festivals and happenings with the theatres that work all year to make a difference to people’s lives is vital. Sometimes they are seen as a parachute event. They need to be bright jewels in a year-round crown of creativity.

I am lucky enough to be coaching a number of choreographers as they develop new companies touring into arts centres, and to have been doing surgeries with one or two black dance creatives as they explore the need for more colour-blind dancing.

Dance can speak to everyone – but you have to be there to hear, and you have to be chosen to appear.

Thank you for reading my thoughts.

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