This week I have handed over management of Antonia Grove’s Probe to Chris Fogg and Zoe Manders at South East Dance where Brighton-based Antonia is an Associate Artist. The move forms part of the tremendous support made available to Antonia during her two year tenure beginning this summer.
I have been working with Probe for nearly seven years, during which time Antonia (with Theo Clinkard up until 2008) has created three major productions and several short solo pieces. These have toured extensively throughout England and further afield.
It has been fascinating to have worked with Toni and to explored with her the transformation of her career over this period, developing from a contemporary dancer with a wish to curate her own performances to a fully fledged artistic director challenging both herself and the boundaries between dance, theatre and live art.
Probe and I first met at British Dance Edition in Leeds in 2006 where Antonia and Theo performed Mark Bruce’s duet from Have we met somewhere before?, Fever to Tell Watch the video here. It is an utterly captivating piece and I grew to love it. (Though not quite as much as Soledad, Rafael Bonachela’s contribution to the same three part evening, which has to come in my desert island DVDs of dance pieces. See for yourself here).
Keith Watson wrote in the Metro about Have we met somewhere before? “Probe are right on the money”. And they so were! Shortly after BDE, I took over management of Probe from Anthony Baker (it was he who had ensured the company got this first production off the ground and that it received the exposure it deserved). I quickly found Probe were the company of the moment. For an arts manager and producer, that’s a great position to be in…
Such was the demand for Have we met somewhere before? it would have been the easiest thing in the world for Probe to replicate the formula. But Toni and Theo are artists who are constantly pushing their own agenda as well as that of contemporary dance. Magpie, which premiered in January 2008, was a series of seven dance pieces, each one by a different choreographer, cannily connected by briefly sung or spoken interludes. There were four specially commissioned works (by Charles Linehan, Mark Bruce, Stephen Mear and New Art Club) and three existing pieces, by Trisha Brown, the late Jeremy James and Yasmeen Godder, as well as original contributions from set and costume designer Fabrice Serafino, lighting designer Richard Garfield and composer Jules Maxwell (click on the choreographer’s name to watch video footage). The idea was to assemble some dance “gems” (gems – Magpie – get it?) which would encapsulate a broad range of genres, from dance theatre and comedy to pure movement; there was even a tap dance piece, courtesy of Stephen Mear.
The making of Magpie was supported by Hextable Dance, Greenwich Dance Agency, The Place, Take Art, Merlin Theatre, Frome andSouthHillPark, and received a sizeable grant from Arts Council England’s lottery fund, Grants for the Arts. There were 30 performances, including several in cabaret and outdoor settings where Probe presented just one or two of the gems on their own.
By mid-2008, Theo was now looking at how he might best pursue a new career as a designer, and he decided to step down as joint Artistic Director. (He has gone on, not only to design costumes internationally, but also to choreograph his own work – his Ordinary Courage tour opens 28 November). It was an interesting time to be working with Toni. It was clear to me that the collaboration with Theo had been pivotal to the direction the company had taken up to this point. At the same time, I was also becoming aware of how much Toni was the real driving force behind Probe. It was her brainchild after all.
With the next production, Toni made a radical change in artistic direction. After some detailed research during which Probe commissioned a script from writer Tim Crouch, the company embarked on the creation of a daring work of narrative dance theatre May (click here to watch the promotional video). A darkly humourous and slightly surreal tale of romance between a terse self-harmer (the May of the title, played by Grove) and her social worker (played by Ben Duke), May reveals in dance, text and song the lovers’ psychological unravelling and ultimate redemption. Recounting the story as a reading in a writers’ group where musician Scott Smith is organiser grounds the narrative in the here and now and provides light relief and humour. Described by some as a play with dance, Donald Hutera recommended the production to “anyone interested in boundary-blurring dance-theatre pinned to new writing” (The Times). Antonia had succeeded in establishing a production aesthetic for the company which would help steer them a new path.
Probe presented nineteen performances of May over two seasons in 2011 and 2012, all funded by Arts Council England through Grants for the Arts. The production was also supported by The Point, Merlin Theatre, Frome, Nightingale Theatre and Brighton Dome.
During the making of May, Toni was also developing an artistic collaboration with Wendy Houstoun which would result in a full length production Small Talk (video). A one-woman show in which Toni inhabits the personae of a series of American actresses whose interviews are fed to her via earphones, Small Talk is one person’s attempt to fulfil her chameleon-like desire to be all things to all people. Dancing, singing, telling jokes, she does it all. This small show of great stature tells us how far the multi-talented Grove has come.
“Grove is best known as a dancer with the likes of Rambert and Random Dance but who knew she could act? Watch how a smile ripples across her face, recedes, then spreads from one corner of her mouth to deep in the eyes before ebbing away — that’s a whole story right there” Evening Standard
Probe has presented twenty one performances of Small Talk since February – all funded, again, by an Arts Council England grant – and the production is still going strong. Promoters interested in booking Small Talk or hearing about Toni’s plans for the future (and I know she has a few), should contact Chris Fogg at South East Dance (details below). This is where I bow out.
Associate Artist Programme
South East Dance
28 Kensington St
Brighton BN1 4AJ
T +44 (0) 1273 696844