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Machine dance

  • Date: 14 August 2012
  • Artform: Dance
  • Area: Midlands
Two dancers performing a routine on a mechanised excavator Machine Dance Motionhouse, Salshan

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This project sought to create two accessible and engaging performances in the new Bullring Shopping Centre in Birmingham. The two pieces aimed to test the power of performance to engage an audience whose primary preoccupation was shopping. The first performance was in March and the second was in November 2011.

The legacies of this project are focused around the potential and the challenges of presenting performances in shopping centres and more generally working with a commercial partner.

The idea was that the two devised performances would be highly visible, high status reflections of the Arts Nation programme, dovetail with the Bullring's construction work and link to their PR and customer relations aims.

The first performance, Machine Dance 1, in March 2011 was used as a breaking the ground ceremony and the second, Machine Dance 2, will take place on 24th November 2011 and launch the Bullring's new eating and events space.

Both Motionhouse and the Bullring Centre management would probably label the experience of staging Machine Dance 1 in the Bullring Centre as challenging.

During the run up to the performance it became clear that the artistic aims of Motionhouse and the PR aims of the Bullring's management were not gelling as hoped and this ultimately resulted in a limited performance opportunity for Motionhouse and a frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience for both parties.

Encouragingly, a positive relationship between Motionhouse and the Bullring Centre has been re-established and Machine Dance 2 is now scheduled for November 24th 2011.


Close to 1000 people experienced a spectacular piece of contemporary dance and the strength of their response on the Bullring Facebook page reflects their engagement.

'just think it should have been done at the weekend, more crowds. It was fantastic though'

comment on the Bullring facebook page

Motionhouse has produced a detailed and instructive case study which is recommended to arts companies new to working in shopping centres.

Motionhouse has successfully negotiated new terms with its commercial partner for performances of Machine Dance 2 that will satisfy and deliver the partnership's diverse aims and prove a successful and satisfying experience for all parties; a real achievement.

Key learning

Related to public engagement:

  • time the activity to dovetail with maximum periods of footfall
  • repeat performances as word of mouth produces the next audience
  • clear signing is crucial saying who you are and what you are doing
  • have an eye catching crowd-puller, visual or musical, dynamically varied and easy to understand
  • be prepared to answer questions as people will be intrigued and often ask questions

For performances in public spaces especially with non-arts partners:

  • ensure all parties understand what the event entails in detail and how it will impact on their business, be that art or retailing
  • site visits are a must as is liaising with service staff and not just event staff
  • always have a back-up plan
  • document verbal agreements in writing no matter how small