The Monthly interviews Nicola Curry, Artistic Director of Maiden Voyage Dance – Part 2 – Setting up a Dance Company

What was the motivation to set up Maiden Voyage Dance?

I had finished my Masters, I didn’t want to go and work in dance elsewhere. I didn’t want to move to Dublin or England, I wanted to stay in Belfast and I thought there needed to be a company here and so I decided to set one up.

I had worked in arts administration, I had the skills and I knew how to go about the work. I knew how to fundraise and I really did think, “If not now, when?”

And next spring will the 21st anniversary of ‘Senses’ our first production which was a co-production with a company in Dublin called Rex Levitates. We toured that show here, and in the South as well.

And why a commissioning company?

I was interested in dance as a dancer. I wanted to work with a range of choreographers. Dance companies can be built around the work of one particular choreographer, one particular style. I had always experienced lots of different dance styles through the work of many different choreographers. That was my starting point both as a dancer who wanted to work with a range of artists and it was also what I wanted to offer back to audiences.

Northern Ireland can be a very difficult place to attract an audience. Were you able to build an audience for your work?

You always have to fight to build an audience, but we have been very lucky regarding audiences for our work. Even from the very beginning we were able to attract an audience. The first production “Senses”; we put that on at The Lyric and it did very well here and on tour,

We have always been able to build an audience for our work and we have used different methods to help us to do that. We might do workshops alongside a production and encourage those people who participate in the workshops to attend the performance. We go into schools with the same approach, facilitate workshops with the dancers, talk to students about the show and encourage them to come along and see what we have produced.

We are aware that Dance might not be people’s first choice, so we always aim to find ways to bring people towards our work. From 2002 through to 2010 we worked on stages and theatres in venues throughout the country. In 2010 we started a project called Dance Exposed, where we looked at the use of different spaces with much smaller productions, smaller pieces of work. We could take that work to community spaces or outdoor public spaces, and we did that in order to seek out an audience; to create a situation where people didn’t have to risk too much in terms of finances to access a dance event.

We found a lot of families would come out to see those smaller pieces of work and that lead us to develop another commissioning strand called “Offspring”. That was work which was especially created for young children and their families.

How do you deal with financing the productions? What about the instrumental approach for artistic activity in order to access funding?

We are always aware of the funding infrastructure that we are working with. We are conscious of what the limitations are regarding how funding is granted, and how we need to ensure the work you create has to have a public benefit. We are a Charity as well so that approach is built in as part of our process. We would design workshops and outreach activities into all of our productions.

The company also finds ways to break down barriers to arts attendance. We organise subsidised buses for groups and we offer audio description for our work as well. For us these things go hand in hand with the work we create in the studio. Maiden Voyage Dance is always aiming to bring our work to new audiences, marginalised groups who might not think dance is for them, and we are always thinking of ways to build an audience to those interested in what dance has to offer.

How do you go about commissioning work and what ideas are you looking to explore?

Everything we work on is new. We don’t buy work in, so everything, the choreography and the music that accompanies it, is new work. In terms of ideas, there will be times when I invite a choreographer to look at a particular theme as a starting point for a commission or there will be times when themes develop through a period of research and development.

See more of the work produced by Maiden Voyage Dance here:

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.