Julia, the company’s Research Assistant, writes a blog about Stopgap’s guest appearance on the main stage at Move it, the UK’s biggest dance exhibition which takes place annually at Olympia, London.
This year, Move it celebrated the 10th year since it first began to provide dance enthusiasts, students, learners, lovers, teachers, advanced and professional dancers with the unique opportunity to enjoy all things dance over one incredible weekend. Every year hundreds of participants gather at Olympia to watch dance excerpts and take part in numerous workshops with leading dance companies and choreographers. This event is also a great opportunity to network with dance schools and organisations, buy merchandise and attend dance related seminars.
Stopgap Dance Company were invited to perform an extract of ‘Artificial Things’ on Saturday 14th of February 2015, the second (and main) day of the exhibition. Reaching out to an audience of around 800 people, some of whom may have never seen integrated dance work before, this opportunity presented a shift in the exposure of integrated dance work, as it was the first time the exhibition featured the work of an inclusive dance company.
Following the performance, the artistic director of the company Lucy Bennett, and company dancer Laura Jones co-jointly hosted a seminar with Candoco Dance Company, topic of which was ‘Practicing inclusivity’. After a brief history of the development of the company since 1995, Lucy and Laura went on to highlight Stopgap’s recent projects, including Artificial Things, Exhibition, the company’s inclusive dance syllabus called IRIS and digital dance channel Replay.
Lucy stressed the importance of practicing inclusive dance, stating that we should always ask in dance ‘Why not?’, referring to the words of the legendary choreographer William Forsythe.
As a contemporary art form we always have to ask why not, we can’t get stuck in our own aesthetics of what (inclusive) dance should look like. Inclusive dance with diversity at the centre is always evolving growing and developing and it means the work is always surprising, human and original.
Stopgap are always reinventing, an example of which is the recent workshop where company dancers were exploring hand to hand acrobatics with circus artists. This requires an immense trust of one another. The dancers have real shared knowledge of how each other’s bodies work which means they can progress quickly and take risks as well as finding innovative ways to translate movement. As Laura says, it gives her freedom of her upper body, which is quite a liberating experience as the chair is usually impeding her movement. Lucy, on the other hand, stated that trust in the studio enables her to encourage the artists to reveal their hidden stories, share a little bit of their soul and fears. And as a choreographer that is what she enjoys and what the audiences enjoy. She refers to it as the ‘bit in the middle’, the place where people beautifully meet or clash horribly. The studio is like a plato where the disability transforms, celebrate our differences rather than making them disappear and take ownership and take responsibility. Diversity becomes inspiration for new lift and new look on the world and therefore difference initiates reinvention and makes great choreography.
The presentation ended with a very important message – whilst UK is at the forefront of inclusive practice and there are a number of small innovative inclusive dance companies popping up – of which Stopgap, along with Candoco, are spearheading the development of professional inclusive practice – there are not enough young disabled dancers, due to lack of opportunities or getting turned away before choreographers or dance teachers are able to see what they have to offer. This experience was a catalyst and has led to consolidating Stopgap’s knowledge to put together an inclusive dance syllabus that is now called IRIS to offer an equal playfield for disabled and non-disabled dancers. IRIS will help to evolve the training of disabled dancers, who may not have 15 years of dance experience, but they may have a unique way of moving, a hidden story, they may have something the dance world hasn’t seen before. And if you put them together with a recent graduate who trained at the best college and can do everything on the left backwards, you may have something interesting, the bit in the middle. As Lucy says, “It matters to our art, and we want our art to matter.”