GOOD PRACTICE: Crossing the floor to the ring

Déda has appointed a creative producer to help drive forward the Derby organisation’s vision to become the Midlands’ leading creative centre for dance, contemporary circus and outdoor performing arts. CEO and artistic director Stephen Munn explains how Déda is becoming a creative lead in fusing these art forms


Déda’s vision is to enrich people’s lives through dance and the arts – connecting locally, nationally and internationally. And in May, a symposium in Derby launched our ambition to be a leader in the fusion of dance and contemporary circus – strengthening links with existing partners and forging new relationships both in the UK and abroad. Crossing Over was attended by arts professionals from the dance and contemporary circus sectors and explored the relationship between the art forms from the perspective of artist, producer and audience.

Having worked in dance for many years I have been for- tunate to work with fantastic institutions and inspirational choreographers. It has always been the highest levels of physical skill that captured my imagination and as dance merges with other art forms such as visual arts, I see oppor- tunity around talent and audience development. Working with artists such as Michael Clark and Lea Anderson has allowed me to look beyond the pure dance aesthetic. This is where my interest in contemporary circus and the connec- tion with outdoor work stems from.

I don’t like to see art forms categorised into boxes and I am most excited by the point of crossover. Our partners such as Crying Out Loud present and produce great work which is not necessarily genre specific - dance and contemporary circus are natural bedfellows through the sharing of physical movement, technique and expression.

The symposium also contributed to a new piece of re- search funded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation which investigates the relationship between dance and circus prac- tice and how the use of narrative translates between the two forms. Rachel Clare, artistic director of Crying Out Loud shared her extensive experience of working across the two genres. Rachel and I also led a debate featuring Déda’s cur- rent associate artists, choreographer Jorge Crecis and acro- batic and physical theatre artists Nikki Rummer and Jean- Daniel Brousse.

Nikki and JD are part of the National Centre of Circus Arts’ Labtime programme, and worked with students from our BA (Hons) Dance Degree on a piece performed as part of the event. Based at our venue, the degree is a partnership with the University of Derby and launched in September 2014.

Ahead of this event, we adapted our programme and re- sources to encompass this expanding artistic vision. A new dance and aerial studio was created with additional equip- ment installed throughout the building as part of a £412,000 capital expansion project, completed in August 2014.

Déda’s Class and Performance programmes are now re- flective of both genres, with adult and academy classes of- fered in a multitude of styles and techniques from trapeze to hip hop. This has been a positive step change both in terms 

f artistic and audience development. Being part of the Cir- cus Evolution Network managed by Crying Out Loud has had a significant impact in developing audiences and profile through offering the presentation of high quality national and international companies.

We are also artistic lead for Derby Festé, an annual inter- national street arts festival which is part of the Without Walls Associate Touring Network and produced by Déda, Derby LIVE, Derby Theatre and QUAD. 2016 sees the 10th presen- tation of Festé with the event now established as one of the leading international street arts festivals in the UK.

Our goal is to create a Midlands hub here in Derby for creative excellence and explore where dance and circus meet in performance both for the indoor and outdoor sectors as well as in educational contexts. It’s an exciting time with the national devolution agenda offering opportunity through initiatives such as the ‘Midlands Engine’ and Déda is well placed to take advantage of this political and cultural shift.

The symposium also marked the launch of Déda’s new business plan that outlines an innovative financial model to address the continued reduction of public funds. It is vi- tal that organisations such as Déda continually evolve and break new ground both artistically and through financial modelling - particularly in the landscape of reduced public funding.

The input from our new board Chair Geoff Sweeney, de- velopment director at Birmingham Royal Ballet, has been invaluable to focus our strategic fundraising direction. We recently submitted a Catalyst Evolve application to ACE which will further develop a positive fundraising culture within the organisation.

The appointment of Phil Hargreaves as creative producer is the latest step in our mission. Phil will take a lead in em- bedding dance and contemporary circus practice across all artistic and learning programmes including performance, artist support and talent development. He has extensive arts experience working and producing with a wide range of companies like Dep Arts, 2Faced Dance Company and Joss Arnott Dance.

A new piece of research will also be produced over the next three years exploring the relationship between dance and contemporary circus from the perspective of the artist, producer, audience and education.

By looking at new ways of working and broadening the scope of the organisation, I am confident that Déda can con- firm its position as a national lead and spearhead the crea- tion of some exciting new work.

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