At Queensland Touring Showcase 2015, Britt Guy pitched an exciting new work by choreographer, Nick Power called, Cypher. Originally from Toowoomba, Nick has carved out a notable career as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and artistic director.  He has a deep commitment to community-based practice having spent over 10 years working with the people of Lajamanu, a small Indigenous community in Northern Territory.

Cypher is a truly remarkable work – a fusion of hip-hop, contemporary dance and theatre. It pushes the boundaries of all these forms and brings the audience on an intimate journey.

It’s certainly not your typical touring production. There are six people in the tour party making the cost prohibitive for many arts councils and it has specific stage requirements. It’s also no secret that contemporary performance and, in particular dance, has struggled to find an audience in regional centres. The Showcase response reflected this with Cypher only receiving a handful of interest from presenters - not really enough to build a viable tour.

However arTour was aware of demand from local councils for projects that could add value to existing programs and activities for young people aged 8 – 15 years. (A notoriously difficult age group to impress). Recognising hip-hop’s appeal with younger people, arTour and producer Britt Guy decided to reframe our approach and make the tour more engagement-focussed. We targeted regional councils with youth officers, sport and recreation officers, community development officers and cultural development officers.

By tapping into the demand for innovative work that engages this demographic we successfully built a five-week tour to more than 20 communities. North Burnett Regional Council and Banana Shire Council both took the show for a full week and the touring party weaved its way through a myriad of small townships and schools running workshops and performing in town halls throughout each region. Other Council’s like Longreach, Blackall and Barcaldine all used the Cypher package to feed into existing programming for the same age group in the form of Shockwave Festival.

The tour was not without its challenges.

It took quite a while to develop a workable itinerary and lock in all of the presenting partners and there were variations to the income and expenditure that we had to manage.

While on tour, some roads between western communities were cut off by flood water after tremendous rainfall, one performer had to return home for family reasons and another injured their knee (it’s a hugely demanding show on the body) so the workshop facilitator on the tour had to step in and learn the show in the space of a day.

Despite all of this, Cypher was a great success and a very rewarding tour. The strong correlation between the workshop participation and audience attendance underpinned the tour’s success. The tour party ran almost four times more workshops than performances (55 workshops to 15 performances) as young people jumped at the chance to learn some moves from breakdance superstars. In the towns where a workshop wasn’t possible, there was a noticeable dip in audience numbers.

There were a few key factors that lead to fantastic outcomes on the road.

  1. A dedicated workshop facilitator travelled with the company.
    As well as being an extra set of hands and a convenient understudy in a crisis we could also deliver a huge number of workshops while touring – even splitting the company and running simultaneous activities in different towns.
  2. Clear audience target
    Considering the ideal audience for this project and finding presenters who work with the same demographic helped focus tour development efforts. Understanding the expectations of Regional Councils shaped everything from performance space, location, start times, marketing and the number of activities in each place.
  3. Local knowledge
    arTour worked closely with stakeholders on the ground in each community, many who had no experience with touring, to create connections and opportunities for local participants and audiences.
  4. A great tour manager
    A huge shout out to the tour manager, Leah Tilney! As an internationally recognised b-girl in her own right and owner of Elements Collective, she was able to support the workshop facilitator and respond to the needs of the dancers while on the road.

Cypher, the contemporary hip hop-dance-theatre-performance work previously programmed at Sydney Festival and and URB Festival in Helsinki only a few months before, toured regional and remote Queensland connecting with people from Toowoomba to Quilpie, Longreach to Biloela and a stack of places in between.

arTour was so pleased to bring Nick’s work home for its first ever Queensland tour and look forward to the next one!