Summer 2023

Artist Reflections


As we hurtle towards autumn, we’re taking a quick breather before launching into the final intense creation stages of our latest production Lived Fiction. We’re grateful for such a wide array of activities – and would love to share a glimpse into some of the projects our dance artists have been part of.

In between performances of Frock all over the country and focused rehearsals for new work; artists Hannah, Nadenh, Emily and Christian have been very busy collaborating and leading on the a great mix of artistic projects. From Canada, to Birmingham to Ipswich – read on to discover more about what they’ve been up to! 

Hannah & Propeller

Hannah in conversation with a dancer from Propeller dance.

Hannah Sampson in conversation with a dancer from Propeller Dance in Canada. Hannah is a white learning disabled person with Down syndrome, as they talk they take hold of on of their wrists in demonstration. They are talking to a dancer who is a wheelchair user, they wear a dark blue suit jacket, white shirt and bowtie.

Senior Dance Artist Hannah Sampson travelled over to Canada with Co-Artistic Director Lucy, to collaborate with Propeller Dance on their National Arts Centre co-production This is Happening. Having met the dancers of Propeller online to research ideas, they visited Ottawa in May for an intense period of creation, culminating in Stage Door, a series of vignettes offering audiences a glimpse behind the scenes. 

Hannah: ‘Lucy’s concept behind the piece was that it’s set backstage, and the audience followed along and witnessed duets and solos happening in the dressing rooms, backstage corridors and the scene dock.  We’d worked with Propeller online before, and for this project we met with them weekly from April before we travelled over. Lucy and I researched the ideas and explored them online with the dancers which gave us time to play around and develop the concept. It was a helpful way for me to get to know them and what we needed to know in terms of how we can support working with them.’ 

Promotional image for This is Happening, by Propeller Dance. Four white people at a dressing table in front of mirrors surrounded by white lightbulbs in a dressing room. They all have their eyes closed mid-smile and dress in glamorous costumes.

Promotional image for This is Happening, by Propeller Dance. Four white people at a dressing table in front of mirrors surrounded by white lightbulbs in a dressing room. They all have their eyes closed mid-smile and dress in glamorous costumes.

‘We created most of the material when we were there in person with them. I was supporting Lucy and observing her process as a choreographer whilst also working with the dancers on parts of their performance. I enjoyed working with Dylan, a learning disabled dancer with Down syndrome, I helped him a lot with finding his character in the choreography. I really love working with characters and stories.

It was a great opportunity for me to develop more independence, both at work and with travelling and staying away from home. I’m looking forward to working on a solo choreographic project now, which is based on my experiences through life. My solo will be about using my voice, representation, and advocating for myself and for others.’ 

You can check out a podcast featuring Hannah in conversation with Propeller’s Co-Director Renatta Soutter on the Dirty Feet dance podcast.

Nadenh & Emily with FABRIC

Dancers onstage performing, in colourful t-shirts

Twelve dancers on stage during a performance, they lift their arms above their head and twist towards their left. One dancer is a manual wheelchair user, another has crutches, and the others are standing dancers. They all wear colourful t-shirts and the back of the stage is purple with large letters spelling out 'Birmingham'.

Nadenh and Emily worked with FABRIC and dancers from their Future Shift company and Centre for Advanced Training (CAT) students to create a piece for Birmingham Festival 2023 in July. 

Initially Nadenh and Emily went to FABRIC in June and spent four days with the group creating the work which Nadenh choreographed and titled The Twelve. 

In such a short space of time, how did you approach making the piece? 

Nadenh: ‘Making an 8 minute piece in four days is quite challenging. Me and Emily planned to make the work in three days, with the fourth day when we rehearse. It was stressful because I was also composing the music as well as choreographing. The first week working with them, we taught class and it was a chance to let them get to know each other because the group did not know each other at all.’

Emily: ‘We started planning well in advance of going up to Birmingham, we managed to get information about each of the participants who were working with us, which was great, we asked about their interests and what they enjoyed doing. So we had a sense of who they were before we met them, so we could bring that and filter their personalities into the piece. So they felt that the piece was as much theirs as ours.’

Nadenh: ‘We used a few different things as part of the process. For one section I created a phrase, which Emily then translated into a standing version, so we had two phrases to teach. We had a wheelchair dancer in the group and also someone who was using crutches due to an injury, so we decided to make a seated version for the whole group too. When the dancers had learned the material, we then gave them a task to develop the phrases and make their own. We also worked with improvisation tasks, me and Emily filmed these and then used that footage to pull out bits we liked. Then, a bit like creating a necklace with beads, we put it together piece by piece.’

The performance at Birmingham festival. A wheelchair dancer reaches their arm forwards.

The Twelve performance. A dancer who uses a manual wheelchair, faces the left and reaches over their left wheel to extend an arm forwards to the audience.

Emily, what did you learn from the process? 

‘I learned that having a lot of support around us was really crucial. We had around five support workers and staff to assist and be in the room as an outside eye. These two groups had never met each other beforehand and the support workers became a mid-point between us and the participants initially, who were unsure about coming to us straight away. 

For myself, being able to delegate and pass on responsibility to others in the space because we’re all there for the same goal: to make the piece as successful as possible. It was great being able to hand over ideas to the support workers, after the first initial four days in June and to come back for three days in July to see everybody taking on our notes and achieving what we envisaged.’ 

Nadenh, as an emerging choreographer, what did this experience teach you about your process and how to approach working with a larger group? 

‘It was a good experience for everybody, for the CAT students to work inclusively, and for disabled dancers to get to work with professional dancers from Stopgap. The atmosphere is a little bit different if you compare with working with professional dancers. But then for them, they are starting to learn about being a professional dancer. It’s a good opportunity for themselves and also for me, as an emerging artist, to pull out the idea and find a way of ‘how are we going to flow and fly together?’. That’s really important, to encourage young people to want to do more if they feel interested in this world. 

It’s a really good experience to create a piece of work with a large group. I learned to understand how to work with a lot of different people, how we kind of all put the work together. It’s not just me, by myself to create the ideas, but the idea comes from the dancers as well. When we were in Birmingham I learn about the area, so I try to create something including and involving the environment around that area too. That’s quite interesting to explore. It’s a really good opportunity. It’s a big festival and I’m really pleased with what we created with The Twelve. The result coming out is quite beautiful and everyone was so proud. I’m so proud of them! After this, it’s made me want to do something more!’ 

Stay tuned for more from Nadenh and his new work Reflections

Christian & DanceEast

In one of the busiest weeks in July, Christian travelled to Ipswich to lead a group as part of Dance East’s CAT scheme Summer Intensive. 

We asked Christian what they got up to and how he prepared for the week:

‘Myself, Hannah and Alice Shepperson worked with the CAT students on a reimagining of Little Collisions, which is the last section of our outdoor piece Frock. We spent a week with the young dancers to make the work, then it was performed as part of their end of year showcase. 

To prepare my choreographic ideas, I spent a lot of time annotating the music as there are so many strong beats, accents and rhythms to respond to. I came up with a score for the piece, which included many different tasks inspired by the same tasks Lucy used to create Frock initially. A personal favourite was one called smash and grab! 

I created a storyboard of the work from start to finish and had many alternatives up my sleeve in case some quick changes were needed. I tried to consider everything before arriving to limit the stress and it definitely paid off.’ 

What did you enjoy most about the experience? 

‘I have a few favourite moments. The young people we worked with were so passionate, enthusiastic and engaged. Their energy never dipped and they always gave everything they had. Watching them perform the work on stage was epic! This was the biggest commission I’ve had so far personally so it was incredibly satisfying to watch them present the dance so powerfully! 

Finally, I loved the camaraderie between all the staff and artists at DanceEast. Everyone there supported each other and encouraged at all times.’

A collage showing the students Christian worked with during their rehearsals

A collage of three images of the young students at work in the large bright studio at Dance East.

What did you learn from this project? 

‘I think I always knew it, but to set high expectations and allow the people you are working with to rise to those expectations. Also the value of meticulous planning – when it’s possible to do it in this way.’

As a senior dance artist and head of artist development, how do projects like these feed into your goals for supporting the development of artists? 

‘I feel that my job is very much about giving bespoke support to artists so that they can thrive and excel. During this week I was able to have one on one time with all of the dancers and it was a pleasure to witness them listening and take on everything they were given. We made sure to consider what they needed and how we could best support them throughout the week. It becomes very apparent that when you invest in people and when they are able to invest in you, amazing things happen. 

Communication is vital. I think that if there is one thing you can do to support the people around you, it’s to communicate and listen. It’s always a two-way street and developing a supportive and effective practice is always at the top of my list for myself and the people around me.’

A group photo

A large group of young dance students posing with their teacups and saucers, which are a prop for their piece. Christian, Hannah, Alice and Dance East staff join the group too.