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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
The Greenhouse Effect - the art and science of nurturing dancemakers
Animated, Spring 1998. The Centre for Dance and Theatre Studies at Bretton Hall, in partnership with Yorkshire Dance have designed a five-stage programme of activity on Choreographic Development including an extensive Audit which intends to establish a coherent picture of the range, scale and diversity of initiatives throughout the UK. Jo Butterworth reports
The Greenhouse Effect is a multifaceted programme focusing on the making, supporting, funding, producing and promoting of all styles of professional dance in the UK in the 1990s, and referring specifically to the development of the choreographer as a reflective practitioner. It asks the questions, how do we train, educate, mentor and support our creative dance artists? What do professional choreographers and independent dance artists need? What networks and models already exist? Are they effective, and at what stage of production do they operate? What formal infrastructures exist for the support and development of creative dance artists in this country, and are they effective and appropriate to need?

The Dance '95 Move into the Future Conference at Bretton Hall asked many questions about dance in relation to the cultural, political and economic situation in the UK. And yet, in common with dance colleagues nationally and internationally, we face more questions that need answers, particularly concerning divisiveness within our national dance infrastructure, and with current hegemonic attitudes which legislate against access, diversity and innovation.

The original concept for this programme of projects was initiated through discussions with John Ashford, Director of The Place Theatre and Theresa Beattie, Director of The Place Dance Services. We recognised the existence of a number of initiatives concerning the training and professional development of the Independent dance artist, and concurrently a radical shift in funding policy. Both place distinctly different demands on the individual dancemaker. Arguably there is a need for further research here, by promoters, producers, academics, teachers and artists alike, and it was thought likely that the quest, content and structure of such a programme would help to promote and enrich the art form.

Contributors too numerous to mention were consulted. Indeed, the success of this programme is essentially reliant on the engagement and commitment of colleagues who are already contributing to the development of the choreographic artist via a number of different models and through a variety of appropriate projects, and equally by those who fund and support them. The growth of dance activity in this country since the mid-60s has been phenomenal, both in terms of performance and in education. More recently there has been a corresponding growth of post-training provision and mentoring schemes, and research and development funds from the Arts Council of England and the Regional Arts Boards to encourage and nurture creative artists. Traditional modes of company support run alongside a new generation of independent artists working outside those systems. It seems timely and of value to attempt a survey of the processes of dance making and choreographic development initiatives, and an identification of models of good practice that can be shared, discussed, evaluated and disseminated. The Choreographic Development Audit intends to establish a coherent picture of the range, scale and diversity of these activities, and to review by sampling.

The field of professional dance making in the UK is a complex network involving individuals who represent dance artists, promoters, teachers, funders and producers. The making of choreography rarely happens in isolation, though traditionally it is conceived as a work which is reliant on the creative endeavour, imagination and craftsmanship of an individual choreographer, one who communicates to a group of dancers in order that they can perform and or interpret his or her work. Today's models are more complex, involving issues of contribution, collaboration and ownership; it is hardly a craft that is learned by osmosis. Since the late 1960s, British dance has chosen to explore its boundaries, challenging techniques, structures, relationships, subject matter and venues, making more elaborate and infinitely more varied the relationships, strategies and processes that may be utilised in the choreographic cycle. At the same time, developments in funding strategies, dance organisations and institutions, theatre organisation and production processes have become more formalised and sometimes more bureaucratic. Nevertheless, all form part of a cultural nexus which circumscribes, challenges and often directly inspires a new choreographic work. It is time to recognise, document and further evaluate strategies and test them, not as formulae but as generic principles.

The Need for Documentation
Writings about choreography are usually about intention or product rather than about process. Choreographers and or their administrators need to be able to describe a new work before it has even started to be created. Funding applications, press releases, publicity material are all created before the dancers have entered the dance studio. After the making process, dance critics, audiences and those who monitor and evaluate completed dance works for producers and funding bodies, see and critique the finished work. Much is known, but little is shared, about the nature of the interactive process in the studio, about the initiatives for professional training and development that have been implemented by various bodies, or about the aims, content, assessment criteria and artistic outcomes of choreography classes in dance institutions and universities all over the UK. There is a need for further documentation, either by the artists themselves or by observers of their processes. (1)

Multiskilling The move from a supportive company environment to Independent artist status means building one's own creative and nurturing processes and sharing practices with other artists. Today, many of our creative dance artists are graduates, multi-skilled and articulate about their intentions and methods, with an ability for self reflection and critical application, yet they need to be just as cognisant of the constraints and limitations of the traditional professional context as those who have been engaged in vocational training. Traditional barriers no longer exist to the same degree, as vocational courses gain degree status, and Higher Education Institutions become instrumental in generating distinctive packages such as Dance Artists in Residence, company residencies and graduate retention and support strategies for young companies. The Greenhouse Effect Programme will ensure that information, models of good practice and documentation of practices and concomitant debates are published and disseminated. We need to investigate a number of questions related to the development of new choreography and it's various modes of support, and to find ways of collecting information, identifying models, sharing and evaluating practice, creating opportunities for performance and for critical discussion and dissemination.

The Choreographic Development Audit Project
In setting up a research project to audit choreographic development initiatives, we aim to:

  • research a sample selection of choreographic development projects nationally

  • collect evidence pertinent to the project

  • evaluate the sample through triangulation, a feature of qualitative research

  • select examples of distinct models demonstrating good practice to share and investigate at the Festival-Conference in September 1998

  • develop a set of principles and issues for Conference discussion.

Each stage of The Greenhouse Effect Programme will be evaluated by the team, supported by individual questionnaire evaluation forms from all participants, observation by monitors, and by a series of written reports, which will be published. Monitors working on the Audit will utilise common criteria for each stage; they will be expected to interview the choreographers by questionnaire, observe the activity (workshop, research and development period, interactive rehearsal, etc.) at more than one stage, and hold discussions with the agency director, mentor or workshop leader as appropriate. Other approaches include formal recorded group feedback, one-to-one questionnaires and or interview sessions, self evaluation (verbally and written; using both free prose and proformas) and assessor evaluation. Criteria for each will cover aims, content, delivery and learning and performance outcomes. Sampling will include examples from:

  • The Choreodrome - Lab Process and Sharing Research Activities: Summer 1997 and 1998
  • Dance Productions Choreographic Research and Training Projects: Easter 1998
  • Centre for Dance and Theatre Studies - Making and Mentoring 2: Spring-Summer 1998
  • European Choreographic Forum - Dartington: Summer 1998
  • DanceXchange Mentoring Programme - Peter Boneham
  • Yorkshire Dance Research and Development, and Residency Projects: Spring-Summer 1998
  • Black Dance Initiative - RABs and Sampad
  • Individual research projects, both formal and informal.

It is estimated that the project will gather information from 70 to 80 choreographers who participated in labs, workshops, projects and mentoring. Of these, approximately 20 will be invited to share practical work in process at the Festival-Conference, while others give presentations and lecture-demonstrations.

The samples chosen will demonstrate a geographical spread of distinct models (research and development, mentoring, labs, workshops, residencies, time and place, opportunities, etc.). Data collection for each model includes such information and documentation as aims and objectives, time scales, marketing, resources (human and physical), intention, content, methodology and philosophy, processes, structure, and outcomes, and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for organisers and participants.

Finally, a selection of exemplars will be identified for sharing and presentation at The Greenhouse Festival-Conference.

Dr Jo Butterworth, School of Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds, Bretton Hall Campus, West Bretton.

1 The author is currently working on a PhD which is concerned with these processes.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001