28.3.2019, 0:37:13   |  Photo: Lorenzo Conti  |   Category: Dramaturgy, Space & context, Interdisciplinarity, Process of making

Audience development

Key words:

“ARTISTS, just as researchers, build the stage where they frame the story of a new adventure in a new idiom.

The effect of the idiom cannot be anticipated. It calls for SPECTATORS who are active as interpreters,

who try to invent their own translation in order to appropriate the story for themselves and make their own story out of it.

An emancipated community is in fact a community of storytellers and translators.”


Jacques Rancière, “The Emancipated Spectator”


Nowadays, contemporary dance is undergoing a new process of development and diffusion within the Italian territory. Even though performing arts are gaining higher attention as ways of enhancing the cultural and artistic heritage of our country and abroad, dance is still underestimated by the majority of the public. Very often the greatest recognition comes from a small audience, educated and deeply interested in this art. Special Eurobarometer 399 report (2013)revealed that the main barrier to access the participation in dance performances in Italy is the lack of interest(55%). I prefer to talk about the lack of education and culture.

Over the last years, to boost and enhance the sector, several Italian dance organizations have started to introduce audience development strategies, to improve and foster their current audience and to identify new public to engage in their dance activities. First and foremost, the cases of Lavanderia a Vapore/Piemonte dal Vivo and CSC – Centro per la Scena Contemporanea Bassano Del Grappa, both of them members of the European DanceHouse Network. Despite efforts made by organizations to try new approaches for growing their audience, one thing remains constant; overall there is a need for younger audiences.

Working in the field of communication and education and studying the connections between young audience and dance, in 2016 I designed, together with the critics of the cultural association STRATAGEMMI Prospettive Teatrali, the “DOC - Dance On Critics”project. It consisted in a two-year training program promoted by the National Dance Production Center DANCEHAUSpiùthat involved both dance students and university students. This educational project had a double direction and aimed at fostering the fusion of different audiences and stimulated a confrontation between various perspectives. On the one hand, it gave the opportunity to DanceHausstudents (from Accademia Susanna Beltrami and Accademia Kataklò) to approach present-day theatre and dance in all its forms.On the other hand university students, performing the role of critics (from Università degli studi di Milano) were introduced to the activities of the DANCEHAUSpiù.More specifically, 10 dance students and 10 university students formed an itinerant editorial staff*that took part in recurring lessons and meetings in different places (DanceHaus Susanna Beltrami and Triennale Teatro dell’Arte).In these sessions, attendees were asked to reflect and make observations regarding both 12-15 theatrical performances of the Milanese season and dance activities and productions related to DANCEHAUSpiù. At the same time, the students had the opportunity to meet the artists and interview them or to take part in the rehearsals and get a behind the scenes look of the performance. The final output was the DOC newspaper, divided into 3 numbers available in January, March and May, both online and in paper version, distributed in the most important cultural hub of Milano.

During the first meeting, the editorial staff decided the features of each issue, such as interviews, reviews and in-depth analysis. In each section, different themes had to be elaborated according to those emerged from 4 or 5 theatrical performances and 3 or 4 dance events related to DANCEHAUSpiù, to which the DOC participants had attended. Within the 2-years length of the project, participants’ approach to the performing arts as audience has changed: they have improved their writing skills, they have sharpened their critical eye and their willingness and desire to actively participate in a long-term period has increased. Moreover, during Dance On Critics, the university students were able to participate in dance lessons held by the dancers involved in the project; these was a useful way for them to concretely understand the physical commitment of a dancer and the many efforts and sacrifices they are asked to make in order to pursue a professional career in the performing arts.

The main beneficiaries of the Dance On Critics project were the young dancers, aged 18-25, from the various Academies within the DanceHaus environment. This choice of focusing on these young talents is due to the fact that, at national level, even though dance students are actively participating in the production of a dance performance, few of them are interested enough to be involved as an audience member, few of them know about the national and international dance scene or about history of dance.

Starting from this, we can say thatyouth education and participation could help future generations of dance audiences, because the younger are more than otherattached to the concept of community and belonging. They are eager to create bonds with peers and to be part of a group sharing the same values and ideas.Therefore, a young audience seeks a similar relation with the performing artist, that enable a long-lasting engagement with the artistic company. Building relations is a great reason for young audience members to go to see a dance performance; in order to build trust, it is important for dance organizations to take time to know these attendees and their need to understand current social situations.

This specific issue has been tackled during the meeting “AUDIENCE // Pratiques en tournant” held in July 2018, at ZONA Kin Milan. The talk was organized by DANCEHAUSpiùand STRATAGEMMI Prospettive Teatrali, following the 2-years DOC project. The overall discussion was built around youth audience development strategies: the various participants (MilanOltre, Festival Exister, Triennale Teatro dell’Arte, Teatro Franco Parenti, Mare Culturale Urbano, DanceHaus Susanna Beltrami) were asked to reflect on how to draw the youth generation nearer to the performing arts, especially to the dance disciplines. This was a first attempt to create a network, but also to figure out any need, any problematic, and any possible future strategies, wondering about the communication methods and the tools used in promotion and training paths

A great problem perceived by the meeting attendees was a general sense of dismay within the young people participating to dance performances, as it seems they are not able to fully understand a piece where no words are involved. Education was one of the main focus of the meeting: a need of educating the public has emerged as a fundamental tool to involve the youth in participating in the performing arts not only attending theory class but also practical sessions. Education is a key tool to foster the youth participation in the performing arts; it is a crucial process to increase youth awareness in the dance field, decreasing the severe lack of interest in this sector that is afflicting our country.Schools at all levels - primary, secondary, high school and universities – should be targeted: arts and music lessons could be implemented to connect students to the performing arts world. At the same time, this approach could be adopted also by the countless dance schools (In Italy about 17,000 attended by over 1.4 million students)that could both pursue a physical training and cultural teaching of dance.

Networking was the other important keyword of the meeting: the cooperation between organizations from various cultural sectors (art, music, dance, theatre, etc.), with foreign institutions, and the partnership between private and public entities (municipality, university, museums). On this basis, 13 dance organizations** based in Milano and in the Regione Lombardia, among Festivals, Theaters, Recidencies and Centers, are now cooperating together for the very first time to create a common action to promote dance and its audience through the usage of a card, named MILANO DANCE CARD. This would give to its possessor reductions on tickets price and facilities on other dance activities (lessons, masterclass, seminars…) organized by the partners. They would offer their audiences a more accessible and cheap way to enjoy shows, together with the opportunity to meet artists who probably would have never met before. This initiative concerns both the ticketing offers and the marketing dynamics. It represents an innovation not only at the city level, but also at the national level.

The major goals are:

®  To build a viewing program for dance shows throughout the year

®  To promote the dance initiative on the ground and to facilitate the conditions of audience participation, starting from the cost of the ticket

®  To weave the communities of reference of the single partner and help the interpenetration of the audiences

®  To reach a much wider audience, thanks to the sharing of resources and skills coming from different contexts and experiences

®  To form new communities of spectators, with special attention to young people and to Dance Schools students

®  To create a cultural habit for the fruition of dance shows

®  To strengthen the spread of a culture of dance at all the levels of our society



Project Coordinator:Lorenzo Conti

Education Coordinators:Maddalena Giovannelli, Francesca Serrazanetti

Editorial Coordinators:Camilla Lietti, Corrado Rovida

Students in the editorial staff:Stefano De Luca, Arianna Guaglione, Silvia Nigretti, Alessandra Pasina, Elena Perota, Carlotta Poggi, Benedetta Rizzi, Alessia Smorta, Alice Cheope Turati, Giada Vailati,Silvia Baldo, Chiara Carbone, Niccolò Catani, Federica Franzini, Arianna Guaglione, Mara Lambriola, Diego Luinetti, Andrea Malosio, Lidia Melegoni, Federica Monterisi, Alessia Obinu, Erika Ravot, Clara Maria Sozzi


Partners: DANCEHAUSpiù, Milanoltre Festival, Teatro Fontana, Triennale Teatro Dell’Arte, Danae Festival, Fattoria Vittadini, Più che danza, CRO.ME – Cronache e memorie dello Spettacolo, CLAPS – Spettacolo dal vivo, Did Studio, Pim OFF, Festival Danza Estate (Bergamo) e Teatro Amilcare Ponchielli (Cremona)


Lorenzo Conti is currently teaching History of Theater and Performance on Academy of Susanna Beltrami. He has worked as a communication manager in the press office at DANCEHAUSpiù, one of the four National Production Center of Dance, based in Milano. He has been carrying out audience development projects collaborating with Theaters and Festivals. In partnership with the critical review Stratagemmi - Prospettive Teatrali. He has designed and promoted, DOC – DANCE ON CRITICS, a workshop program focusing on contemporary dance and theatre writing, addressed to young dancers and university students. His research is based on “Audience development strategies for dance audiences”. Since 2017 he has been curator of the annual date, DANCE MEETINGS, a series of panel discussion and round tables focused on the organisation, distribution and promotion of dance in Italy, conducted by qualified representatives of the sector and addressed to the young generation of artists.


Author: Lorenzo Conti

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