by Martin French

Michelle Silby is the Project Leader for the Tees Dance Initiative a production and education company based in the Teesside Region of the North of England. TDI are currently developing their new touring programme "I" for later in the year.

Do you think that TDI is the new model for dance companies to adopt across the country?

I think actually that TDI is a really unique model which is currently not done in any other part of England or the rest of the UK as far as I am aware. I think this way of working in partnership between councils and dance agencies with the support of Regional Arts Boards, like we have with the support of Northern Arts is a really good model to base it on. The fact that we get to employ a team of specialist dance artists means we can bring greater benefit to our area. We have been able to provide performances, educational projects and huge community productions. So I think it is a really good model.

I certainly think that it is the way forwards for companies our size in this region. From our past experience of working primarily across the Tees Valley and now spreading further into the rest of the Northern Region. It seems to have been a really good basis from which to work. A good balance between creative input and inspiration to the artists and teachers and students who are making work. Balanced with learning from that and being able to input those things into your education work. Working with young people is always refreshing.

Would you like to see TDI expand or does the company work best the way it is at present?

I would love to see TDI expand slightly. Sometimes we are constricted by financial and funding issues which do not allow us to fulfil our true potential. In terms of demand from the region and the people we have worked with I would like to see TDI expand to a company of 4 – 6 dancers, a full time education worker, a youth worker, and a full time administrator

Do you personally have any aspirations to create your own work?

Yes and no! At present, because we are a small company, there are four full time people and 2 part time people and I have to cover a lot of roles. At present I don’t have enough time to create as much as I would like. However, in the past, working with youth and community groups and directing Middlesbrough’s “Day in the Dome” project, have shown me that I absolutely love to create. I think if we have the opportunity to become more secure financially as a company I would like to take more time to create work.

Does that include making work on the company?

At the moment I don’t feel that I have the headspace to do that and I’m not sure how good a piece would come from me to be honest. But it a key thing for me to develop the people that are in the company. At the moment we are supporting Geoff Hopson not only as a dancer but as a choreographer. He made a piece for our last dance tour “Dance Shorts” and he will be making a piece for our new tour called “I”. Geoff is a very talented creator and I feel he deserves to be given those opportunities.

What are the best and the worst things about your job?

The worst part is carrying out a project which has been fantastically successful but then you can’t continue it because it is the end of the project and there is no more money to continue it. Sometimes there is money but it is given at the last minute so you can’t plan effectively, you can’t make the most of your opportunities. There are also not enough people in the region with the skills needed to deliver all the work there is.

In Teesside there is a huge demand for dance and the arts and lots of talented people who given the opportunity to take part in a class or workshop would do so. But we simply do not have enough artists. Even when they come out of college, because there is not a big enough support mechanism for those artists they do not stay in the region. TDI are interesting in developing a training and retaining programme.

I think it will need a lot of backing from regeneration agencies or government bodies. We could, perhaps, develop an apprenticeship scheme so when you leave college the gap between graduating and becoming a professional is nurtured.

The best ranges things in my job come from seeing a child who has no confidence and thinking they are not going to be any good, progress to having lots of confidence and walking on stage with pride and seeing them delight in their own achievements.

Are the biggest obstacles facing TDS, political, financial or artistic?

I would say they are all three but to varying degrees and it is always changing. From an artistic point of view I would say that we have lots of good ideas that are relevant to us as artists and relevant to people we work with. However, sometimes the climate is not right to do that politically and financially.

Where do you see TDI in the next three years?

An expanded company as I mentioned earlier and a more secure, regularly funded company so that we can deliver our skills and services to people at a lower cost. Artistically I would like to see us produce a regular touring programme each year and taken out into the region and nationally. I think it is important that we bring recognition back to this region and in order to do that you need to take it out there in the first place so people can see the work that you’re doing. I would also really like to develop our training programmes for teachers and artists in the region.

Do you think the newly proposed dance company for the Northern Region will impact on TDI to a significant degree and do you think TDI should be that new company?

I not sure that we should be that new company. I think we already are a nationally recognised model of good practice and I would hope that the new company would have a positive impact if it is a separate thing. It is really important that there is some form of cohesion with arts practitioners in the region so we can learn, share and develop together. The worst thing is to feel that you are isolated and the only ones doing something in a particular area. It would be great to have more practitioners or a company supported in the area and I hope it will not be to the detriment of people who are already working here.

If TDI could only work with one choreographer who would that be?

That is a really difficult question. I think all the dancers would have completely different views but my personal preference would be Noa Wertheim or Vertigo dance Company in Israel. I personally love her work. It’s a combination of dynamic, explosive dance coupled with beautiful aesthetics and a really good use of technology; technology that doesn’t drown out the dancing. So for me at the moment I am very keen to work with her again.

Do you want to see TDI expand nationally?

I think it is important to remember hat our primary focus is to develop dance across Teesside and we are trying to build a really strong dance infrastructure which is not just for us but so all dance artist can feel as though they are supported. But at the same time what would help that to happen is if our work and the work of others across the region was going out to other parts of the UK and to Europe. Also, for a training and inspiration point of view, it is easy if you don’t look outward to become stagnant occasionally. So it is important to have collaborations with different artists and educators and too keep learning.