PHOENIX DANCE THEATRE hosted its first Choreographers and Composers Lab between the 6th – 17th July 2015. The lab took place in the company’s new purpose-built dance venue, which is also shared with Northern Ballet and a stones throw from Yorkshire Dance in Leeds.
Led by Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director & Choreographer Sharon Watson and Independent Music Director & Composer Ken Hesketh, the two-week intensive focused on collaborative approaches to creating work and has been designed as a professional development opportunity for both choreographers and composers. We were a multinational crowd of 24 artists; four choreographers, four composers, four musicians and twelve dancers.
Workshops, lectures and daily creative tasks informed our progress through the 2-week intensive. Some days I found myself choreographing on a solo performer, other days I had 4 or 5 dancers and 2 musicians in the mix! Each choreographer/composer had an opportunity to work with one another during week 1 and in week 2 we were partnered off to focus on creating short works with the same collaborative team. I had the pleasure of working with the composer Eloise Gynn and together we made a 10-minute work titled ‘Yoyuu’ for the lab’s informal sharing on the 17th July. Eloise performed in the work alongside dance artists Alice Shepherdson, Prentice Whitlow and Sam Vaherlehto; the Clarinettist/Saxophonist Oliver Dover and Pianist/improv extraordinaire Hara Alonso.
You couldn’t help but think each participant had a role to play in provoking, inspiring or teasing out a different side of your own artistic practice throughout the 2-week intensive. There was such a lively and open atmosphere at play, which gives merit to the team who made it all happen. We felt looked after as a group and encouraged to work outside comfort zones; musicians became dancers and I’ll never forget becoming part of a 24-piece band at one point thanks to guest workshop leader Peter Wiegold! I half wondered on glancing at the list of participants before arriving, whether the choice of 3:1 female to male ratio on both the choreographer and composer selection front had been a conscious decision; so often I find it’s the other way around. Either way, there was a real sense of anything goes. A creative space where serendipity could flourish.
Notably, Phoenix Dance Theatre were able to pay those taking part. This was in part thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. I wanted to highlight this fact because I think it enabled participants to commit fully to the project without panicking over the usual freelance headache; balancing professional development opportunities (rare) with paying the bills (the norm). The lab enabled its participants to immerse themselves in this wonderfully infectious creative bubble and the little things like relaxing over a drink in the pub – after surviving another Bob Cohen creative task (!) – might trigger an interesting conversation between dancer / musician / choreographer / composer. Too often we find ourselves rushing off at the end of the day to locate the nearest internet hole to lose hours in the vacuous world of the blank funding application!
“…participants will enjoy a rare opportunity to focus on the creative process of research and experimentation with the emphasis on composition in music and dance.”
Guest speakers included the mighty Robert Cohan CBE, Founder of the London School of Contemporary Dance and Phoenix Dance Theatre Patron; Zoë Martlew, Cellist and BBC TV Proms presenter/commentator; Mike Dixon – Dance Critic; Didy Veldman, Choreographer; Dr Jo Butterworth, Professor of Dance Studies at the University of Malta and Peter Wiegold – Composer and Head of Music Research at Brunel University London. It’s nothing like turning up on the first day to find one of the founders of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre, setting the creative agenda for the day. My, at times, overly precious and slow choreographic method was blown out of the window (in a good way) and at the same time the experience affirmed I kinda know what I’m doing and should keep doing it!
Whilst I’m sure that the experience will inform each of the participants development in coming months and years, one overriding question that popped up again and again is how do we facilitate more opportunities for live dance and live music to come together. Not as an additional add on near the end of a production period, but the two consistently working side by side, physically (or perhaps virtually) in the same space.
Away from the lab, I’m currently working on my first full-length work with 4 composer/musicians and 5 dancers. I know the logistical and financial burden involved in pulling off such a venture, but I also know (thinking back to a Neon Dance highlight; performing our production The Intention live on stage with composers Nils Frahm and Anne Muller) how exciting, relevant and inspiring it can be when these two worlds collide. Perhaps more can be done to spark conversations between orchestras, bands, composers; and dancers, choreographers, dance companies. These two worlds have such rich and collaborative histories, more should be done to support their future dialogue.
Whilst in Leeds I watched the brilliant NATIONAL YOUTH DANCE COMPANY perform ‘Frame[d]’ choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Local youth groups also presented their own absolutely brilliant creations inspired by the work. As the usual soundtrack of Olafur Arnalds / Max Richter mixed into Rap/Pop YouTube hits blasted out from the theatre speakers, I wondered what this new generation of aspiring dancers and dance makers would make of their musical equivalent live in the room with them. Would they have the same challenging, inspiring and thought provoking experience as I had had on the Choreographers and Composers Lab? I suspect they would and I’d like to see the result.
The Choreographers and Composers Lab 2015 is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Adrienne Hart was one of four choreographers selected to attend the two-week intensive.
For more information about the Choreographers and Composers Lab:
Follow Adrienne on Twitter: @ADRIENNE__HART