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Animated Edition - Winter 2006
Still burning bright
This year Ludus Dance Company celebrate thirty years of work that has led them from their home base in Lancaster, across the UK and to every continent spreading their distinctive vision for dance and the importance of dance and dance performance as a vital tool for learning in schools and the community. Here Jane Scott-Barrett, the recently appointed Director of the company reflects on that journey and reveals how Ludus continues to make a real contribution to the wider dance ecology.
Hello Animated readers. I have been asked to contribute an article because Ludus has a performing company whose work includes participation, and we celebrate our 30th birthday this year. I have been asked to explain to you - the scope and distinctiveness of Ludus' work; issues and achievements.

I have 1,500 words and so can only give a select account of Ludus' work. There's lots more information on our website

Ludus Dance is based in Lancaster in the North West of England and is housed in an eighteenth century ballroom. Ludus aims to promote dance as a positive social force and is organised into two departments. The Dance Development Department develops dance, in all its myriad and wonderful forms, in and beyond the County of Lancashire. The Touring Company makes dance residencies comprising professional performances, workshops and support materials, primarily for schools. These residencies tour nationally. This work has wider applications, for example the performances are often booked by theatres and promoted as suitable for first time dance audiences. Ludus is receiving increased international interest and is developing its work in training of dance artists and those who receive their work - this applies to the work of both departments.

There are around 15 members of staff, some of whom are part time, so we have about the equivalent of 11 full time members. Ludus employs a further pool of staff on a casual basis and increasingly brokers work for freelance dance practitioners. Around 20,000 people participate in the work of the Dance Development Department each year. Annually around the same number of people participate in the work of The Touring Company and a further 30,000 or so will see the performances. So I hope the above gives you some idea of the scope of our work.

Ludus is a non-profit organisation, a company limited by guarantee and a co-operative. The co-operative structure means that each company member holds a share in the company and a place on The Board. There is a management structure - one manager oversees the Dance Development Department, another The Touring Company and another Finance and Administration. Within these departments and areas there are dance artists and administrative staff. The Board has the final say on all overarching decisions and the Director is answerable to The Board. Because all staff, including the dance artists and administrative staff, are Board members, there is a very different set of relationships between staff than would be fostered by a hierarchical structure. One of the strengths of this structure is that Ludus is never far away from the experiences of the staff working at grass roots level, or the communities we serve, when we make decisions. The structure also seems to generate particularly high levels of involvement and motivation from staff. I suspect the co-operative constitution has helped Ludus survive and thrive.

Another distinctive element of Ludus' work is that we make professional performance for a specific audience (schools and first time dance audiences). This includes the following approaches, methods and aesthetics.

The communities we serve are at the heart of what we do and so we consult with Ludus staff and our audience (a selection of young people and teachers) throughout the process of making the work - from the development of initial ideas to showing work in progress to reworking the show after six months on the road: and we involve experts in the subjects we are dealing with.

We have a commitment to dealing with potentially difficult issues. Recent residencies have explored child slave labour, conflict resolution and teenage pregnancy. The current residency entitled Perfecting Eugene conveys factual information on human genetics and explores associated ethics.

When making the performance we try to be mindful of, and remove, barriers that our audience may face in relation to watching Contemporary Dance. For example, we ensure the piece has a clear beginning and ending; we mix other media for cross referencing so that if someone is unsure as to the meaning they may find other clues in the acting, film and music. In support of this we promote a very direct performance style. We employ popular cultural references that may be more easily read and encourage a sense of familiarity. These forms can also help encourage active participation from the audience and validate the audience's cultural experiences. We begin by portraying conventional accounts of the subject matter, moving to more challenging views as the performance progresses. When dealing with sensitive subject matter, we bring the audience back to a 'safe place' before the end of the show. When the ethical position of the subject matter is ambiguous or debatable we offer up a range of opinions for discussion ensuring the work is non-judgemental. We link the politics of every day experiences e.g. the pressure to conform to standards of fashion, to wider political and social processes e.g. the monetary gains from the fashion industry. We actively pursue valid opportunities to present spectacle and virtuosity. We keep scenes short and the overall performance succinct. We make the whole thing fun and enjoyable while, at the same time, dealing with serious subject matter.

The workshops that accompany the dance performance explore the themes of the show and thus offer opportunities to learn to dance, learn to appreciate dance, learn about dance, and learn through dance. Previous to the National Curriculum, a place for dance in education was fought for on the basis of all of these areas. As dance has become a subject within the curriculum it is now possible to focus work on the first three areas. Ludus has sustained a commitment to work which includes learning through dance. We aim to be clear and systematic about the way our work engages with the broader curriculum. For example, we state explicitly (in publicity and support materials) for Perfecting Eugene, how the residency addresses the science and PHSE (personal social health education) curricula.

We are increasing our work as trainers and our role in brokering work for freelancers. In the coming years it seems we will need to consider the impact of these conditions and work patterns on the co-operative structure of the company in order to find ways to extend the boundaries of shared ownership to casual and/or semi-permanent staff without destabilising the company.

One of the difficulties Ludus faces is finding appropriate critical interest in our performance work from the UK dance community. The social benefits of participation are well articulated, but the social benefits of professional performance seem to get lost somewhere in the debate. This is despite the fact that most of the significant artists we have all studied were/are deeply driven by achieving social benefits through their work and, therefore, conceive this as a vital and vitalizing force in the development of creative visions and processes. Performance contributes to our society on many levels. For example, it offers an opportunity for 'ideological transaction' (exchange of ideas, values for life etc) and anthropologist Victor Turner (in Kershaw 1992) identifies performance as offering opportunity to 'be' and 'not be' at the same time, thus allowing a safe place to rehearse new possible identities and directions.

I wonder whether the absence of critical interest is because there is an emphasis at present on valuing work because it is 'revolutionary', leaving other potential values under explored? It takes a certain degree of arts education and experience to appreciate that conventions are being broken, and so this would be an entirely inappropriate focus for a company dedicated to making work for first time dance audiences. Mind you, in developing work that offers social benefits to our audience, Ludus is constantly innovating, so maybe we innovate in a way that is beyond current concepts of what innovation is? Hey ho, I'd like to see if there was a way of opening up this debate further and finding out what you think.

Ludus is Britain's longest established and most innovative dance-in-education company and was founded in 1975 by a group of visionary teachers and artists. They saw that dance could contribute to educating young people to imagine, create and debate. It was vital to these founders that Ludus work co-operatively so that the voices of those who are normally marginalised in hierarchical structures could ring out loud and clear in all that the company does. These are radical and adventurous visions and the company attracts politically aware and pioneering staff. For example, past members include Penny Greenland (MBE), Anthony Peppiatt, Wendy Houstoun and Deb Barnard (MBE) to name but a very few. I think these ambitions continue to burn bright at Ludus in the hands of highly committed, energetic and visionary staff - and that all the other (numerous) achievements of Ludus flow from this.

Perfecting Eugene is sold out. The next residency, TRAPPED, is available for touring from September 2006 and will focus on empowerment through developing emotional and political literacy's. Rosie Kay will be the choreographer. The next training course for dance artists wishing to work in education (Step Ahead) will run 5, 6 and 7 May 2006. Ludus has a strategic youth dance provision which achieves County coverage and progression routes to the Ludus Youth Dance Company. Ludus has been selected to host one of the Youth Dance England Regional Co-coordinator posts. We are also looking for a new Head of Dance Development. For more information visit

Kershaw, Baz (1992), The politics of performance: radical theatre as cultural intervention, London: Routledge

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Animated: Winter 2006