We caught up with Stuart Griffiths from the Hippodrome as part of our series of features on the Dance Consortium venues.
When did your theatre join the Dance Consortium (DC)?
As I was a founder of the Dance Consortium before I came to the Hippodrome in 2002, it seemed like a natural development to bring the Hippodrome into the fold.
Why did your theatre became a member of the DC?
Prior to joining, the Hippodrome’s only dance programme was the (substantial) ballet programme presented by resident company Birmingham Royal Ballet. Someone said that was the only dance that there was demand for in Birmingham, so that prompted me to want to prove them wrong.
Could you give me a brief history of your theatre? e.g How old is it? Has it always programmed contemporary dance?
There has been a theatre on this site since 1899. Circus became Music Hall, later Variety House then latterly Lyric Theatre. The first contemporary dance was a one-off La la La Human Steps in the late 1990s. A more regular contemporary dance programme began in 2003.
Do you think the recession had much of an effect on theatre-going in Britain?
Thankfully, it seems not to have. I think there is something in the view that people might avoid the big purchases during a recession, but still want to afford the (relatively) modest cost of a decent night out in the search for escape, comfort, thrills and shared experience.
Are there any special design features in your theatre?
An enormous stage is helpful to dance, coupled with great sightlines – also, several dance studios help a bit too (courtesy of Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange) and a great stage door bar!
Could you tell us a bit about your background? Do you have a personal interest in contemporary dance?
Background unpromising, Yorkshire born, degree in Philosophy – because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Contemporary Dance became an abiding source of pleasure and intrigue probably due to some particular brain-wiring which seems to makes me receptive to the more abstract and elusive in art generally.
What was the last piece of theatre you bought tickets for?
Chichester’s Sweeney Todd in the West End last week, a terrific night of throat-slashing and cannibalism with some wonderful music thrown in.
Could you briefly describe a typical day as a Chief Executive…
Late starts, long lunches, early nights.
What makes a good chief executive of a theatre?
I admire those that apply the best qualities of their venues and develop the trust of their audience to back the new and unfamiliar and stretch the boundaries away from the mainstream but remain popular.
What is the most difficult part of your job and the most interesting part?
By far the most interesting and fulfilling part is the great privilege of sitting with your customers and being part of their shared appreciation of something wonderful that you have programmed, particularly if they are seeing it for the first time and trusted you. Most difficult ? Who am I kidding ? I’d be churlish to have the privilege of doing a job like this and highlight difficulties, but having said that the artistic temperament can occasionally be trying.
Are there any theatres you particularly admire for their development/success?
Sadler’s Wells, for bravely supporting the development of new dance at the large-scale and being popular at the same time. Maintaining and renewing the supply of new work that can fill large theatres is essential.
Why is it important international dance comes to the UK?
Why shouldn’t people have the opportunity to see the best dance there is anywhere rather than just a small section made on a small island?
Are there any companies you would like to see toured by the Dance Consortium in the future?
The next great company – that’s the exciting bit, we have to find them.
Which Dance Consortium tours are coming up in your theatre?
Batsheva, Sutra, Grupo Corpo
How do you come to this decision? (Which tours to bring to your theatre)
We try to support everything, dates allowing, there is too little international work available anyway, so we need to grab everything we can.
Do you get any say in the repertoire of the tours?
To an extent with some companies and through commissioned work, but usually it is more about a relationship of trust with a company that the work they have selected is the best for their company and therefore will be the best for the audience.
How do your audiences respond to contemporary dance normally?
Mixed of course, but we have had some extraordinary responses. Recently, Royal Ballet Flanders with William Forsyth’s Artifact went down a storm when I was worried that presenting Forsyth in the Birmingham for the first time might be met with bewilderment.
Do you think the response varies around the country? If so why do you think this is?
Possibly, although everyone likes to think that their audience is the best.