Alain Dancyger is the Executive Director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and a member of the MMIAM International Advisory Committee. In 2017, Alain, his team and his partners (Agora de la danse, Tangente and l’École de danse contemporaine de Montréal) realized the dream of creating “Espace danse”, an extraordinary international centre for dance in the heart of Montréal’s cultural district. What was the driving force behind Dancyger’s ambitious plans for Les Grands Ballets?
There is a trend in the cultural sector towards finding innovative ways to engage with the audience and break down the wall between artist and audience. Do you think this is important and what is Les Grands Ballets doing to address this?
There is a belief in the industry that if you are a cultural organization, you have to stick to cultural activities. Does this mean that everything we do has to be connected to ballet? At Les Grands Ballets, we do a lot of things which are not traditional. Several years ago, we decided to adopt a holistic approach to the dance industry and our organization. My belief is that if you are not connected to real life experiences, how can you connect with people? So a lot of our new programs are a result of this philosophy.
We have created over 25 new projects and over 50 international partnerships, which include the creation of the National Centre for Dance Therapy, our new “Adapted Dance” classes for people with specific health issues, such as autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome, and our new recreational dance program. We had over 600 people registered for September!
With the design of the new space, I want to ensure that the values, audacity, and innovation of the organization will be felt in most parts of the building. We are showcasing elements of dance throughout the building, and giving a sense of the history of the organization. We are creating a Hall of Fame and showcasing many of the ballet costumes, for instance, so that people will walk through and have an experience, be surprised. The space has to tell a story.
Les Grands Ballets tours internationally on a regular basis, in addition to inviting international dance organizations to perform in Montréal. What specific skills are needed to manage these international projects which differ from managing organizations at a local community level?
First of all, when Les Grands Ballets tours internationally, we are ambassadors of Montréal, Québec and Canada to the rest of the world. We must be adaptable to the way that other countries do business and be well-informed about cultural sensivity and attitudes in different parts of the world. Although this can be challenging, this is also a great source of enrichment for the company. We learn a lot from other cultures and environments. This often triggers ideas for future projects and collaborations.
How would you define what an arts manager does?
An arts manager should be a visionary, almost like a conductor, who inspires and leads people, but who is also very detail-oriented. Arts managers have to operate at a grass-roots level, very involved with the people who make the organization tick, but also have to lead and have the big ideas which inspire their team and their audience. I often say that I don’t like business plans, but I do believe in having a strong mission and, once everyone is on board with a new idea, we work together to plan accordingly and realize the idea.
What specific qualities do you look for when you are hiring an arts manager that are unique to the industry?
If I am looking for a marketing person, they obviously have to have experience in this field, and there may be many people who fit this criteria. Ultimately, the most important consideration is whether their values connect with our values. I am looking for a good fit for the organization. I may interview someone who is very experienced, but they clearly lack empathy for their coworkers and for the artists. This is not a good fit for our organization. What makes a big difference at Les Grands Ballets is shared human experiences. I like to build extremely diversified teams with very different experiences and backgrounds, but who share common values.
Why do you think studies in international arts management are important for the profession and for the cultural sector?
Everything is global now, we are an international community and we continue to build this community. This is a very natural environment for millennials, and not so natural for older generations. The MMIAM program is very important, because it opens up that world, allows students to get to know what brings us together, what the key differences are, the key factors of success for different organizations in different parts of the world. It provides graduates with the necessary tools to succeed and triggers new ideas which will eventually belong to the world. For instance, when I imagined our new Dance Therapy Centre, I never thought it would be happening only in Montréal, I always imagined we would have international partners, creating something that we would share with the world.