Dance: Imprint Dance performance project, JumpStartMove and the Pavilion Study Centre

Pavilion Study Centre Head Pat Keogh is reflecting on his students’ performance at Finchley’s ArtsDepot. ‘Whatever the outcomes you see here tonight, this project has been all about the process and not just the final performance,’ he says.

That process began three weeks ago, when JumpStartMove’s Amy McGann and Phil Hill began an intensive rehearsal period with the students culminating this week in performances at ArtsDepot and the Finchley Community Festival.

The performance project, Imprint, is based on the idea of identity – how the students see themselves and how others see them – and gives the participants opportunity not only to learn technical dance skills but to create and inhabit a character for the stage. ‘We’re getting them to laugh at themselves and their image,’ says co-deliverer Siobhan Maguire-Swartz, ‘all those things that define them and that they’re judged on.’

‘Sometimes they play up the character that maybe they’re known to be at the Pupil Referral Unit,’ adds co-director Amy McGann, ‘or they may be the complete opposite, so I think it’s about escapism as well for them.’ The dance piece is divided into connected sections examining fashion, music, technology such as Facebook and ideas about youth and gang culture, with the aim of subverting expectations and assumptions. Dancer Mark sums up the theme during the performance: ‘This is what you see, before you see me.’

The Pavilion PRU in Barnet is a short-stay centre for pupils that have been excluded from mainstream schools, and works to integrate students back into school or to provide the best education for those who cannot return. The centre has engaged in a number of creative and dance projects over the past few years, including a dance project with Luca Silvestri’s Protein Dance on which Amy and co-director Phil Hill both worked.

‘That was really, really successful, and all the kids on that project agreed it was the best thing they’d ever done,’ says Higher Level Teaching Assistant Bridget Costi. ‘Our hope on this one is that we’ll get the same reaction on the night of the performance, and I’m sure we will.” Pat Keogh adds, ‘Last time we produced a really good show, and in fact we have one of the students from that project watching here tonight.’

The project, run in partnership with Barnet’s professional arts venue ArtsDepot, provides not only a performance opportunity but a chance to work towards an Arts Award. Over the three weeks, students take part in technique and choreography classes, and also learn how to lead and deliver dance. ‘We’re always looking at ways of engaging young people,’ says ArtsDepot Education Manager Inga Hirst, ‘and hopefully some of these young people will carry on coming to ArtsDepot after this project.’

JumpStartMove leads a variety of dance education projects with young people, and for co-director Phil Hill the work does not end with the dance project, but continues in the lives of participants through other skills learned during the project. ‘We work with people not necessarily to try and create dancers or performers, but to try and give them transferable skills, confidence, group leadership skills, all of those things,’ says Phil. ‘We wanted to a company that focuses on really high-quality teaching,’ adds Amy, ‘and for the project to be a vehicle for them to make positive choices in their lives once they’ve finished.’

The finished piece, Imprint, is being performed twice this month – once to an invited audience of staff, family and students at ArtsDepot, and once at the Finchley Community Festival as part of Big Dance 2010. The piece includes quirky Bausch-like gestural movement picking up on habits like smoking and nose-picking, a very funny dance based on slouchy tracksuit trousers falling around the performers’ ankles, and a delicate, emotionally-exposed section subverting the usual image of hoodie-wearing teens. The quartet of performers obviously enjoy themselves hugely onstage, and the piece itself is by turns comic and moving.

From the nervous energy backstage and the overjoyed smiles on the performers’ faces afterwards, it’s clear that they’ve invested themselves in the work from start to finish. Performer Mark is glad he stuck with the project: ‘I’ve enjoyed getting through it and not dropping out – how good was that?’

Staff at the Pavilion agree that the students on the project have learned much more than dance skills. ‘They’ve learned structure, discipline, teamwork and co-operation,’ says Pat Keogh. Assistant Head Jo Kelly agrees:  ‘Our students have learned to give and take, grown in confidence and also self-esteem. For many of our young students, this is the first time they’ve ever done anything like this.’ Attendance, timekeeping and physical readiness for class each day are typically challenging issues for PRU students, but participants have improved in these areas throughout the project, says Bridget Costi.

Funders, delivery partners and school staff often like to talk about outcomes such as improved attendance, focus and confidence when it comes to arts education, but perhaps the most simple and touching response to the project comes from participant Ashley: ‘I just wanted to show my mum I could do something.’

Imprint was created by JumpStartMove in partnership with ArtsDepot and The Pavilion PRU, supported by London Councils, Barnet, Big Dance, Metropolitan Police Safer Neighbourhoods and Arts Council England.

Originally published at