The Centre for Advanced Training at The Place is one of a number of similar schemes across the UK providing prevocational dance training to young people with exceptional talent. Following a pilot scheme in 2004, in which The Place participated, the scheme has been running for five years and currently offers technique and creative classes to 80 young people aged 10-18.
This week saw The Place Cat celebrating its fifth birthday with a performance in the Robin Howard Theatre with work by influential choreographers including Henri Oguike, Jose Vidal, Anh Noc-Nguyen and Bawren Tavaziva. “Today is quite a special day for us because it’s the culmination of the year’s programme,” explains Melanie Precious, Director of Recreational and Prevocational Dance (Maternity Cover) at the Place. “It’s also the end of the 40th celebrations of The Place, so it’s quite a significant day.”
The scheme aims to help young dancers to develop their potential and provide a link to full-time vocational dance training. “It’s a fantastic way of the students being prepared for vocational training, and as we’ve got London School for Contemporary Dance here it makes perfect sense,” says Melanie. “At the moment we’re offering this opportunity to about 80 students, and we’re really thrilled to be involved.”
In addition to the established choreographers contributing work for the four CAT sets, this year’s programme includes a special commission created by teaching assistant James Cousins on three CAT alumni who are now in vocational training. “James worked intensively with our alumni dancers to create an exciting trio playing with rhythmic isolation movement ideas,“ says Melanie. Dancers Gabriela Solana, Parsifal James Hurst and Kinga Jaczewska have just completed their first years at London Contemporary Dance School and Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
“I’ve been assisting on the CAT scheme for the last year, helping out with the older students on the CAT scheme and helping out with Boys’ Ballet as well,” explains James, a Youth Dance England National Young Dance Ambassador. During his training at LCDS, James developed a strong interest in choreography and had his work performed as part of a gala performance at Buckingham Palace. Programme Manager Lucy Field felt that James’s “fantastic choreographic vision” would provide a great opportunity to showcase the progress of CAT alumni since leaving the scheme.
“We’ve only had a couple of days to make it,” says James, “so it’s been a very fast and intense creation process, but it worked really well, and it’s been really nice to work with new people. They brought something new to the work so that’s been exciting for me.” James will be dancing with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures from next month, and hopes to spend some years performing as well as continuing to choreograph with a view to launching his own company in the future.
In addition to working with renowned choreographers during intensive workshop weeks, CAT students take part in weekly technique and creative classes. Courtney, who has been part of the CAT for two years, has enjoyed experimenting with different movement ideas. “I’ve learned how to expand my work, especially in my creative sessions,” she says. “I’ve learned how to take a risk and not just stick to my usual stuff I do.” Blue adds, ““I’ve learned how to be with different choreographers and see how they react to things.” Both girls had been dancing for several years before joining the CAT, but the scheme accepts dancers from a variety of training backgrounds, including young people with little previous training, based on ability and potential.
Jason has only been dancing for two years, but has already been promoted to CAT Set 4, the most advanced set. “I was originally in Set 3 and for one piece I was in Set 4, so I got to work with lots of different people,” he explains. “The level of professionalism that all the people had was really good to work with.” Within the CAT, Jason feels he has learned more about the variety of styles that contemporary dance can include: “I got to learn about all the styles and how much it can vary as a style, rather than being one set way to do something.”
Jessie joined the CAT two years ago, and particularly enjoys being among other young people who are passionate about dance. She also feels she has benefited from working with a number of different choreographers, including Henri Oguike and Renaud Wiser this year. “I think I’ve learned to adapt to different choreographers’ styles, and to work with other young people my age to really produce things that are good to watch,” she says. Classmate Bradley agrees: “I think I’ve really learned to be able to take styles away from each choreographer and adapt it to my own style, and it’s just getting better!”
Twelve CAT students are graduating this year into vocational training programmes at institutes including the BRIT School, the Arts Educational School, London Studio Centre, LCDS and the Rotterdam Academy. “We’re trying to get students to think outside the UK with their training,” says Lucy Field, who hopes that more CAT students will opt for international training academies in the future.
CAT training can also help prepare students for careers outside of contemporary dance. “I’m leaving the CAT this year in order to go into the other end of what I do – I’d like to do musical theatre and that’s where I really see myself in the future,” says Jason. “But I think this training has helped, one with the technique and two to give me the enjoyment to want to come back and go for companies such as Jasmin Vardimon in the future.”
Other students hope to continue a life in contemporary dance. In either case, the Centre for Advanced Training offers young dancers the opportunity to develop their potential in a supportive, professional environment. “We’re always looking for new young dancers with exceptional potential,” says Melanie Precious. “We’re trying to build on our partnership working to ensure that the programme is as accessible as possible.”
Jessie adds, “I think in the future I’d like to do some more training. I want to carry on in the CAT scheme and then do some more training and then….see what happens!”
The Place CAT Summer Show 2010 took place on Saturday 31 July at the Robin Howard Dance Theatre, with guest performances from Yorkshire Young Dancers, DanceEast Academy, Shift Dance Company and three CAT Alumni.
Originally published at www.londondance.com