Resolution Resolution

by Ira Schiff

As Resolution progresses through yet another year Ira Schiff asks just what will all the companies do once it’s over? Opportunities are few and funding is a rare commodity. The question is asked by most every year and there are still few answers to be had, particularly from those in the position to do something about it.

It is tough to argue with the premise of the Resolution dance festival in London at The Place. Dozens of companies given the opportunity to perform on a London stage, get some exposure and roll out some new choreography in the process. Yes you do have to pay for the privilege if you don ‘t get a big enough audience and they will charge you for absolutely anything and everything that you use and there is a chance that your performance will be slated in the national press but the opportunity is a good one none the less.

The festival itself is not really the issue but what the companies can do when their show is over and the choreographers and dancers return home to continue the long hard push to bigger and better things.

At the moment there is no established network for the touring of work by new companies (or emerging companies as the arts insists on calling them) so post Resolution the game is up and all participants must return to obscurity, more or less! From there the fight will begin again to obtain the meagre scraps of funding available and even if the funding is forthcoming where are the companies supposed to show their work?

One Resolution participant told Article19 that;

‘At least this time I ‘m not financially bankrupt after the show! It would be good if there were more avenues in which to expand once you have out-grown Resolution. Why is there not a network between the NDA ‘s of showing emerging and new work that could tour the UK at NDA associated venues?’

It’s a pretty safe bet that if you asked the same question of almost any choreographer participating in Resolution you would garner pretty much the same answer. Outside of London in particular there is a severe shortage of well funded dance companies and the situation for new dance makers is even more dire.

After The Touring
The next question is of course what will the companies do after they have finished the touring segment of their new start in dance?

From there the companies would at least have a more solid grounding in the demands and challenges of a full scale tour.

Such activity would better prepare them for the even greater challenges of striking out on there own. From this point they would have to develop a consistent stream of funding and begin promoting their own tours to venues.

This is another discussion for another piece but in the UK venues are still very unwelcoming to new work.

The Resolution choreographer we spoke to had this to say;

‘Why don ‘t choreographers ever get invited to show work unless they have a very ‘in the know ‘ agent? Why aren ‘t more theatres prepared to take a risk, even when you have great reviews?’

Perhaps some venues would care to respond but I fear we already know their tried and tested reply.

Rooting for the NDA

The National Dance Agency Network would appear to be the best way forward for developing a post-Resolution touring structure for new companies that would enable them to reach a wider audience and tickle the artistic palettes of more than just the London crowd.

At present not all of the NDA ‘s have performance venues within their facilities but establishing a relationship with a good size theatre or at the very least, a studio theatre should not be beyond the means of a switched on NDA. From this point a certain number of companies from the Resolution pot could carry out an extended national tour around those venues with funding from each of the Arts Councils covering that particular area.

Since this is the arts in the UK there will always be more companies than funding available so the process of selecting companies from the Resolution programme is still going to be a lottery with some dance makers missing out or being overlooked in the melee. However something is better than the nothing that currently exists and the longest journeys always start with one step forward, if I may be so clichéd!

How companies are selected for the touring programme is something that would need a great deal of thought to ensure a balanced and fair process of choosing work. I do feel most people would balk at the thought of a repeat of the Place Prize format where audience members voted for those to be included. Since we want the NDA ‘s to run his touring programme then it goes without saying that the AD ‘s of each one should be involved at some level.

However carefully done the selection method is it will always be a subjective process and there really is nothing that can be done about that. Whoever makes the decisions will inevitably come in for a certain amount of flak.

Such a touring network would give the Resolution participants a tangible goal to reach for in their preparations for the spotlight on the London stage. I feel it would encourage many of the dance makers taking part in the festival to push their creative work that little bit further in an attempt to obtain higher production values for their choreography.

As the majority of companies from Resolution will not take part in the touring programme they may be able to benefit from their work being promoted alongside the touring companies with supporting print material and a well designed and comprehensive website. Such a site could feature all of the company ‘s details along with a three minute video segment and the site could be promoted on all the publicity material for the touring programme. This may go some way to lessening the disappointment of not making it onto the touring network, at least for that year.

Without doubt the NDA ‘s, performance venues and most certainly ACE will complain in very loud voices that there is little or no audience for new contemporary dance work in the UK. Increasing the number of companies touring would, in their view, only lead to shows in front of empty houses!

First of all if that is what they believe then all of them should get out of this business because nobody said it was easy. Secondly; Developing new audiences for dance is their job so they should stop moaning about it and get on with actually doing their job. Finding new audiences and tempting existing ones is not easy by any means but it takes a lot more energy coming up with endless excuses not to try something new than to get off your backside and give it a shot.

Dig Deep and Prosper

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is of the course the issue of who is going to pay for it? A touring network for new dance makers would go some way to redressing the spectacularly negligent behaviour of Arts Council England ‘s approach to funding contemporary dance. This is an organisation that will happily spend almost £900,000 for the Dance Consortium to tour the artistically mundane work of NDT2 and Dance Theatre Harlem across the UK among others while new companies and dance makers are given short shrift.

Detractors of new thinking will opine the quality of those companies and their dancers but good dancers and expensive costumes are not enough to make work good and that has always been the case despite what history may tell us.

If ACE are so willing to hand over such a large sum of money to tour this trite nonsense then I feel sure they will be open to a proposal from the NDA network to properly fund a small scale touring program for new dance makers across the UK and £900,000 will do nicely thank you very much.

For many years Resolution has acted as the spring-board for new companies. Enabling them to get their stuff onto a stage and thereby overcoming the first major hurdle in getting a career in dance making underway. For too long the lack of a proper support network to get new companies touring has been a problem that has festered with no hope of a fix in sight and the NDA network as a whole has remained silent on the issue.

Some NDA ‘s do provide performance opportunities for new companies but they need to band together and make a united effort to establish a new touring network and see to it that such a network has enough funding to properly realise the ambitions and creative talent of new dance makers.

Ira Schiff is a freelance artist and writer living and working in and around Europe.