Dance in Cardiff: a Q&A with creative producer Carole Blade

This year Cardiff hosted the British Dance Edition, a biennial event and initiative of the National Dance Network, renowned for presenting the best of British dance to promoters and producers from the UK and across the globe.

In this interview we caught up with Cardiff-based creative producer Carole Blade whose company Coreo Cymru was instrumental in staging this prestigious event in the UK performing arts calendar.

Carole began her career as a dance artist many years ago before moving into producing, and has since delivered numerous projects supporting the Welsh dance sector. In 2012 she set up Coreo Cymru with programme partner Chapter, a large multi-artform venue and cultural hub in Cardiff.

Here, Carole shares her insight into Cardiff’s thriving dance scene and its place within the creative community of the city.

CarolE, 2016 has been an exciting year for Dance in Cardiff and Wales. Can you share your personal highlight of this year with us?

My highlight this year has to be leading a consortium of venues including Chapter, Wales Millennium Centre, National Dance Company of Wales’ Dance House and The Riverfront in the hosting and delivering of the UK’s primary contemporary dance showcase, British Dance Edition. The showcase provided Wales with the the opportunity to present 36 leading companies from across the four UK nations in a jam-packed four-day programme which was attended by key promoters from the UK and across the world. It was exhausting but highly rewarding and for those couple of days it felt like Cardiff was the centre of the dance universe.

A lot of the dance work being made in Wales is collaborative, and crosses the boundaries between different art-forms, such as circus, cabaret, theatre, folk, and classical dance. What do you think it is about Wales, and Cardiff, that enables this kind of cross-over work to take place?

Wales has been home to many pioneering multi-media companies such as Moving Being, Brith Gof, Volcano Theatre, Earthfall and Nofit State Circus. These companies are part of our collective cultural history and have inspired a generation of independent artists. Cardiff is a small and friendly capital where artists from different backgrounds can easily meet and exchange ideas. For instance Chapter, where we are based, has a great social space, which is always bustling with creatives chatting over a cappuccino and a Welsh cake. Countless projects and collaborations have been imagined in the Chapter Café over its 40-year history, including many of Coreo Cymru’s projects. Cardiff is very welcoming to its visiting artists, many of whom have subsequently set up home here, and we are always feeding off new approaches and ideas and findings ways to collaborate.

What difference does it make to create dance work in a bilingual country? Is dance completely independent of spoken language, or does the audience's primary language change the performance in some ways?

Dance does tend to transcend language barriers with work not being language specific or at least using very little text. Only a portion of Wales-based choreographers are homegrown with many artists moving to Wales in adulthood and therefore not previously learning the Welsh language. However, in recent years there’s been a surge of touring dance productions that take inspiration from Wales – its landscapes, history and great artists – with the creators embracing the Welsh language within that work. There’s a great sense of pride within Wales for our language, as a small nation we have had to work hard to retain it and this sense of pride goes beyond native Welsh men and women.

On the other hand, there are a few very distinctive Welsh dance artists and first language Welsh speakers who have been creating fully bilingual work for decades. Considered as national treasures, Eddie Ladd and Marc Rees have been touring their work internationally using effective and ingenious ways to introduce their multi-media and bilingual blend of work to audiences across the globe. I don’t believe the work is diminished by not understanding the language, in fact it adds a unique element and intrigue on hearing an alien language, often for the first time.

What has the impact of digital & creative technologies been on Dance? Can you tell us how you and others in Cardiff are using new technologies in their work?

Innovative technology has been a key component in many of the works created in Cardiff over the last few decades, with video projection and live camera feeds playing an important role. However, resources are tight, and many artists wishing to develop their work using new technology simply find that budgets don’t allow for much exploration in this area. That said, Wales is supported by a cross art form fund specifically exploring innovative technology hosted by Nesta, encouraging collaboration between them and industry specialists. A number of dance projects have fared well through this fund, including Taikabox who seamlessly mix dance with new technology to create visual feasts, and Bombastic, a dance, theatre and digital media company for young people whose main purpose is to explore the interface between live arts and digital media.

The Dance Dome, a Coreo Cymru and 4Pi Productions partnership project, is a fantastic example of innovative technology. It’s an immersive 26-seat cinema that presents a series of 360-degree dance films made in Wales. The portable dome shaped structure has toured extensively across Wales, UK and internationally to China and the films themselves have been screened in planetariums worldwide, winning awards at major full-dome international film festivals. The beauty of this project is that it really entices audiences in; they are interested in the new experiences it offers and the intimate nature of the cinema, and is usually housed outdoors within a festival context or sometimes even in a shopping centre. 4Pi Productions has also worked closely with other dance companies including Ballet Cymru and Harnisch-Lacey Dance Theatre, incorporating stunning projection mapping within their work.

YOU'VE ALSO PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN THE DANCE ROADS NETWORK. WHY DO YOU THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO BRING INTERNATIONAL WORK TO WALES, AND WELSH WORK TO AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE?

Wales is the longest running member of the Dance Roads network and is currently developing a bid to support activity across Europe with seven European partner countries. It’s an exciting prospect, jointly developing an activity programme and sharing your work and practice with colleagues across borders. I’ve personally gained so much by being part of this network, making new connections beyond the partner countries and learning about the different infrastructures in which we all work. For the artists involved their experiences are immense, not only through the sharing of their work with a diverse range of audiences but by getting to know artists from different countries and backgrounds. They all tour together within the six-week Dance Roads touring programme, so it really does give them opportunity to enrich and share.

Working internationally is in the most part what we all aspire to do; it provides a context that supports our profiles both at home and abroad and reinforces our cultural identity. As part of a relatively small island on the far west of Europe it can sometimes feel that we work in a silo and only share with each other. Opportunities to share further afield, both exporting and importing, serves to enrich practice and the cultural offer to our communities. Contemporary dance is a young art form, a small but growing industry that often struggles to reach the wider population and gain profile within the general arts sector. We need to work together to develop the form at a global level. As an art form driven by passionate people, we do connect well with each other, supported by the all-important world-wide international platforms, conferences and festivals.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE DANCE SECTOR IN WALES?

Currently the sector is hosting a series of meetings and open space forums to look at the best way forward, focusing on the needs of our artists and audiences and how best to capitalise on recent successes. As a small nation we work well together, supporting each other and collaborating on many programmes and this year especially, has seen the sector reach out further internationally. Hosting British Dance Edition and our presence at the world’s largest trade-show for dance, Tanzmesse, provided unprecedented opportunities to showcase our work and connect to the wider industry. 2016 represents a turning point in our dance history and one that I’m sure the sector will come together to steer in an outward-looking direction.