To all the direct and indirect victims of terrorist attacks over the past year. May the arts and our humble writings inspire you to live and shape a positive future for yourself and people around you.
‘VIVEZ JOYEUX’ François Rabelais (1483-1553)
Nicole McDowall, Kloé Dean and Jazmyn Alicia Raikes in rehearsal during Student Insight 'Young Choreographers in Rehearsal' © ROH Brian Slater 2016
As traditional as it may sound, the Royal Opera House (ROH) hosts state-of-the-art initiatives at the heart of Covent Garden to create an intimate environment for young dance-lovers. As a lifelong adept of ballet, urban and popular dances, the Student Insight event which took place on Monday 7 November came as a revelation, a breeze of fresh air in a world where dance is definitely underrated. The ROH invited four young choreographers and a few of their dancers to showcase what their rehearsals look like and answer the questions of a small but deeply absorbed audience.
After losing ourselves in the maze of staircases and elevator of the huge and, quite frankly, impressive Opera House, my Australian friend Ryan and I discovered the studio, a high-ceiling square rehearsal room which had turned into the main stage for the night. The first contribution was by Robert Binet, a Canadian ballet choreographer who has worked for the Royal Ballet and National Ballet of Canada since 2012. Robert offered us a preview of his new show about to be performed at the ROH with a heterogender duo. Not only could we listen to the dialogue between the choreographer, or team leader, and the dancers, as his experimental assistants, from an incredibly close position, but we could hear their bodies move, breathe and perform. Their toned silhouettes, without a hair out of place, were a whole show in themselves, subjugating the public as soon as technical figures were created out of the dynamic flesh. In fact, the power relation and emphasis of the show was really much on the high control exerted on the bodily matter, if not even more on their mental endurance.
In sharp contrast, the second young choreographer, Kloé Dean, immediately turned the traditional hierarchy upside down. With a duo of two female coloured dancers, she demonstrated how women can perform hip-hop outside of the over-eroticised and often objectifying frames globally spread via the mainstream mass media. As a non-obedient dancer, Kloé was fired from her previous crew and subsequently set up her own female collective, ‘Myself UK Dance Company’, to promote a new, self-empowering way of dancing for women urban dancers. Whilst classical ballet choreographers can use an efficient array of technical vocabulary to communicate their thoughts for each step, Kloé pointed out at the alternatives she had to come up with in order to work in harmony with the dancers. More than by simply counting steps, she uses her own body and singing voice to guide them towards emotionally-charged movements. Not that hip-hop technique does not matter, on the contrary, locking and minimalist patterns are noticeable in her work, but it chiefly pertains to feelings and moods as they are embodied and interpreted by the dancers. Their bodies do not conform to a stereotype and their faces can sometimes become the most noticeable feature of the act. The photograph above brilliantly encapsulates the smiles of a living and touching trio of individuals with a strong friendship uniting them together.
Last but not least, Jamaal Burkmar introduced another genre and approach to this art with two women contemporary dancers. Once again, the triangular dynamic functioned differently and was interestingly based more on speech than movements. Jamaal, who has benefited from formal training at the Northern School for Contemporary Dance (NSCD), was commissioned his first piece by the NSCD as he was still an undergraduate, taking an unusually early start into choreography work. Both women often asked him for directions but also exchanged ideas between themselves, thus raising the question of the theory and abstractionism underpinning every of their moves. The choreography progressed more laboriously but as a result felt even more thought through and assimilated by the dancers. They did not fear to express their doubts nor hesitations and the figure of the male choreographer did not enforce himself into the limelight but rather gave them space to work out the steps in parallel to his comments.
Followed a discussion on their different practices and perspectives on dance, joined by a ROH choreographer student, Charlotte Edmond. The public’s questions shed light on their personal conceptions of the role of music as inspiration and the narrative or politically-engaged paths opened up by a few set of steps. As my head was buzzing with questions, I could not resist asking them about their means of transcribing the work-in-process and final performances into written or audio-visual media records, as self-reminders and precious archives. I was amazed to hear them describe a wide range of creative notations and recording methods: Kloé stressed the importance of video and social media in the process and diffusion of her work (you can find some of her choreography on youtube and I highly recommend the kaleidoscopic ‘Grind real slow’ despite the mediocre quality of the recording at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1442q-h-Dwg). On the other hand, Jamaal confessed he used to sit in a car with his dad to draw the flow of steps on the front window, an unheard and very creative way of proceeding.
So whether you are more a hip-hop fan, a ballet addict or totally new to the dance world, the ROH Insight events open the backstage door for you to get an intimate and invaluable, new experience of today’s professional dancing practices. The ROH student scheme is made by young professionals to inspire, educate and entertain young people; each event costs between 1 and 25 pounds so no, dance is not exclusively reserved to an older, wealthier social group and these shows are really open to the curious, adventurous minds. Professional dance performances are only a few steps away, do not miss out!
Do check out these extremely talented young dance professionals on their websites:
Jamaal Burkmar / Kloé Dean’s company (also offers open classes in London. £4-£6)
More information about the ROH Insight events at: http://www.roh.org.uk/insights.