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Advancement in dance: Dance Futures and Young Creatives

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As leading choreographers and dance companies establish initiatives to nurture young dancers and choreographers, Neil Norman looks at the thriving Dance Futures event and Young Creatives scheme and talks to a graduate of the programme

Whatever the reasons behind it, dance is becoming increasingly popular. And as it spreads across a generational field and locates a wider audience, it is fundamental that new dance-makers arrive on the scene to keep up with the growing demands.

Television and film, as well as theatre, have helped encourage this interest, but it is the new initiatives that will create the platform for the next generation of dancers, choreographers and their audiences. Many leading choreographers like Matthew Bourne, Wayne McGregor and the Ballet Boyz (William Trevitt and Michael Nunn) devote considerable amounts of time to fostering and mentoring young people who show an interest in dance, whatever their aptitude.

Dance Futures marks a collaboration between Royal Opera House Education, Youth Dance England and East London Dance in an attempt to encourage new choreographers and dancers by affording them an opportunity of working with established talent. Under the guidance of Royal Ballet director Monica Mason and resident choreographer McGregor, a lucky handful of selected candidates worked towards an event that put the spotlight on them.

On July 10, on the main stage of the Royal Opera House at the Dance Futures event, there were new works by three teenage choreographers including a pas de deux danced by members of the Royal Ballet, a specially-commissioned piece from McGregor performed by a cast of 25 young east Londoners, and The Firebird danced by more than 80 children from the Royal Opera House’s Chance to Dance outreach programme, alongside members of the Royal Ballet and accompanied by a full orchestra.

Jordan Ajadi, a former Chance to Dance student from London, and Declan Whittaker, a West Midlands-based young choreographer, were invited to present their work, which was created and performed earlier this year under the aegis of Youth Dance England’s Young Creatives initiative. The initiative is a national programme originally funded jointly by the government and Arts Council England, with the aim of nurturing choreographers aged between 15 and 19. With government funding now removed, it continues to work in partnership with nine different English regions to sustain a development strategy for young dancers and dance-makers.

Freya Thomas, 18, is a Young Creative graduate who took part in a choreographic day in 2010 during which five young dance-makers were given the opportunity to work with members of the Royal Ballet. The event was supervised by Wayne McGregor and Royal Ballet artistic director Monica Mason, and involved discussion, exercises and choreographic trials. Thomas was eventually the one chosen to create a new work for Royal Ballet dancers Ryoichi Hirano and Nathalie Harrison, which was performed at the Dance Futures event.

Currently attending Lewisham College, where she is doing a one-year foundation course in dance, Thomas made a video-blog during her first rehearsals and took time to talk to me about her experience so far.

“I’ve always been interested in choreography,” she says. “Through my secondary school and college, I have always been given the opportunities to choreograph for assessments and end of year performances.”

She made her first out of school piece for Young Creatives which was eventually seen at the Royal Opera House. “The piece which I am now creating with the Royal Ballet will be the first piece I have created which I’m not dancing in myself,” she says.

Like many young dancers, Thomas was first attracted to the profession through street dance and hip hop before discovering contemporary dance. She now cites Nederlands Dans Theatre and Hofesh Shechter (along with McGregor) as influences.

“My earliest memories of dance are more street-based, as this is the style I began to take classes in when I was younger,” she says. “I was completely taken by the hip hop scene, just how cool the dancers looked and I loved that style of music. Starting off in this genre has definitely inspired a lot of my tastes today – I love the power of break-dancers and combining that with more contemporary movement is a winning combination for me.”

Thomas recognises that working with two leading dancers from the Royal Ballet has made a difference to her choreographic approach.

“They are definitely incredibly agile and will take on anything that you throw at them,” she says. “For the most part, I have tried to describe the image that I see in my head and get them to recreate it. The pieces I have created in the past have been heavily floor-based and quite grounded. Working with ballet dancers is an entirely different concept – they have incredible flexibility and strength but don’t spend as much time rolling about on the floor, which is what I’m more familiar with.”

* For details about Dance Futures, visit www.roh.org.uk

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