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Animated Edition - Winter 2006
Emerging in the 21st century
In July 2003 after an exciting 'Creative Ambitions' dance and film project, Oliver Scott established Mercurial Dance; fulfilling an ambition to become an entrepreneur, working in the Arts. The formation of Mercurial Dance draws on his experience in business as an events manager and combines this with his passion for dance and new media. Here he describes the developing programme for this emerging dance company.
The current climate for the Arts is competitive, and one where progression from freelance artist to a thriving organisation holds many challenges. Mercurial Dance has responded to the challenges of the market place by writing a three to five year business plan, laying out a robust framework to support the company's growth over the next five years. The business plan integrates both commercial and public sector projects, developing a broad portfolio of work.

The company was registered as a limited company in January 2004. Mercurial Dance is rapidly developing a reputation for distinctive choreographic and participatory projects using dance, film and new media. Our ambition is that by 2010 Mercurial Dance will be recognised nationally and internationally as a leader in producing innovative dance integrating new media technology.

Mercurial Dance initiates and runs performance, educational and participatory projects for differing venues and contexts. The company has been working throughout the wider Midlands area for over two years. Dancers have worked as far a field as Chester in the North and Weymouth in the south. Much of the current company work is community based; with a focus on exciting participatory projects that reflect 21st century technological and artistic interests.

The range of our work
Mercurial Dance believes that dance is for everybody; no matter what age or experience. We have run choreographic projects and workshops for every educational year group (Early Years to University Degree courses, as well as projects for specific social groups such as young offenders, special needs and 'looked after' children).

The Artistic Director, Oliver Scott, has an infectious enthusiasm for dance and maintains that the benefits can be shared with anyone. 'We think we are unusual as a young company to undertake the enormous amount of educational work with such variety and diversity'.

Part of the dynamic nature of the company's work depends on the creativity of participants. Much of the work focuses on exploring and expressing young people's ideas, helping shape them into stunning performances. Our approach to dance is inclusive, nurturing; developing skills and abilities through company projects; challenging when necessary but keeping it lively and fun. Individuals are encouraged to participate enthusiastically and feel good about themselves and their abilities. Dance, where imagination becomes physical, is inspirational.

Many of our dance projects are described as 'new and innovative'. Some aspect may have been worked on by others but we seek to take it one step further; by incorporating a different aspect or media technology. Technological boundaries move all the time and this is reflected in the teaching or performance projects.

'Transitions: Moving On 2004' was a summer term arts week project for Year 6 pupils at Frederick Bird Primary School in Coventry, a distinctive school which has pupils from 35 different nationalities. At the time of the project the building was undergoing a major restructuring whilst the school was still working. The concept behind the project was to bring many locations around school into one room through the use of film. The pupils created dances for these environments and filmed themselves using digital cameras. Their images were manipulated around the space using Isadora® software; their films were then projected as part of a live performance that incorporated dance and text.

Forming partnerships
The development of partnerships within the creative process is a vital part of the company's success to date. Our partnership with Frederick Bird School has developed from the Transitions project and made the school a significant partner. A curriculum dance project with Year four pupils, a boys dance project and a four minute film Reach which stars all the pupils and staff. Reach was created for the official school re-opening by the Secretary of State for Education, Ruth Kelly. These projects will complete the first stages of work. The second stage will include an action research project; a technology based project where pupils will learn how to use the Isadora® software for themselves as part of a creative process. It will explore the development of movement through the realtime interactive capabilities of the software.

Frederick Bird Primary School's unique educational perspective and their focus on technology makes for a stimulating partnership with Mercurial Dance. All classrooms now have an interactive whiteboard and a Sound Field System® and there is an extensive ICT suite. The exploration of 'physical language' with new media and projects where achievement is rapid and dependant on physical participation creates a vibrant atmosphere. Teachers consistently comment on how the learning opportunities created encourage under-achieving children.

Diversifying our portfolio
Diversity in the portfolio of work has included working with a group of young offenders. Drawing on the three performance disciplines of dance theatre and Hip Hop music, to create a contemporary musical. The project was conceived and managed by Spectacle Arts in Nottingham. The company approached Mercurial Dance early on in the proposal development stage, having heard of our work on the Reconnect Dance Film Project with 'Looked After' Young Adults from Nottingham. A sharing of ideas and best practice at this stage was crucial in creating foundations for a successful project for the young people. The Mercurial Dance team was placed by Spectacle Arts with theatre director, Nikki Kay and rap artist Llewellyn Herbert. The Hiphopera was performed in the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham. This venue was selected by the young people as linking with the themes they put forward for the show.

21st century arts organisations
Companies are urged by the Arts Council of England to 'Thrive, not just survive'. We are a thriving company, rapidly expanding, driven by our passion for what we do. At Mercurial Dance we have averaged about two weeks in any financial year being funded directly to the company by ACE. With the company's focus on youth and education work the other 50 weeks are packed with projects and commissions. Our work comes from a combination of projects created and fundraised for by the company, together with commissions by arts organisations such as Warwick Arts Centre, a Local Education Authority, school or individual. We are always keen to explore new ideas, commissions or ways we can bring our distinctive style to an established project.

The Future
Projects this spring include the action research project at Frederick Bird, funded by the Rag Doll Foundation. We have also secured funding from First Light to devise a dance film with a group of young adults. In development the company is establishing a large scale dance and film project. Involving both participatory and professional elements it will culminate in a proposed gallery installation. We look forward to writing about this project once funding has been secured. There are also plans being laid for the company's first touring professional show for theatres. This will be accompanied by a distinctive educational package.

Our current attitude taken (following business planning) is that it is simply not viable to plan for or survive on funding from the Arts Council. We aim to keep our projects smaller and funded by one or two agencies such as charities concerned with social enterprise or learning. For example with the First Light project Power and Passion, we conceived the project with the Extended Learning team at the LEA. By meeting their aims Extended Learning were able to contribute financially and with in-kind support to the project.

Enthusiasm and determination create chances for new work. As a mechanism for support and growth we are constantly exploring a variety of ways to fulfill the company's ambitions and achieve our goals. In short our work demands of us to be entrepreneurial, diverse, dynamic and adaptable in order to remain at the cutting edge.

Oliver Scott is Artistic Director of Mercurial Dance contact oliverscott@mercurialdance.co.uk / visit www.mercurialdance.co.uk

Isadora® is a graphic programming environment for Macintosh that provides interactive control over digital media, with special emphasis on the real-time manipulation of digital video. Because every performance or installation is unique, Isadora was designed not to be a 'plug and play' program, but instead offers building blocks that can be linked together in an almost unlimited number of ways, allowing you to follow your artistic impulse. www.troikatronics.com

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Animated: Winter 2006