Siobhan Davies Dance

Siobhan Davies Dance is an investigative contemporary arts organisation based in South London. This case study explores where environmental sustainability lies within their values and the work they produce.

Inside Out

The team at Siobhan Davies Dance put sustainability to the heart of their work, reinforcing the commitment of their artistic director.

Responsibility for monitoring and controlling their environmental impact runs through all levels of the organisation from the Board, to office-based and venue staff to the artists who create the work. This ensures that sustainability remains a standing agenda at all meetings and as a priority for the organisation.

“[Sustainability is] seen as both a business benefit and a moral imperative to protect and conserve the environment for future generations of artists and audiences.”

– Erin Gavaghan, Executive Director, Siobhan Davies Dance

Their environmental policy outlines the work they do to reduce their impact, celebrating their achievements and outlining their objectives which include:

  • Reducing energy consumption through capital improvements to the Studios such as changing lighting and temperature controls.
  • Quantifying and improving recycling and waste management practices including introducing composting.
  • Monitoring and evaluating their impact in order to identify further improvements that they can make.
  • Using their studios and online channels to communicate these ideas to their artists and audiences.

Artistic Programming

Siobhan Davies are particularly interested in creating both real and virtual environments for artists to make work and connect with each other and learn from their differences on neutral territory. As an artform, dance is inherently low impact, and the work that Siobhan Davies produces stays true to this.

Over the past few years, the work that Siobhan Davies Dance produces has moved from theatre into galleries and museums, greatly reducing the impact of the work due to the low demand on resources. The work uses less theatre lighting and sound, and minimal set pieces reducing materials and transport impact.

“Siobhan Davies has artistic and personal connections that connect with environmental concerns. These connections are embedded in the thinking and making at Siobhan Davies Dance, and permeate our working to an extent that it is difficult to separate it as a distinct element.”

– Erin Gavaghan, Executive Director, Siobhan Davies Dance

Human-Nature: Art, Choreography and Horticulture across the Growing Season

In 2014, Siobhan Davies Dance applied a thematic link across the programme at the studios. This programme responded to the theme of horticulture, choreography and art, 'Human Nature' brought together artists, horticulturists, architects and choreographers to create new work focused on the growing seasons, nature and drawing from the choreographic roots of Siobhan Davies Dance.

From an intricate water system installation to sustain plant colonies by dancers' sweat and guerrilla gardening, to explorative urban walks and medicinal meadows, the programme challenged its audiences and how they interact with space.

“We are as much natural material as plants are and it is in our nature to create with all the materials we can reach”

– Siobhan Davies, Artistic Director, Siobhan Davies Dance

Whilst the programme was not explicitly a response to environmental sustainability, the links between seasons, nature and space evoked strong responses within the commissioned artists work. Some elements of the season that highlighted this in particular include:

Daniel Lobb ‘As Above, So Below’

Landscape designer and sculptor Daniel Lobb created a large-scale installation and internal water cycle in the foyer of the studios. This micro ecosystem captured the humidity generated from the sweat and breath of the dancers in the studio to feed a suspended plant colony via a copper rill that cascaded down to a large container on the ground floor, which in turn enabled evaporation back into the atmosphere. This demonstrated the ingenuity of plant systems and their abilities to grow in a diverse range of environments. Building users and visitors were able to enjoy the installation throughout the summer.

“It was beautiful and thought-provoking; it highlighted artistic excellence while also stimulating discussions about sustaining unreachable plants through our very breath”

– Erin Gavaghan, Executive Director, Siobhan Davies Dance

Seeding the City

Working in partnership with NOMAD, ‘Seeding the City’ was a series of events hosted between both sites the Phytology Site in Bethnal Green and Siobhan Davies Studios in Elephant and Castle. The project dealt with the perception gap between built and non-built environments and exploring ideas surrounding urban wildness harvestable medicine, alternative urban planning and biodiversity.

This included walks with Johanna Gibbons, talks with Ackroyd & Harvey and the first public discussion of the garden bridge. There is a large digital archive of all the events available on their website for audiences to enjoy.

Medicinal Meadow

A medicinal meadow was grown in the Studios using plants native to the area. Building users were invited to create herbal teas to aid digestive complaints when visiting the studios. This meadow was planted by Michael Smythe/NOMAD.

Staff engaged with other planting projects in the season, which was a great opportunity to re-engage them with sustainability as responsibility was divided amongst everyone through a schedule to water the plants every day. The programme has since moved on to explore new themes, however an essence of sustainability remains.

“While our themes move away from more obvious links such as horticulture, it will be our challenge to sustain the relationships we made with partners and audiences to bring this interest forward and embed consideration of sustainability within our artistic practices in the future.”

– Erin Gavaghan, Executive Director, Siobhan Davies Dance

A RIBA Award Winning Building

2006 marked the opening of the Siobhan Davies Studios in South London designed by renowned architect Sarah Wigglesworth. The building design was awarded a prestigious RIBA award in 2006.

The building project grew out of collaboration between Siobhan Davies Dance and Sarah Wigglesworth and designed with a large consideration for sustainability as well as catering to the needs of the dancers. The project involved the extension and refurbishment of an old school building to create a flexible set of performance, rehearsal and workshop spaces.

“We started by spending a lot of time in the studio with the dancers, watching how they work and learning what they need. The existing building dictated that the main studio should be on the roof and we were excited by the notion of how it would feel to dance high above the city. We had a clear notion from the outset that the dancers should have daylight and be aware of the changing environment around them but that the space should be focussed and inspiring”

– Sarah Wigglesworth, Architect

In 2010 they were awarded the Southwark in Bloom Gold Award for Best Business Premises. Ten years on, the building still performs to a high standard, however advances in technology has provoked a capital investment, which is now currently underway to make further improvements to the building such as switching to LED and better temperature controls throughout the premises.

Going Forward

Siobhan Davies Dance is a wonderful example of an arts organisation embracing sustainability, and weaving it through both their artistic and operational practice. Going forward, Siobhan Davies Dance want to harness the hard work they have done through communicating and celebrating this to the audiences and building users.

Sustaining Creativity