Sophie’s thoughts on Recruitment Workshops

From the dawn of 2012, StopGAP Dance Company will be opening their doors and inviting the curious to come wandering in. We are hosting a series of ‘Dancer Days’ up and down the country, not only to stretch the parameters of our little dancing bubble, but also with a view to recruiting a new dancer. After five happy years with the company, the winds of change are blowing me across the Atlantic to sample life on the West coast with my new Californian husband.

The ‘Dancer Days’ are an opportunity for StopGAP to meet dancers outside the adrenalin fuelled, sweaty palmed confines of an audition, and for curious and open-minded dancers to come along and meet the company. When I arrived five years ago as an access officer, it was not with the intention of eventually becoming a full-time performer with the company. I was a disillusioned dancer cum barmaid on whom risks were taken, and owing to fortuitous timing, opportunities given. Instinctively I seized them, and developed the deep-rooted passion for integrated dance and heartfelt responsibility for the company essential for any member of the team. Whether looking to recruit, or seeking employment, perhaps we don’t always know exactly what we are looking for, or what we need. What better time to call out for the curious and open-minded?

As an intimate company that spends a great deal of time together, it is essential that time is taken to find new team members. The group dynamic and often visceral relationship between the dancers is a unique and regularly celebrated element of our work. This cannot be plucked from thin air – or an audition alone! The balance of personalities in an artistic setting is a masterful kind of alchemy. Trust and intuition in abundance, combined with an imaginative and creative new dancer, could be the catalyst that allows the company to clamber to new heights, developing and refining their innovative and exemplary integrated practice (no apologies for the pressure new dancer!). We are entering a period of change, re-evaluating our progression, ambitions and our representation in the world we inhabit, time will be spent to ensure the ‘right’ person adds their voice to the chorus.

What a voyage creating the next season of rep will be, one that I personally hope will be rife with obstacles. I say this not because I will probably be sitting on the dock of the bay enjoying a clam chowder by that time, but because these obstacles are the heart and soul of our creations. Without restriction and resistance we are wading in a lukewarm paddling pool on a mild sunny day. It may feel nice but we aren’t getting far – it’s certainly no white water rafting in a lightening storm! Perhaps I am a little over-zealous with my metaphor but you know what I mean.

The creation of pioneering integrated work with StopGAP demands an expansive mind and a passion for problem solving. Blossoming in adversity is a skill necessary for the delivery of our education work also, throughout the year, by all the dancers. I was involved in a long term project that took me to Albania four times in the past year. A collaboration with the British Council, Help the Life and Vodafone Albania, we were asked to train professional Albanian dancers to teach inclusively and in turn form their own fledgling integrated companies across the country. Initially daunting, it was at times challenging, and constantly enlightening. Moments were lost in translation, and I grappled regularly with cultural divides and my own demons telling me to ‘do a fantastic job’. My eyes were opened, my inclusive practice improved, and my teaching scrutinized, explored and refined. It was a remarkable experience and ended with a surprise appearance on Albania’s ‘Dancing With The Stars’. Who’d have thought? Now there’s something to tell the grandchildren about.

There is an undertone of unpredictability and hilarity to our everyday interaction, but perhaps the most challenging times at StopGAP are in fact the humdrum days. When the nights are drawing in and it’s the same faces in the studio again and again, maybe we just need someone who will come in, put the kettle on, and then just get on with it.

Curious? You bring the biscuits, the doors are open!

Sophie Stanley

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Hannah’s thoughts on play time with Charlotte Vincent

On the 17th and 18th of October we had a new choreographer called Charlotte Vincent. Charlotte was really good, helpful and understanding of the work in our company and us as dancers.

It was really interesting for us as dancers in the company to see how she uses her body and our dancers bodies and technique moving around. Charlotte led the workshop with us with good interpretation of how her company works together.

In a couple of years from now we are hoping we’re going to see her company and her as a choreographer putting together a dance piece for the professional dancers or for all dancers in the company.

Hannah Sampson

Sync Fun from Judith

As part of our involvement in SYNC South East (http://www.syncsoutheast.co.uk/) Joy and I went to Milton Keynes to be part of Pitch.  Although the dancers couldn’t be there as they were deep in rehearsals, they were in the form of our film of Trespass and the wonderful photos from Christopher Parkes (http://www.christophotographic.co.uk/) as you can see here:

Difficult to miss us ! Joy was fantastic and managed to get three pages of new signees to our mailing list and it was great to have time to chat with so many people. A good day in all despite transport difficulties… lots going on and  a range of art work to see.

 

Posted by Judith Hibberd

Youth Group Residency Week

The week of 18 April began with bubbles, dough, corn – flour and balls; a technique class with a difference! Our intensive week with the StopGAP Youth Group started by working with Sophie on discovering the qualities, dynamics and sensations to be found in our dancing; imprinting the floor with wide hands and feet, isolating body parts to pop bubbles, working sensitively rolling a ball between two people, and melting like liquid in floorwork…

The week continued with Youth Group members being paired up with StopGAP members to work on choreographic, technical and teaching skills. Working from origami games, and maintaining the qualities discovered the previous day, sequences of choreography began to grow.

It was refreshing to be able to be an outside eye observing the Youth Group members working, and it was a pleasure to watch as the partnerships allowed each person’s individuality to manifest in movement, which in turn encouraged StopGAP dancers to push and challenge their partners further.

Ollie and David’s floorwork became progressively more daring, Sarah and Chris’s movement partnership discovered more and more layers, Dermot and Sophie found fascinating ways to best compliment each other’s style, Nathan and Joy used their very different physicalities to create engaging solo’s and duets, and Nick and Kat’s sensitivity to each other grew and grew.

Hannah and I had the pleasure of working with Laura. It was great to have real freedom of playing with movement material, and things became particularly interesting with the addition of wheels!

Partway through the week, Hannah and I headed to The Point, Eastleigh, to perform ‘Shadowed Voices’ as part of an arts week that the theatre was hosting. We performed to a small group of disabled artists, who responded with shrewd and insightful questions and observations, about StopGAP, the making of ‘Shadowed Voices’, the wider dance world and everything in between; hopefully some of these are faces we will see again at our residency at The Point this summer.

Back in Farnham, and our week concluded with a sharing of the work created during our few days with the Youth Group. The young dancers ever – supportive parents were there, and the response was great. The week has left me with much food for thought for the newly named ‘StopGAP Youth Performance Company’’s continued development, which I am very much looking forward to being a part of.

Sophie’s perspective on our work in Albania over the last year

Last week saw the final phase of a year long collaboration between StopGAP, the British Council and the Vodafone Foundation Albania. An enlightening project that took StopGAP to Albania on several occasions throughout the year, and that I was excited to be involved in.

In the spring of 2010 we performed in three cities in Albania, collaborating with four dancers from Albania Dance Theatre (Albania’s prominent contemporary dance company) who had attended the training week in inclusive practice we led in Romania the previous week. Our performances followed active debates on social inclusion held in the various cities and were to be entertaining examples of integration in action.

Originally part of a week long initiative led by the British Council and Vodafone Foundation Albania to promote inclusion of all kinds in Albanian society, the sponsors and organisers were eager to ensure that the project had a permanent impact. Kat, Laura and myself returned to Albania last Autumn and led practical sessions in inclusive dance teaching with social workers and dance practitioners from five cities in Albania. The sessions were held in the ‘Help the Life Centre’, a day care and educational institute for disabled young people in Tirana that was to project manage
the next stage of the program. In addition to training the people that took part it was intended to inspire enthusiasm and raise awareness of the social and artistic riches of integrated dance. The logistics of how to develop fledgling integrated dance companies was also deliberated and
discussed by project managers from the five cities.

Visiting Albania this February with Anna, I was delighted to see that the project had moved on leaps and bounds! The three dancers from Albania Dance Theatre, Aledia, Sueda and Mateo, had been leading regular dance sessions with disabled and non-disabled young people in Tirana, Elbasan, Berat, Shkodra and Durres. Visiting each group, Anna and I encountered a very diverse range of dancers and rehearsal conditions, but were so excited by what we saw. In Elbasan for example, Aledia was working with a huge group that integrated young disabled people from a day centre with children from a local mainstream school. They were rehearsing in a space with good facilites and it was evident that both groups were really enjoying the experience. The situation in Shkodra was entirely different, with a very small group of very young children with learning disabilities, dancing in a cluttered and busy hallway. Despite these conditions this group were perhaps the most focussed, dancing with great creativity and expression throughout the session. We were eager to instill in Aledia, Sueda and Mateo the confidence that they could create five very different, but equally valuable and inspirational performances with these groups, showcasing their achievements at the forthcoming anniversary of ‘Promoting Inclusion’ week.

Returning to Tirana to perform last week, again preceded by debates and conferences involving prestigious voices in social and cultural integration, we were delighted to perform to a packed house at the Academy of Arts. We were particularly honoured and a little nervous to hear that in the audience, and opening the performance with a speech would be the President of Albania, Bamir Topi. A successful performance was followed by a delicious dinner at the Ambassador’s residence, where we ate pavlova and chicken curry and mingled with other people involved in the week’s events.  It was wonderful to hear reports of moving and inspirational performances occurring throughout the week by the young integrated groups led by Aledia, Sueda, Mateo and Gjergi Prevasi of Albania Dance Theatre.

Our stay in Albania had a surprising last minute extension as we were invited to perform as guest artists on ‘Dancing with the Stars’! This presented an exciting opportunity to raise the profile of integrated dance and disabled artists in general in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia (the show is aired across Eastern Europe) and was an evening I will never forget! Hair slicked back and plastered in make-up we performed an extract of ‘Splinter’ live on television to an appreciative crowd. A memorable end to a fascinating year. Here’s hoping that integrated dance will continue to grow roots in Albania, and that the work of the British Council, Vodafone Foundation Albania, Help the Life, Albania Dance Theatre and StopGAP will resonate long into the future.

Sincere thanks to the above organisations for enabling this project to happen.

Another surreal week … in Albania this time!

Working for StopGAP, you get used to the unusual happening, but our recent week in Albania was certainly the most surreal week of my life!

Sat 9th April

Packing time again!  We were all getting ready for StopGAP’s fourth trip out to Albania.  The next day we were heading back to Tirana for the culmination of our project with the British Council and Vodafone Albania Foundation.  We have been mentoring dancers from Albanian Dance Theatre and other dance artists to help them set up a number of integrated groups, and then choreograph on them.  During the week the groups would be performing in their local cities, and we were to perform Trespass at the Academy of Arts in Tirana to celebrate the British Council and Vodafone Albania Foundation Promoting Inclusion Week, with Help the Life Association.

Anna and I headed to a hotel near Gatwick because of the early start the following day, unaware that things were about to get a little weird.  Unfortunately, due to an ear infection,  Chris was unable to fly with us, leaving just four dancers. Panic! What will we do?

Immediately Lucy’s problem-solving brain swung into action, and the decision was made to take Hannah, our apprentice dancer instead!  She and Anna would then perform “Shadow Voices”, choreographed by Chris, as part of our evenings show.  Hannah had toured with the company last summer for the last few Tracking performances, but this was to be her first overseas trip with us!  Fortuitously Anna, our lead apprentice dancer, was already coming with us, having been out to lead workshops on the last trip to Albania!  So it was a dash from the hotel back to Anna’s home to pick up her costume and music, then back to the hotel and to bed, ready for the early start the following day… still a little shell-shocked at the turn of events.

Sun 10th May

We all meet up bright and early at Gatwick, with a few last-minute logistics to sort and then we were on our way.

It was great to see the familiar face of Ani from the Help for Life Centre, where we had previously led workshops, meeting us at Tirana airport and taking us to our hotels.  We had a warm welcome on arriving at our hotel; I didn’t even have to say my name as they remembered us from before! I was back in my usual room overlooking the national football grounds and able to see the Academy of Art where we would be performing on Tuesday… I could even see the giant poster of StopGAP that was hanging from the front of the building, advertising our performance!

We then all met up back at the other hotel and got down to business with reworking the dances without Chris.  Clare Sears from the British Council popped in to say hi and check we were all ok.  Oh, and to mention that the Albanian President would be watching… no pressure then!

My hotel view, including a massive poster of StopGAP!

My return to Albania

This was to be my second trip to Albania; my first being earlier this year where Sophie and I led workshops sharing our StopGAP practice. The second visit proved to be much more eventful than the first…

I was going in place of Kat, Laura’s access worker, with my role being one of general support, however this was not exactly how the week panned out. After learning that Chris Pavia couldn’t fly due to an ear infection, there were some frantic conversations on the Saturday night before our Sunday morning flight.  It was decided that our other apprentice Hannah would also be coming, and we would be performing our duet, “Shadowed Voices” (choreographed by Chris Pavia) at the Academy of Art in Tirana, alongside the main company, and as part of the British Council in Albania’s “Promoting Inclusion” week. A hugely exciting opportunity though this was, the idea of the Apprentice company’s international debut being just two days away took some getting used to!

My experience of Albania back in January / February of this year had been very positive, and my second visit to the country did not disappoint. Constantly surprised by always being able to see mountains, and feeling very welcomed by the people we met, we got straight down to rehearsals. Excitement and anticipation grew as we learnt that not only was the theatre fully booked for our performance, but that the President of Albania was to be in the audience?!

The magnitude of this special guest barely had time to set in as we spent the performance day getting used to the placement of our duet, previously performed in studio settings, on the huge stage at the Academy.

The piece went brilliantly, and I remember halfway through making sure to consciously remind myself of how much I was enjoying the experience. A standing ovation, and presentation of beautiful bouquets of flowers later, the performance was over.

But our evening was not, as we made our way to the residence of the British Ambassador in Albania for a dinner and drinks reception. As out of the ordinary as this was, I was beginning to get used to such things happening!

The following morning brought with it further extra-ordinary experiences as Hannah and I made our way to Vizion +, a national television station, to perform on the Albanian version of “This Morning”. In a space that could not be more different from the Academy stage (it was tiny, and bright blue!), Hannah and I performed extracts of Chris’s duet whilst a representative from the British Council talked with the presenter about the integrated dance work that is now happening throughout a number of cities in Albania, as a result of StopGAP’s presence there.

And that was that! Our whirlwind few Albanian days were coming to end, and we headed home. But not before being accosted at Tirana airport by someone who had been in the audience at the Academy: “I’m so sorry to bother you, but can I just tell you how much I enjoyed last nights performance, it was wonderful!”. I think I’d have to agree!

 

 

 

 

 

Next week, the next step in developing future integrated dancers

StopGAP has been passionate about our responsibility to contribute to developing the next generation of integrated dancers. With such a small company infrastructure and the national and international touring workload of dancers, we have been frustrated about not being able to commit to leading regular sessions as we don’t believe in setting up something we are not able to continue. However, with support from funders like Children in Need, Ernest Cook and Comic Relief, in September 2010 we were able to take on our 2 apprentices full time: Anna Pearce and Hannah Sampson. As incredibly talented individuals their development has been phenomenal, and they are already leading a substantial part of our dance development programme. One element of this, with support from Surrey County Council and Waverley Borough Council, has meant the establishing of 2 youth dance companies locally for young people with disabilities, who are creating some wonderfully high quality work. Our ambitions for these young dancers are to give them the skills that will enable them to enter formal training should they decide to make dance their career.

As part of this journey, StopGAP and our youth company are doing a residency at Farnham Maltings next week, where our youth dancers have the rare opportunity to work on a 1-2-1 basis with our professional dance team. They will be learning new dance and creative skills over four days and have the luxury of creating a strong bond with their buddy-mentor. It is a wonderful project that we have been excited about being able to do at our home base. It is such a great feeling that all 3 elements: our youth dancers, our apprentices and our main dancers, will be able to spend good quality time together, and we are really looking forward to it.

If you are interested in joining our youth groups to be part of these opportunities in the future, please get in touch! If you would like to see everyone in action the youth dancers and apprentices will be performing as a curtain raiser at our performance of Trespass at Farnham Maltings on 28 April 2011 (see our tour dates for details)

Posted by Sho Shibata and Vicki Balaam

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

Countdown to Trespass Premiere – Part 2 – by Sophie Brown

With just three weeks until the premiere of Trespass at The Point, I
would love to say we were the epitome of calm, a serene troupe of
elegantly excited dancers, quietly anticipating, with an understated
confidence, the opening night of our new repertoire. However, things
are far from tranquil!

In the final three weeks of our preparation for the premiere, a real
sense of how much we care about the upcoming tour is really beginning
to radiate around the dancers and the management team. A culmination
of weeks of creation, development and rehearsal, as well as the first
ever work created by this particular configuration of dancers, this
performance marks the beginning of a new era for us as a company, and
could never be regarded as ‘just another performance – bish bash bosh,
let’s get to the curtain call then off to the pub!

Touring the world together, both teaching and performing with a fierce
group dynamic, creates a certain sense of responsibility within every
member of the team, on and off the stage. Performances, premieres in
particular, are our chance to share in the most exciting and
demonstrative sense the ethos by which we try work everyday, as well
as hopefully entertaining and engaging every audience member we
encounter!

From the compelling chaos and exhilarating journey through Within
(Thomas Noone), to the episodic rollercoaster ride through Splinter’s
tale of a struggle for a creatively prolific harmony (Rob Tannion), I
have no doubt that we will give it our all.