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Exploring the legacy of summer seafront spectacular Blink Margate

  • Date: 23 December 2011
  • Artform: Combined arts, Dance, Music
  • Area: South East

On Saturday 27 August 2011, Margate seafront was transformed into a stage for one of the year’s most spectacular public performances, BLINK Margate.

Award-winning choreographer Wayne McGregor and his company Random Dance produced a new piece featuring the Random Dancers and 50 local young people. They were accompanied by local Parkour enthusiasts spotted during rehearsals. The show was brought to life by a stunning pyrotechnic and visual projection show from German performance company Pan Optikum and a cinematic backdrop from sound artist Scanner.

What kind of legacy can a one-off performance have? We talk to some of the key players who were involved in making BLINK Margate a success – not just on the night, but in the long build up and beyond.

Partnership and building networks

It was clear from the start that the success of such an ambitious project would depend on engaging a wide number of partners. Commissioned by Arts Council England, the project was produced by large scale outdoor performance specialists McMcArts and Arts Council England regularly funded organisation Canterbury Festival.

The team worked with local organisations to create an effective support infrastructure to help with all aspects of local delivery. Over the early months Turner Contemporary, Theatre Royal, Margate, Kent County Council, Thanet District Council, University of Kent, The Dreamland Trust, South East Dance and Thanet College all committed to the project.

In Autumn 2010, McMcArts’ Director Jane McMorrow and Associate Producer Elizabeth Lynch began meeting various partners and schools to lay the groundwork. Elizabeth explains the challenges: ‘We went into a situation where a large-scale outdoor event like this had never happened before so there was a lot of work to do. I developed a strategy for the project delivery; people were very willing.’

McMcArts also worked closely with Clair Chamberlain, Director of London-based arts PR and marketing company, The Corner Shop, who managed the marketing strategy. Clair says, 'Because the project wasn’t a venue or organisation based event, it was very important to establish local partnerships at an early stage.’

In those early stages local authority cuts made the local landscape more problematic: 'Some of the people who would have held the flag for the project suddenly weren’t around,' says Elizabeth. That placed even more emphasis on making a success of the existing network.

Dance opportunities for young people

Part of the undoubted legacy of BLINK Margate is the 650 people who took part over the project’s lifetime, as participants, trainees, volunteers or as part of their work experience.

Wayne McGregor, part of the artistic team responsible for creating the final performance, said, ‘The priority for us was the involvement of local young people as devisers and performers of the work. Our ambition was to give a high quality, in-depth creative process culminating in a performance.’

The dance company’s creative learning team recruited locally through taster workshops delivered to 400 local young people in schools in the area. This was followed by a final creation residency.

'For six weeks in the summer term, two of our artists were in residence two days a week to lead recruitment workshops. The whole company were in residence for one week for final creation and performance,' says Wayne.

‘The participants were exemplary in their commitment and engagement with the project and produced dance work of extremely high quality. There was a real sense of ‘company’ and working towards a common goal and all of the participants remained with the project during the intensive period, which required a huge time and energy commitment.’ 

Elizabeth adds, ‘The dancers were the biggest group involved – there were 60 on stage at the end. There was a huge response in the schools. The kids who got involved didn’t drop out – and it was quite rigorous. Random are fantastic at running these workshops – tough but sensitive to students.’

For local dancers, this was almost invariably their first encounter with contemporary dance.

‘Random taught them that dance is not just about being taught steps,’ says Elizabeth. ‘The free runners said it was fantastic to be part of such a high profile event that framed and acknowledged their work.'

Work experience for students

As part of the PR and marketing campaign, Clair Chamberlain worked with two local university students to create a website for the project as part of their final year brief.

‘The challenge was to give an impression of something that didn’t exist,' says Clair. ‘The final website they made had for the project had a functionality above and beyond what we needed. It was really impressive!’

Clair also coordinated the young people’s Buzz Marketing Campaign, which gave 26 students from Thanet College the chance to compete to carry out their very own PR campaign.

Clair explains: ‘The brief asked them to think about how else we should be marketing this project, but it was very unprescriptive.’

Elizabeth Lynch adds: ‘The teams came from across all three arts departments, presenting to a panel that consisted of representatives from McMcArts, The Cornershop PR and the local press. It was like a proper marketing pitch.'

The winning team of five students used their budget of £5,000 to create an installation of a tower of TV screens in an empty shop in Margate Shopping Centre, displaying content generated by the students; one was a video game, another was the viewer’s own face, others showed clips from Random Dance and Pan Optikum’s work, drawing people in and giving a flavour of the event to come.

The shop became a successful local focus for the project, staffed by the student and the McMc team. 'It enabled loads of conversations,' says Elizabeth, 'and we recruited the Parkour people there.’

Building local capacity

Elizabeth Lynch of McMcArts, says, ‘The professional development strand gave local practitioners paid work experience as part of the project including areas such as lighting, sound, and dance.'

Working with South East Dance, they identified four young professionals to support the professional dancers delivering the workshops and tasters. 'During the intensive week, they were given the opportunity to perform,' says Elizabeth. 'The experience gave them lots of professional development. They also got the experience of working with Wayne and Random Dance and to really understand his methods.’

One creative apprentice was dancer and choreographer Kai Downham for whom the experience was an invaluable opportunity to develop his own dance company and teaching practice.

Elizabeth Lynch said, ‘He said being involved with McMcArts and Random has increased his networks. The mentoring and advice has enabled him to develop thinking about his own company and opened pathways and opportunities. And that support will still be there for him.’

The event

In the summer months leading up to the performance, local young people were employed as street promoters, wearing BLINK t-shirts and handing out fliers at summer events. Partner organisations also lent support, adding a marketing push  on summer programmes and websites.
Claire says, ‘We didn’t have a huge budget for marketing or a long timeline. As nice as it would have been to have had big glossy publicity, we couldn’t afford it. During the summer, everything gathered ahead of steam. We ran out of print and had to do more. Lots of people were joining the social network, and it was clear that what we were doing was working.’

And the results showed. Elizabeth says, ‘It was a fantastic success on the night: we had double the numbers we expected. People were excited. It was a lovely experience for local people, following on so swiftly from the Turner opening. It gave local people a feeling that great things happen here.’

Elizabeth says there is further scope for research among the young people involved: ‘What did they do after? Is their world a bit bigger? And what do they see their opportunities are now?’