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New Choreography Award launched by the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund

Photo: 'Under the Vaulted Sky' by Rosemary Lee, winner of the Bonnie Bird New Choreography Award 2013-15. Commissioned by IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2014. Photo Shaun Armstrong

The Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund has launched call-outs for The New Choreography Award, a biennial award of £10,000 open to applications from experienced choreographers and artists based in the UK working choreographically in any style or genre. The award has been created to support a bespoke range of activities, identified by the awardee that will support their overall creative development. 

Bethan Wood, Dance Contributor for Run Riot talks with the Chair of the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund and Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Dance East, Brendan Keaney to find out more about the Award, including the Awards importance in raising the profile of and supporting Choreography.

Bethan Wood: Why did you decide to take on the position of Chair for the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund, and how does this sit alongside the other incredible work you have done and do in championing and supporting dance? 

Brendon Keaney: Chairing a fund in Bonnie Bird’s name is a great honour. Bonnie was an extraordinary person, she made a huge contribution to the development of dance, so it seems important that we celebrate her extraordinary legacy. I was very excited about working alongside the Trustees and Advisors, who are a dynamic group, and I felt that I would be learning from the experience. I have been working professionally for nearly 40 years and I worry about getting past my “sell by” date, so it is important that I continue to find opportunities to grow.    

BW: What inspired the creation of the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund and how important is the New Choreography Award to the sector and its legacy?

BK: I joined the fund in 2016, so I was not around at the beginning when it was first set up. The fund was set up on the occasion of Bonnie Bird's 70th birthday in 1985, when friends and colleagues from around the world gave generous donations to mark her 50-year involvement in dance. She used these contributions to establish the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund. Since that time, the Fund has supported over 130 innovative choreographers and dance writers through several different awards. Dr Marion North who originally invited Bonnie to the UK to head up a new Dance Theatre course at then Laban Centre was a prime mover and founder of the fund, which was administered by Laban (now Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Music and Dance) for many years. I think we all know that it is hard to get money for choreographic research, so I consider this award, albeit as a relatively small pot of money, to be of incredible value. If you look on our website www.bonniebird.org at the past recipients who have received support from the fund it is a very impressive list. Bonnie’s legacy is secure, with or without the Fund, however if the awards continue to support choreographic development and introduce new generations of artists to who Bonnie was and what she achieved, then it will continue to have serious merit.

Photo: Chair of the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund and Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Dance East, Brendan Keaney.

BW: What is your vision for the Award this year, in terms of the applicants and audiences it could reach?

BK: I am not sure my vision is so important, but my concern, like my fellow Trustees and Advisors is that the fund continues to be relevant.  As a group, our collective ambition is that the vision should remain true to Bonnie’s belief that choreographers need time and resources to experiment. I think we are all particularly concerned that we should be trying to reach as broad a cross section of artists as possible, but that the New Choreography Award remains about research and not necessarily about making a piece of work. I think that we all have an aspiration to grow the fund, but this won’t happen in a year and maybe the manifestation of that aspiration won’t even happen during my tenure as Chair, but we would like to develop the profile of the awards and build a larger resource of funds.

BW: What makes an application stand out? And what would be your top tips?

BK: This is a tough question, because so many people manage to pull together good applications and it is hard to identify what exactly makes one application stronger than another.  It is usually the combination of elements, the sincerity, the ambition, the clarity of thinking, and a strong and clear central idea. The applications that stand out are the ones where you can see the time and thinking that has already been invested. I suppose my top tip would be to keep the writing simple, it is so easy to get sucked into jargon.

Photo: Maria Falconer. Do-Re-Me by Nicola Conibere, winner of The Bonnie Bird New Choreography Award 2015–17. 

BW: How has the Award helped its previous recipients in their practice and development?

BK: I suppose this would be a question addressed to them rather than me, so I’ll mention two of our previous award winners: Rosemary Lee (winner of the New Choreography Award 2013-15) who said that: "The Bonnie Bird New Choreography Award gave me permission to ponder.  It allowed me to find new connections both in the studio and out, meeting poets, the public, microbiologists and archaeologists.  That permission to follow a question, thought or inkling, has influenced the subsequent work I have made since, my teaching, and my future plans are shaped by that time. It has broadened the foundation of my practice." Our current awardee Nicola Conibere also says that: “Given that artists often work with conditions of support that ask for specific types of outcome and evidence, this space to explore and uncover in response to what the research reveals has been incredibly valuable for the development of my practice.”

BW: How can audiences support or get involved with the Award?  

BK: Encourage artists to apply! There is absolutely no shortage of really deserving cases out there, I just hope the right artists will apply and make their case. Having said that, I am also very worried that we have given ourselves an impossibly difficult job!  I think the other thing audiences can do is give us feedback – we value what people think so if we get it wrong, let us know, there are lots of platforms in these digital days for sharing opinions. 

Photo: Rosemary Butcher, winner of the Bonnie Bird Lifetime Contribution to Choreography Award 2015.

BW: Are there any choreographers we should watch out for from the awards or emerging through the dance network?

BK: The last three award winners are all outstanding artists and don’t need any recommendations from me. As for emerging artists, it would be a brave man, or woman, that would answer that question in advance of the decision-making process.  I think the complicated job is for those of us charged with arriving at a decision for this year’s award.  

BW: Why do you think awards and grants are so important for dance and specifically within choreography?

BK: I think people forget or simply don’t realise that choreographic development often requires time, dancers and studio space! Compared to some other arts practice, it can be expensive and the dance economy is small. Consequently, as I have said previously, money, particularly for research, is hard to come by, on a purely practical level, so it is very useful. Awards, however, also have other functions – they can highlight an area of need, celebrate success or just generally act as a profile raiser.  Dance needs all the opportunities to raise its profile that it can get.


The deadline for applications for the Bonnie Bird New Choreography Award is 5pm on Friday 27th October. Full details, guidelines and online application form are available at: http://www.bonniebird.org/bbnca.html

The New Choreography Award is part of a biennial portfolio of awards that the Bonnie Bird Choreography Fund offers, which also includes the Lifetime Contribution to Choreography Award, and the Marion North Mentoring Awards. This year’s award winners will be announced in early December. 


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Twitter: @bonniebird_fund