StopGAP Dance Company and Youth Group perform at the City of London Festival

Is your city looking a little grubby? Have your shops lost their shine? Never fear StopGAP’s Gleam Clean team is here to set the city awash with sequins and samba beats! Liquid Sunshine guaranteed!

StopGAP Dance Company and Youth Group are excited to let you know about the performances of their new piece, Gleam Clean, as part of the City of London Festival in July.  Commissioned by the City of London Festival and created by StopGAP dancer Lucy Bennett, Gleam Clean is performed by three of the professional dancers Chris Pavia, Lucy Bennett and Sophie Brown, our apprentice dancer Hannah Sampson, along with four members of the Youth Group.

This outdoor dance entwines Brazilian themes with some of the movements found in Capoeira, and the dancers have all been working hard with Capoeira Mestre, Ponciano Almeida, to understand the philosophy and basics of the art form.  It has made for a colourful and vibrant piece that will brighten up the greyest of London days.

To catch the premiere of Gleam Clean join us at the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the following dates:

Tuesday 6 July 13.15 and 15.45

Thursday 8 July 13.15 and 19.00

We hope to see you there!

Photo by Sho Shibata


The StopGAP Evolution – by Sally Anne Lowe

I first saw StopGAP perform some years ago at a school as part of a workshop with school students. I saw them again recently at the premiere of their new double bill, Trespass, and what I can’t get out of my head is not just how much the whole company has evolved, but how one dancer in particular has changed beyond imagination over those years. Chris Pavia was an enthusiastic dancer at the school workshop, but now he is a ‘real’ dancer and a central part of the company in these new pieces.

This is, no doubt, due to several more years experience, but it is also due to the way Chris has been able to grow as a performer, thanks to StopGAP’s company ethos and structure. Chris, as with all the dancers, is a salaried member of staff, as much as the artistic director or the production manager. He isn’t a freelance dancer, as is the case for so many, but has the relative safety of knowing he has a job and will not be looking for work again when a tour ends. Apparently, the five resident dancers have jointly clocked up 35 years in Stopgap.

This approach means that StopGAP has a company of dancers who are able to get to know each other, become confident and take risks with each other. They are part of the creative process with the choreographers as they build new works, and their input can clearly be seen in performance. StopGAP’s distinct style comes from within the company, not just from the vision of an all-powerful artistic director or choreographer.

What I’ve also realised is that this company structure has enabled me as an audience member to engage with the company in a different way. It’s like when theatres had rep companies and the audience could get to know the actors as people as well as in their roles. I love seeing how Chris has grown almost as much as I loved the performance. This approach builds strong relationships with the audience who are able to explore the dance with the dancers as well seeing it as a stand alone, objective piece. It creates a bond which means it’s very likely we will turn out for each new show, and probably bring our friends too.

By going back to the kind of structure companies had years ago StopGAP has created a company which should inspire others for the future.

Trespass Premiere – by Jenny Howells (Chichester University Intern)

A busy month at StopGAP! With the hustle and bustle of preparing for the premiere of Trespass at the Point the dancers were in full rehearsal mode. Even after long, tiring days they still managed to give an energetic and seamless performance of the new work of Within by Thomas Noone and Splinter by Rob Tannion. The audience’s reception was exceptional, with every person spoken to afterwards raving about the choreography and the dancer’s abilities. Many expressed enthusiasm to see them perform again and keep in contact for future updates. During the show I saw people poised on the edge of their seats and they responded well, laughing right on cue at the entertaining moments. Even after watching rehearsals I was still holding my breath in awe of the daring contact work and athleticism of the pieces. The repertory is so exciting that each time I watch it I am eager to see it again- a rare find!

But the story doesn’t end there, it’s back to the grindstone for everyone involved, taking to the road again for further performances, working hard in the office to facilitate all the tours and work and getting stuck into their latest projects including preparing for the City of London Festival and Big Dance involving the dancers and youth groups. They really are a company who know how to multi-task!

I have also been immensely impressed by the attitude of commitment of everyone in the company and the office. The supportive atmosphere makes it a great place to be and in a dog-eat-dog dance world StopGAP stands out for their dedication to helping every individual involved to grow and achieve.

Creation of new work – Thomas Noone and Nuria Martinez – by Kat Davis

For two weeks this December StopGAP have been working with Thomas Noone and his choreographic assistant Nuria Martinez on a new piece that will become part of our upcoming 2010 tour known as ‘Trespass’. Thomas Noone is a Barcelona based artist whose company (Thomas Noone Dances) is the resident company of Sant Andreu Teatre.

The rehearsal process so far has involved starting the day off by warming up in the morning with either a session of Gyro kinesis followed by a contemporary company class or a ballet based class led by Nuria.

Rehearsals for the piece so far have resulted in the dancers gaining some colourful bruises, from both jumping on and falling off the specially made wooden table, as well as various demanding lifts with each other throughout the piece. Knee pads have also been a necessity!

Watching the piece you get a sense of being drawn into the world of one of the dancers, and begin to question what is reality, or imagined. All the dancers have solos within the piece, as well as moments of fast paced and high energy unison. Watching Thomas create has been really interesting and am now looking forward to seeing the finished product!

Thomas will be back in Farnham in January for a further two weeks for more rehearsals and hard work, and to put any finishing touches to the piece.

Review – Indepen-dance/StopGAP Dance Company, 6th and 7th November 2009, Tramway, Glasgow

By Mary Brennan, Glasgow Herald

Ask Karen Armstrong, the drive behind Glasgow-based Indepen-dance, why she included the professional dance group StopGAP in the weekend showing at Tramway and she’ll say, quite simply, “I wanted people to see them and their work.” Well, hurrah to that.

Three pieces from the Farnham-based company’s Portfolio Collection showed that despite their small-scale they have unlimited ambition and the talent to take on challenging choreography by Hofesh Shecter, Gary Clarke and Rob Tannion among others. Moreover, they go head-on with issues of identity, love and betrayal. It was blisteringly strong material, potently delivered by all five dancers.

So what about the home team? Artistic ambition flourishes in terms of dance and disability at community level too. A nifty Prelude in the foyer introduced the Young I’s – the Indepen-dance youth wing – before the parent company premiered Whistler, made specifically on the dancers by Lucy Bennett and Sophie Brown of StopGAP. On the surface, this seemed a happy-go-lucky piece about the personalities on stage, whistling John, with his cabin trunk, among them. There were individual vignettes, a playful duet, ensembles where everyone fell into step. But as bits of luggage came and went, the notion of life as a journey crept into the piece, as did images of what it is others remember us by when we’re not there. Come December, Whistler – and Indepen-dance – will be on stage in Spain.

End of Tracking tour 2009 – by Laura Jones

After a more than hectic first half of the year, the StopGAP dancers enjoyed a well earned August off. Well… most of August.

On 29th we performed Chocks Away a specially adapted version of Tracking, at the National Theatre’s Watch This Space festival. No Dave Toole and no phone box, but a full 360° performance space, and a special evening performance full of glamour as the dancers changed from their usual quirky red, white and blue, to polka dot dresses for the girls and smart suits for the boys.

The rest of the evening was filled with more music and dance.

Next stop for Tracking was at the Liberty Festival, London’s Disability Arts Festival at Trafalgar Square. This time the full StopGAP cast, complete with phone box was joined by 4 wheelchair basket ball players, springing up out of the crowd to start the piece with a seemingly impromptu basketball match, then showing off their ball skills and quick manoeuvring, weaving round some of the StopGAP dancers as they bounced up and down on pogo balls.

This one off performance drew a massive crowd, and thankfully the British weather behaved itself for us. The piece finished as it began, with more basketball playing, this time with a few audience members trying their hand at the game!

Further variations of Tracking followed as we continued our tour, with each performance space varying in size, dimensions and slopiness! Including a performance for LOCOG (London Organisational Committee for the Olympic Games) in Winchester, which was unfortunately with a dancer down as I was briefly hospitalised (nothing too serious!). This leaves Chris as the only dancer who has performed in all Tracking performances!!

In the same week, the dancers had a busy weekend in Manchester, performing both a selection from Portfolio Collection for the Decibel Showcase followed by Tracking performances for the Platform4 Festival.

Tracking’s final performance (for now) was a weekend at the Bristol Do, an exhausting 6 performances in just 2 days! It was worth the effort though, with positive responses from our audience.

The whole team really enjoyed the experience of the Without Walls Tour. Meeting up and socialising with other companies also on the same touring circuit. The exhibitionists in us getting to show off our quirky cartoonish characters to the public, enticing people in to watch, both those who had come specifically to see the performance and intrigued passersby on the street, who might normally never set foot in a theatre.

We are hoping for another successful tour in 2010!

StopGAP on tour with Tracking! – by Jacqui Johnston

The sweltering sun showed no mercy as StopGAP arrived bright and early to Canary Wharf for the Greenwich Dockland Festival. Our tent provided only mild solace from the scorching rays, down in the mall were air conditioning vents blasted Laura and I with icy freshness when we went searching for lunch later in the day.

Upon arriving everyone slathered themselves in sun lotion and knuckled down working together to build the set which included a wooden life-size phone box, which after a few cranks of an Allen Key could also transform into a boat, and then into a bus! It soon became apparent the ground was not completely flat as Laura found herself unwillingly rolling out of place and so adjustments were made to find the flattest piece of ground, and in effect we ended up with a larger dance space!

After a comfortable run-trough we were escorted to our white pitch tent where a crate of water awaited us and quenched our thirsts.

We were collected an hour later to commence the performance. Dressed in our eye-catching, patriotic royal blues, postal reds, slick whites and dazzling silver, we strode out and mingled among the crowd to catch them by surprise (despite the outrageous outfits) as we entered one by one into the space.

The first performance gathered a large crowd, some who knew about the event, some working at the event, and then a large number of policemen with dogs who happened to be walking past!

Despite the unfortunate event of our umbrellas breaking mid-performance, the show went without a hitch and encouraged enthusiastic applause, even when the piece wasn’t over. The audiences were riveted, enthralled and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Tracking was a hit!

A week later we packed into the van and all made our different ways via car, van or train to Hatfair in Winchester. Across two days StopGAP performed Tracking and exhausting 5 times, the first day in the heat of the sun, and the second day in between bouts of rain.

The atmosphere in Hatfair was rife with excitement, and our pitch on which we performed was right in amongst all the hustle and bustle and activity of many other performances that happened at the same time. Fire throwers on one side, acrobats on the other, stalls selling exotic jewellery and crazy hats, and another stall which flooded us with smoke that came off their delicious smelling burgers. We were even more fortunate in that we had special permission to perform right outside the cathedral, which gave us a fantastic backdrop.

It was a far cry from the openness of Canary Wharf in which we were surrounded by the towering sky scrapers. So from the modern Emerald City we had then landed with our telephone box in the colourful Munchkinland.

My favourite part of the trip; staying overnight in the local university accommodation, which was overrun with cute baby and adult bunny rabbits ☺

Next up on the tour is a performance at a conference in Walsall (Birmingham), and then up to Penrith in Cumbria!

StopGAP’s UK Tour and performance at Southbank

Since Japan, StopGAP has embarked on a whirlwind tour that has seen many Travelodges alongside many motorways and many early morning trips to Little Chef or Sainsbury’s Cafe.

With at least once performance a week Portfolio Collection has never ceased to amaze and inspire new audiences. The dancers faced challenges at every venue, of different shapes and sizes, and worked tremendously to fit a class, spacing, dress rehearsals and the performance all in one day. The performances have been well received so far, attended by numerous important people who work in dance!

Performance in Selby saw the greatest challenge though! Laura had to go into hospital the day before the performance… so Lucy masterfully pulled together a new show with the remaining four dancers. It was a hit, and it wasn’t even noticeable that they had pulled together this performance in less than a day! All the dancers worked to their maximum to relearn old material and adjust the current material to still work without Laura. Fortunately she was released and well, just in time for a visit by a choreographer that will be working with StopGAP in the winter… More on this to follow!

Smack bang in the middle of the tour, we also had Dave Toole come in to rehearse with StopGAP in the lead up to their outdoor performance of Tracking at Southbank Centre. This happened on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May (sorry people, we didn’t quite get around to tell you about this performance, but there will be more performances of Tracking in the future!) At the Southbank, the dancers and technicians looked to the skies faces twitching nervously as it looked as though any moment the clouds would break and rain would fall, pushing the performance indoors instead. The forecast had stated that lightening would strike, but as the hour of the performance approached the clouds had moved out leaving the dazzling blue skies, and the only thing to strike the ground was the sun as it brought a new concern that the dancers would faint from the heat! But in true StopGAP style the performance pulled in large crowds that watched with delight as the dancers warmed their hearts with their energy and highly spirited theatrical dancing. They braved the heat, and came away victors along with our wonderful learning-disabled participants, as the audience roared with applause. Walking away from the performance space StopGAP were streaming in sweat, hair plastered to their faces, and make up running as the heat took its toll. But a quick splash of water and they returned to greet members of the audience with grace and no sign that their energy had been exhausted.

Next up is Portfolio Collection in Cardiff, and another performance of Tracking in Greenwich, in which StopGAP will be performing with an exciting new set!

Lycra, Cherry Blossom and Japan – by Jaqui Johnston

StopGap’s trip to Japan has unearthed a world of new experiences that we will all be bringing home with us in March. I can only speak of my own experiences but I hope that through what I say I can do some justice to all of our adventures!

The adventure I experienced began when we touched down in Japan on Feburary 22rd after a 13hour long flight through the night. From touch down in Tokyo we journeyed our way further south past the phenomenal peaks of Mt. Fuji to one of the lower islands, Fukuoka.
From above it seemed a land of lego, but in amongst the buildings that towered above us we saw more of the beauty that Fukuoka held, starting with its long winding rivers to the people there that we met.

Team StopGap, when they all finally came together for the first time (half of the group coming from Beppu, and then Donna our technician joining us a couple of days later) consisted of no more than 10 members: 5 dancers, Lucy, Laura, Sophie, Chris, and David. 3 Management staff, Vicki, Denise and Sho, 1 Technician, Donna, and myself (another new addition to the company as a support worker for Laura).

As soon as we arrived in Fukuoka preparations began for a performance that was to be held at the end of the week, and also a week-long workshop that was to be delivered, both in Ohashi. StopGap’s largest team-teaching group went on to deliver fantastic workshops to eager participants, approximately 32 members. We were greeted with big smiling and open faces. The participants themselves were a group of mixed disabled and non-disabled, some who have danced before, some had never, some as young as 19 to as old as 64. But the extent to which they all got stuck in fully and with more enthusiasm than I had encountered before was warming to see.

Of course here we encountered our first problem… Language!
Sho being Japanese himself and knowing the company better than anyone and how StopGap like to deliver their workshops became the translator; an incredibly difficult and tiring task, which took many tries to get right, (StopGap like to talk a lot… Much to Sho’s despair when he has to remember everything!) However despite this main barrier he did an astounding job for which everyone was very grateful.

At the end of the week of workshops in Ohashi, StopGap premiered Portfolio Collections with the new company! The performance opened with a piece that was put together by Lucy danced by the Ohashi workshop group, it was a beautiful work that interweaved duets and ensembles in an abstract way which allowed the participants to creatively develop tasks they were given.

The first performance ran well, but ever ambitious StopGap looked to the next performance in Toyama to be bigger and better!

In Toyama we faced bigger challenges teaching workshops to two venues; one disability service plaza, and the other a special school. It was such a satisfying experience as we worked with participants of varying degrees of disability, most of them being quite severely disabled, physically or in learning. The first time we were given the information about the groups the team became worried and nervous about delivering a good workshop that could be done by everyone. Every day presented a new problem-solving task which they tackled with fervor, it became exciting to hear what they had planned! Lycra, cherry-blossoms, feathers, balls all became features of the workshops to make them as interesting as possible, and they all worked so well! The participants loved it, at they end of the week they showered us all with gifts they had handmade themselves, exquisite gifts of shocking caliber, it was not only touching, but wonderful to know we had something to remember them by. I know I will take pleasure in showing friends when I get home and telling them about the people who made them!

Toyama also faced StopGap with the biggest venue they have performed in, and no kidding it was vast. Donna had the task of reducing the space for the dancers! (Not something that normally happens…. If anything not enough space is the problem!)

Toyama in general was very high profile, we were filmed in every workshop by news reporters, radio stations were interested, and in the paper quite frequently.. And then featured in the Japanese news! As a result the pressure was on to deliver a fantastic performance…

I have written an epic sized blog, so I shall round it up here.. But in general it has been a fantastic experience for everyone, and as a new member of Team StopGap I was able to really appreciate the work that StopGap do, how hard they toil to create the best experience for anyone who watches or participates with them, and even how hard they try to keep their own dancers happy too.
Slipping into this company was a daunting prospect, it still is, especially when you are in an environment where everyone wants to achieve the best, and constantly you are left questioning ‘can I live up to this?’
The truth is everything is possible, you just have to want it, and with this conviction I believe StopGap, and myself with it, will be able to achieve whatever they want.

Coffee Jelly in Japan! – by Vicki Balaam

At last we have all joined up … In Japan!

Lucy, Chris, Sho and Denise have been out here a week already, and on Saturday Sophie, Laura, Jacqui and I landed in Tokyo and by Sunday we were all together again … In Fukuoka. We are working for Japan Contemporary Dance Network, and will be touring throughout Japan. It’s an exciting project as we are not only performing in different cities but also leading workshops and creating performances on local dancers who are people with and without disabilities.

We are enjoying living and working in Japan for this short time … And Laura’s even tried coffee jelly for breakfast! Chris was very grateful that I turned up with 2 big boxes of wheatabix though!