Feature: Clever Moves

Wednesday 20 June 2007

DANCE apprenticesPhoto: Agnes Mellon *The graduates of the first Dance Apprentice Network aCross Europe (D.A.N.C.E.)
two year training programme make their debut performances at Sadler’s Wells next
week.*

*Lyndsey Winship talks to Wayne McGregor – one of the choreographers behind the
initiative to “fast-track a level of experience” for dancers…*

How does studying architecture make you a better dancer? The 22 students on the
inaugural Dance Apprentice Network Across Europe (D.A.N.C.E.) programme have spent some of the last two years finding out. D.A.N.C.E. (supported through the Culture 2000 and Leonardo Da Vinci Programmes of the European Union) – is a unique, multidisciplinary programme which gives the cream of young European
dancers the chance to hone their techniques with top choreographers while delving
into subjects surrounding contemporary performance practice, from theatre and
digital technology to philosophy, film and, yes, architecture.

What gives D.A.N.C.E. its real kudos is the project’s founders and directors, four of Europe’s most
respected and innovative choreographers: William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor, Angelin Preljocaj and Frederic Flamand. The programme’s aim was to nurture the kind of dancer those choreographers
wanted to work with. “We’ve all had problems hiring dancers actually,” explains
McGregor. “Finding dancers that have the combination of an intellectual openness
and a physical aptitude to do the work.” They wanted to “fast-track a level of
experience” for dancers who had some advanced training so that they could go into
high-level companies with choreographers making technically and intellectually
challenging work.

“I think increasingly lots of dancers are being taught to be self-reflective,
the kind of thinking dancers who make lots of choices, but they actually haven’t
got the technical skills to back it up,” says McGregor. “In some instances it’s
a reverse of the dilemma there used to be ten years ago where it was all technical
aptitude and no thinking. So a demand of our dancers is that they have that kind
of curiosity but they also have to have the body to be able to do something with
it.”

McGregor has found that, particularly in Britain, young dancers are often stamped
with the signature of their particular training institution. “To the point where
if I had auditions I could pretty well tell you where all of those individuals
trained, without even looking at their CV,” he says.

The quartet of directors were keen for their dancers to have an ability and intelligence
that wasn’t culturally specific, to the extent that D.A.N.C.E. even has two bases,
one in Dresden and one in Aix-en-Provence. The 22 dancers themselves (selected from 900 original candidates) come from
12 different countries, including two Brits, Joseph Walkling, a graduate of London Contemporary Dance School and Jessica Wright, who trained at Central School of Ballet.

Instead of writing a formal curriculum, McGregor, Forsythe, Preljocaj and Flamand
decided that the most fruitful course of study would be for the young dancers
to work directly with choreographers on whatever were their choreographic preoccupations
at the time.

“So for example, if I was working in artificial intelligence or on something
to do with memory,” explains McGregor, “then those young people would be immersed
in that process, and that would be supported by quite a rigorous series of workshops
and sessions with philosophers or people who were thinking around the ideas of
dance-making, with maybe scientists who would be thinking in a tangential way,
as well as the more technical aspects.”

'A Success Story' Frédéric FlamandPhoto: Pino Pipitone This is where architecture comes in. “It’s a point of departure for the creative
process,” says McGregor. “Forsythe over the last few years has developed a thing
called improvisational technologies which is a methodology based on Laban principles.
These have an absolute parallel with architectural schemata, this relationship
between point, line, plane, volumes of space.”

“Flamand is also working architecturally and is much more interested in what
is the relationship between an architect and a choreographer. The philosophical
debate there overtakes the practical aspects, so you can see how architecture
in its general sense has lots of different applications. You don’t see this kind
of cross-referencing in a lot of the other schools.”

The piece that McGregor has made with the students is called [memeri], and its aim is to create a “living archive”. It’s an extension of McGregor’s
work as a research fellow at Cambridge University and as Innovator in Residence at the University of California where his underlying investigation is to look at the intelligences at play when
we create choreography. McGregor is continuing to break new ground in the potential
crossovers between science and dance.

'[memeri]' Chor: Wayne McGregorPhoto Costin Radu “One of the things that kept coming up was how to we record what we make,” he
says. “A traditional notion of an archive is a video of the show and a few notes,
and we know that those things don’t capture what the points of the decision are.
I started to think about the idea of a living archive – how could you capture
data?” With the D.A.N.C.E. students McGregor utilised a gadget being developed
by Microsoft, the SenseCam, a tiny wearable camera that takes pictures continually throughout the day at
a rate of about five per second.

The dancers wore the cameras during the process, and as well as providing material
for four video pieces which will serve as an introduction to the performance,
McGregor used the data collected to generate improvisations, structural information
and choreographic material for the piece.

“It was a way for us to record information in a different way,” says McGregor.
“There’s no composition in the frame, because [taking the pictures is] accidental.
It captures the unfamiliar in a situation, but what’s strange is that when you
watch it back you remember things in your day that you really had forgotten. This
piece is a series of little flashes of moments of experience that we’ve been able
to capture.”

'One Flat Thing Reproduced'Chor: William ForsythePhoto: K Hirsch Marking the end of their two year programme (the directors have just auditioned
for a second intake) the D.A.N.C.E. students will be performing *[memeri]* at Sadler’s Wells alongside Forsythe’s famous One Flat Thing, Reproduced – a devilishly difficult piece involving the dancers navigating a stage set
with 20 tables at breakneck speed – and A Success Story, a new piece by Frederic Flamand based on the life of Hollywood mogul Howard Hughes. It’s an eclectic programme
to say the least, but that’s exactly the kind of challenge these versatile D.A.N.C.E.
students are now ready and raring to face.

Background

The 30 institutions participating in the programme are: Ballet Preljocaj (FR),
Ballet National de Marseille (FR), Charleroi/Danses (BE), CIANT – International
Center for Art and New Technologies Prague (CZ), Ecole Nationale Supérieure de
Danse de Marseille (FR), Dance Europe Magazine (GB), Dance Week Festival Zagreb
(CR), Dansens Hus Copenhagen (DK), Diversions Dance House Cardiff (GB), Exodos
Festival Ljubljana (SI), Fenice Danza (IT), Festival de Marseille (FR), Fondazione
TeatroDue (IT), Friends of Dance Cyprus (CY), Henny Jurriens Stichting Amsterdam
(NL), IALS Rome (IT), IMG Mainz (DE), Istanbul State Opera and Ballet (TU), IUAV
Venice (IT), Lithuanian Dance Information Center Vilnius (LT), Palucca Schule
Dresden – Hochschule für Tanz (DE), Passerelles Project (BE), Random Dance (GB),
Semperoper Dresden (DE), The Forsythe Company (DE), The Forsythe Foundation (USA),
Théâtre Royal de Namur (BE), Turlej Foundation (PL), Workshop Foundation Budapest
(HU), ZKM Karlsruhe/ Moving Images (DE)

For more on the D.A.N.C.E. performances at Sadler’s Wells (29 & 30 June 07): sadlerswells.com

Auditions for the second intake of apprentices took place earlier this year.
The next auditions will be in February 2009.

More on D.A.N.C.E. www.danceacrosseurope.com

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