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MOVE BE MOVED 40 STORIES…SCILLA DYKE MBE

15 Dec 2023

DR SCILLA DYKE MBE FRSA

Scilla Dyke was the Founder Director of Suffolk Dance/ DanceEast, from 1983 – 1994, and Chair of the Board of Directors from 1997 to 2000. During that time, Scilla was Director of a three-year international Lottery Funded initiative, Cross Currents, and its associated conference season. A DanceEast Board Observer from 2000 to 2001, Scilla was also an Arts Council East Observer from 2003 to 2009.

Scilla was awarded an MBE for Services to Dance in 2000, an Honorary Doctorate from the University of East Anglia in 2003, the first Living Spaces Award in 2004 and an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University in 2013. Scilla is Patron of People Dancing, Vice Patron of Suffolk Community Foundation, and in 2022 was nominated for an AWA Women in Dance Leadership Award.

As an independent artist creating bespoke interventions between classical and contemporary dancers, Scilla has nurtured career transitions with more than 2,600 artists in the UK and internationally. As an author, editor, educator, curator, and broadcaster, she campaigns internationally for dancers’ health and wellbeing.

Scilla is still dancing as a member of Edgefield Dance. She continues to live in Suffolk and supports the ongoing and emerging creative work of DanceEast and the Jerwood DanceHouse.

 

EARLY YEARS

“I fell in love with dance at an early age. It allowed me to escape the societal and cultural diktat of the 1950s and 60s and the inequities facing me: at that time, children of estranged families were automatically put up for adoption. I was fostered in Devon, and it was there I was introduced to ballet, because it is known to strengthen ankles and feet for hypermobility (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), which I have.

“After a move to Hampshire, and while at primary school, my family circumstances were such that there was no money for me to attend dance classes. This led to my first paid work, aged nine, on a rural fruit farm in Hampshire. That year I was selected to perform for Ninette de Valois and Margot Fonteyn and was awarded a bursary to continue my training at the Royal Academy of Dance. Classes included a fusion of French, Danish and Russian techniques to create a new style of ballet. Independently, I studied Cecchetti methods.

“Alongside my dance training, while at Sixth Form College in Hampshire, I won a competition to become a youth ambassador with multiple local charities, to work with and fundraise for diverse communities. I launched events, gave press interviews, developed leadership, volunteering, presentation, and community skills, and joined an international tutor team to teach English as Foreign Language in the UK and internationally.

“For the first time, my identity, thoughts, and voice, were becoming my own.”

 

LIVERPOOL AND LONDON

“In the early 1970s, Liverpool was a centre for avant-garde arts activity. Its influence drew me North, and I immersed myself in a world filled with art and art-making. The University of Liverpool offered a rich, conservatoire-like dance training over four years. I completed this, leaving with dual qualifications BEd Hons in Dance, and Cert.Ed FE/HE, which came to be a BA Hons in Dance.  During my studies, I was inspired by collaborations between dance and education, in both the USA and UK. I studied choreographic and improvisation techniques including Graham, Humphrey, Limón, Cunningham, Jooss, Leeder, Laban, and classical ballet’s Karsavina.

“I also undertook a year-long dance residency with London Contemporary Dance Theatre and performed repertoire devised by Bob Cohan, Robert North, Namron, Siobhan Davies, Richard Alston, and Anthony Van Laast. And I danced in iconic venues such as The Cavern, John Lewis shop windows and both Liverpool Cathedrals!

“Following this, I moved to London. Within the first nine months I performed a solo show, was promoted to Head of Department in a comprehensive school, and collaborated with the Director and Principal of the Royal Ballet School Associate Programme as Lead Dance Artist. I went on to launch a pioneering initiative to identify and discover new talent from the wider community.

“From 1979 – 1982 I was Resident Choreographer and Programmer, Dance, at Institute Français du Royaume-Uni, devising works and programming performances that encouraged cross-cultural exchange and presented the best of French culture. Through this I acquired international experience and developed management skills.

During this period, I had many mentors. These pioneers inspired me to take a deep dive into the potential of collaboration and extended learning. The list is long and includes Irene Dilks from Martha Graham Company and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, alongside experimenters Bonnie Bird, an American-born dancer, choreographer and director, and Lorn Primrose from Trinity Laban.

“Musicians Brendan McCormack, described by John Lennon as ‘the guitarist who most influenced him’, Brian Smith from Nucleus Jazz, and Nick Mason from Pink Floyd, all layered my appreciation of musical genres. More widely, my mentors included writer and visual artist Clive Barker, who created scripts for performances at the Everyman Theatre, philosopher and educator, Peter Brinson, and football entrepreneur Danny Blanchflower. All these individuals had restless minds and were intent on stretching our understanding of the world, and of art, and the boundaries of courage.”

 

SUFFOLK DANCE/ DANCEEAST

“In 1983 I was appointed Dance Artist in Residence/ Dance Animateur for Suffolk. The mandate was to ‘Make Dance Happen.’ My remit was across one million acres, both urban and rural, with a £100 budget and a telephone. My funding came without guarantee, and was initially for one year. I was advised to ‘let the work speak.’

“A quick win was never an option! My vision was to forge a sustainable ecology, so there was a legacy beyond one person. This meant fostering meaningful, lasting relationships, and making sure everything I did was relevant to Suffolk. I focused on creative excellence, innovation, opportunities, and sustainability, nurturing artistic talent and facilitating access to dance.

“One year became two, three… I witnessed the power of engaged communities, project by project, initiative by initiative, artist by artist, dancer by dancer, person by person, community by community. My practice constantly evolved during this time. I was learning, absorbing and responding to everything around me. My practice resembled ‘an eye which is reflecting images endlessly.’ There was nothing heavy or imposing about this process, and it created something quite improbable.

“The national arts funding crisis in 1987 led to the collaborative support of multiple funders and stakeholders, and the inclusion of an extended regional remit. This could have contributed to a rapid fracturing of the provision offered, undermining the county-wide ecology I was striving for. Instead, this crisis strengthened my spirit, resolve, and passion, and I took the decision to maintain the integration that I implicitly knew was the key for Suffolk and the region to thrive.

“This necessitated me operating as a chameleon with different roles: Director of Suffolk Dance, and County Advisory Teacher. The parameters of these roles eventually relaxed and fused but it demanded political astuteness to operate between the layers. The extraordinarily talented Helen Lax and Heidi Wilson joined me at this time, to form a team.

“I authored a successful far-reaching bid to become a National Dance Agency, and create a future strategic vision from 1993-1998. The principal competitors were major urban city-based dance organisations operating from a single base, including Leeds and Birmingham. Our strength was that Suffolk Dance comprised rural and urban hubs from which a National Dance Agency could operate.

“I forged a working partnership with Steven Walton, Director of Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, as well as 25 venues throughout Suffolk, from pubs to large, medium, and small-scale spaces. The strength of our National Dance Agency bid was a boon for Suffolk and led to the continued establishment of a strong ecology for dance in the region.

“In one year, more than 8,070 people participated in residencies and classes. Individual residencies involved 1,000 people dancing. By 1992, Suffolk Dance offered greater dance provision than Merseyside and Glasgow combined. The message was clear: ‘dance in Suffolk is booming.’

“This boom manifested in lots of different ways. We established Suffolk County Council’s exemplary primary to postgraduate Dance in Education Programme, reaching out beyond the UK to Europe.

“We created a dance company, Visual Contact, involving young people not in education, employment, and training. Visual Contact worked with the director Sylvia Burnett, choreographer Maggie Semple, composer Ian Dean, and graffiti artist Banksy, to create Yoruba hangings and new work. This was filmed by Suffolk Art College Film School.

“I designed and delivered a dance programme to enhance Sir Bobby Robson’s World Cup team, focusing on speed, footwork, and flexibility. Robson was known as a tactical genius. I then devised with Robson and his squad a pioneering project with Ipswich Town Football Club’s Junior Blues, who acted as role models for men and boys engaging in and with dance.

“It felt important to establish a network of contemporary youth dance companies across Suffolk, with opportunities to perform regionally, nationally, internationally. We created Splinters Youth Dance Company, led by choreographer Caroline Mummery; members included Charlotte Darbyshire, Lynette King, and Michael Platt.

“Splinters worked in tandem with Suffolk County Council’s County Ballet Scholarship Scheme, which included Gary Avis, Jonathan Payne, Bryony Wells, and Emily Horwood. All dance companies were supported by Annual Summer Schools and performance intensives with international choreographers, including the creation of new commissions by Stephen Long, Akram Khan, and Fergus Early.

“I initiated a collaboration with Peter Pears, and colleagues from the Aldeburgh Festival, to create commissioned works by Gill Clarke and Caroline Messenger for Splinters. New, Suffolk-wide audiences were bussed to the performances at Snape Maltings, to expand the social and creative reach of the work. The work then toured with the British Council to Portugal, accompanied by Anglia Television’s Folio film crew.

“The richness of the dance ecology in Suffolk as we were establishing Suffolk Dance/ DanceEast was such that many individual artists were practicing discreetly in the region, without recognition or funding.  In response to this I created a bespoke, accredited Artist Development training with national bodies, to provide these artists with an opportunity to work and train for different contexts. It was spearheaded by international pioneers, Maggie Semple and Anna Carlisle.

“Suffolk Dance/DanceEast ultimately became synonymous with cutting edge commissioning. Artist residencies included Wayne McGregor CBE, Lloyd Newson, Russell Maliphant, Emlyn Claid, Kevin Finnan, and Sujata Bannerjee. We also delivered retreats, creative incubators, and collectives, investing in artists and people as dancers, creators, choreographers, and audiences.

“High profile partnerships also became key to our work. The Glory of the Garden, funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain (now Arts Council England), created an English National Ballet residency in Ipswich. This critically influenced the debate about the role and importance of regional theatre, moving beyond the cliché of crisis towards examining the politics and policy of making dance performance outside London. A year-long initiative, this project involved over 1,000 people.  Artistic Director Matz Scoog reflected: “I have the fondest memories of my times with Suffolk Dance – such commitment and artistic vision.”

“Our secret, our lifeblood, was the commitment and generosity of thousands of local people and the communities of artists, teachers, schools, and stakeholders, from colliding disciplines across Suffolk, the eastern region, and the UK. These individuals were passionate about dance, and helped build a lasting ground swell of support, legacy, and ecology.  Our work was neither marginal nor fringe. We felt bold and brave working together.

“Many of these people are still dancing and creating work, at the forefront of artistic practice, often without great recognition. Two are no longer with us, the extraordinary Mel Horwood and Liz Norman. Their legacy is alive in the DanceEast of today.”

 

WHAT NEXT?

At a time of shifting landscapes, dance has the power to sow the seeds of change, offer an innovative and impactful solution, and help us to continue to realise the impossible. This is now more important than ever.

Dance can disturb the air, ignite and inform new creative thinking, and generate future-forward approaches. This not only stimulates insight and a better understanding of ourselves and the evolving world in which we live, but crucially it also supports our communities, enhancing creativity, innovation, and a positive sense of identity.

Nothing living is still. We discover and rediscover the past in the now. The future is alive with possibilities.”

 

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