By Martin French

Tin Productions is a pretty unique model in the dance world. A self sustaining dance education and production company that exists entirely out-with the normal state funding system and all its foibles. Selina McGonagle tells Article19 just what they do and how they do it.

Article19: tell us a little about Tin Productions

Tin Productions ethos is “dance for all”. Our areas of work include disability, community, education, performance and coordination of projects in partnership with other arts organisations and individuals. We plan, prepare, coordinate, deliver, document and evaluate the majority of our projects which enables us to ensure that there is quality in the thought and reality of the vision attached to each programme.

For example; Moving Tide is a disability project which has now run for four years, originally by TIN Productions in partnership with Durham City Arts and other funding bodies.

Article19: So how do you go about setting up a new project?

First of all we find out what the organising body or participants want. And so we have initial start-up meetings to look into how they currently work, how they would like to work and why they wish to engage with a dance programme. We then lead them through a process of exploring their needs, identifying the group, what the abilities and experiences of the group are, what level they need to work at, where they are going to work, all the basics and essentials of starting up.

We also find out whether the programme is solely process-led or whether they aim to add a performance/sharing outcome. It's all very diverse and varied. Every time you come across a new project you find out the groups aims and attempt to bring that together with what we can offer them.

Article19: explain a little about your work with disabilities?

We work mostly with adults with learning disabilities. All our workshops regardless of the participants will start with a movement class that warms the body and mind as well as providing a fun introduction to new movement. Once we have completed a warm-up, we lead the groups through creative workshops dependent upon theme, purpose and ability. The way we approach disability differently from other programmes is the actual description of what you're going to do, the visualization, how you describe movement changes.

Article19: is there any type of work that you would not take on?

I don't think there is work that we would not take on. We always go in and look at what the make up of the group is and who the people are and where you're going to work. We also try to have a commitment from other parties so you are not just going in and delivering workshops without support. You have to be sure that there is a commitment from the teachers and those that are involved with the project.

Article19: do some groups expect you to do everything with little or no involvement from them?

Sometimes, yes! It can't work like that however because that doesn't create sustainability in dance if it is just Tin Productions going in and delivering one project and the hosts don't support the programme through in-house training or follow-up work.

A large part of the planning prior to the commencement of a programme identifies how host organisations aim to sustain the programme following it's initial completion. A partnership is only productive when both sides enter into commitment and ensure that continuity is inherent. It is also about value because if people don't value what you are doing they are less likely to commit time and resources to a project but if they value a project their vision is more likely to come to fruition.

Article19: Many dance organisations use education work as an aside to their regular activity, what’s your view on that? Does Tin place a much higher value on the experience itself rather than just doing education work?

We do have a performance element that can compliment our main programmes but it is not the focus of the organisation. Throughout all our programmes there is an underlying process which is much more important than the product at the end of the day. I can understand how some companies who may have a performance focus need to take on education work to financially get through.

TIN actually places the focus upon the education side but we are not alone in doing so. LUDUS and TeesDanceInitiative deliver an enormous amount in schools as well as many other companies across England. Where we differ slightly is that we have a deep impact across many different areas engaging with participants in both education and disability as well as community and mentoring other artists.

Article19: but Tin does do performance work?

At the moment we are working on that. We have done performance projects as part of Year of the Artist but TIN Dance (the performance branch) has always been a transient group with different people joining from one performance to the next. Recently we have created a few short pieces that were for one off platforms like Connections III.

But now we are going through a process just before Christmas of devising more work and inviting other artists in because I think where we got stuck was. we were always busy with teaching and setting up projects for other people so you don't have time to sit down and reflect and say "what are we going to do as artists?" Before Christmas we are holding a devising period which will explore a number of areas including contact, Capeoira and repertory work.

It is good to work with artists not in the company to bring fresh ideas to the space. You can get very stale when you're not involved creatively with other artists and art forms so you have to try to ensure you keep going back to dance and doing workshops, class and that sort of thing.

Article19: what are the immediate plans for Tin?

At the moment because we have just taken Angela [Hunter] on we have to make sure the company has sufficient systems and procedures to cope with an expanding workforce.

The main two things at the moment are new funding for Moving TIDE involving continuing training and a new Governance Plan and Creative Partnerships, an exciting new initiative looking at the role of creativity within education. Both programmes involve heavy planning, preparation and staffing and so it is a squeeze to get it all done.

TIN is getting bigger. From where it was three years ago to what it is now it is huge. I don't have a spare minute in the day whereas when I first joined in 2000 we used to have our afternoons to ourselves. Now it's meetings, planning, delivery, evaluation, coordination, marketing. I don't understand artists saying there is no work when there is so much and people are so keen, there is a lot out there.

Article19: can you tell us a little bit about Flex?

Flex is an integrated dance company with members with and without a learning disability. We meet once a week on Wednesday to devise, create and perform new work. We have three or four pieces that are now ready to tour throughout the North East region next Spring. We did a tour last year which was to day center's and local venues. They did performances and workshops and we will do the same thing again on a slightly bigger scale.

Article19: Do you [Tin Productions] find it easier to exist outside of the normal arts funding system? Is it an advantage to be completely financially independent?

We work with a lot of arts agencies and organisations who are keen to plan and be proactive alongside us so we don't need to have the facility to fund raise when our partners can do so. Being financially independent does allow us greater freedom with project outcomes and means we don't have to play the monitoring / numbers game.

We also have support from organisations such as Dance City, Newcastle who provide a great base for us and have a creative and imaginative staff team who are always on hand for advice and guidance. At the moment our programming is exciting, dynamic and constantly challenging. As long as we have both hands steering our own future, life is good!