Plans by the Arts Council to create an all-island flagship dance company must ensure it does not replicate others in Ireland while offering an “exciting proposition internationally”, according to a report.
The Festival and Events International (FEI) feasibility study examined ideas on how the company could be set up and run, and highlighted successful models in Scotland and Denmark with “similar ambition and scale”.
The Arts Council decision to commission the initiative – budget costs are estimated at between €2.5 million to €3 million per year – was welcomed by the “great majority” of those consulted in the research.*
However, the study notes that concerns were also raised about the impact on the current dance sector, which it describes as “fragile, fractured and one with significant geographical variations, especially those between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
“The impact is intended to be beneficial, but in its first years could well be disruptive, and some of the disruption could be damaging. Other dance companies may lose key people to the new company; venues and audiences may opt for the new company instead of existing dance companies. The Arts Council and the new company will need to put measures in place to ensure that its impact is as beneficial as possible from the start.
“Given the company’s role it will expect to work closely with the island’s two national dance resource organisations, Dance Ireland and Theatre and Dance Northern Ireland, contributing to and supporting their work for the whole of the dance sector. Regional organisations such as Dance Limerick, Dance Cork/Firkin Crane and Galway Dance Project will be important partners for the company’s work within their areas.”
A driving factor for the Art Council’s decision was its desire to “attract and retain more dancers to live and work on the island”.
There is a shortage of designers, production and stage managers, which was compounded by departures during the pandemic.
The company’s flagship role will require it to produce “high-quality performances on larger and smaller scales” but it must also have the capacity to commit to the development of younger choreographers and dancers.
“The company will have to develop a persuasive answer to the question of what it means to live, work and create in Ireland. The artistic direction will need to take account of the tastes and interests of its target audiences,” the FEI report advises.
Regarding the all-island ambition, there were “strongly expressed statements” among those consulted about the “essential need for transparency” in developing ties with the North’s artists and audiences.
While there are many challenges facing the new company’s leadership, the report concludes that overall “the great body of goodwill towards the company’s arrival and its significant resources will provide a strong base to help the company realise the full potential of its promise for dance”.
*This article was amended on Thursday, May 11th, 2023. An earlier version included a reference to Jean Butler which was open to the interpretation that she welcomed plans by the Arts Council to create an all-island flagship dance company. While Ms Butler was consulted during research on the initiative, her position on the initiative has not been made public.