When I first became Artistic Director in late 2012, I was involved in many a daunting discussion about vision, ethos and what makes Stopgap – Stopgap. I say daunting because when immersed in Stopgap’s world – things move fast and evolve everyday. We often find we have quite a unique perspective on the world – which is not always a perspective shared by everyone.
As a practitioner I wanted to talk about the nitty gritty of the practice. This was difficult: being pioneers we didn’t always have the words to describe our methods. I was also told a practice is not a vision and that it didn’t speak to those not deeply involved in studio antics and theatre making.
After three years of stepping out of the cast and allowing myself to picture the journey ahead, I have been able to witness the results of our methods and therefore pin down how Stopgap does what it does. I can also see how this feeds into our future vision and therefore what makes Stopgap – Stopgap
Now when asked to speak about vision I begin first by talking about our artistic identity.
As a contemporary artist being present, available and curious in the moment is essential: therefore it makes sense for me to start with our artistic identity because it is about who we are now and that is something we can be sure of.
I have chosen to write briefly about three Stopgap methods and within these I hope I can share how our processes lead to identity traits that run through the company from our work with children and young people to our professional touring artists. It will also give you a little insight into what goes on in the studio and in my AD head when immersed in the world of Stopgap!
Stopgap often brings like-minded artists into the studio for ‘playdays’ with the team. During the process of Artificial Things we invited the choreographer Joseph Frucek from ‘RootlessRoot’. Josef is a giant of a dancer and the first thing he said was:
“To show no respect is the greatest respect”.
He then proceeded to wrestle me (his host) for 10 minutes in front of the dancers. Although at first the idea of showing no respect sounded like an ‘anti stopgapism’ as the day progressed we realised it actually resonated with our practice of equality and acceptance.
We dancers are a respectful bunch – practicing our steps and never questioning why we need to learn our tendues. Josef certainly switched something on in us that day and since then we have questioned everything we dancers do from our company class, artist training and our grass roots inclusive dance programme, IRIS.
We have travelled around the country asking dancers, students and more importantly teachers what is it that makes a dancer great? The answers became the catalyst that reinvented our company class and developed our teaching syllabus.
You should try it; ask yourself why you are starting the class with plies and why you are calling them plies when you are in bare feet and in parallel?
Reinvention is often the key to our surprising movement vocabulary and features highly in our touring productions. One reinvention that we will share in our next production The Enormous Room (2016) will be our circus collaboration with Crying Out Loud and Pret a Porter. The dancers spent a week with talented acrobats reinventing hand to hand acrobatics with our dancers who use wheelchairs – imagine Nadenh in his chair balancing on David’s feet – it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck just thinking about it!