The story of newly constructed dance buildings in the UK is not a good one. Often constructed at massive expense and demonstrating minimal public or professional benefit the obsession with "new builds" continues almost unabated, even with massive cuts to the arts.
Our recent piece on Rambert Dance Company and their massively expensive new facility on The Southbank in London, paid for with an Arts Council England contribution of £7million toward the £19Million full cost, illustrates how that company couldn't care less about dance artists trying to make work in London or how much their space costs to hire.
Don't take our word for it, take it from one of their marketing flacks;
@clouddancefest We aren't cheap. We don't prioritise dance artists. But the idea that we discriminate against them is just daft— Tim Wood (@timcwood) March 14, 2015
So, step forward Random Dance [Company], AD Wayne McGregor, and their new space to be opened in 2016 inside the former media building located on the site of the London Olympics.
The cavernous building, that pretty much resembles a warehouse, will be converted, in part, to three dance studios and will be called Studio Wayne McGregor (what is it with terrible names for things in dance? Ed!)
Set to cost £4.5Million in total with, according to Random, 26% of that cost coming from public funds, the building will have at least one space that is open for use by independent dance artists and dance companies alike as part of a project called "FreeSpace".
FreeSpace means exactly what it says, studio space will be offered free of charge to dancers and choreographers, sort of. Instead of charging ludicrous fees, looking at you Rambert, Random say this;
"FreeSpace artists will be invited to gift back approximately one day of time to delivering Free2Create projects for each week they have received of free studio space. What the delivery will entail will depend on the skills, experience and interests of the artist, and the need or desire of the participants. The brokering of Free2Create projects will be on a bespoke partnership basis alongside the Studio Wayne McGregor Creative Learning team."
If this idea works in practice the way it is described on paper (or email at least) then imagine this. If you are an independent dance maker then you can deliver 5 days of free teaching as part of Random's FreeSpace project and bank a maximum of 5 weeks free rehearsal space in their studio complex to create your new work.
Technically speaking the dancer/choreographer would be working for free but potentially saving massive amounts of money on studio rental space that will, in turn, free up financial resources for some important stuff, like paying people and buying food.
There will be some negotiation between the choreographer and the studio but that's all part of life inside the wide world of dance, so no change there.
If the above photograph is anything to go by these spaces will not be dimly lit cupboards with filthy floors hidden away in the corner of a wretched, freezing building on the outskirts of London. What you will get is a large, well lit space to concentrate on creating your new masterpiece or whatever it is you choose to get up to in a dance studio.
The company gets the expertise and the ideas of the creative at work in their building or in the local area and by removing money from the equation the independent artist will get their hands on the spaces they need to make their new work.
It's not ideal, but it's a start.
How this all plays out in reality remains to be seen. When the bills start coming in to actually operate the new space the offer might change but as it reads right now, it is certainly a better deal than the one being offered by Rambert. An offer that asks the dance artist to pony up thousands of pounds or bugger off and rehearse elsewhere.
The dance profession as whole needs spaces, old and new alike, to be more open and accessible to the profession so they they can actually go about the business of working on their ideas.
Those ideas form all of the thinking that goes into teaching community classes, professional classes, workshops, commissions and so much more.
Dance is profession that takes time and space and Random's idea appears to provide both.
Studio Wayne McGregor - Image courtesy of Random Dance [Company]