Scottish Dance Theatre at 30
After three decades of creativity and exploration in the heart of Dundee, Scottish Dance Theatre is celebrating its anniversary by being bigger and bolder than ever
There once was a time when being a contemporary dancer in Scotland meant fighting over some pretty slim pickings. There was nowhere to train, and once you returned after training elsewhere, there was little work to be found.
Over the past 30 years, one city more than any other has sought to address that problem – Dundee, home to both the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance and Scottish Dance Theatre.
With the dance company's 30th anniversary looming, current artistic director Fleur Darkin has been chatting to founder Royston Maldoom – the man who got the ball rolling back in 1986 when he founded the then named Dundee Rep Dance Company.
'Royston said that when he started the company, one of his aims was for it to be a vehicle for dancers who might come from Scotland, train in London and then have nothing to do here afterwards,' explains Darkin. 'Which was so appropriate at that time – and now what feels interesting during my tenure is for Scottish Dance Theatre to be a research engine for dance for the whole of Scotland. I want us to put Dundee on the map as a centre of choreographic excellence that's known globally.'
Putting somewhere on the map means letting the rest of the world know about you – and nobody could accuse Darkin of being quiet on that front. This year alone, the company has toured to South Korea, Romania and Brazil, as well as numerous local and national performances.
For Darkin, the company's strong output is due in part to who comes to work with them and the much praised creative input of the dancers (choreographers love working with them) but also the location.
'I think it's interesting that we're not in Edinburgh or Glasgow, we're in Dundee,' she says, 'which is a blessing for us, because it's very easy to live and work here. There are good conditions for experimentation, there's an incredible digital scene here and there's just the idea of discovery in the city.'
When Maldoom started the company in 1986, he had just three dancers. Today, there is a full-time company of ten, and over the years countless dancers have spring-boarded to other companies or launched their own group. While the list of international choreographers and collaborators, from composers to designers, queuing up to head to Dundee keeps on growing.
But Darkin never lets the company forget that home is where the company's creative heart is, as her latest work Velvet Petal demonstrates.
'It's a co-production with a Mexican new music ensemble,' she explains, 'and we have 18 musicians on stage with us. We brought the band here to Dundee in July for a week of previews, and our local audience at the Rep filled out extensive questionnaires and gave feedback before we went back into rehearsals for its premiere in Mexico City.
'So it feels like it's Dundee made, and we can then export what we do to everywhere in the world and show where Scotland is now.'
Scottish Dance Theatre's Big Birthday Bash is at the Dundee Rep on Fri 30 Sep.