The evolution of Stopgap | Vicki Reflects Part 2

Founding Artistic Director Vicki Balaam continues to reflect on the origins of Stopgap and her personal journey with the company

A black and white photo of an excited group posing for the camera. In white text along the bottom of the image is the title ‘Stopgap Founding Members’.

When did you officially first perform with Stopgap Dance Company?

The embryo of Stopgap started with some one-off workshops that then led to Woking Dance Umbrella and Guildford Borough Council wanting to progress it to the community project that I was recruited for... so I was there from almost the very beginning. I graduated from The University of Surrey in 1996 so it would have been that autumn (1996) I joined. So, I'm guessing that the very first performance of Stopgap (and me) was March 1997 - I think as a key project to launch Woking Dance Umbrella as an independent festival as previously Dance Umbrella ran the festival for Woking (led by the magnificent Theresa Beattie).

Kuldip Singh-Barmi and Dave Toole were commissioned to make a duet on Leonie Flowerday and me which we called "N'Way". This was performed in March 1997 and for Guildford Borough Council in April 1997 to celebrate the fact that Stopgap was created by the two local authorities working together, led by Hannah Curr and Jenny Lowde. With their blessing we became an independent project and as we did so, I was elected to lead the group. I remember in that meeting I agreed to hold the fort until we could find someone who can do it better/knows what they are doing. Whenever I give talks about how StopGAP started, I retell this moment in time, and credit Lucy as being the person I waited 2 decades to discover (and persuade) to take over from me. I guess this is when I became the Artistic Director although I see this period as a transition from community project to becoming a dance company

A photo from a summer residency with Dave Toole and Kuldip Singh-Barmi

During that time, we:

  • Worked out how to lead workshops, and explored what integrated meant to us
  • We found Chris Pavia and created a trainee position that developed into an apprenticeship and then entered the "main" company
  • Separated "community" work and "main company".  Articulating the difference in expectations. Within community work our focus was inclusion.  In the main company the focus was on integration and excellence - this was a very uncomfortable concept at the time.
  • Dave Toole and I created a duet called "Danger Motivates Comfort" which I think led to the South Bank Centre project (where we commissioned "Creeper" choreographed by Sue Smith).

A black and white photo of Dave and Vicki. We jokingly call this the 'conception of Stopgap'!

The South Bank project was wonderful, but it revealed how hard the journey to become a professional dance company would be. With the blessing of the rest of the team, Chris and I carried on following this dream that seemed completely impossible. Never one to let realism get in the way of pursuing the impossible, Chris spent time studying at Brooklands College, and I briefly became Dance Development officer for Surrey County Council - giving me an excellent grounding in dance development strategic thinking. This period of time gave us the privacy to quietly work on developing how we worked together and the principle that would underpin StopGAP... working with Becky Edmunds and Adrian Court, with workshops with Charlie Morrisy and Scott Smith. This is when we did various site specific commissions, namely the "bank job" and the "insurance job"!! (but that’s for another blog!!)

When everything was in place, I fundraised to get our first Arts Council England funding for "Thank you for the Eggs" (2001). I then recruited two new dancers, Dan Watson and Laura Jones, and for me this is when we became a company in all but constitution

What has stayed with you from Stopgap Dance Company?

How thrilling it is to change the world, but what a scary adventure that is to be in!

It also validated what my dad taught me: all experiences are good experiences, and the bad experiences are the best to learn from

Who are you nurturing now in the industry?

Hopefully anyone in the Stopgap team who wants to chew over ideas, frustrations, dreams, hopes over a virtual cuppa. In particular, Kat Ball is someone I first met when she came to my after-school dance club, and who has been around Stopgap as it emerged as a company, it’s so exciting to see her now flourishing as an apprentice. I enjoy our chats and it is a real honour to learn from her and be inspired by what she is discovering about herself as a person, an artist and an activist.

Various requests for advice and one-off chats with a range of emerging and established artists - so much exciting work is happening in our industry, but I am also so sad that many of the same issues don't seem to be getting better.

I'm a board member for Stopgap and Freewheelers (I couldn't say no to Karl). I work regularly with Stuart Waters as a producer and also to ensure he develops practice that keeps him safe. I provide regular mentor support to Wendy Hesketh-Ogilvy from Wired Aerial Theatre, specifically supporting Wired's journey through this Covid-19 situation and developing their Cultural Case for Diversity

I am particularly excited to be supporting Stuart and Viv Gordon to champion a way of ensuring mental health is truly considered within creation and touring and supporting Stuart to see if there is a way of embedding creative audio description and captioning within his work. Both of these focuses have been long term passions of mine.

I also offer support to Dylan Quinn who is doing amazing professional performances, community work and peace activism in Northern Ireland. And Dan Watson whenever I can lure him to join me for a cup of tea!


You can read the first installment of Vicki's reflections by clicking here 'From a secret rebellion, to a public display of defiance... | Vicki Reflects'

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