David Massingham on International Dance Festival Birmingham – now running (May 2016)

David Massingham.<br />© John Snowdon. (Click image for larger version)
David Massingham.
© John Snowdon. (Click image for larger version)

5 Questions on International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016 to David Massingham, Co-Artistic Director of IDFB and artistic director of DanceXchange.

IDFB runs from 1 – 22 May 2016 and with it now underway we wanted to catch up with how the festival is going. Luckily IDFB have lots of quality words that rather anticipate the question so standby for fulsome answers and lots of links…

This is your 5th IDFB festival – can you give us some metrics on how it has built up since it all started in 2008?

The 5th International Dance Festival Birmingham – how time flies when you’re producing and programming one the world’s largest dance festivals! As artistic director of DanceXchange and co-artistic director of IDFB (along with DanceXchange’s partner organisation Birmingham Hippodrome), and on behalf of the entire festival team, I’m extremely proud of IDFB’s achievements since the inaugural edition in 2008.  We have come a long way and in eight years, the four festivals to date, all supported by Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council (as is IDFB 2016), have welcomed an ambitious range of artists and organisations to Birmingham and presented some of the world’s best dance across the region.

<I>Cubes</I> - one of many free outdoor performances during IDFB 2016. © Dani Bower. (Click image for larger version)
Cubes – one of many free outdoor performances during IDFB 2016. © Dani Bower. (Click image for larger version)

Since 2008 we’ve clocked up some impressive IDFB statistics: 21 festival commissions, from small to large-scale work, have showcased a range of dance styles and collaborated with other arts forms and disciplines, from architecture to the visual arts; in eight years IDFB has produced, programmed and presented 25 world and UK premieres – all placing Birmingham and its dance ecology firmly on the world stage – this year is no different as we present 11 World and UK premieres over the course of IDFB 2016; in eight years more than a thousand artists from 36 countries have performed in the city’s most iconic venues, on city centre streets and in public squares – showing Birmingham as a festival city, a destination to be proud of, whether you live or work in the city, study or visit; since 2008 more than 172,000 people have watched 416 free events and 164 ticketed shows at Birmingham Hippodrome, The Patrick Centre (home to DanceXchange’s performance programme throughout the year), Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Crescent Theatre, Town Hall Symphony Hall, mac birmingham and Warwick Arts Centre. In addition to presenting work in traditional places, we have presented dance in outdoor and unusual spaces – the more unusual the space, the better!

We want dance to surprise and inspire, and IDFB is the perfect platform for ambitious programme of roaming and pop-up performances we offer during every festival – even Solihull’s ice rink (Midnight Milonga) and Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre (Put Your Foot Down) have become regular festival venues. Each festival brings further interest in the next edition as more and more artists and organisations get in touch to see how they can take part.

Over the last decade, and since planning for the first festival started, our hope was that as many people as possible would watch and enjoy the range of shows we present, but we also wanted people, of all ages, to take part, to give a dance style a go! Since 2008, IDFB has offered 25,315 participatory experiences, from tango and flamenco workshops, to an entire weekend of swing and lindy-hop with Swingamajig, one of our regular festival partners. Irrelevant of someone’s social and economic background, arts preference or dance experience, there really is something for everyone during IDFB’s diverse programme of events. But we don’t want these experiences to stop every two years as the festival draws to a close. We want the IDFB experience to encourage more people to take up dance classes at DanceXchange, or watch the shows on offer during our performance seasons at The Patrick Centre in the Birmingham Hippodrome building.

IDFB goes beyond the dance performances – it also showcases the City of Birmingham and increases economic activity – IDFB 2014 improved perceptions of Birmingham as 78% attenders left more convinced that the city is a great place for arts and culture, and it brought in economic activity of £2.6 million to the city, as people shopped, ate and stayed in one of many hotels. The festival also won the Achievement in Dance, UK Theatre Awards 2014 and Event of the Year, The Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards 2010. These are all achievements and metrics to be proud of, and have all helped the festival become what it is in 2016.

Read the IDFB 2014 REVIEW here

How long does it take to plan it all and how big is your team to make it happen? If I were to see all the shows in IDFB 2016 how many would that be?

We’re already immersed in conversations about IDFB 2018, but the in-depth planning for the next edition really begins once the current festival finishes. Some conversations have started years in advance. I first met the French rock band rinôçérôse ten years ago and I’ve wanted them involved in a festival ever since. It’s incredible they’re finally coming to Birmingham and headlining this year’s festival spectacular The Machine Show. It’s an exciting time for the arts in the region, as artists and programmers look beyond London to present their work.

<I>The Machine Show</I> - part of <I>Live Nights</I> in Centenary Square during IDFB 2016. © IDFB. (Click image for larger version)
The Machine Show – part of Live Nights in Centenary Square during IDFB 2016. © IDFB. (Click image for larger version)

We’re not a big team at DanceXchange – I’d imagine smaller than people might think, especially when you consider the amount of activity programmed and presented over the course of a festival. At DanceXchange we’re a small core team of people and we bring in one or two additional freelance producers and project managers each year to oversee certain strands of the festival. We work in partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome who programme their mainstage-IDFB shows as part of their performance season. All the other work, from the free outdoor performances to ticketed shows in The Patrick Centre are programmed by DanceXchange, or the participating venues. We have a team of volunteers during the festival, many come back festival after festival, and a few are now working full-time at DanceXchange. That’s one of the many great legacies of the festival. Artists and IDFB staff come to Birmingham just for the festival – and many stay and now call it home.

There’s no denying it’s a mammoth task to present IDFB every two years, but with the experience of four festivals now behind us, and the continued support of Arts Council England and Birmingham City Council, we’re back again in 2016. We’re almost one week in and the first of 250 artists from 17 countries have arrived in Birmingham. They will perform over 15 dance styles in 39 free outdoor events and 37 ticketed theatre performances over the course of the festival. It’s when we welcome the artists to the city, and start to see them perform, that the years of preparation, and a few sleepless nights, start to pay off!

Corey Baker Dance presents <I>Phone Box</I> across Birmingham's city centre during IDFB 2016. © Dani Bower. (Click image for larger version)
Corey Baker Dance presents Phone Box across Birmingham’s city centre during IDFB 2016. © Dani Bower. (Click image for larger version)

Lots of new initiatives but perhaps the biggest thing that jumped out at us this year is the big emphasis on free events in the centre of Birmingham (11-14 May) – seems unique in scale, do tell more…

There’s many free events throughout the entire festival, but LIVE NIGHTS in Centenary Square from 11 – 14 May offers the opportunity to enjoy the complete festival experience in one place, in one evening – a taste of Birmingham at its best. With LIVE NIGHTS we invite visitors to watch a spectacular programme of free performances, while enjoying Birmingham’s very own multi award-winning Digbeth Dining Club experience, offering the best locally sourced street food in the heart of the city. The evening will include a bespoke bar and a special menu from restaurant Marmalade, based in Birmingham Repertory Theatre. During LIVE NIGHTS we want Centenary Square buzzing with events in the surrounding venues and on the main outdoor stage, built near to the iconic Library of Birmingham. Brand new productions; Phone Box by Corey Baker Dance; RIDE by ZoieLogic Dance Theatre; Cubes by myself and Tamsin Fitzgerald of 2FacedDance; have all been made in the city and will be performed before IDFB 2016’s main production, The Machine Show, bringing outstanding international artists together in an epic dance and circus production headlined by rock band rinôçérôse. The Machine Show is themed around the interplay between man and machine, backed by incredible live music. I’ve worked with choreographer Rosie Kay, one of DanceXchange’s associate artists and a recent winner at the National Dance Awards, to see The Machine Show’s vision come to life. Very close to The Machine Show stage is the Festival Hub – an exciting new addition to the festival for 2016. Situated in the landmark Municipal Bank Building on Broad Street, the Festival Hub will be the place to go for all things IDFB – information about shows and events, buying tickets, chilling out with a coffee and soaking up the festival atmosphere, enjoying workshops and interacting with the beautiful, reflective kinetic sculptures, Cosmic Birds by Japanese artist, Shun Ito.

Hofesh Shechter Company in <I>Political Mother</I>.<br />© Victor Frankowski. (Click image for larger version)
Hofesh Shechter Company in Political Mother.
© Victor Frankowski. (Click image for larger version)

What is the ultimate aim for IDFB – to be a great dance celebration for Birmingham and/or to be a national and international destination to see major dance (perhaps like the Edinburgh Festival was in the 90’s)?

Both! The festival is a celebration of the city and reminds visitors and investors of Birmingham’s rich dance and cultural offerings. It highlights the city’s skill in staging an award winning festival. IDFB is just one of many Birmingham festivals each year that celebrates our rich arts scene – from theatre to film, from visual arts to music- it’s all here in abundance in Birmingham. In recent years the city has been through a lot of exciting redevelopment. Investment continues and as the refurbished New Street Station and Library of Birmingham put Birmingham on the map, I hope IDFB continues to turn more heads towards our great city. I moved to Birmingham in 1999 to become DanceXchange’s CEO and artistic director, and I’m very proud to call the city ‘home’.

What is your own biggest dance wish?

I’d like dance to keep pushing boundaries, to take risks so it remains exciting and fresh. Birmingham has a young population, one of the youngest in Europe, and without this forward-thinking attitude to engage and excite, where’s our audiences of the future? I’d like schools to keep investing or re-invest in their arts programmes. I’d like to see more young people and students engaging in dance – let’s hope IDFB encourages that- even if someone walks by a free pop-up performance, stops and thinks ‘I’d like to see more of this type of work’, then we’ve done our job. Without opportunities to learn dance in schools, where’s our future talent, and without talent where’s IDFB for generations to come. IDFB has become the city’s ‘signature’ festival – and with continued investment in dance and dance training, may it continue to signify the City of Birmingham for many years to come.

David Massingham.© John Snowdon. (Click image for larger version)
David Massingham.
© John Snowdon. (Click image for larger version)

For International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016 full programme details click here

The Festival APP is available to download now by searching for IDFB in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.

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