At The Place, our mission is to seek out artists working at the very forefront of contemporary dance practice and this year’s Grad Show felt like the most future-facing selection of works yet, leading researcher and dance practitioner Professor Emilyn Claid to shout out “I’ve been waiting 20 years to see a show like this!”
This year, Samir Kennedy, Florence + Eve, Holly Blakey and marikiscrycrycry were commissioned to create work with the students. We talked to Martin Hargreaves, Director of Undergraduate Programmes, who curated the Grad Show, about his choices and the change he wants to see in the industry.
“I never really think of what an LCDS “brand” would be when commissioning choreographers. I choose people that I trust and know will give the students a good process, have a pedagogical approach but also have some kind of currency so their work is part of a broader conversation. With the artists this year, I was excited because their work also spoke to each other, so I knew they would make a show, not just separate pieces.”
Martin’s eclectic choices were confirmed when Crack Magazine later announced both Malik Nashad Sharpe and Florence Peak and Eve Stainton as some of the most exciting people on the London danced scene, artists who are shaking off tradition and use their practice as a vehicle for social connectivity, dismantling ideas of class, race, gender and sexuality. But making waves within the London dance scene isn’t the main factor for a Grad Show commission:
“One of the shifts we are trying to enforce is that the ethics of working are really of prime importance. Younger dancers will often subject themselves to bad working practices because they feel they need to do that to advance in their career. And I think we need to change that culture. So my prime importance is always how do you work? I trusted these artists to take care of the students who are in a transitioning moment of becoming artists.”
Another objective is also to expose students to work they wouldn’t have encountered already, to new practices that build on the curriculum but go beyond it. It might be a common expectation to use the Grad Show to show off techniques that were learned and perfected in class or in repertoire, but this year’s offering went way beyond that: “For me the aim of the show is never to represent the school in a certain way but to evidence what the students have learned. This Grad Show isn’t representative of what we do on the programme – there, we look at performance skills and technique and we prepare people to fully meet an artistic process. And that’s what the students evidenced in these works: that they can clearly sustain something, that they’re modulating quite dancey material and very minimal material, sometimes collapsing, sometimes holding the space for other people – all the range of performance skills that we’re interested in. To the people who said ‘well that’s not really dance’ I would say you are not looking hard enough.”
It may be a much easier route to attract with a big industry name and profit from the reputation a major player in the field can bring, but the ethos at The Place is to support independent artists: “I think that’s where interesting work is made. I tend to think that the more established the name is the less likely they are to experiment because they have more stakeholders - it’s a bigger risk for them to come in.” The benefit is mutual because independent artists for financial reasons often don’t get the chance to work with groups, so it’s really attractive for them to come in and make work not on their own bodies but on other people.
Also, it simply prepares students for the landscape of contemporary dance out there: “There are less and less jobs for people in National Portfolio companies, more project-based work - often it’s joining a research process that you then re-join a year later once they get their funding…” Independent artists are also able to talk to students about their own experience and how they navigate the dance industry, teaching students about the different contexts which they are likely going to be working in. “We do mock auditions for companies at LCDS but it feels like that is becoming less relevant. It’s only a tiny percentage of how you get work. Most people now don’t audition anymore, they meet people through workshops, research processes, they want to understand who people are as artists. And you can’t see that in an audition.”
Dance artists are expected to bring much more of themselves into the studio and be collaborators rather than just executers of given material. “With all of the artists we commission, the invitation is always to come and make a work in collaboration with the students. It’s our students as creative artists. This may mean different things to different people. The choreographers don’t come in completely unprepared – 4.5 weeks is also a very short process, so they have to come in with existing ideas and then try them out - but all of them said most of the material is generated by the students. We want the dancers to look like they have ownership over the material. I think that makes for good work. It makes you believe them.”
Our graduates this year are dance artists of the highest standard, ready and excited to meet an artistic process, to contribute, collaborate, lead and shape the art form as creative beings and that, we think, is what it’s all about.
Congratulations to the class of 2019!