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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Continuing to investigate our voice
Animated, Autumn 1999. Fiona Millward talks about Zone 3 - a revolutionary approach to the long-term development of the independent dance sector
Before I begin I feel it only fair to warn you that in this article you may experience a sense of 'gushing'. Not cool I know. Definitely disconcerting or incongruous within the context of the dance world, and our seemingly endless battle as artists to fulfil our right to be just that - working artists.

That said - I have packed the cynic in me a lunch of niggles to keep it going, and sent it off to contentedly munch the afternoon away. Let the ceasefire begin - Zone 3 awards are go!

Zone 3 is a season of both commissioned works and research awards for independent artists who are not in receipt of regular funding, but who are no longer classified as new choreographers. The brain-child of Louis Hawkins, director of Jacksons Lane Theatre, it is a direct response to repeated conversations with choreographers and their concerns regarding the subject of what we could term as the 'no-man's-land' of dance - that barren space which lies between new choreographer awards or platform evenings - and The Arts Council of England/London Arts Board, revenue or project funding, or seasons, which cater mainly for the more established artist.

So, what are the valuable and unique properties of this award?
Firstly, the application process. Something that myself, and I am sure many artists, dread. Trying to define what the end result of our rehearsals will be before we have even entered the studio - although useful as a writing exercise and important in terms of specifying the subject matter - can potentially stultify the very idea of process oriented work.

To explore, to discover, to be spontaneous and creative; to be alive to the possibilities that begin to spark in front of your eyes, and more importantly, to let the process in combination with those involved, define what the work becomes - not a prediction created some time before. Hawkins has recognised and respected this, and the application process has been shaped accordingly. All it requires is a brief description of your artistic vision and a proposal of what you would like to use the commission to explore.

It is a simple concept and recognises that we are working towards becoming good choreographers, not necessarily administrators, and that we often do not have the luxury of administrative support. By dedicating his time to fundraising and arguing the importance of an initiative such as this, he in effect preserves the few resources artists have access to. Instead of us becoming consummate at writing applications and articulating what we hope to do, it allows its to concentrate on the task at hand - of gaining experience as artists and becoming articulate, expressive and accomplished in the studio and ultimately in our work.

From my experience of the Chisenhale Research Award and Zone 3, both seem to offer something priceless - the freedom of choice. Principally, the choice to utilise our time and money as we see fit on whatever our chosen form of investigation may be. It is also about trust. Trusting not only that we will undertake the project and utilise the facilities offered to the best of our ability; but endorsing the notion that research is a worthwhile investment, no matter how seemingly insignificant or copious the results may be. At the end of the project, the recipients of the Research Award are asked to write a brief synopsis of the work undertaken; aside from that, there is no need for a budget and definitely no need for justification.

So, what are these awards?
The Production Awards are supplemented by three to four weeks of free rehearsal space; three performances; publicity cards for your piece; technical support; theatre time and a percentage of the box-office. Whilst the Research Awards are supplemented by free rehearsal space; money to pay an artist of your choice to attend rehearsals and give feedback, and a year within which to fulfil your research. Once you have chosen your performance dates it is up to you. There is as little or as much input as you desire.

Who exactly are these awards for?
From my understanding, the vision of Zone 3 is to be able to facilitate the growth and subsequent development of artists who form the majority of the independent dance sector - which of course incorporates a diverse range of styles. Those artists who are obviously committed after years of active involvement in this sector, but who are not in receipt of regular funding and over time have continued to make work in alternative ways.

They may have family or work commitments prohibitive to constant touring and/or residencies; they may concentrate on site-specific work, or work that it is technically not possible to tour; they may simply choose to not 'do the rounds' of funding; or have found that, for whatever reason, funding is not an option.

So, what happens then?
How do we continue to progress in a steady, integral way and to achieve our fullest potential as artists? By continuing to make work obviously, but what happens when we fall-off 'the shelf of new choreographers' and are intent on continuing to investigate our voice? The new format of London Arts Board's Dance Fund is aiming to address this issue, but there are only so many artists that they can support. To enable more artists to have a chance to continue making work, one of the things we can do is to recognise, support and encourage more initiatives like Zone 3. It is a perfect complement to the plethora of inspired initiatives organised for new choreographers such as Resolution!, Mosaics, Cross Currents, Factory Firsts, The Association of Dance of the African Diaspora and Morley College Platforms, to the more established programmes by venues or festivals such as The Place Theatre (Spring Loaded), Dance Umbrella, the South Bank Centre, Greenwich and Docklands International Festival and Laban Centre London; and aims to bridge the gap between the two extremes. Sharing a programmed evening with other artists engaged in the same process sharpens the focus and level of performance and provides a much needed step away from platform situations.

So, what were the results or outcomes of this award?
Ten Production Awards were given to Clare Baker, Mayuri Boonham, Andrew Fifield, Hanna Gillgren, Fiona Millward, Colin Poole, Gary Rowe, Nic Sandiland, Tardis Dance and Athina Vahla; and four Research Awards made to Ruth Gibson, Sean King, Sally O'Donnell and Kate Willis. All have been making work regularly, but are not necessarily 'revenue' clients, and reflect the diversity of the independent dance sector. Whatever your personal taste, the performance season of shared evenings highlighted an eclectic and exciting range of choreography reflecting individual choreographic voices. It offered audiences a chance to see work that had been developed through sustained investigation and with integrity.

We have all witnessed the burn-out of artists, of their being pushed too quickly or driving themselves to continue producing. After all, we are only human, we see something of quality and we want to continue seeing more of it; but we also know that it can be counter-productive for those on the receiving end of too much attention too fast. If the emphasis is placed on the research the process during rehearsal through initiatives such as Zone 3, it stands to reason that this facilitates the long-term development of the independent dance sector and the quality of work produced.

For myself, side by side with any award, comes a self-imposed pressure - responsibility of having to 'come up with the goods' and prove I am worth the investment'. This is by no means the funders fault, but is an intrinsic response. Although performances naturally add a pressure for that elusive perfection of a piece - the role of Zone 3 is more to saturate us with research time, enable feedback during our investigations and draw together in one season a range of artists working towards a distinct declaration of individuality within their work. The Production Award not only gave me a boost by confirming and recognising the processes I utilise, it also helped to dilute the pressure of making and showing work. With the size of the grants being modest - the Production Award ranged between £750 and £1000 and each Research Award was £250, Hawkins was well aware that he was not programming a season of 'glossy', highly produced works (this is not saying works of low quality). I therefore felt more able to take responsibility for creating the piece - with less of the stupefying anticipation of negative or positive reactions.

I enjoy the balance between all the areas of my work, and choreography forms a vital role in my life. However, I am aware that although I have very clear ideas about the work that I wish to present on-stage, I am still refining what my processes are that will lead me to find that same clarity in my work. That comes from experience I am sure. It also comes from the willingness of a venue such as Jacksons Lane to take risks and have the foresight, determination and belief to invest in the nurturing of individual processes; and not necessarily the buying into of a product.

If you are an artist who no longer considers yourself a new choreographer, this provides an incredible opportunity to take that next step... so, go ahead, put the cynic aside, and quell that sigh at the thought of yet another application. After all, it will not take you long, and as the saying goes: 'This one's for you'.

Fiona Millward, independent dance artist. Contact Fiona.Millward@btinternet.com

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001