Dancemakers: Between Promise and Peril

Part II: The Incubation/Production House Model By Michael Trent
  • Robert Abubo, Kate Hilliard, Kate Holden, Benjamin Kamino and Steeve Paquet in It's About Time: 60 Dances in 60 Minutes by Michael Trent for Dancemakers
  • Amanda Acorn and Robert Abubo in Adaptation Project by Michael Trent for Dancemakers / Photo by David Hou

At the company’s fortieth anniversary gala in April of this year, I had the great pleasure of announcing the incubation/production house (IPH) model, a new way of making dance and connecting it with publics. Since 2006, I have fulfilled Dancemakers’ mission by making and commissioning new work that we performed at home and on the road, and by curating performances and learning opportunities with artists who, like us, were asking questions about the very nature of dance today. Although the company’s mandate remains the same, this inventive new creation/production model was designed to drive our vision into the future and position Dancemakers as a Canadian leader in contemporary dance. Re-imagining how, by and for whom we made dances, the IPH model would invite three resident artists (RAs) to incubate and produce new work over staggered three-year terms. A newly appointed position of curator would lead the crucial task of making connections between the RA creations, the field and the publics the company served.

The model recast who would make work for Dancemakers beyond a model that combined my projects as resident choreographer with almost yearly and largely one-off commissions. Over my tenure with the company, I had made six full-evening works, three shorter ones and two co-created projects with a commissioned choreographer. Other commissions included one full-evening project, one triple-bill and one for the five company artists. Under the IPH model, only the RAs would make work becoming, in essence, creators of sustained and multi-component commissions. Over their three-year tenure at Dancemakers, the RAs would create two major projects, each of which would be supported by a period of incubation in the preceding year. RAs could be at any stage of development in their professional practice, but must have a clear connection to contemporaneity, a history of production, experience with designing audience-engagement activities and have an existing relationship to a core audience, regardless of size.

The model also reimagined how we would make work by extending each creation cycle to two years. In year one, a project was to be incubated and then shared informally with the public providing a preliminary space for exploration, feedback and connection. Over the following year, the RA would reflect and refine the project’s form, content and design prior to returning to the studio for an extended period to complete the work and present it formally. During this same period, Dancemakers would identify potential creation and presentation partners in addition to securing the specific resources needed for the project. This extended incubation/production cycle would partially solve a problem we face within the sector when making devised work: we never know enough about the art-object in time to meet communication, marketing and partnership-building deadlines. But most importantly, it would provide essential space for the creative act to flourish under less pressure from external forces while providing space for the curator to identify and develop new communities of engagement with and for the work.

Curation in the performing arts is a hot topic. Also in April 2014, in Montréal, I attended an international symposium on performing arts curation called “Envisioning the Practice.” It was a wonderful opportunity to meet academics and practitioners who were thinking about, researching and living some version of this divergently understood creative role.

My experience at the conference pointed to the enormous potential that an inventive, curious and eloquent curator could bring to the pursuit of making meaningful connections between work, participants and audiences. Under the IPH model, the Dancemakers curator would work closely with the RAs to provide context for the company’s publics. The curator would also devise the programs that Dancemakers offered in support of the field – unrelated to the company in most cases – such as presentation, co-productions, training and other initiatives that support the development of dancers and choreographers. This portfolio represented the programming that was previously housed under the umbrella of the Centre for Creation.

The curator’s role is to implement the organization’s vision through his or her distinct practice. The curator would be selected for his or her knowledge of the dance and performance fields within a national and international context and his or her sensitivity to leading issues in contemporary practice. A single artist would fulfill the curator role for several consecutive seasons in order to build continuity of relationships and articulate a sustained artistic vision. The curator would not be a performance maker for Dancemakers.

The IPH model was the next iteration of Dancemakers’ long-held belief in marrying responsive change to a spirit of curiosity. The model extends the company’s reach and impact by serving its overarching vision to be recognized as the home for new practices in contemporary dance in Canada. It would achieve this by increasing the number of core choreographers to three and by providing each RA with consistent and individualized support over three years. New ideas and approaches would naturally emerge through the collaborative contamination between the three RA’s and the curator. The IPH model’s longer creation cycles would mean that projects could be better resourced. Finally, the RAs’ existing relationships to their own diverse publics could deepen and extend Dancemakers’ overall reach beyond its current communities of engagement.

We live in a complex culture that is constantly searching for meaning as a way of understanding the world around us. In its own way and in a similar vein, Dancemakers has always been in a constant state of becoming by experimenting with practice, content and modes of embodiment. By reflecting my specific and personal point of view as an artist and artistic director, the elements of the IPH model – how Dancemakers makes, engages, supports and contextualizes contemporary work – would define the company’s voice.

This moment of renewal celebrated Dancemakers’ past, acknowledged its present and opened it up to a promising future. 


Part III: What Happened to Me
Part I: Context

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