Carte Blanche at Maison de la Danse · By Patricia Stead

As administrative managers in the creative sector, often wearing several hats on a daily basis, we can find ourselves so caught up in keeping our part in the organisations we work for spinning, that the space to observe other organisations, to be inspired by them and to consider how our own work could develop, is rare.

It was, then, a valuable opportunity provided by European Dancehouse Network’s Carte Blanche programme, to spend five days in Lyon, France shadowing the Maison de la Danse’s management/administrative teams in meetings, chatting to individuals about their areas of work, following them as they met with regional partners, conducted school visits, planned fundraising programmes for new ideas and attended this week’s performance by a world class contemporary dance company performing to a sold out first night.

My key areas of investigation on arrival were to find out how Maison de la Danse supported emergent artists and what, if any, was the link between this and the professional performance programme. What I left with was so much more.

At the heart of everything Maison de la Danse does, passionately driven by the Artistic Director, Dominique Hervieu, is the audience. This isn’t simply the obvious; selling as many tickets as possible for high quality international performance programmes. Everything everyone who works for this organisation does is driven by the desire to diversify their audience, to ensure that the audiences they have built continue to grow, inspiring and preparing future generations to appreciate and enjoy dance.

One person said to me “You have to learn to love dance in the same way that you have to learn to love wine”. And this organisation works hard to support people of all ages from all neighbourhoods to learn about and to understand dance better, in particular contemporary dance. Whether working with schools, families, local communities, in hospitals or prisons, everything leads back to the performances.

A jewel in the organisation’s crown is their 50 seat cinema and their resource, created and driven by Maison de la Danse and providing an extraordinary educational and archival resource free to anyone anywhere in the world with internet access. Even a quick glance shows you how valuable this resource is within education. Film footage of international dance companies going back as far as the 1920’s. This resource is included in school visits where young people are able to watch video footage of dance companies, learn about how lighting can create a specific atmosphere, costumes can impact on the kind of movement a choreographer creates, or to compare similarities between flamenco and hip hop styles. For my own organisation in Newcastle delivering further and higher educational dance courses adn training the next generation of professional dancers through the Centre for Advanced Dance Training, I can immediately see the usefulness of this video archive resource, but to go one step further and include this kind of session for school groups could expand their experience from taking part in a dance workshop and a tour of the building to understanding a range of dance styles, their influence on contemporary dance, the importance of staging, lighting, costumes – the whole experience of what makes great dance – and hopefully to spark an interest and build future audiences; learning to love dance. was not created to deliver an income. It is free educational resource. Neither Maison de la Danse or any of the dance companies featured in this archive earn money from it. It would be great to see the work of UK dance companies featured here and available to all.

And what about emerging artists and Maison de la Danse’s role in that? In this respect Dance City is closer to the Centre Nationale de la Danse, based in Lyon but part of a national network of support for artists. Maison de la Danse’s role in supporting emerging artist is to be a key partner, to ensure that visiting professional companies provide professional class at the CND, to provide the opportunity for professionals to watch world class dance companies, meet choreographers and to be employed freelance to deliver some of their community and educational work. Much as we do at Dance City. Similar to dance City, Maison de la Danse support three Associate Artists per year. Within their three artists, one will be international, one national and one regional. At least two of these artists will support the delivery of the community and education programme. At least one will be commissioned to make work and to perform at the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon, a major platform for emerging dance in Europe, programmed by Dominique. Again some ideas for me to consider in our future Associates programme.

There are similarities in the work we deliver at Dance City, but Maison de la Danse again goes that one step further in linking everything they do back to the performance and not just building an audience but educating that audience for the future.

I could write a book on my week her at Maison de la Danse. I have many ideas for the future, have met generous, inspiring people who truly live and breathe the vision of their Artistic Director, a vision that is shared with passion inside the organisation and with their partners.

I can’t thank the team at Maison de la Danse enough for their time and patience. Special mention to Matthieu for coordinating everything and for the impromptu drive around the French countryside and Solange at Centre National de la Danse.

Thanks to Sílvia and Mara at EDN for the opportunity and to Anthony Baker, Dance City for giving me time away to think.

Patricia Stead
Programme Manager at Dance City Newcastle
30 May 2017