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Kevin Spacey Foundation Award: Southpaw's Robby Graham

The artistic director of dance company Southpaw explains what winning the Kevin Spacey Foundation Artists Choice Award meant and how it has benefited his work

Southpaw's production of Faust
© Sebastian Ballet

The Kevin Spacey Foundation, official charity of the WhatsOnStage Awards, recently announced the launch of its Artists of Choice Awards.

A pioneering funding and mentoring initiative, the awards support a range of artists working across four disciplines - plays, musicals, dance and short films.

Recipients receive £10,000 or $10,000 in funding, year-round support from the Foundation and an industry mentor.

Applications for this year's awards close on 4 March 2016.

We spoke with one of last year's recipients, Robby Graham, artistic director of dance company Southpaw.


What did winning the Kevin Spacey Foundation Award mean to you?

Winning the dance award meant financial support in order to realise an ambitious project that we had, a production called Speakeasy.

I had an idea based around an outdoor show I'd created called Faust, which is based on the story of Faust but is reinterpreted to take place in a 1920s speakeasy. It's quite fun, quite interesting, we play with big band music, swing dance and breakdance.

Robby Graham
© Dan Prince

What was your motivation behind the piece?

I believe in creating a universal narrative in the work that allows people to attach themselves. I struggle sometimes with very abstract dance, it alienates me a little bit but we've had a good amount of success with audiences who've really caught on to our movement vocabulary and narrative so I just thought that could also work in a theatre context. It seemed to be unanimously popular with people so that's the motivation behind creating this piece.

Why did you apply for the award?

I've been creating work for outdoor audiences over the past two years and we have three touring shows and a small scale theatre show. But with small scale theatre, it's really difficult to get a tour off the ground, especially in the North East.

When we do the big band shows we also work with a lot of pyrotechnical effects - for example we have a flaming boxing ring - so we've had great success with that show in an outdoor context but in terms of moving to indoor theatre audiences, we're very much an emerging theatre company.

How has it made a difference to you and your work?

The award means that we get a lot of mentoring and support and all the publicity that comes with it. It's been really great because it's drawn a lot of attention to the project and as you know, all publicity towards dance shows is a good thing.

It's a very competitive award but they're really interested in ambitious ideas and we are very ambitious in our approach to touring and our approach to growing as an organisation.

Where can audiences catch Speakeasy?

It will be at Dance City, Newcastle on 18 March and Pavilion Dance South West, Bournemouth on 28 April.

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