One of the main lines of enquiry for me as Artistic Director of Attik Dance is that of identity. This manifests in everything we do, where every process and experience we lead supports our participants and artists to explore this aspect of themselves.
One very obvious way of exploring Identity is through dance making processes and through structured and robust improvisational exercises. With this in mind, we have made a commitment to ourselves and to the amazing and inspiring young people we work with, a commitment that is also a very interesting challenge. The commitment is that when working with our participants, we will work creatively in every aspect of their experience. This might not sound particularly radical, but this also includes technique training as much as it means choreographically.
This means we don’t teach any ‘steps’ or previously made ‘choreography’ either in class or in the making of dance for performance. We don’t show them how to do particular movement, we don’t ask them to learn a sequence of stylised movement and we don’t expect them to perform choreography we have pre-made.
This is harder, much harder, than you might think. And we aren’t fully doing this yet. I am every now and then still teaching a ‘sequence’ of movement in my preparation class, as the dancers I am working with are still learning dance steps elsewhere, and it helps them bridge the gap between that world and the Attik Youth Dance World. But we are almost there. 95% there. And the results of this way of working are very interesting, for us, and also and most importantly for our young dancers.
Primarily, the impact has been on their self-esteem as dancers and especially as creative artists. Incredibly the vast majority of young dancers, prior to working with us, had never experienced improvisation or what we consider to be a creative process. They may have made up some dances at school, but arguing about and then deciding on a topic, then pulling that topic apart to find the crux of the idea, then creating the movement for that specific world, then choreographing and composing that piece to an end product? They haven’t done this.
There are ranges of challenges for us in delivering this creative session. A significant one is ensuring that everything we would talk about in a technique class has to be delivered through an improvisational exercise. These are ideas such as Alignment, weight distribution, breath, sinking in to the floor, extension, feet articulation etc.., ideas that are normally experienced through a set sequence of movement, which gives the dancer a structure through which they can understand how their body can technically move.
The impact of exploring technique like this is that the dancers begin to have a greater ownership and understanding of how technique feels on their body in their ‘creative state’, rather than just when doing someone else’s exercises in a technique class. And this leads to young people who are totally invested in their choreography and their ideas, who are becoming fearless in improvisation and are proud of their increasing facility in being able to create unique and technical movement through a process they have devised.
The specific methodologies involved in these processes are constantly evolving, as each of our youth companies have different young people with very different histories. A more detailed exploration of these methods will be the subject of future posts.