Today The Place engages hundreds of artists, students, dancers and audiences, both onsite and online digitally, in pursuit of a world with more dance. Continuing to lead the way in shaping the art form, it remains the thriving hub of innovation and creativity that it was when it first opened its doors in 1969, as London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) and a home for London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT 1967-1994).
The Place is an institution that thrives due to its remarkable history, values and ability to move with the times. A move that unifies education, training and creative processes making The Place a global-leading institution that it has always aspired to be. Now honouring the extraordinary work of people responsible for carving out its identity and Robin Howard’s inspiring leadership (1966-1988), the current collaborative leadership team with Clare Connor as Chief Executive, establishes the theatre, the School and professional artists programmes as one integrated unit.
Extending the generosity of Founding Principal Robin Howard (1924-1989) and his belief that dance could transform and enrich lives, The Place’s vision includes a world with more dance fuelled by a mission that strives to “power imagination through dance”. Pioneering new ideas, taking risks and creating the best conditions for artists and audiences are core values that inform attitudes to pedagogy, artistic development, audiences and engagement.
The Place’s creative excellence builds on the legacy of its first artistic director Robert Cohan, who directed The Place, LCDT and LCDS between 1967- 1987. Cohan’s passion for performance and dance education together with that of Howard and fellow founders of The Place - Jane Dudley, Janet 'Mop' Eager and Patricia Hutchinson Mackenzie, developed both theatre and school into an accessible and friendly meeting place of contemporary ideas and experiments. In its embracing of a wide range of artists and art-forms, the school began to resemble an artist’s community that reflected the radical politics and art of the 60’s and 70’s. Echoing a shift in thinking about dance in higher education during the 80’s, Cohan and Howard appointed a new Principal, Richard Ralph (1979-1996), with the clear objective that he should enable students to obtain a dance degree. In 1982 he succeeded in negotiating a degree course validated by the University of Kent, and the first graduates emerged in 1985. They and successive LCDS graduates went on to shape contemporary dance’s impact in the UK and beyond.
The 90’s and noughties saw a new chapter for The Place under Richard Alston as artistic director (1994-2018) with the building becoming a home for his company, Richard Alston Dance Company (1994-2020). Pioneered by John Ashford, both school and theatre flourished in a period of modernisation and expansion as new links were forged with international artists, through programmes such as Aerowaves, European Dance Network and Resolution as well as initiatives to support artist development. Ashford during his time at the Place (1986-2009) together with partners Dance Umbrella , played a significant role in bringing international work to the UK.
During Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp’s time as Chief Executive (2009-2017), The Place Prize sponsored by Bloomberg, continued to bring media attention and popularity to contemporary dance and The Place. Set up in 2004 and continuing for ten years, it enabled the commissioning of new work in the UK that was toured in festivals and theatres nationally and internationally. Meanwhile Veronica Lewis as principal of the school between 1998-2018, concentrated on her mission to prepare students for varied and lifelong careers in dance, nurturing independent and individual artists, as well as setting up and co-founding the National Centre for Advanced training .
Howard’s hope for contemporary dance “to remain international and continue to cooperate with the other arts and reflect the world outside” is still alive in the current opportunities for artists and students, both nationally and internationally. In the last few decades, reflecting the politics of our time, The Place has invested in the diversity and plurality of artists seeking to lead societal change through art and dance. Under the artistic leadership of Eddie Nixon, a renewed concentration on artist development, commissioning and artist support enables independent artists, unlock their potential and develop the artform.
A productive and inspiring engagement with people, so vital to The Place’s evolution, is seen in the programming of performances at the Robin Howard theatre. In addition, new international and national touring initiatives and a stimulating programme of live streamed and digital performance (started during covid lockdowns) continue to reach and expand audiences across the UK and abroad. The range of dance classes for school children and young people as well as the National Centre for Advanced Training, fulfils an ongoing pledge to ensure as many children and adults from local communities have the opportunity to explore their creativity through dance. Directed by Dr Lise Uytterhoeven, the school's current focus is on developing pedagogy driven by diversity and inclusion as well as critical thinking and a continuing dialogue around performance. Activities in the theatre, outreach programmes and professional artists’ residencies provide students with opportunities to interact with and work in a professional environment throughout their studies. The Place prioritises the value of creating resilience and entrepreneurship in students, making sure that teaching and best practice enhance their development and preparation for professional outcomes. A newly validated degree programme by University of the Arts London reaffirms the Place’s significance in higher education and its potential to create exceptional alumni who continue to shape the art form and industry on a global scale.
Text by Josephine Leask 2022