Late in 2013 the new studio complex and home to Rambert Dance Company on the Southbank in London opened its doors with promises of a lot of support for independent dance makers in the city looking for studio space.
Constructed at a cost of £19Million the company secured £7Million of that total from Arts Council England at a time of deep cuts to many arts organisations across the country.
The building itself has 5 dance studios of various sizes 3 of which, according to Rambert, are used almost exclusively by the company itself and two others that are hired out to incoming companies and dancers.
Corporate hire of the various facilities is also available but a company spokesperson told Article19 that nobody gets priority, even it if it means more money. Space is allocated on a first come first serve basis.
Of the five studios, the main space is 16.5m x 17m, two are 14m x 11.4m and the other two are much smaller at approximately 7m x 4.15m.
The smaller studios are suitable for the creation of, at most, a trio work (depending on the piece) or for holding a small class.
Knock Down Prices
All studios are charged at the same rate for dance artists irrespective of the size of the studio. Rambert told us that independent dance artists and registered charities (essentially all NPO dance companies) would be charged £15 (£18 inc VAT) per hour for studio rental.
That works out at £600 (£720 inc VAT) per week for an 8 hour rehearsal day. Sources have told us that weekend hire is more expensive. Rambert confirmed that any studio hire "outside of standard opening hours" may be charged at a higher rate irrespective of who is using it.
Across a standard 4 week rehearsal process for a new work dance artist's would be looking at rental costs of £2,400 (£2,880 inc VAT) if they were charged the discounted rate. Not exactly an insubstantial sum of money.
Our sources stated that charges can be as high as £35 (+VAT) per hour (Rambert would not confirm this without being provided with specific details). That pushes the prices to £336 (inc VAT) per day, for an 8 hour day, or £1,680 (inc VAT) per week or an eye watering £6,720 (inc VAT) if you don't get the discounted rate for a month long rehearsal period.
Rambert did tell us that the "corporate" rate is supposed to be £30 per hour plus VAT.
When it comes to free space Rambert do offer that to their associate companies (New Movement Collective and Alexander Whitely) and their company dancers although not always. They also told us that special projects with companies and dancers would also be provided free space. No examples were provided.
New Movement Collective has many former Rambert dancers in their ranks and Mr Whitely is also a former dancer with the company. There is no application process to become an associate company at Rambert's studios.
At present Rambert has no system in place to alert dance makers in need of rehearsal space that a studio is not being used. The company did tell us that on occasion they might try to alert previous users of their space using social media that a studio is open but there are no specific procedures for doing so.
Setting up such an alert system would be relatively straightforward and free using an email list or a universal messaging application like WhatsApp.
It has been suggested that unused studio space could be offered for free at short notice using such a system.
Errors of Omission
Rambert's tactic when answering our questions seemed to be one of omission. They failed to mention that the prices provided to us did not include VAT for example. When dealing with regular consumers if you charge VAT for products or services then you include it in the price, just ask any store you've ever been in.
They also failed to mention that "out of hours" hiring is more expensive and that the discounted rate is not universally applied.
Even if a dance maker does manage to get the discounted rate they are still looking at a lot of money out of a small budget to pay for rehearsal space in Rambert's building. Asking for thousands of pounds from independent artists to use a subsidised arts building operated by a subsidised dance company isn't the story that ACE and Rambert were spinning a few years ago.
What's happing here is the independents are subsidising Rambert's building operations costs through GFA grants if they want to use the company's shiny studios on the Southbank. They are of course not obliged to use Rambert's building but that leaves the question; what was the point of building it in the first place?
It should come as no surprise to learn that a new dance building is not delivering on the promises made prior to its construction. Most of the dance studios in new dance buildings are almost completely out of reach to dance makers because they are either not available to use (they are used by students or community classes) or they are too expensive to hire.
Rambert and their enablers at ACE may opine that these monuments to hubris cost a fortune to run and maintain. The money has to come from somewhere, you can't just give away rehearsal space for free, how would they ever keep the lights on?
The only response we can muster to that is "No Sh*t Sherlock!"
Rambert Dance Studios on The Southbank in London