Diane Parkes talks to Lucie Mirkova, Head of Artistic Programmes at Birmingham’s DanceXchange, about their forward thinking new approaches to artist development including linking with others across the UK to do much better for rising star creatives…
“What is the future for artists’ development?” asks Lucie Mirkova, Head of Artistic Programmes at Birmingham’s DanceXchange (dx).
“In challenging times with less resources and increasing requests for support from a growing number of dance artists, we have had to ask ourselves whether our existing artistic development programme is still relevant.”
Where once a single Associate Artist scheme was deemed sufficient, Lucie believes new models are needed to develop the artform and grow the dance sector. This summer dx is launching a new artists’ development strategy designed to ensure the city becomes a leading hub for innovative ideas. The ambitious plans will tackle the issue of how to support increasing numbers of choreographers engaging with dx with differing levels of experience.
For dx their Associate Artist scheme has largely supported a small number of choreographers over a long period of time to create productions – but Lucie believes this risks many other artists not having the opportunity to benefit from the support the agency can offer. “Put simply we had to ask ourselves how do we create opportunities for more artists, how do we create opportunities which are more meaningful, and how do we create more impact on artist development?”
“In addition, as an agency concerned with the development of dance as a contemporary art form with the main objectives of talent, audience and business development, we had to look at how our programmes address these issues and marry with artists’ needs.”
The first step in dx’s new programme is the Choreography Award, which in its new format was re-launched in autumn 2018, with the first group of five dancers starting last March. The programme has been designed for artists at an early stage in their choreographic career, with some successful professional choreographic experience and an ambition to grow and further develop their practice.
“The artists have an opportunity to work with us for a year, with four weeks of studio space scheduled as required. But it’s about a lot more than just providing space – we are looking at how we engage these artists in our other work, involve them in debate and discussion and help open engagement with other choreographers in the West Midlands and elsewhere in the country.
“For example, the artists we have appointed, Dan Daw, Fernanda Munoz-Newsome, Genevieve Say, Jamaal Burkmar, and Victor Fung, have a very diverse practice which resonates with our artistic policy and we are anticipating that their work will feature in our public or discursive programmes. For those who are new to the region we are keen to see how they might integrate with the local dance and arts sector.”
The Choreography Award has also led directly to a new collaboration between DanceXchange, Northern School of Contemporary Dance and The Place to create a touring triangle for talented artists with the potential to create innovative good quality work who have not yet established their national touring circle.
“We choose one artist from each centre and either commission a new work or develop an existing work to create a performance staged by all three venues. In February 2019 we presented Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso in The Patrick Studio in Birmingham, and we are in conversation with the third artist, company 70/30 Split from Leeds, to present their work in 2020. It’s a very exciting project. It means we are taking some risk in our public performance programme, however we need to – if a specialised dance house like ours won’t, then who will?”
With the Choreography Award beginning to show results, dx is now building on the project’s success to provide development opportunities for artists whose levels of experience lie either side of its parameters.
Lucie explains: “We have so many enquiries requesting support from students after graduation, from those who have been through our Centre for Advanced Training Scheme, as well as from more established dancers who now want to develop their choreographic practice.
“In response, we have created Choreolab which will see three very early stage artists being offered a two-week facilitated residency and mentoring by an established artist, which will be Lea Anderson for our first edition in January 2020. All three artists will be in residence at the same time, creating a community with space for dialogue, learning and reflection, and the opportunity to share their work. Applications will be invited this summer with the artists joining Choreolab in January 2020. Places will be offered nationally, with priority given to Midlands-based artists.”
Looking ahead, dx will also continue to develop its support for choreographers who are further advanced in their careers.
“We’ve decided to replace our Associate Artists scheme with a new programme ‘Artists in Residence’,” says Lucie. “Aimed at artists who are successfully established in their career but need support to take a larger step, we plan to offer four or five residencies for up to 18 months. During that time, these artists will have up to six weeks of studio space, production space at our venue and mentoring from the team members. They will also receive financial support for each week of their residency.”
For this, dx will be looking further afield, at artists based regionally, nationally and internationally, who have the potential to be programmed within its performance programmes and the dx-produced Birmingham International Dance Festival.
“Key to the new programme’s success will be the exchange of ideas and opportunity for discourse between all of the Artists on the three programmes and the region’s wider dance community. Our artistic policy is committed to engaging with artists who have new ideas, and whose work is choreographically driven, ambitious and inspiring. We are particularly interested in artists who are questioning the boundaries of dance perspective, and bringing new, unique and diverse voices to dance and who may be looking to take established dance styles into new areas,” says Lucie.
Lucie and the team at DanceXchange believe this new three-tiered approach to artist development will bring huge benefits to choreographers, artists and audiences in Birmingham and beyond. They envisage some artists moving through all three stages over the coming years with increased links across dance communities.
“Nationally and internationally we hope that we can create more collaborative projects such as our project with Northern School and The Place, working to create opportunities across the dance industry instead of artists developing ideas in isolation. It’s about making sure we are a meaningful support programme for the development of exciting choreographic talent and creating new opportunities for engagement.”
“We hope this integrated approach will result in more artists working in Birmingham, with a diverse breadth of practice,” says Lucie, “developing the critical mass for dance and ensuring Birmingham is a vibrant, international centre for dance.