INTERVIEW: Dance City 30th Anniversary | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Connor Scott by Crest Photography

News flash: dance isn’t scary. Before my first visit to Dance City, around six years ago, I had the impression of theatrical dance (contemporary, classic or otherwise) as something that wasn’t for me, that I wouldn’t understand or be able to appreciate.

What I encountered was a powerful performance by a group of highly talented individuals, a surprising, thought-provoking and funny show that instantly sent my perceived prejudices packing. At Dance City I discovered not just a regional hub for dance, but a group of knowledgeable, innovative and inclusive people whose passion for their artistic medium utterly won me over.

Dance City celebrate their 30th anniversary this year and their work has ensured the region is a leader in the development of dance, as Artistic Director and joint CEO Anthony Baker explains. “The North East is a great place for inquisitive thinking and is passionate about opportunity; we share that at Dance City.”

Providing a nurturing environment for talent is key to Dance City’s success, and the centre offers a vital platform for local people to develop. “There are many more people training to professional standard now in dance, so the market for them is extremely tough. We have found that if you train and develop the right skills, knowledge and expertise you can succeed in the sector. Dance is a portfolio career, the dancer needs to be able to dance extremely well to take opportunities to perform for a company, or set up on their own, be a great manager, fundraiser, able to teach in schools and in community settings. It’s a tough life, but a hugely rewarding one.”

balletLORENT - Underneath The Floorboards by Bill Cooper__1454948980_128.65.101.133


balletLORENT – Underneath The Floorboards performed at Dance City in 2011, image by Bill Cooper

Dance City has no shortage of success stories to boast about. Award-winning ballet company balletLORENT has been supported by Dance City in numerous ways since 1996, founder Liv Lorent was even awarded an MBE for services to dance in 2014. Encouraging young talent is also something that lies close to the organisation’s heart. “Connor Scott from Blyth joined the Dance City Centre for Advanced Training five years ago having never danced contemporary before.” Anthony says proudly. “He quickly became hooked and showed talent that our Learning Academy were able to nurture and develop. Connor went on to be crowned the first ever BBC Young Dancer in 2015 and is now training at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.”

A legion of innovative dance makers pass through Dance City’s doors on a regular basis, and Anthony’s keen to stress that local talent is always welcomed. “We work extensively with those who are working as professional dance makers, providing free daily classes for them, providing space to try out and develop their ideas, and commissioning new work from North East dance makers which is shown on our stage, alongside our extensive professional performance programme from around the world.”

Perhaps it’s Dance City’s performance programme that offers the best route for engagement; their commitment to bringing world-class performers and cutting-edge productions to the North East is highly impressive. What catches their eye when it comes to performance? “I see a huge amount of work. Dance is very much a three-dimensional experience where an audience is as important as the performer. How we are reacting in the theatre can transform how the piece is perceived and even the energy the dancers give.” Anthony explains. “My job in programming the work, choosing what we put on, is to find work which an audience can respond to, that can be through excitement, wonder, awe, challenge, intensity or sheer joy at what they are experiencing. Dance can enable so many emotions, often within the same performance.

“Dance that is really working sucks an audience in, takes them on a journey and leaves them with new experiences and a desire to want more.”

With an eclectic programme on offer throughout the year, Anthony recommends a handful of forthcoming shows, including Bird With Boy (Friday 27th and Saturday 28th May), which takes place at Newcastle’s iconic Castle Keep. “The audience is led into exquisitely designed rooms where they encounter dance, live music and fragments of song offering an intimate and haunting experience.” Dance City itself celebrates the North East in all its industrial glory in Launch Day, using the paintings of renowned artist Alexander Millar (Saturday 5th March); there’s a fusion of breakneck physical dance, spoken word, live sound and ever-transforming images from award-winning choreographer Karla Shacklock in The Happiness (Friday 15th and Saturday 16th April); the dynamic Ockham’s Razor return with their Tipping Point show, which includes theatrics, circus tricks, balancing acts, aerial dance and athletic strength (Friday 6th and Saturday 7th May); while Curious? (Saturday 9th July) explores the spectrum of transgender, queer and drag culture through performance, visual art and installations.

It’s clear that Dance City aren’t comfortable resting on their laurels. Having exceeded many of their expectations over the last 30 years, Anthony’s confident they’ll continue to push boundaries for many years to come. “We have big ambitions to transform the landscape for dance in the North East, which includes opening a new dance centre in Sunderland and a major announcement coming later this year which will transform dance education in the region for generations to come.”

If you still need convincing that experiencing dance isn’t about watching men and women prance about in tights, Anthony’s got some advice for dance virgins. “Dance provides a different way of seeing the world. It is amazingly exciting to step into a theatre, not knowing anything about the show, and just having an experience. Think of it as going to a film or visiting an art gallery. There are no codes to learn, you don’t need to know anything in advance, just choose something which seems of interest to you and take a leap of faith.”

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