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!
Our work is very much about discovering new dance languages. For me as a choreographer it is the bit in the middle that I am interested in – the place where people blend beautifully or clash horribly. In the studio it is the integration of distinctly different dancers that creates our innovative movement language. It is vital therefore that we don’t get stuck in our aesthetic comfort zone because we need to keep feeding our language. To feed our language we need to stay open and it is important we don’t only work with dancers who have a visible learning difficulty or dancers who use a wheelchair.
Last year we set up ‘Young Associates’, inspired by Sg2’s Hannah Sampson’s journey into the company. Hannah joined our Youth group in 2006 and then became an apprentice in 2010. She joined in company practice once a week to begin with and then gradually built up to three days involving plenty of one to one tuition. Going from 2 hrs a week dancing within a youth group to a full day of 7 hours was a big step and so gradually building up Hannah to full time training/working was important for both Hannah and her mentors/teachers.
Young Associates in 2015 was a weekly session for Andy Trust and Kat Ball, both disabled artists with different skills and journeys but with bags of enthusiasm and a penchant for giving it a go. Opening up our studio practice was a fantastic learning curve for the artistic team, again we had to find new considerations for company class and again we learnt new ways from our young associates and developed our inclusive thinking.
I’d like to give you an insight into one of my first debriefs with Kat Ball after class.
Kat Ball is a dancer with Cerebral Palsy.
Besides learning what Kat needed to translate from the teacher’s exercises and what she needed to focus on, we discussed role models and other dancers with cerebral palsy. We also discussed why dancers with cerebral palsy didn’t seem to be as visible in the inclusive dance sector as wheelchair dancers. This inevitably led to a discussion on virtuosity what it meant and its part to play in dance.
What is Virtuosity and is it a necessary aspect of dance?
What virtuosity does inclusive dance have to offer?
Well here is a little of Stopgap’s virtuosic offerings: no one can move on their hands with such exquisite rhythm and soul as Dave Toole, both Laura Jones and Nadenh Poan’s endless tricks upside down in their wheelchairs, Hannah and Chris’s ability to transform into characters that are not defined by Down’s Syndrome, Amy’s ability to melt and become one with Nadenh and his chair and David and Tomos’ ability to bench press Laura and her chair are all pretty astounding!
So what about Kat? When I first met Kat it was her quiet yet hypnotic presence that drew me in. I think this has something to do with her focus a kind of meditative approach to controlling her limbs and putting them where she wants them. Now she seems to find space in between each move and is incredibly elegant when she dances and although it sounds ridiculous, it is Kat’s stillness (the space in between) that is so absorbing.
Hang on a minute:
Does this mean Kat’s stillness is her virtuosity?
Hang on a minute:
Does this mean Kat & Stopgap have just reinvented virtuosity?
(Answers on a postcard please)
For me it’s vital these discoveries continue to happen throughout Stopgap from our youth group to our touring company, and as I explained in the first blog in this series reinvention is part of our artistic identity. Learning from each other whether we are young, old, experienced, established or emerging makes fertile ground for reinvention.
Integration = Reinvention
Young Associates has now transformed again! Young Associates is now ‘Artists in Training’ because we realised that not just young artists want to train, we all want to keep growing.