Fleur Darkin: '˜Scottish Dance Theatre has much to celebrate on its 30th birthday'

Scottish Dance Theatre has much to celebrate as it turns 30, says Fleur Darkin

Scottish Dance Theatre's new production Velvet Petal
Scottish Dance Theatre's new production Velvet Petal

As I write this from our base in Sao Paolo, I can’t wait to bring the energy of Brazil back to Dundee. Scottish Dance Theatre are here as part of a British Council exchange to perform our critically acclaimed piece Miann, work in favelas with local communities and deliver training to Brazilian dancers.

The company celebrates its 30th birthday this month and looking back it’s amazing to see how much has happened since those early days. When I moved to Dundee to become Artistic Director the company’s reputation for high quality work, its place within the community and its strong focus on education were some of the key factors that attracted me.

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Since I’ve arrived I’ve sought to build on these, bringing in world class choreographers to work with the company, creating inclusive work locally with projects like Scale where we transformed Dundee into a child’s playground with the help of video artist Tim Reid and The One Ensemble. In fact it was here with The One Ensemble where Miann was first conceived and has since toured worldwide with Brazilian audiences the latest to fall under its spell.

What I hadn’t fully realised was how much quality, community and collaboration have been part of the company’s DNA from the beginning when Royston Maldoom founded Dundee Rep Dance Company in 1986. Three dancers (Frank McConnell, Liz Gardner and Craig McKnight) joined Royston and showcased their first professional programme In with Both Feet in January 1987. A relentless work ethic and desire to engage with communities saw the company travel Scotland extensively teaching and performing in everything from church halls to nightclubs. Royston passed on the reins to associate Tamara McLorg whose successes (including a Digital Dance Award in 1991) bolstered the company’s reputation. Her successor Neville Campbell changed the company name to Scottish Dance Theatre in 1995 as Scotland’s first homegrown dance company performed in London and across the UK.

When my predecessor Janet Smith became Artistic Director the company was ready for another step change. Being housed at Dundee Rep Theatre brought daily interaction with designers, composers, costume artists and theatre makers fuelling collaboration, experimentation and creative exchange. What we lacked, however, was a big enough space dedicated to exploring these connections. Thanks to a successful funding bid, in 2004 a new £1million-plus state of the art dance studio was built transforming working conditions for visiting choreographers and Scottish Dance Theatre’s talented dancers.

As Dundee became a destination for dance the company began to tour more widely. Award wins at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe cemented the company’s international reputation, and at home the growth of our education and outreach work ensured our global outlook was built on strong local foundations. This ethos of inclusivity was central to the creation of the first Dance Agent for Change post in 2008 when guest choreographer Caroline Bowditch joined, her work breaking new ground for dance and disability.

On becoming Artistic Director in 2012 I was excited to join and develop a company that has from the beginning blazed a trail. Our 30th year sees Scottish Dance Theatre continue in this vein as we follow up trips to Belgium, Korea and Romania with a world premiere of our new production Velvet Petal in Mexico City and exciting R&D work with video game designers in Dundee. When we return from Brazil, the work we’ve done with local communities here will help inform projects we are developing in Whitfield, Dundee.

Despite such a hectic schedule we still have time to celebrate. It wouldn’t be a proper 30th birthday without a party, so we’re throwing open the doors of Dundee Rep to welcome everyone to a night including performance, cocktails and of course dancing! Come join me and our dedicated, talented and creative the team here at Scottish Dance Theatre on 30 September to toast the past 30 years and look forward to the exciting times that lie ahead.

• For more details visit scottishdancetheatre.com