Feature: Bursting With Ideas - the Dance Enterprise Summit

Thursday 31 March 2016 by Donald Hutera

East London Dance Enterprise Ideas Summit, 21 March 2016. Photo: Jeremy Freedman

East London Dance’s Dance Enterprise Summit took place on Monday 21 March. Donald Hutera reports…

How to encapsulate the Dance Enterprise Ideas Summit? Held at East London Dance’s home base in Stratford Circus Arts Centre on 21 March, and skilfully co-hosted by the whip-cracking creative sector stalwarts Anamaria Wills and Jeanefer Jean-Charles, this was a rich and rewarding all-day event – rich in ideas and, for eight of the 23 applicants making pitches for bursaries – financially rewarding as well.

In essence, the Summit provided a diverse, practical and people-oriented means of networking while also flagging up ‘Olympicopolis’ and the post-2012 legacy plans that will shift London’s – and undoubtedly, to some degree, the nation’s – cultural focus towards the east side of town. Following a warm welcome from ELD director Polly Risbridger, and short, enthusiasm-generating introductory speeches from Arts Council England area director Joyce Wilson and Adriana Marquez, head of arts and culture at Foundation for FutureLondon, the first strand of the day was launched by Rachel Kay, founder of Creation Box London; Tim Joss, chief executive of the socially-slanted arts organisation Aesop; and Nikhil Shah (co-founder of the online music streaming service Mixcloud).

Initially World Café, as it was called, comprised brief talks from these three creative entrepreneurs, each of whom peppered their words with insights born from direct experience. Kay, an inspring speaker, explained that her Waterloo-based studio is a place for artists of all stripes ‘to get vulnerable and messy and find a human and artistic voice.’ Her shared wisdom was to dedicatedly follow your dreams but ‘let go of expectations.’ Joss was full of information about the health sector’s view of the arts, which he summarised as ‘nice to have but fluff’. This attitude, he indicated, could change but in order for that to happen artists ought to take care that their goals are to create cost-effective, evidence-based high-quality and long-term programmes, rather than one-off events, that also have the potential to grow onto a national scale. ‘You’ve always got to keep pushing,’ Joss advised, ‘and reflecting where you’ve got to.’ For his part, Shah enumerated how his varied working background (as, among other roles, statistician, DJ, language teacher and branding expert) led him to start Mixcloud seven years ago. Plainly a man of many parts, Shah reinforced the need for artists to ‘know their numbers’ as business people. As he neatly put it, ‘You should be equally comfortable in Excel as you are in your dancing shoes.’

Summit attendees sat at various numbered tables, each of which was visited in turn by two or three specialists in their fields in what amounted to a kind of whistle-stop tour. Joss and Stephen Bediako, of Social Innovation Partnership, elaborated upon the topic of the arts as a social enterprise. Shah and Andre Portasio, of ArtsStreamingTV, answered questions about digital innovation, with the latter recommending that artists keep tabs on what others are getting up to in digital terms and consider doing similar when suitable. Kay, accompanied by business models strategist Sarah Thelwall, deems it best to juggle no more than three projects at once, and extols the virtue of ‘finding your steady’ – that which might serve as a constant, particularly monetarily, to keep your goals achievably afloat. Thelwall, meanwhile, suggested turning what in dance terms are usually high-labour assets – ‘Why you get up in the morning’ – into things (sponsorship or partnerships packages, research, product services, education and so on) that can feed back into those same assets.

Veering from the practical to the philosophical, Vicki Igbokwe of Uchenna Dance offered ways to sustain portfolio career. For her it’s most useful to start each working day with three (obviously some kind of magic number) top priorities, while at the same time following a five-year plan. For some, however, that figure could be too long-term. ‘Then where do you want to be in twelve months,’ Igbokwe asked rhetorically, ‘and how will you get there?’ Topping her list of motivational watchwords were passion, purpose, strategy, customer needs, employability, evolution, conversation, and listening. She also underlined the value of making time for stillness and silence.

After swiftly recounting their respective professional backgrounds and current projects, Kate Scanlan (of Scanners Inc.) and fellow independent creative producer Georgina Harper (Popcorn Productions) functioned like a joint fount of hot tips. Scanlan stressed the need to build relationships by attending performances or industry events where you might find others who share your agenda, and who can possibly ‘strengthen your case.’ As she said, ‘You might meet somebody in a lift. Talk to everybody wherever you go!’ Another sound notion, courtesy of Harper, was the delineation of three (that number again!) stages of pitching a creative project to potential partners: the band-before-it-gets-signed, the about-to-explode and the it’s-already-been-piloted-and-here’s why-it-works-and-why-you’d-be-right-to-help-take-it-to-the-next-phase. Scanlan also thinks it important to maintain a give-and-take approach: ‘Know your ask and what you offer back.’ Another valid point from this double-act: ‘Deliver best quality but don’t over-promise.’

East London’s sharing economy and changing cultural landscape was embodied by several people, including keynote speaker Marquez. Sarah Henderson and Stuart Duncan represented the new-to-me and thus highly intriguing marketplace without money Economy of Hours, or Echo, which is (inevitably) three years old and currently serves about three thousand signed members interested in sharing skills. Fleur Derbyshire-Fox is engagement director of English National Ballet, an entity that will eventually relocate to brand-new facilities (with seven studios) in the area and thereby, ideally, become a key and increasingly creatively porous part of its regeneration. But for her, as well as for Jasmine Wilson and Rebecca Marshall of Studio Wayne McGregor, it’s simply too early to know exactly how the organisation’s plans will come to fruition. What the latter duo were able to say is that initially team McGregor envisions a programme in which 25 selected artists, and their dancers, will be offered five weeks of free studio space and in exchange will be matched with local schools, community centres and other partners. At present there’s meant to be no formal application process for this scheme. But, as Marshall said, ‘We’re an artistic organisation, not an institution, and this is a new model. Our hope is that there will be many different ways in.’

After lunch came Swap Shop, a fun if at times frustrating ‘game’ for which participants were encouraged to swap skills or resources that might support our respective artistic or organisational aims. Continuing in this beat-the-clock vein, the Summit then culminated in 23 (whittled down from 89 applications) three-minute pitches for the Dance Enterprise Ideas Fund, with grand total of £25,000 in the balance, plus in-kind support from Hoxton Hall, Studio Wayne McGregor and University of East London. Responding to the pitches with a further two minutes of questions, and ultimately determining how that pot of gold was distributed, was a judging panel comprised of Risbridger, Derbyshire-Fox, Wilson, Jonny Sidall from Redbridge Drama Centre, Carla Trim-Vamben from University of East London (UEL), Hoxton Hall’s Boris Witzenfeld and Eva Martinez from Sadler’s Wells.

The pitching process was revealing and instructive in terms of terms of the varying degrees of confidence levels exhibited, and fascinating in its range of content, with many applicants interested in using dance to explore health or social issues. The eclectic shortlist included Adrienne Hart, Ali Kaviani, Antoine Marc, Cherrie Cheok Leng Lau, Danielle Teale, Hannah Anderson-Ricketts, Lorenza Peragine, Luke Jessop, Nefeli Tsiouti, Rachel Kay, Rebecca Evans, Renaud Wiser, Sean Graham, Sian Meyers and Theo Lowe, all of whom gave it their best shot. In the end, however, the Fund’s chosen eight were:

Anna Buonomo, awarded £2,950 to develop an outdoor promenade performance inspired by the phrase “water under the bridge” with older people from East London. @bulletnb | www.annabuonomo.com

Cindy Claes, awarded £2,425 to film a pilot of a new Dance Backpackers talk show and documentary based on international exchanges between emerging artists.
@dancebackpacker | www.cindyclaes.com

Lee Griffiths, awarded £5,000 to establish with fellow choreographer Joseph Toonga Artists 4 Artists, a network of hip hop-influenced individuals who want to create change within the dance profession initially via a three-day event of discussions, workshops and performances.
LeeNgriff | thecompanytc

Lanre Malaoulu of Protocol Dance Company, awarded £2,260 to create the dance-theatre production I Can’t Breathe, an in-depth look at present-day racism inspired by cases of police brutality towards black men in America and the UK.
@LanreMalaolu | www.Protocoldance.co.uk

Wayne Parsons, awarded £5,000 to develop Vestige, a new dance-theatre work which takes posthumous fame as its starting point and examines how we reconstruct the lives of the dead by looking at what they left behind.
@wp_dance | www.wayneparsonsdance.com

Joanna Rhodes, awarded £985 to research how to roll out her successful dance film project Challenge 59 – an invitation to schools and community groups to create short creative films that inspire young people and their families to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices.

Jade Shaw of Parkour Dance Company, awarded £4,910 to devise Sacred Sons, a parkour-dance project with young men and their families resulting in an outdoor site-specific performance.
@ParkourDance | www.parkourdance.co.uk

Cathy Waller, awarded £1,470 to collaborate with sound engineers, deaf artists, young people with hearing loss and an audiologist to research The Sensory Sound Project, a new innovation to break down access barriers for deaf audiences watching dance.
@CathyWaller | www.cathywaller.com

Here’s to the future of these individual projects, and of East London’s enormous potential as an ever-expanding creative hot-spot.

Photos: Jeremy Freedman

Donald Hutera writes about dance, theatre and performance for The Times and many other publications and websites, curates GOlive, co-founded Chelsea Arts Collective and is a dramaturg and mentor. Twitter: @donaldhutera

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