Artistic Director

We are often introduced to the Artistic Director of a dance company through reading their biography on a website or in theatre programmes.  The Artistic Director will usually come first in the ranks of the company and their biography is likely to be longer in length than most and describes a lifetime of impressive achievements.  It is great to read about what they have done to get them to the place they are, however, we learn little about exactly what it is that Artistic Directors do.  How much direct involvement do they have with the company in for example rehearsals?  How many of the decisions lie with the AD? What responsibilities lie with the AD in comparison with the Managing or Executive Director?

Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater

When talking about the role of the Artistic Director you may have many people mention the words Creative Vision.  But by the same token, what exactly does creative vision mean, and how does having creative vision achieve the goal of leading a successful dance company?

The word vision suggest forward looking and this is part of what an artistic director of a dance company is responsible for; looking to the future of the company and making decision to forge their path.  An artistic director may ask themselves ‘where do I want the company to be in ten years time?’  This questions covers many aspects of the company’s ‘place’ and includes their place in society as a whole as well as within the dance world.  The artistic director will need to consider what type of audiences they want to attract, what their style will be, what their identity will be and what type of choreographer and dancer they will employ to deliver the required style.

Once the artistic director has formed some conclusions on these subjects then they can begin to formulate an end goal and therefore implement the decisions accordingly.

A large part of their role will be to make programming choices that reflect their vision.  This will involve choosing repertory, old and new that will deliver the required style to the desired audience.  Decision on where to tour, the size of the venues and the marketing for the tour will have to be made.  The marketing will help to attract the right audience for the style of the company.

The management of a dance company may be shared between the artistic director and the managing director with the latter taking responsibility for the marketing, financial and administrative aspects.  However, often with small dance companies the funds are not available for both roles and therefore the artistic director will wear two hats.

The artistic director will be involved with auditioning for new dancers and commissioning new choreographers to fulfill the criteria set by the creative vision.  These decisions will also set the standards of the dance company, an element that once set must be maintained by the artistic director.  As well as satisfying the targeted audiences, the artistic director has a responsibility to satisfy the dancers of the company both technically and emotionally.  This will also help to develop a style as dancers will remain within the company for a longer period of time if they are being challenged and developed as artists.

It has been said that the role of artistic director can be quite isolated, however, events such as the Rural Retreat run by Dance East bring together artistic directors to share their experiences and debate issues that arise with like minded people.

This feeds into the additional role of the artistic director, which is to consider not only the direction of the dance company but the direction of the dance company within the dance

Deborah Colker

world and within society and therefore seeing the bigger picture of the direction of dance in general.

There is no such thing as a training course for artistic directors and no specific qualifications required, however, it is usual that a dancer or choreographer will make their way though the company to the position of artistic director and as a result have an idea of what the job is all about.