The weather gods smiled on Canary Wharf this weekend for the Docklands debut of the Big Dance youth dance day as part of Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2013. Previously held at The Scoop, City Hall as a London Youth Dance initiative, the youth dance day featured for the first time on Saturday in Dancing City as part of the wider GDIF festival of outdoor performing arts.

Twenty youth dance companies featuring performers aged 5 to 21 years old and working in diverse styles including ballet, contemporary dance, Afro-contemporary, jazz, hip hop and classical Indian dance took to the stage immediately in front of Canary Wharf tube station. The day was hosted by the effervescent Katie P, who also led a workshop teaching the Big Dance Pledge dance choreographed this year by English National Ballet artists Laura Harvey and Jenna Lee.

The aim of this year’s event was very much to celebrate the wide array of dance styles taking place in the capital and bring youth dance to a wider audience of festival attendees and passers-by. As well as being thrilled to perform to a public audience, many of the young dancers enjoyed the opportunity to watch other groups – “It’s nice to see something different from us – other types of dance,” says Emily from Copthall School in Barnet, performing in classmate Lauren’s GCSE dance choreography. Lauren agrees: “It was really fun, a really nice atmosphere, nice seeing people!”

A number of the young people performing at this year’s event represented youth groups connected to professional touring dance companies, including Impact Dance’s Fully Functioning Individuals, State of Emergency’s Re-position, and Myself dance company’s youth group Me.I, directed by choreographer Khloe Dean. “Our piece was originally created to celebrate International Women’s Week,” explains company member Saskia, “so it has a lot of songs from current female MCs and it’s about representing female power in terms of MCs.”

Like many of the dancers present on Saturday Saskia hopes to continue dancing and is looking forward to training at an institution such as Trinity Laban or London Contemporary Dance School, both of which were represented on stage. A group from The Place Centre for Advanced Training presented a piece created over just three days at their recent intensive training week, looking at connections and relationships entitled Em Nós, Nós Confio (“in us we trust”); while theTrinity Laban Youth Dance Company paired up with integrated youth company Cando2 to create The Butterfly Effect.

“Trinity Laban and Candoco now have a partnership,” explains Laban Youth Company directorStella Howard, “and we thought what a lovely way to start it would be to bring the two youth companies together.” The dancers worked together for term with Stella and Cando2 directorSarah Blanc to create material devised from a series of creative tasks. “Once the kids came together, they got on so well and worked so well creatively together. It was a real pleasure to see two groups of teenagers come together, work together and create material.”

Some of the youngest performers came from Sanskriti Limited, a school teaching the classical South Indian dance style of Bharatanatyam. Despite the public setting and a large audience, the tiny dancers weren’t in the least bit daunted and presented two traditional pieces, one seeking the blessing of Lord Ganesh and the other portraying the triumph of good over evil.

“It’s about coming together and celebrating dance,” says host Katie P, a passionate advocate of youth dance and a regular fixture at previous London Youth Dance days. “Youth dance is so important – it’s basically the future, so we need to inspire, get these young people involved. Having a platform for it shows that dance really is for everyone, and you can start at any age!”

Report & video: Lise Smith

Big Dance youth day, as part of Dancing City, Canary Wharf, Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

Photos: Gigi Giannella
Originally published at www.londondance.com

Dance: Jam Free 2010-11 Focus on… Cando 2 touring youth dance company

Jam Free, the youth dance performance project for girls aged 11-16 and coordinated by London Youth Dance and Sadler’s Wells, is now in its third year. The project provides schools in outer London boroughs with regular dance clubs led by professional artists, and culminated this year in a performance by all the local groups at the Lilian Baylis Studio on Tuesday 15 March 2011.

As well as the local clubs run by partners in each borough (Greenwich Dance in Greenwich, The Place in Hackney and iNNOVATION Dance in Barnet), the initiative brings London-based youth companies to local venues to showcase the very best in youth dance and inspire club participants to aim higher. This year, Cando2 – the youth dance group of integrated company Candoco – is one of the three youth companies on the Jam Free tour.

Cando2 members are aged 14 to 25 years old and include both disabled and non-disabled young people. The group currently on tour has been dancing together since September. Lise Smith caught up with Sarah Blanc, Candoco’s Youth Dance Manager and choreographer of the touring piece, in Greenwich.

Sarah describes the first date of the tour at artsdepot in Finchley as ‘pretty hectic – getting the tech done in half an hour and getting out again, but it was really fun to be around and sharing the dressing rooms and things!’ Sarah feels the company has benefitted from being part of a larger tour with other companies. ‘It’s just a wee small thing, but we were sharing a dressing room with [Blueprint bursary winner] Joseph Toonga’s group and it was nice to feel part of something,’ she smiles.

The piece Cando2 are performing on the Jam Free tour, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, is based on the Bob Dylan song of the same name and includes movement phrases inspired by the lyrics of the song. Anna, who has danced with the company since last February, explains how the piece was put together: ‘We created material from phrases from the song which triggered something within us and played with duets and trios and different group material.’ Jenny adds, ‘Sarah made material on us and we also made our own material, learnt each other’s work, also some improvisation into phrases and a lot of experimentation as well – so a real bundle of everything really!’ The company members have all enjoyed performing in the differing spaces of the Jam Free tour circuit. Anna feels that the intimate space of artsdepot worked in the piece’s favour. ‘The thing for me was being close to the audience and really being able to invite them into our piece, because we could really see them throughout the performance and really get that intimate response to what we were performing.’ Laura, who has been dancing with Cando2 since 2009, agrees: ‘I think working in that intimate space, you get to connect with the audience and being so close to them, you feel that connection so much more.’

Cando2 perform at Greenwich Dance's Borough Hall as part of Jam Free 2010-11  Photo: Gigi Giannella Cando2 perform at Greenwich Dance's Borough Hall as part of Jam Free 2010-11  Photo: Gigi Giannella Cando2 perform at Greenwich Dance's Borough Hall as part of Jam Free 2010-11  Photo: Gigi Giannella

Sarah felt that the piece benefitted in a different way from the large, open space of the Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance: ‘It was just such a beautiful space, and giving it the space and watching it grow was great.’

Jenny feels the weekly rehearsals have been a good opportunity for company members to get to know one another. ‘I’ve only been with them since September, so it’s been nice to see each other at the weekend to rehearse and things like that, and obviously I’m very excited for the performances to come!’ she says. Kimberley, one of the company’s two wheelchair users, adds. “It’s been really lovely to be able to perform as a company of seven and to explore what the piece is about and explore our relationships with each other through the piece.’ Laura agrees: ‘It feels like we’ve developed our own relationships with each other, and working together as well in our intense rehearsals has been really lovely.’

Many company members feel the opportunity has enabled them to grow and develop as performers. Anna feels one of the great benefits of the tour has been the opportunity to perform Lay Down Your Weary Tune multiple times and in different spaces over the past few weeks. ‘I feel that I’ve been able to see how the piece has grown, and therefore how I’ve grown within the piece. Just by getting to go to different venues I’m learning more stuff about myself, how I react as a dancer and how I can develop as a dancer.’ Dancer DJ also loves the fact that the Jam Free tour has helped raise the profile of Cando2 and allowed young people around London to see and experience their work ‘The tour is amazing because we’re an amazing company and it’s good for other people to understand us,’ he enthuses. ‘It’s enhanced us so much – people are starting to get to know Cando2, and we’ve got an amazing opportunity to shine.’

Although the tour is at an end for this year, Sarah feels the journey is just beginning. ‘I think they’re going to continue benefitting – it’s been such an amazing experience to be able to work together in a small group and really feel what it’s like to be in a process, like you would in a professional dance setting, has been invaluable for them.’ For Cando2, Jam Free has provided an opportunity to work together intensively, create new dance material, experience touring and showcase the company around London. ‘And,’ adds Kimberley, ‘it’s given me the opportunity to be in a company of seven wonderful dancers.’

Report by Lise Smith
March 2011

Find out more about Jam Free

Find out more about Cando2 at www.candoco.co.uk/learning-and-development/youth-dance/.

Dance: The Place CAT Summer Show 2010

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

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 www.londondance.com

Dance: English National Ballet, the Royal Albert Hall and WebPlay present Swanning Around

On Monday 14 June over a hundred young people from schools all over the UK and China flocked to the stage at the Royal Albert Hall to dance Swanning Around. The piece is a re-imaging of Swan Lake inspired by Derek Deane’s production for English National Ballet, currently showing at the same venue. For six weeks, the five British and five Chinese schools involved in the project have been rehearsing in their separate venues with professional dance artists from ENB. I went along to meet the young performers as they met to rehearse together for the first time.

For Artistic Director, Laura Harvey, Monday’s performance is the culmination of 18 months planning and preparation. ENB senior principal Jenna Lee choreographed the opening and finale sequences danced ensemble by all the students, and much of the choreography existed only on paper and in separate rehearsal studios until today. “This weekend is the first time it’s come together, and it’s a real test to see if everything we’ve done on paper has worked,” smiles Laura. ‘So far so good!”

The five UK schools – Burnt Mill School in Essex, Holland Park School and Latymer Upper School in London, Salford City College in Manchester and St John Bosco Arts College in Liverpool – each worked with a dance artist from ENB to create their own group piece based on one of the characters from Swan Lake. “We’ve had music composed by a lady called Sally Greaves,’ explains Laura. ‘She’s really drawn out the central characters of Swan Lake, so it’s not so much just the narrative, it’s really delving into who those characters are.”

ENB principal dancer Yat-Sen Chang choreographed the Rothbart sequence on 24 dancers from Holland Park School. ‘Getting the character for each part of the dance was a challenge,’ he says. ‘Even though it was Rothbart, I kind of wanted to make it a little bit more grounded in terms of movement and shapes.” The dance artists had just six weeks to create the pieces with their young dancers, who come from a variety of school yeargroups and training backgrounds. ‘It hasn’t been very much time to put it all together,’ says Yat-Sen, ‘but working with the school was really enjoyable – one of the great moments of my week!’

The cast includes Y7 dancers from St John Bosco and Latymer Upper School, GCSE dancers from Holland Park School, and A-level students from St John Bosco and Salford City’s Pendleton Sixth Form Centre. The performers are both male and female; some are new to dance, some returning after a break, and some have been dancing for many years.

Although there is an age gap of up to seven years between some groups of performers, what’s remarkable about this rehearsal is the way the whole group pulls together as one. As Jenna walks among the dancers, setting space and adjusting fine details, there is little sense that these young dancers come from different yeargroups and different areas of the country. All are focused on the same object – to bring Jenna’s ‘dots on paper’ to life.

In addition to the Albert Hall performance, Swanning Around will be performed at the Shanghai World Expo in September this year, and ten of the young performers from Hong Kong and China are also guesting at the London performance this week. ‘We had an open audition in Hong Kong, so a lot of people went to the audition,’ explains 18-year old Olivia Kong Hiu Ting, ‘and they selected 26 of us to be in the project. I found out I’d got in in my chemistry lesson and I was so excited – I thought,’Oh my god, it’s such a great opportunity to be in such a big project!”

In September, ten of the UK students will perform in China alongside students from the five Chinese schools involved, from Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Jiangsu. Working across ten centres –  some of them 5,000 miles apart – has been made possible by site visits from the ENB team, and by technology partner WebPlay who have provided an online interface for students to communicate with one another, share rehearsal footage, keep diaries and meet virtually. ‘They’ve been able to see each other in rehearsal using WebPlay,’ says ENB’s Director of Learning Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, ‘but today it’s really started to make sense with them performing together in the same space.’

Monday’s performance brings to the stage regal soldiers, a whiteness of Odettes fluttering across the stage, Yat-Sen Chang’s grounded, percussive Rothbarts, super-cute cygnets, disco-dancing party guests and seductive, Balanchine-inspired Odiles danced by Salford City. As the whole cast gather into a wedge for the grand unison finale, the sense of unity and achievement is potent enough to reach up to the Grand Tier.   ‘Being in a production isn’t like what you do in class,’ reflects Olivia. ‘Everyone is working for the same goal.’

Originally published at www.londondance.com

News: Frank Dobson speaks to us about his time as an MP

Frank Dobson, London’s longest-serving MP, has represented Holborn and St Pancras since 1979. Here, he tells us about his role over the last three decades and his priorities for the future.

Mr Dobson says the most important aspect of a local MP’s role is “to represent the interests and concerns of the people in the constituency,” but to recognise that sometimes differing interests clash. It’s important, says Dobson, “to honestly say to people you disagree with, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t agree with you’ – otherwise you end up in a real mess.”

Housing is a key local priority for Dobson – “A child can’t have a decent start in life unless they have a decent home to go to,” he says. In his days as leader of Camden Council, Dobson was instrumental in the council’s purchase of Lissenden Gardens to prevent the majority of local housing from being taken over by private landlords.

Since entering politics in 1971, Dobson says one of the biggest changes he has seen is a “greater degree of inidividualism – some of it has got to the stage where it’s, ‘I’m fine, pull up the ladder’, which I don’t think is a good attitude to have from the point of view of a decent society.”

Having lived and worked in the area for many years, Dobson finds Highgate “a very pleasant place to set eyes on” and enjoys its “villagey atmosphere”. He also feels it’s a good thing that people in Highgate, of all political persuasions, have been keen to work together to further the interests of Highgate.

As a former Secretary of State for Health, Dobson is adamant that the rebuilt A&E at the Whittington that his Health Department invested in heavily during the 1990s should not be closed: “I’m damned if I’m going to go along with the idea of closing it, becase it’s a crazy idea – if only from the point of view of the cost.” Mr Dobson has words of hope for the Whittington campaigners however: Health Minister Mike O’Brien has said twice in the commons he can’t see any justification for closing the unit.

A passionate supporter of the arts, Mr Dobson believes it’s important to give young people the opportunity to engage with creativity and performance “without dumbing down”. He sympathises with the woes of local people about the current problems on the Northern Line: “I think that the option they’ve come up with isn’t very helpful to the people who depend on the line, and there are better options that the one they’re putting forward.”

His final message for Highgate People? “I am Labour, but I’m not a party poodle. If you’re want somebody with an independent mind but of a left-wing disposition, I’m your man!”

Originally posted at www.highgatepeople.co.uk