Adelaide is a tough place for new dance graduates. With only one professional company located here, graduates frequently move interstate in search of work, with the result that the independent dance sector can become quite depleted. When Erin Fowler graduated from the dance program at AC Arts in 2010, she realized that if she wanted to work as a dancer and choreographer in Adelaide she would have to create her own opportunities. When she teamed up with AC Arts visual arts student Amber Cronin, whose discipline was similarly afflicted by the “brain drain” to the Eastern states, the pair hatched the idea of The Mill, which they set up in 2013.
The Mill has been so successful that this year alone they have invited noted Israeli contemporary dance teacher Niv Marienberg to Adelaide for a three-week residency, organised workshops with Crystal Pite’s Kid Pivot -- one of the most in-demand dance companies on the planet -- as well as Israeli company L-E-V, held a choreographic intensive, and sponsored a residency in Sweden for a young Adelaide dancer. In between this frenetic entrepreneurial activity, the pair have managed to keep working as creative artists. It is perhaps not surprising that Fowler was recently awarded the Premier’s Channel 9 Young Achiever of the Year Award!
On its publicity material, The Mill describes itself as “a multi-artform creative incubator”. To put it more simply, the aim of The Mill is to support the development of artists working across multiple art forms, in addition to dance. The Mill has two distinct arms. The first is the physical space, a warehouse in Adelaide CBD that the pair fitted out, doing the carpentry, painting and decorating themselves, with some financial support from the Adelaide City Council. Despite years of trying, attempts to open a dance studio on site have not been successful because of building regulations. Spaces in the building are sublet to creative artists in other fields -- up to 40 at any one time. At present, these include visual artists, sculptors, photographers, furniture, costume and shoe makers, ceramicists and jewelers, as well as a tattoo artist. There is an exhibition space at the entrance, and exhibitions are held monthly, with no commission charged for sales.
The building not only pays for itself, but helps subsidise the other arm of The Mill, which is its arts programming and development side. With the help of philanthropy, project funding from ArtsSA and fundraising, over the past four years Fowler and Cronin have run a program of dance masterclasses, residencies and exchanges that have immeasurably enriched Adelaide’s independent dance scene and provided invaluable opportunities for local dancers and choreographers. Partnering with the Adelaide Festival of Arts, they have presented masterclasses with visiting international company Cedar Lake Dance Company, in addition to L-E-V and Kid Pivot, which have been open to the local dance sector as well as the students at AC Arts. Partnering with the OzAsia Festival, they have co-presented workshops with Kyle Page and Amber Haines of Dance North, as well as with leading Indonesian choreographer Eko Supriyanto.
Another of The Mill’s noteworthy programs is Choreographic Futures, a choreographic mentorship program, which has funded choreographers Kate Champion, Israel Aloni and Lee Brummer from ilDance (Sweden) and Ame Henderson (Canada) to work intensively for ten days with local emerging choreographers, with some of the resulting works shown at festivals. An ongoing partnership with ilDance, AC Arts and the Helpmann Academy has resulted in the il-Award, which funds an AC Arts graduate to take a three-month residency with The Mill’s sister company, Sweden’s ilDance.
Organisational funding from ArtsSA has this year enabled them to expand the team to include well-known Adelaide choreographer Katrina Lazaroff as programming manager, and actor and producer Tim Watts as general manager. Plans are afoot to expand into other areas including arts producing and writer’s residencies. The whole team continues to make their own work in dance, theatre, music, film and the visual arts alongside their mission to support the local arts community. Indeed, The Mill might aptly be renamed The Mission: such is their determination to create opportunities, not only for themselves, but also for the whole artistic community in Adelaide. I have seldom been so impressed.
- MAGGIE TONKIN
Pictured: Amber Cronin (foreground) and Erin Fowler. Photo: DANIEL PURVIS.
This article originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of 'Dance Australia'.