Strategic Touring with Breakin' Convention

During my time at Sadler’s Wells, I was lucky enough to work on Breakin’ Convention, the venue’s flagship hip hop dance theatre festival. Starting in 2004, the annual festival has grown from strength to strength, selling out tickets every year and presenting the best hip hop dance theatre from around the globe.

UK touring was an obvious fit for Breakin’ Convention, which had been helping to develop the UK hip hop dance theatre scene just by existing - bringing international acts to London every year to inspire the home grown talent. For their 2014 UK tour, they wanted to delve deeper into the scene, reach out to the hard to reach both in terms of audiences and performers, and develop their unique touring model in a way that might sustain the industry for future generations.

We successfully applied for a strategic touring grant from Arts Council England and set about delivering our multi-layered strategy.

Step one was to identify local reps in each of the towns or cities we were touring too. These reps were sought using both Breakin’ Convention’s contacts and local knowledge through the venues. They were a mixture of dancers, producers, promoters and educators that were already rooted in the local hip hop communities.

Step two was to audition for local talent. With help from the local reps, we toured to each town or city 6 months ahead of the show and auditioned local dancers, groups and crews who would perform alongside the international professional artists programmed by Breakin’ Convention. All of the participants in the auditions were given feedback to help them improve even if they weren’t programmed in the event.

Step three was about taking hip hop out into communities to bust myths about the culture and invite people to experience the kinds of performances they would see on stage. These ‘lead in events’ were tailored towards each venues’ audience development needs. Some were about reaching the masses through shopping centre promos, others were more targeted with local crews going into community centres or school assemblies.

The final step was about throwing open the doors on the day of the event itself. Transforming traditional theatre settings into places where the hip hop community felt connected - with DJs, emceeing, graffiti demonstrations, foyer cyphers and sole trains. A party atmosphere that lead onto the stage and off again.

The tour was a big success and the following year, Arts Council England awarded a second round of strategic touring funding to Breakin’ Convention for the next two years of touring.

You can read an Arts Council case study here

Launching Acosta Danza

During my time at Sadler’s Wells, I was fortunate to work on a lot of exciting shows that were produced by the theatre. One of my all time favourites has to be Acosta Danza’s first UK tour - Debut. Not only was this the first outing for Carlos Acosta’s new Cuba-based company, but it was also the premiere of a new work made specially for him and a female dancer called Marta Ortega by choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.

My first responsibility as marketing manager for the tour was to build a brand identity for the company that would create an instant impact. Apart from Carlos, the dancers were all unknown to UK audiences so they needed imagery that would immediately conjure paint a picture of the incredible strengths of the dancers and evoke the spirit of modern Cuba.

When choosing a photographer for this unenviable task I knew I had to find someone who would not only be able to cope with the Havana heat but would use creative license and artistic flair to get the best out of the dancers. I chose to work with photographer Manuel Vason because I knew that he would create something unexpected. I had worked with him a few years before on a shoot for Sadler’s Wells’ production Gravity Fatigue, a show created as a vehicle for fashion designer Hussein Chalayan. During what should have been a standard shoot in a dance studio at Sadler’s Wells, Vason decided to take the dancers up onto the roof (something that I later got in hot water for with the management) resulting in an iconic poster image that helped to sell out the production.

After a brief meeting between Carlos and Manuel in Paddington station I was convinced I had made the right choice. The two were able to communicate their artistic ideas and come up with a plan within the brief I had set. The results were incredible. A series of outdoor shots taken on the site of the derelict ballet school Carlos is hoping to restore in the future were complemented by a number taken inside the Grand Theatre Alicia Alonso in central Havana.

There were many factors that contributed to the success of this particular tour - not least because Carlos himself was performing in it - but I do believe these images laid the foundations. They built a confident image of quality and gravitas that gave audiences the assurance that the production would deliver.