Talking Moves Series 2 Episode 6: Leading Off Stage

Talking Moves | 26 March 2021

In this episode we talk to Cath James and Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE about Leading Off Stage and their transition from stage to management.

This particular topic was inspired by a listener, Laura, who got in touch to ask for some support as she sought to make a similar career change. She felt frustrated as she navigated the unfamiliar terminology, high expectations (and low pay) of a sector she knew so well from one angle but less well from another. Did she really, she asked, need to start right back at the beginning?

Kenneth and Cath both agreed that life experience and the ability to recognise and seize an opportunity when it arises have been just as valuable as any training they have undertaken. They each walk us through their inspirational journeys from esteemed company dancers to senior management and consider the point upon which they decided to hang up their dancing shoes for good. They share experiences of creating roles for themselves along the way – in the establishing of new services or supporting friends with touring – rather than waiting for roles to present themselves. They share anecdotes of when their performance skills have come into play and considered how being a performer has shaped who they are as a leader today.

Both talk so very honestly about the skills they had to learn… quickly… and whether their impressive performance CVs’s added kudos or doubt from the sector around them.

Who's Who

Head shot of Cath James

Cath James

Cath has had a career in dance for over 40 years, with a wealth of experience as a performing artist, a producer and a leader. Currently Artistic Director at South East Dance, Cath works closely with Rachel Gibson, Executive Director to lead the team to set and deliver the organisation’s vision, and sustainability. Cath oversees the development and maintenance of South East Dance’s strategic partnerships and networks both nationally and internationally.

Cath was previously Director of Dance at Take Art in Somerset, and producer for bgroup, a dance company based in the UK and directed by Jerwood Award-winning choreographer Ben Wright. Her performing career began in Australia with Expressions Dance Theatre (now Australasian Dance Collective) and Dance North (Townsville) before moving to the UK to become a leading dancer at Rambert under the direction of Richard Alston. She was a founding member of Siobhan Davies Company, and on retiring from fulltime performance, went on to become their Company and Tour manager and finally Head of Special Projects before leaving to join Take Art.

She has curated independent dance festivals for the Royal Opera House Clore Studio Programme and Southbank Centre and written articles for international dance magazines. Cath co-created the UK’s first dance information and directory website danceservice.co.uk in 1994.

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Head shot of Kenneth Tharp

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE

Kenneth is a key figure in the UK arts and culture scene with close to 40 years professional experience in the sector. He is currently working as a freelance Arts & Culture Consultant.

He began his career as a dancer; as one of the leading dance artists of his generation, he performed for 13 years with the internationally-acclaimed London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and then with other leading companies during a 25-year career as a performer, choreographer, teacher and director. With composer Simon Redfern, he was co-director of ArtyfartyArts, a multi-disciplinary arts group, from 1998-2004, and has been involved in many music and dance collaborations across a huge variety of musical genres and settings.

From 2007 to 2016, he was Chief Executive of The Place, the UK’s leading centre for contemporary dance development. From May 2018 to Sept 2020, he was Director of The Africa Centre, in its new home in Southwark. He was proud to have led such an iconic organisation, at a time when its role as a home for contemporary African and diaspora culture and heritage, is needed now, more than ever.

In 2020 he was honoured to be appointed Chair of the judging panel for the prestigious AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.

He is a devoted champion of the arts, cultural learning, creativity and diversity, and frequently presents as a keynote speaker in a variety of contexts, from schools to leadership courses, industry related events and the corporate sector. He has been a regular contributor to Speakers for Schools.

He has served on various arts Boards, including The Royal Opera House and The Royal Opera House Benevolent Fund. He is currently a Patron of Akademi and The Place, and a Trustee of choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company, and the Chineke! Foundation and Orchestra. He is also Vice-Chair of a School Governing Body, and sits on the British Council’s Arts & Creative Enterprise Advisory Group.

He has appeared in eight successive editions of the annual Powerlist of Britain’s most influential people of African and African-Caribbean heritage, as well as in Who’s Who.

In 2003 Kenneth was made an OBE in recognition of his services to dance, and in June 2017 was made a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, also in recognition of his services to dance.

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