Four years goes by in a flash!

Four years goes by in a flash!

With sadness and joy in my heart I am writing to say that I am leaving Attik Dance after four years! I joined the company after I had just graduated from Laban, a contemporary dance conservatoire in London. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do and how to use my skills. As a fledgling dance artist I went to to meet the infamous Australian dancer and director of Attik Dance, Ben Dunks. After an hour of talking with him I knew that I had found someone who would inspire me. I was delighted when Ben invited me aboard to run Attik Youth Dance Company with the challenge (there is always a challenge with Ben!) to re-think Youth Dance.

We began with a beautiful little youth company where I threw all sorts of mad and wonderful ways of creating through movement, improvisation and choreographic methods. Two of these members have stayed with the company right the way through to this year (check out our wonderful selfie in the picture above). One of them reminded me of the challenge I set them with their first ever performance; an entirely improvised score for four young dancers aged between 13-19 years. Nothing like this was being shown at the time in Plymouth. What bravery they showed on that evening. Every performance since has been different and a challenge to the youth dancers and they have risen to that challenge beautifully each time.

The company has been through many phases as I have worked to my brief of re-thinking Youth Dance which will form a part of Attik Dance’s symposium in the Autumn of 2016. I will be back to share my findings and methodology at the event. They are not just mine, as with everything at Attik Dance nothing is done in isolation, the methodology has developed through ongoing discussion and reflection with the team over the past four years.

It hasn’t just been Youth Dance, the next challenge came in the form of a project management role to design the English side of a cross-channel project with a dance company from Brittany, France. I am remember so clearly the moment in 2013, when I was reading an email over Ben’s shoulder in the office. A French dance company was proposing that Attik Dance could be a partner for the project, Ben wasn’t sure we had the man power to run it, so brash as ever, I said I would do it. Those may have been the busiest months of my life, but it was the first time I realised that the way we designed and led creative sessions was unique even on an international scale. The best part of the project was as we were generous with our skills, time and energy we saw real change in the lives of the kids that we worked with. This project was the beginning of the thinking behind our more recent projects, Fight Me and This is my State Today.

From there I have been guided and trained to lead dance in primary schools, mentor our apprentices to become the artists and dancers that they desired to be, administrate the company, perform in the company’s latest Research and Development project and be a part of the planning stages for many projects including the ones yet to come! This has truly been an incredible testimony to the leadership of Ben as he has gently pushed me from one phase to the next. This is something that I watch him doing with other members of staff, apprentices, local artists and work experience volunteers as he generously offers his expertise and time to us. Thank you Ben!!

I would also like to say a big thank you to all of the colleagues, artists, dancers, adults and children who I have worked with in my roles at Attik Dance. I have beautiful memories from village primary schools watching a child light up as I have asked them to show me their moves, their ideas. And of course, all of the young people who I have danced and created with, I see them on social media rocking at University or in some other adventure they have chosen for themselves.

What a beautiful adventure these last four years have been!

Thank you!

Ownership

Ownership

new dimensions (3 of 8)As an artist working with young people in dance I (Sophie) have a responsibility to model a positive relationship with my body. Here I can be honest and say that my relationship with my body has shifted over time; from dancing making me feel incredibly sure of myself and my body and at other times has seen me as a crying mess. I have seen how dance has been an incredibly affirming experience for dancers who I have worked with, and also seen people implode and stop. To work in dance can be incredibly confidence building for the perception of self so I wanted to explore some of the reasons why it can be so damaging and at other times life affirming in the context of Youth dance.

It is an important issue to discuss when working with youth dancers; male and female. I have observed the young dancers who I have been working with over the past year or two change their perception of their body ideal. Generally the value system has shifted within them so that physical fitness and diet are the top priority with the understanding that their weight and health will be maintained as a bi-product. This I believe has taken place through a steady engagement with the artists at the company who model healthy behaviours around nutrition and exercise. Also we are a loquacious bunch so we often have the opportunity to challenge unhealthy values that we have seen in the wider culture of dance.

I am more aware of young people growing up in a media culture of increasingly homogenised representations of male and female visual norms. I regularly watch these innocent young minds processing these ideas through their presentation of themselves, in their choice of clothes, make-up, behaviour and social interaction. They walk into the rehearsal space with all of these ideas around them as a ‘young woman’ or ‘young man’. The beauty of working with them through dance and movement in a playful way is that they begin to have a ‘felt’ perception of themselves. As I see them working with concepts physically- not just throwing shapes but thinking physically- their perception of themselves broadens to know their physical self in action (as a verb if you will) rather than an image (object; noun). 

The process of owning their creative practice (decision-making, palette of choices, reflection, collaboration) has a significant effect on the way that they dance. I have noticed (not scientifically validated yet!) that over time there is a link between ownership of body and ownership of thought. As they become more empowered to express the how and why behind their movement and their choreographic choices they then inhabit their bodies in a self-assured manner. This in turn becomes a healthy behavioural habit that they can utilise in other aspects of their lives.

Specifically in the context of my youth dance methodology, I have put together some snippets of a recent rehearsal where the dancers were sharing their ideas and thought behind a duet that they had choreographed. Here is a clip of the duet. This four minute duet was made from a process that took around 2 hours where the intention was for them to feel, imagine and create spaces in the room through work around creating complex shapes that had different textures. I am skimming over details as the process of making could be another blog! The thing that I would like to draw your attention to is their ownership of their bodies in a non-gendered manner. By this I mean that there are no way stereotypical ‘boy moves’ or ‘girl moves’ just moves originating from the idea. Ben spoke about this previously, here it is. 

Here is a snippet of one of the younger members of the company (she is 11) who is explaining a part of the duet and how she approached the task.  It is really exciting to watch the beginnings of her articulating her experience to us. There were was a shared realisation in that rehearsal by all of the dancers that each individual had had really different approaches to the task which made really different outcomes. Two principles of creative practice had emerged: 1. There is no right or wrong, only diversity. 2. By sharing their ideas they are beginning to understand true collaboration (not competitive showing off).

I started this rather long blog about appearance and young people’s relationships with their bodies. I hope that what I have conveyed is that I do not think that through a Cartesian Dualist’s lens we can split the mind and the body and expect a person to be healthy. The strength of working with the art form of dance and in particular this creative dance methodology which encompasses a feedback cycle of sensing, feeling, imagining, creating, communicating, moving, discussing, performing and reflecting, that youth dancers can inhabit their whole selves with self-awareness of their worth and possibility. This ownership of their self is an extraordinary practice for art and for their lives.

Learning ways of Choreographing How my choreographic journey has progressed with Attik.

Whenever the phrase “I would like you to choreograph a count of 8” is ushered in a dance space consisting of young people, the dancers in the room start to squeal and shrink away in horror. I used to be one of these young people a few years ago before I became a member of the Attik Youth Dance Company; before I had learnt that there are an infinite number of ways to “choreograph a count of 8”.
The thought of having ownership and a creative role over the material that I was performing used to really frighten me. This was probably because I was having to expose a part of myself that would be very rarely seen in the usual GCSE and Btec classes that I took. When ¾ of the time that you spend learning from your dance teachers is picking up material and only ¼ of the rest of the time is you choreographing in one specific way, when do you have the chance to really explore your creative self and ideas? There’s no wonder why most young dancers feel shy and sometimes embarrassed about their own material because of the lack of attention that there is to creating. When you are given no tools and no training in choreographing – or maybe taught only a little about dynamics and relationships – how do you start to choreograph?

 

When I began making dances in my little bedroom at the age of 13, I relied on the music. I used the music to tell me what I should move and how I should move. As time progressed and little Rachel got older, I started to think about how to represent imagery through movement. It wasn’t until I started to dance with Attik in 2012 that I really began playing around with dancing with ideas (and the fact that you don’t need music to dance. Yeah, that was a big shock for me at the time).

 

I came into Attik in September of 2012 with a very particular way of moving. Everything I danced was very stylized and controlled. It was Attik that taught me how to get out of my head and into my body. They showed me how I could let go, fall, stand still, simply walk and most importantly, take risks when choreographing. Ben talks more about taking risks here. At Attik, we’re always taught how to relearn, redo and reflect on what we’ve made to fully develop our ideas and ways of moving. I remember thinking this was quite strange when I had first started. I had never been asked about my ideas and what I wanted from my movement. I had always been told to make something from a stimulus, show the final product and not really do much else. There is so much room for self expression inside the Attik Youth Dance Company classes and not just for myself, but for the other dancers within the space. I find it fascinating to watch and listen to the ideas coming from the young people inside our classes. It really broadens my awareness of how much capacity our young dancers have to produce these interesting ways of moving.

 

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with our young people in Attik Youth when creating my live art piece, “Circadian Rhythm”. It was a weird but enjoyable experience, transitioning from a fellow dancer to the choreographer in the space. It gave me a chance to pull out their unique qualities that I liked and experiment with giving them my ideas and seeing how they interpreted them into their movement. One of the things that I have learnt from choreographing Attik Youth, is how much discussion and deliberation there is when making. The dancers at Attik Youth always asked questions about why, how or what the task or idea I was giving them was about. This constant questioning and answering really helped me to reinforce my ideas and the final outcome of my art.

 

What I’ve taken away from working with Attik as an apprentice over this past year and over the many years as a member of Attik Youth, is that creating is an ever evolving process. It isn’t a line on a graph showing the progress of ideas from point A to B but is more like a map with new roads and paths being drawn on all the time. You can walk down a path with an idea and then maybe someone will suggest a way of moving or being that makes you turn left, taking you to a whole new place that contains constructs that you have been carrying with the whole time. Attik has really helped me become brave when pursuing my ideas; I feel that have I have become a real creative individual and I will be sorry to say goodbye to them when I leave them this year. Thank you.

 

 

Risk – how do we support the experience of Risk in our dance practice?

Risk – how do we support the experience of Risk in our dance practice?

 

The taking of risks is an interesting subject for us at Attik Dance, in a number of different areas. There is the obvious risk in the physical expression in dance, risk that can result in injury or people getting hurt in a myriad of ways. There is creative risk, where there is a fear of expressing ideas in case people laugh at you and think poorly of you. There is organisational risk, an example being where we at Attik took a big risk in the last National Portfolio Organisation round by presenting a constellated bid with Effervescent. The bid failed and we lost our NPO status, which at the time was deeply disappointing, but in hindsight was the kickstarter of a very exciting time in Attik’s history.

 

And this is the interesting thing with Risk. If you don’t take some risk in the things you are doing in your life, you won’t ever be able to see your potential. The challenge is to develop your risk taking so that you know both the degree to which you can push yourself without serious injury, and the level of knockback you are prepared to receive to experience risk taking to a level that you can accept.

 

Lets take as an example a movement you might be doing, and lets say that movement is a big jump where you are trying to get your body as horizontal as possible. Big risk. If you make a mistake, you run the risk of landing flat on your front, and by breaking your fall you run the risk of injuring your wrists and elbows, and if you don’t break your fall, you injure your knees and your face, let alone the rest of you.

 

So you mitigate the potential of damage in this action. You build up to it. You get your technique right. You get your jump action as good as possible to make sure you are able to get significant height through your jump. You get your body placement so you can hit the position then land as safely as you can. Lots of different actions to train to be safe.

 

The example above is physical risk. What we have talked about a lot recently is risk in improvisational work, which leads me to creative risk. The risk you take where being self-conscious and stopping yourself from committing to create is born of a fear that people are going to laugh at you for what you have made.

 

A perfect example of this was our session last night at Attik Youth Dartington. We were exploring movement as conversations, and started creating sounds to go with our movements. The silliness, ridiculousness and comedy of this exercise was astounding, but it took a commitment to risk to do it, because there are few things more frightening than trying to make someone laugh and potentially failing. We spent 3 hours exploring variations of this exercise and it was possibly the funniest 3 hours I have experienced this year. We love this moment of the girls bubbling over with laughter! The risks everyone took paid side-splitting dividends, with the result a 4 minute structured improvisation that was bonkers, brilliant, and unique.

 

I’m talking about this today as it is our experience that young people are no longer exposed to, or allowed to experience, the kind of risk they need to be able to understand their actions and responses when they are finally exposed to it. The reality of risk taking is that the more you do it, the more you understand it, the more knowledge of yourself in relationship to it you get, and the better you become at knowing when a serious incident, physical or emotional, is about to happen. And through knowing risk the work you are able to perform and create just gets better and better and the way you are able to relate to the world becomes more nuanced and developed. And the understanding of risk is transferable, meaning that understanding risk in dance and in creating has direct use across all areas of life.

 

Training for creative collaborators

Training for creative collaborators

Dancers for a long time have been a part of the spectacle of the Choreographer’s vision. However across the UK and more widely throughout other European countries professional dancers are working in collectives, setting up their own creative initiatives and even within traditional company structures are being asked to offer deep artistic insight. The training of youth dancers is often more aligned to the development of dancers who will be prepared for an autocratic Choreographer and offer their bodies to their creative vision rather than creating provocations in the space.  To enter into vocational or undergraduate dance training young dancers are asked to audition and ‘fight’ for a place at institutions where individuals are graded on their skills in dance techniques and creative ingenuity (on a scale). The tragedy of this is that the youth dancers who are interested in working collaboratively have a limited choice in the current training strands on offer both pre-vocational/undergraduate level . (I -Sophie- would argue that most youth dancers don’t have the knowledge or awareness to recognise the difference and the majority accept a place from the training institution that is in a location they like, if they indeed have that choice.)

How then can we re-think youth dance training to meet the demands of this creative job market?

In response to this question I  am referring to what it means to work with young dancers and the values guiding the methodology. Firstly the promotion of the skills of the individual on one hand (I am referring to other recent blogs Training Youth Dancers and Working with Patterned Movement with Youth Dancers ) and providing them with the skills of transferability and relatability. So if they are being trained in the basic techniques of dance and movement skills then the next question arises for me, how does their individuated experience of training relate to the context of creating with others?

How do we train Youth dancers to truly transfer and co-create ideas in dance. I am not talking about teaching a sequence and dancing it together in unison. I am referring to developing a methodology whereby movements and ideas are developed in in a state of inter-connectedness. I observed this recently when I visited Attik Youth Dance Company at Dartington. Ben led the session and I had the pleasure if joining in the session with some incredible young dancers! The way that we passed through the phases of warming up minds and bodies incorporating ideas which would relate to the rest of the session was speedy and thorough. Masterly done. So that within 30 minutes, all of us dancing, were ‘in it’. Quickly Ben partnered us up and set a task where we continued our exploration of the previously set ideas around our partners in a shared space where we had to mould ourselves around each other’s propositions and creations. With many different partners and adaptations of the task of sharing space we spent an hour or more creating a duet. The amount of time really gave room for us to find a way to work together, through language, improvisation, a myriad of ways. Although I am a professional dancer I could co-create with a young dancer in an honest and democratic way. The transferability of my skill and the young dancer’s skills were shared and guided gently, slowly over time to create movements, connections and ideas that were unique to us dancing together in that time and space.

As each pair shared their creations I noticed how each young person had been challenged to employ all of their broader knowledge and skills in their co-creation with another. Each duet was a beautiful example of supporting, connecting and purposeful action. ’This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.’ Maria Popova Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova on the Value of Arts

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