A Bold Move Results in Amazing Dance Development Opportunity

By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa.

As a dance artist, one of the biggest challenges to finding new work is finding space.  Finding dancers to work with is another hurdle.  And of course, having opportunities for ongoing professional development, guidance and support is important too.

In Adelaide, there are three professional dance companies, and a core of independent choreographers and dancers creating amazing work.  It’s a vibrant dance scene, and some wonderful things are happening.  But still, independents need support if they are to sustain their practice and build connections within and beyond Adelaide.  While there are classes offered through the likes of Ausdance SA, Australian Dance Theatre, Leigh Warren Dance and Move Through Life, it is rare to have the opportunity to work intensively on a dance work, with mentoring support, along with funding to pay dancers, and access to studio space.

This is where a collaboration between The Mill and the Helpmann Academy comes in.  The Mill is a creative hub in Adelaide that hosts artists from all sorts of artistic disciplines – from dance, event management, design, puppetry, jewellery making, photography, furniture design, and more.  The Mill was founded by local creative entrepreneurs Erin Fowler (Creative Director) and Amber Cronin (Managing Director).  It is an incubator for creativity, providing studio spaces and offices for artists at amazingly affordable rates, opportunities to connect and collaborate with other artists, as well as residencies and other programs that support artists to progress their careers.

One of the programs offered at The Mill is the ‘2015 Choreographic Futures Dance Residency’, supported by The Helpmann Academy and Klein Family Foundation.  The residency is about offering opportunities for local artists to make connections with the dance community in Adelaide and South Australia, as well as with those working interstate and overseas.

“Working in Adelaide, you need to be able to think locally and globally to be sustainable” says Fowler. “By bringing in artists from overseas it is an opportunity to be exposed to a market and style that hasn’t been here before.  By having a group of residents, we are creating a community for people to share ideas.”

First offered in 2014, the second year of the residency sees the program expanded to offer residency to up to 14 dance artists to be mentored by Lee Brummer and Israel Aloni, Artistic Directors of Swedish based contemporary dance company ilDance.  Six of the residency recipients will be choregoraphers, and eight will be dancers.

The Helpmann Academy, named after the iconic South Australian dancer and actor, Sir Robert Helpmann, was established 20 years ago in partnership with the major tertiary training arts institutions in South Australia to support arts graduates as they transition from study to professional careers.  It is fitting then that four of the choreographic residencies, and six of the dancer residencies will be awarded to graduates of the AC Arts dance program, while there are two places in each category open to anyone, whether they are based in SA, Australia or overseas.

Recipient of the 2014 residency, Alicia Harvie had the opportunity to work with Kate Champion, founder, CEO and Artistic Director of Sydney-based contemporary dance company Force Majeure.

“The residency is pretty special for Adelaide, because the only other local choreographic residency program is Audance SA’s Choreolab.  I was able to entice a lot of dancers to be involved in my project because the mentorship with Kate made it really attractive” says Harvie.  “It made me excited about being a dancer in Adelaide.”

Prior to the residency at The Mill, Harvie had previously been supported by The Helpmann Academy to travel overseas, and it was then that she developed her choreographic idea for the residency at The Mill, which was inspired by people who redesign their lives to be more sustainable, from the size of their living area to the way they choose to spend their money.  And the residency and mentorship has been a springboard to enable Harvie to progress her work even further.  It lead to a grant from Carclew for a second development of the work, which meant she was able to develop some technology for the work as well as extend its length.  She also presented a section of the work at Ausdance SA’s Choreolab presentation.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go that far into the work without the residency” states Harvie.  Prior to the residency, Harvie was limited to self-generated, small projects, but now she is part of a collective called The Human Arts Movement, which is based in Adelaide and lead by another independent choreographer, Tobiah Booth Remmers.

One of the best things about the residency, according to Harvie, was the calibre of her mentor.  Being able to say she’s had the experience working with Kate Champion has raised her profile in the context of future funding applications.  The mentorship has led to contact with other high profile industry contacts, like choreographer Ros Hervey and sound artist Jason Sweeney, and the lure of payment and connection with Kate Champion meant that Harvie was able to connect with more Adelaide dancers.

The recipients of the 2015 choreographic residencies will be mentored by co-Artistic Directors of ilDance, Lee Brummer and Israel Aloni.  Residents will have access to daily class led by Lee and Israel and other local SA dance artists, one-on-one mentoring, weekly group facilitated feedback sessions and discussions, a two-day choreographic workshop, and professional development in the areas of marketing, project management, documentation and technical production.    The recipients of the dance residencies will be able to apply to participate in a new choreographic work by ilDance created during the residency.

“This year we’ve had the chance to expand the residency from one mentor and one artist, to two mentors and 14 artists.  We’ve expanded the eligibility to be for artists from out of Adelaide as well, because we hope that some of those relationships may be more long lasting and create connections between Adelaide and other countries,” says Erin Fowler, Creative Director of The Mill.

Fowler and co-founder of The Mill, Amber Cronin, first met Brummer and Aloni two years ago at a workshop at Ausdance SA.

“We were impressed by them because they’d identified that they wanted to develop a project between Sweden and Australia.  We had coffee with them and discovered a really nice connection.  We met them in Melbourne the following year and again in Sweden last year. We felt like they’d be amazing mentors, so we took the bold step of asking them to come to Adelaide.” says Fowler.

This is one example of how the new breed of creative entrepreneurs are able to make exciting things happen.  They are not constrained by the same cautious attitude that limits government and annually funded organisations.  Both The Mill and ilDance are independent organisations, and so they have the freedom to take risks, which isn’t as easy when you are a funded organisation.

When asked how she felt about the residency, Fowler revealed that this is the kind of things she’s wanted since she began The Mill.

“I can’t wait to see it happening and to see all the dancers in the room, and to bring people together in Adelaide for a longer term.  We are excited about being able to setup things like this for the long term, to facilitate artistic collaboration and conversation.  Our main goal is connecting with other artists around Australia, the world, and Adelaide.  We want to put Adelaide on the map and to share our artists and provide opportunities for other artists to collaborate here, because Adelaide is a good place to make art”.

If Alicia Harvie’s experience is anything to go by, the Choreographic Futures Dance Residency will not be simply an experience for 14 emerging choreographers and dancers.  No doubt it will open the door to other opportunities for the residents, and strengthen the foundations for professional dance in South Australia.

And it’s not just the residents that will benefit.  Many of the elements of the program will be open to the wider dance community in a jam packed month of dance, including an industry forum, catch up drinks, master classes, morning classes, workshops and a publid performance of the works created.

Who will be the next crop of dance artists to benefit from this innovative collaboration?  Fowler and Cronin hope the residency will become a regular thing that dancers and choreographers can put in their calendar and look out for.

For more information visit http://themilladelaide.com/programs/danceresidency/.

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